Democratic Piety: Complexity, Conflict and Violence 9780748633661

This book presents an innovative analysis of the nature of democratic theory, focusing on the prevalence of pious discou

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Democratic Piety: Complexity, Conflict and Violence

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Democratic Piety

Taking on the Political Series Editors: Benjamin Arditi and Jeremy Valentine International Advisory Editors: Michael Dillon and Michael J. Shapiro Titles in the Taking on the Political series include: Polemicization: The Contingency of the Commonplace Benjamin Arditi and Jeremy Valentine Post-Marxism Versus Cultural Studies Paul Bowman Untimely Politics Samuel A. Chambers Speaking Against Number: Heidegger, Language and the Politics of Calculation Stuart Elden Post-Foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau Oliver Marchart Cinematic Political Thought Michael Shapiro Politics and Aesthetics: Style, Emotion and Mediation Jon Simons

Democratic Piety

Complexity, Conflict and Violence

Adrian Little

Edinburgh University Press

# Adrian Little, 2008 Edinburgh University Press Ltd 22 George Square, Edinburgh Typeset in 11 on 13 Sabon by Iolaire Typesetting, Newtonmore and printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd, King’s Lynn, Norfolk A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 0 7486 3365 4 (hardback) The right of Adrian Little to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.




Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy


1 Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics


2 Complexity, Democratisation and Conflict


3 Democracy, Consensus and Dissent


4 Democracy and Violence


5 Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy


Conclusion: The Constitutive Failure of Democracy


Bibliography Index

179 187


The original idea for this book emerged in rather embryonic form in London in 2003 as I grappled with the meaning of radical democratic politics that had been discussed in somewhat favourable terms in my two books immediately prior to this one. While still adhering to the thrust of such approaches, this book presents them in a slightly darker, more critical manner. Although radical democracy remains one of the most insightful perspectives on the contemporary malaise of democratic theory and practice, I contend here that it has not extended its critique of democracy radically enough. The development of this approach roughly coincided with my move to Australia in 2004, although I cannot blame the country for the darkening of my stance on these issues (John Howard’s government notwithstanding). Nonetheless, I have been struck by the way in which a shift into a different context can open up new ways of thinking about old issues and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had just such an opportunity at the University of Melbourne. I would like to thank my colleagues at Melbourne for helping to provide a conducive environment in which to write this book. My Head in the old Department of Political Science, Ann Capling, supported the project from the outset (although I suspect she tried to throw a spanner in the works by making me her deputy!). I have also been lucky to have encountered a number of individuals with so much valuable critical commentary to impart on my ideas. I have received useful comments from Dan Bray, Julie Connolly, Anne McNevin, Anne Orford, Ralph Pettman and, in particular, Michael Crozier and Andrew Schaap. Mike and Andy read the whole manuscript and I have benefited enormously from their insights, especially as they brought such different expertise to the table. I look forward to more collaboration and the opportunity to return the favour to the

viii Acknowledgements pair of them in forthcoming years. I would also like to thank a number of research students who have enthused me with their dedication and ideas; special thanks here to Jessica Brennan, Mark Huba, Brig Lewis, Sandra Rudland and Lauren Wapling, who should all be able to see something of their input in various parts of the text. Earlier versions of different chapters were presented at various conferences but I have particularly enjoyed the critical comments I have received at consecutive annual conferences of the Australasian Political Studies Association between 2004 and 2006 at Adelaide, Otago and Newcastle, where earlier drafts of Chapters 1, 3 and 4 received their initial airing. The editorial team at Edinburgh University Press deserves my appreciation for the professionalism and diligence shown during the production of the book. As usual, Nicola Ramsey has conducted the exercise with a mixture of good humour and a great deal of sense, ably assisted by Esme´ Watson and Eddie Clark. I am particularly grateful to Jeremy Valentine and Ben Arditi, the editors of the Taking on the Political series, for their expert commentary and assistance in the production of the final manuscript. As usual, all of those noted above are exonerated from culpability for any remaining errors or misinterpretations in the text, which are my responsibility alone. Instead of blaming Australia for the darkening of my mood (the last Ashes series having momentarily eluded me), I would like to finish by reiterating the benefits that may accrue from a change of scenery. The process of writing a book like this is always a personal as well as an intellectual journey. Throughout this particular expedition, I have been accompanied by Holly Marshall, who has provided (at times much needed) support, appreciation and critical insight. As the partners of all authors know, this often means putting up with somewhat distant and self-indulgent companions at times. As we prepare to embark on the most exhilarating journey of all – parenthood – I thank her enormously for the imprint she has stamped on this book and promise to pay her back manifold in soiled nappies for the time lost over the last couple of years. This book is dedicated to Holly for all of the happiness she continues to bring and the unpredictable joyousness of the future yet to come. AJL May 2007

