22 May 2010

Article: Democracy vs Desire: Beyond the Politics of Measure

Andy Robinson's article "Democracy vs Desire: Beyond the Politics of Measure" was published in "Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed"
(issue 60, 23 [2], fall/winter 2005-06: page numbers not given).

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "My contention in this article is that anarchy and democracy are incompatible, because anarchy is based on an active politics of desire whereas democracy is necessarily reactive and thus plays into the repressive logics of industrial society and especially, of contemporary capitalism. [...] Democracy and the politics of desire may seem complementary, but in fact they run contrary to each other. [...] That minorities be prevented from expressing themselves with wildness and immediacy – that they remain always the 'loyal opposition' within the confines of a system in which the majority gets its way – is a necessary part of the idea of democracy. For this reason, democracy goes against the emancipation of desire, operating simply as a particularly powerful ideology of recuperation with especially effective, and therefore insidious, ways of excusing social repression. [...] [D]emocracy is a specific instance of state power – and not, as implied by some anarchists, a critique of state power or a form of anarchy. [...]

"The people – the 'decent' or 'law-abiding' or 'hard-working' ordinary folk or 'citizens' invoked to justify crackdowns and repression – are the agent of repression, while the excluded, the new barbarians, defined as criminal, indecent, and 'anti-social,' are the object. It is thus 'rule by the people' at its most brutal – a violent tyranny by those who define themselves as the authentic people, over those who are excluded from it. It is also, of course, a self-policing of capitalism and industrial society – but this is unsurprising, since the 'people', after all, are not defined externally to this society but rather are constructed by it. [...] Reactive psychology, which expresses itself in the ethics of self-deadening 'shoulds,' transmutes the internal repression of desire (itself necessary for one to subordinate oneself to the majority) into a hostility against the expression of active desires by others, thus drawing social repression as the consequence of psychological repression. Where the majority have such character-structures, democracy can be nothing more than a dictatorship by bigots. Where they do not, democracy is unstable, undermined in its calculative finality by desires that overflow it. [...]

"Is it a coincidence that the same self-styled anarchists who identify anarchism with democracy are also often insufficiently rigorous in opposing the new form of capitalist control expressed through the crackdown culture? [...] Everywhere, 'class struggle' anarchists rally behind the calls to oppose 'anti-social' activities, even to the point of critically supporting crackdowns (always, of course, with the usual supplements, denouncing the existing state even while forming the working-class itself into a parallel state with its own repressive force and its own conformity-imposing closures). One thus finds these would-be anarchists cast as the last defenders of the state. For the state, in its last instance, is not the macro-social aggregate; it is the logic of control and policing of life from above, which is epitomised locally in policing agencies (whether those of the official state police or of vigilantes, snoops, and busybodies), and psychologically in repressively formulated ethics (whether those of a liberal or aristocratic elite, or those of a self-righteous 'decent people' fixated on its own decency). Without a rejection of the fixed identities and categories that operate as cops in our heads, there can be no destruction of the state – only its transmutation, fragmentation, and ultimate revival ih [sic] new, and maybe stronger, forms.

"The 'people' who rule must after all be a determinate entity, and in order to be conceived as such, the 'people' must be given fixity as what Max Stirner terms a spook – an ideological construction to which actual people subordinate themselves, and of which one is a part only to the extent that one conforms. [...] 'Rule by the people' thus turns out not to be self-determination by actual people at all, but rather, to be the tyrannical imposition of a normative conception of an essence of peoplehood by those whose own identity is constructed around this category. What is excluded is the 'un-people' to misquote Stirner – the flows of desire and activity which exceed and overflow the fixed category, which are unspeakable in terms of its representations. [...] The adherents of anarchy, the opponents of despotic gestures of this kind, must necessarily be on the side of the excluded, indeed, among the excluded, and thus, against the imposition of conformity, and radically exterior to the imagined 'community' their fixed categories construct. [...]

"Democracy is not an inclusion of all those who vote; it is a means of silencing those who are left in the minority. [...] Active desire is not capable of accepting the a priori insistence that it conform to the result of a majority decision. [...] Thus, desire is minoritarian not simply in that it can often end up in the minority when a vote is taken; it is minoritarian in that it is non-denumerable, it cannot be reduced to something to be counted and weighed on a scale with other desires or with other entities of whatever kind. To reject the aspiration to be the majority – not only in the numerical sense but in the ideological sense, to reject the aspiration for one's own desires and contingencies to be classified as decent and normal to the exclusion of others – is a logical extension of active desire. Active desire, wildness, is unconditional and irreducible. It cannot, therefore, find expression in a system which reduces it to its representation, as one among many elements to be counted."

Andy Robinson is a Leverhulme Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham, from which he holds a PhD in Political Theory.

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