Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (9):999-1010 (2011)

French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy is acting uneasily when it comes to contemporary politics. There is a sort of agitation in his work in relation to this question. At several places we read an appeal to deal thoroughly with this question and ‘ qu’il y a un travail à faire ’, that there is still work to do. From the beginning of the 1980s with the ‘Centre de Recherches Philosophiques sur le Politique’ and the two books resulting out of that, until the many, rather short texts he published on this topic during the last years of the century, the question of politics crosses very clearly Nancy’s work. He not only fulminates against the contemporary philosophical ‘content’ with democracy. Instead of defending a political regime, he wants to think the form of politics in the most critical and sceptical way. To Nancy, the worst thing we can do in thinking contemporary politics, is taking it for granted that we know what politics is about today, given the evidence of the global democracy. So to him, we almost have to be at unease when it comes to politics. On the other hand, in thinking contemporary democracy, the work of Claude Lefort is undeniably the main reference. Long before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the upsurge of an all-too-easy anti-Marxism, Lefort articulated in a nuanced way the formal differences between totalitarianism and democracy. According to Lefort, the specific ‘form’ of democracy is that it never becomes an accomplished and fulfilled form as such. In a certain sense, the only ‘form’ of democracy is formlessness, a form without form. In a democracy, the place of power becomes literally ‘ infigurable ’ as Lefort says. Democracy stands for formlessness or the relation to a void. Nancy objects so to say against a ‘Leformal’ conception of democracy – the empty place, the formless, the ‘ infigurable ’ or ‘ sans figure ’, the ever yet to come. ... This conception of democracy would still be caught in the infinite metaphysical, dialectical horizon of immanentism, while it pretends to have already left that horizon behind it, presenting itself as the finite alternative to the infinite totalitarian politics. Democracy as formlessness is indeed no longer based on a metaphysical Idea, Figure, or Truth. We want to clear up the philosophical sky of Nancy’s remarks by confronting them with some thoughts of Lefort
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DOI 10.1177/0191453711416084
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