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy

Time tends to impose order on the past. We look back on early days and think we discern the outline of all that came after. Knowing how things happened, we assume this is the way it had to be. But the trajectory wasn’t pre-set. The chaos we felt around us was for real, and rich in possibilities other than those which came to pass. (McCann 2005: 84) However commonly held the dominant nominations may be, philosophy cannot accept them without critical examination. Philosophy knows that in general such nominations are under the control of the powers that be and their propaganda. (Badiou 2003: 108)

Religion has long been a target for the critical weaponry of modern political philosophy. Whether it is accused of anaesthetising an otherwise potentially revolutionary subject or generating war and political conflict, religion is often derided in secular political theory as the basis of unthinking faith, trust in traditional hierarchy, or mystical fanaticism. Against this irrationalism, the dominant forms of contemporary political theory attempt to make sense of the world by diagnosing social and political malignancies and advocating alternative paths to a better world free from the dangerous competition of political viewpoints or the fruitless pursuit of any number of religious utopias. This book recognises the validity of many secular critiques of religion and the way in which they identify the potential perils of traditional modes of authority. It also suggests that religious faith can become a way of avoiding the realities and exigencies of contemporary political problems, the need to grapple with intractable conflicts,


Democratic Piety

and, indeed, the very real possibility of failure when decisions are made on particular issues. For these reasons religious faith can be a way of avoiding political engagement or justifying existing social structures and divisions. However, the secular critique of religion as a form of political and social understanding does not necessarily have anything more coherent to offer in its stead. On the contrary, modern politics, especially in liberal democracies, is characterised by arguments to the effect that what is really required is more deliberation and discussion, more moderation from political interlocutors, a need to turn away from violence, trust between political opponents and so forth. The contention of this book is that, under the auspices of these arguments about political moderation, what we are witnessing is the establishment of a new religious force that is not challenged in the same way as secular political theories criticise orthodox religious thinking. What is emerging is in fact the religion of democracy. Furthermore, not only is this religion pursued as a way of solving deep problems in the world today, but it is evangelised by its supporters as the panacea for contemporary political conflicts and the failings that supposedly characterise non-Western societies, whether they are democratic or not. Most discussions of the relationship between religion and democracy in contemporary Western political philosophy approach the subject from the perspective of acceptance of the prime objectives and methods of democratic processes. Religion tends to be discussed in more critical terms, with a variety of perspectives emerging on which religions are most conducive to the furtherance of democratisation. Those that are deemed to be complementary to the democratic ideal, such as Protestantism, emerge from this literature in a much more favourable light than those with a more ambiguous position, such as Islam. However, it is also fair to say that the main Christian denominations do not have a definitively positive approach to democracy or share a historically harmonious relationship with democratic formations (Berger 2004). Even Tocqueville, in his discussion of the relationship between religion and democracy in America, noted the potential contradictions between religious dogmatism and democratic principles and thus the need for pragmatism in the demands that religious groups make of their adherents in democratic societies (Fradkin 2000: 90–1). These kinds of discourses are the kind that permeate contemporary discussions of religion and democracy;

