07 January 2010

Article: Towards a Critique of Political Democracy

Mario Tronti is a left-wing Italian philosopher and politician, formerly on the faculty of the University of Siena, highly influential in the development of autonomist thought, and a former communist member of the Italian Senate (upper house of parliament) – and he declares against democracy.

Editors Lorenzo Chiesa and Alberto Toscano publish in their collection "The Italian Difference: Between Nihilism and Biopolitics" (re.press, July 2009) a text by Tronti titled "Towards a Critique of Political Democracy", pp. 97-106 (trans. Alberto Toscano).

re.press has an open access policy and the book (including Tronti's essay) can therefore be read online:


Editors' summary of Tronti's text: "Starting from the idea that democracy always binds together practice of domination and project of liberation, Tronti formulates the conditions for a critique of democracy that would permit a rebirth of political thought in the current conjuncture. Bringing the heterodox Marxist traditions of 'workerism' and the 'autonomy of the political' together with the feminist thinking of difference, Tronti underscores the identitarian tendencies of democracy and the difficulties of combining democracy with a genuine notion of freedom.

"For Tronti, democracy is increasingly synonymous with the pervasiveness of capitalism understood as 'bourgeois society', and the victory of 'real democracy' (as one might speak of 'real socialism') is the sociological victory of the bourgeoisie. The homo oeconomicus and the homo democraticus are fused into the dominant figure of democracy, the 'mass bourgeois'. Against the depoliticizing consequences of 'democratic Empire', Tronti proposes a profound rethinking of our notion of politics, one which should not shy from reconsidering the elitist critiques of democracy."

Tronti writes: "[C]ontemporary democratic systems [...] should not be read as a 'false' democracy in the face of which there is or should be a 'true' democracy, but as the coming-true of the ideal, or conceptual, form of democracy. [...] [C]ontrary to what is commonly thought today, it is not in its past or in its theories but rather in its realisation that democracy has become a weak idea, to the point that 'democracy' is a noun in constant need of qualifying adjectives. [...]

"[I]t is precisely this conjunction, binding together freedom (or liberty) and democracy, that must be critically attacked [...]: a deconstructive critique of democracy must be accompanied by a constructive theory, what I would call a foundational or re-foundational theory of freedom, of the concept and practice of freedom. [...] [D]ifference is the foundational element of freedom, and the dislocating element of democracy.

"Democracy today is not the power of the majority. It is, as we were trying to suggest [...], the power of all. It is the kratos of the demos, in the sense that it is the power of all on each and every one. That is because democracy is precisely the process of homogenization, of the massification of thoughts, feelings, tastes, behaviours [...]. Basically, I see a kind of mass biopolitics, in which singularity is permitted for the private but denied to the public.

"The 'common' which is spoken of today is really that in-common which is already wholly taken over by this kind of self-dictatorship, this kind of tyranny over oneself which is the contemporary form of that brilliant modern idea: voluntary servitude. [...] The average bourgeois has won. Democracy is this: not the tyranny of the majority, but the tyranny of the average man. And this average man constitutes a mass within the Nietzschean category of the last man. [...]

"I am trying to understand the astounding silence of revolution in these decades, in this phase. This is what I am trying to shed light upon, this darkness. [...]

"For some time, without great success, I have argued for the necessity of revisiting the great theoretical moment of the elitists. I get no further because the resistances – which here too are both emotional and intellectual in character – are strong. But the elitists were the only ones to have formulated a critique of democracy before the totalitarianisms."

Mandatory reading.

What Tronti calls "the power of all on each and every one" and "the tyranny of the average man", I called "the tyranny of everyone", "a faceless mass [that rules] over oneself and a majority of mediocrity [...] placed higher than one's own [the true individual's] best judgement" (see "Re-Introducing Anti-Democratic Thought", in "Anti-Democratic Thought", ed. Erich Kofmel, Imprint Academic, 2008). To compare for other parallels with my own thinking, see my text available here:


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