Democracy De-realized

Diogenes 50 (1):27-35 (2003)
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Abstract

In times of crisis, when democracies are under threat, our lessons of justice and equality are best learnt from those who are marginalized or oppressed. There could be hope for democracy if responses to the attacks of September 11, for example, were characterized not by blind revenge but by democratic solidarity. To think of democracy in terms of non-realized ideals does not adequately challenge the failures of its promises. ‘Not to respond’ is often a strategic necessity for democratic discourse, which recognizes failure as part of its evolutionist and utopian narrative. The internal dialectic of the unrealized finds in the negative instance of failure a strange moral coherence. Thus it is proposed to consider democracy as something de-realized rather than unrealized. The term ‘de-realized’ places the democratic experience at a distance, in a context not of its making, in order to de-familiarize it and to block its natural or normative reference. The idea is to see the potential of democracy in translation or in an extraterritorial sense. Democracy’s potential lies not in its failure but in its frailty

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