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 3 here democracy is routinely accepted in an uncritical fashion and it is the claims of religion that need to be justified regarding the extent to which they complement with democracy. As interesting as these arguments might be, they do not provide a sufficiently critical or evaluative discussion of democracy and the way that democracies might use religions to shore up their hegemonic position in Western political organisation. This is all the more pressing at a time where there are widespread perceptions that a variety of religious figures and organisations are increasingly prominent on the stage of world politics. Jeffrey Haynes argues convincingly that essentialist discussions of the links between different religions and democratic politics are not very helpful in understanding the multiplicity of faiths and their shifting dynamics in relation to notions of democracy (Haynes 2005: 410–11). Instead of rehearsing those arguments however, this book contends that democracy itself is increasingly advocated in a religious fashion and, moreover, that this advocacy is often constructed around essentialist understandings of what constitutes democracy. The religious foundations of contemporary democratic thinking are outlined by Deneen (2005), albeit in a less critical manner than the argument constructed here. Deneen rightly notes that the ‘cruel facts’ of modern democracy require its advocates to have faith in something other than its actual manifestations: That democracy came to be enthusiastically accepted, if only symbolically, by radically secular thinkers as itself an object of worship and deification is suggestive less of thoughtlessness or hypocrisy than subtle acknowledgment of the sacred amid mistrust of fanaticism. If faith is a belief in that which is unseen, then it may be that democracy is as justifiably an object of faith as a distant and silent God. (Deneen 2005: xvi)

What is clear from this is that even those with an appreciative disposition towards the workings of modern democracy need to recognise the failings of actually existing democracies in standing up to competing claims of freedom, equality, rights, justice and so forth. Given that there are conflicting interpretations of these conceptual underpinnings of democracy, it is of little surprise that the implementation of democratic practice leaves much to be desired. In these circumstances, however, it becomes difficult to comprehend the pre-eminent position of democratic discourse in contemporary


Democratic Piety

politics. Whilst the acceptance of democracy as a flawed form of political organisation that nevertheless retains enough redeeming features to make it more attractive than any available alternatives may be justifiable, the deification of democracy and the demand that peoples of the world should piously pursue its methods is not. Thus, there may be circumstances in which arguments for democracy are wholly justified, but the piety and missionary zeal with which this form of government is promoted is not. This book contends that democratic piety over-simplifies complex social and political environments, misunderstands the nature of political conflict and its role in social relations, and obfuscates the relationship between democracy and violence. The link between different religions and the development of democracy is far from straightforward. It is easy to find examples where religious groups and organisations have facilitated democratic change and others where democratisation has been opposed by religious organisations that either have a vested interest in the maintenance of a non-democratic status quo or an authoritative position within a nondemocratic regime. Historically we can identify situations where ‘religious organizations and elites were not always happy with some of the consequences of the ensuing social and political pluralism, and on occasions acted (generally unsuccessfully) to re-assert their own power and exercise a moral guardianship over the new order’ (Anderson 2004: 1). Whilst it is true that the relationship between democracy and religion has been ambiguous, most of the existing literature focuses on the way in which religions either help or hinder the process of democratisation. However, most theories of democracy distance themselves from overtly religious connections, given the propensity of the latter to pronounce universal ‘truths’ as to how the world should be organised. On the other hand, according to Deneen, the advantage of democracy relies on the idea that democracy has risen supreme as that one form of government that eschews any claims to perfection on earth, that avoids any claims to fundamental knowledge of truth in politics, that permits most widely the proliferation of distinctive lifestyles and life paths whilst still governing in the name of the common weal. (Deneen 2005: xvi)

But does democracy make such benign claims? Is not the problem that democracy has become eulogised as an end in itself, irrespective of the contextual circumstances in which it might be implemented and

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 5 the particular needs that prevail in the situation over which it stands? The problem, then, is not necessarily democracy in itself but rather the glorification of a particular form of political system as the panacea for the problems of the world today. Democracy is after all only one of a variety of political systems, albeit one that is advocated by most of the major players in the contemporary global environment. Even then, it takes on many different forms, some of which bear a greater resemblance to the traditional ideas associated with democratic theory than others. In this scenario, the hegemonic articulation of democracy as a generic good is problematic. The current global climate demands a reevaluation of democracy and a critical assessment of its capacity to live up to the elevated principles that are often related to it. In short, the operation of democracy in the modern world, and the apparent separation between democratic theory and practice, demands critical analysis rather than piety or evangelism. Without addressing such an analysis, the advocates of democracy as a political ideal are wide open to the accusation of hypocrisy. It is important too that political philosophers of democracy do not merely blame political actors for the failings of democracy in practice. The problem of failing to apply democratic theory is not confined to those who attempt to institutionalise democratic models; it is also a result of the establishment of democratic models which pay insufficient attention to the actual conditions and contexts in which theories need to be applied. Merely to assert democratic theories and then bemoan the inability of political actors to put them into operation is to duck the issue. If democracy is to be redeemed from the banal culde-sac of contemporary political discourse, then the advocates of democracy need to adopt a more evaluative stance towards democracy itself. Otherwise the attempt to spread democratic practice throughout the world requires a leap of faith that only pious advocates can accomplish. Quite simply, these are not the people who need to be convinced. Instead, an openness to democratic failings and limitations is required to advance the idea of democracy in the contemporary world. This still leaves open the question of whether the wider spread of democracy is a good thing in itself, a question that I will return to later in the book, once the omnipotent deification of democracy in contemporary politics has been assessed. At this stage it is worth explaining why the trends that Deneen describes as ‘democratic faith’, are discussed in terms of democratic piety here. Democratic piety in contemporary politics is certainly not


Democratic Piety

to be taken as an inevitable outcome of the kind of faith that democracy seems to inspire. Instead, the term refers to a tendency to promote democracy in such a way that it becomes sacrosanct. In other words, it promotes the idea that it is sacrilege to challenge and critically analyse the operation of contemporary democracies and their relationships with non-democratic polities. In this sense democracy becomes a signifier of appropriate political organisation regardless of the extent to which the systems that it refers bear any worthwhile resemblance to the kinds of theories and concepts that have been put forward in the name of democracy, such as political equality, popular sovereignty and self-determination. For this reason democratic piety refers to more than a religious faith in democracy; it alludes to the use of the term ‘democracy’ and its underpinning concepts as a legitimising trope for various acts and systems that have very little to do with the values that are usually associated with democratic politics. For this reason the book is not just concerned with discourses of democracy as quasi-religious; rather, it seeks to highlight the absence of a sophisticated normative model of democracy at the heart of democratic piety. At the same time, however, it does not seek to provide such a normative model itself, except insofar as to highlight the problems associated with normative democratic theory and the need to understand the intractable nature of the ‘constitutive failure’ of democracy. If democratic piety is as noticeable in contemporary political discourse as my argument suggests, it is also important to highlight where these discourses emanate from and what their impact is on democratic theory and practice. At its most unsophisticated, democratic piety is evident in the kinds of arguments and language that have been employed in the ‘war on terror’ at the beginning of the twenty-first century. These reductive arguments, which contrast an uncritical version of democracy with notions of evil, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, tyranny and so forth, have become the common currency of the governments of the Coalition of the Willing and, in particular, the pious stance adopted by politicians such as George W. Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and their adherents. While these uncritical discourses have also earned their fair share of critical opprobrium, it would be reckless to underestimate the power of such popular political rhetoric on perceptions of democracy in the liberal democracies in which it is commonly employed. As will become clear, within the academic literature the language of

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 7 democracy tends to be used with a little more nuance but still, to some extent, democracy is often imagined in relatively uncontroversial terms. In the mainstream journals that dominate the Western academy, the language of democracy frequently occurs uncritically, as if concepts such as the rule of the people, political equality and selfdetermination are universally accepted and agreed upon. Moreover, in journals devoted to democratic theory and practice, such as the Journal of Democracy or Democratization, these presuppositions frame discussion to such an extent that many contributors have no compunction whatsoever in failing to problematise them at all, as if there were some kind of consensus on what democracy is and the benefits that accrue from it. On this basis these journals regularly publish articles assessing the state of democracy in various parts of the world as if there were agreed standards upon which such judgements can be made. Whilst it might be possible to argue that such a consensual model of democracy is possible (although the tenor of this book runs strongly contrary to such an approach), it still needs to be argued in substantial depth rather than being merely presupposed. There is one other dimension of democratic piety that should be noted in addition to its emergence as a legitimising trope for antidemocratic politics and the uncritical usage of democratic terminology in both popular and academic discourse. This is the de-politicising and de-radicalising tendency that it has within democratic theory. In particular, there are several theorists (with whom I have considerable sympathy) who have constructed theories of radical democracy that want to imagine more open models of democracy that are constituted by greater contestation and political argument (see, for example, Mouffe 2000, Connolly, 1995, Brown 2005). There is much to value in these theories insofar as they seek to unsettle and disrupt consensual, ‘civilised’ models of political conduct in thinking about what a more open democratic politics might look like. But arguably they too are bound by variants of democratic piety in the sense that there is limited critical engagement with the idea of democracy and its fundamental concepts. These concepts of the rule of the people or popular sovereignty are often shown to be problematic in the operation of modern liberal democracies but there is less critical awareness of how these issues might also be reflected in radicalised variants of democracy. Thus, there is little focus on the potential (or inevitable) exclusions of a radical democratic polity and the continued difficulties of making operational ideas such as the rule of the people when the


Democratic Piety

collective of ‘the people’ comprises a multiplicity of critical fault lines and contestations. Following Slavoj Zˇizˇek (2004a), the argument here suggests that the radical democratic literature needs to be more transparent in its recognition of the continuation and potential deepening of these issues in the kind of polity advocated by radical democrats. In other words, there needs to be greater recognition that the demands made of democracy are such that it inevitably fails to meet its objectives. This ‘constitutive failure’, I contend, is fundamental to the democratic condition. While pious discourses of democracy prevail in contemporary politics, it would be incorrect to assert that this situation can be attributed to a simple lack of understanding amongst its adherents. Whilst popular political utterances may reinforce this view, it is also worth entertaining the notion that democracy promotion in the world today might be a Straussian ‘noble lie’, whereby its advocates promote it as a panacea for complex political problems whilst being fully aware of its limitations and contradictions. Indeed, more cynical accounts might suggest that democracy promotion becomes a smokescreen for more malign, ‘realist’ political objectives, especially in the light of examples such as Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. What this implies is that, instead of democratic piety, what is required is a theory of democracy that understands the contingent nature of the political and, as a result, the limited capacity of democratic politics to resolve fundamental issues in modern life. This book sets out to unsettle and disrupt the uncritical usage of the idea of democracy. Rather than seeing democracy as a way that should be proselytised by its adherents in order to resolve political conflicts, this study will demonstrate the many political problems that different theories of democracy have not been able to resolve and the reasons behind such failures. The book will also show, however, these are not necessarily failures in the implementation of democracy alone, but are instead an inevitable aspect of all political societies. The critique is partially focused on democracy as an ideal typical means of organising political society but, more particularly, on the hegemonic position that it has assumed in the modern political imagination. By demonstrating the failings of democracy in a multitude of settings, the need to challenge the piety with which advocacies of democracy are often articulated becomes apparent. Thus, it is not simply a matter of construing a tension between the rhetoric and practice of democracy (although this exists). Rather, it is important to stress the relationship

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 9 between democracy and violence: that is, to identify the various ways in which democracies use violence to create and maintain the laws that enable it to function (Benjamin 1996) and which provide democracy’s justification in the idea of the rule of law. Moreover, it is also vital to interrogate the power imbued in the rule of law which enables sovereign powers to make decisions involving the setting aside of the law in certain situations to declare a state of exception (Schmitt 1995, Agamben 2005). From this perspective, pious discourses of democracy are not only championing democracy as an ideal form of government, they are also celebrating the capacity of democracies to set aside democratic procedures and resort to violence where they deem it necessary. In order to explain the dangers of democratic piety, it is vital to point to the problematic way in which democracy is often conceptualised in contemporary politics. These include: .



the failure of democratic theory to address the lessons of complexity theory in the social sciences and, in particular, key concepts such as dissipative structures, path dependency, and the irrationality of reductionism; the uneasy and often unsustainable juxtaposition of democracy and violence in contemporary political discourse and, in particular, the blind eye that is often turned to violent behaviour by democratic states both in the present and the past; the problematic emphasis on consensus in democratic theory and the way in which models such as deliberative democracy and procedural liberalism attempt to police political conduct and negate arguments that might unsettle consensus.

Attempts to grapple with these tensions or paradoxes are not assisted by pious discourses of democracy, especially those that rely upon reductive dichotomies, for example, between war and peace or democracy versus violence, which serve to over-simplify complex political problems. Instead, the argument constructed here suggests that an approach underpinned by the insights of complexity theory should view democracy as contingent, contradictory and open to political conflict. Clearly this kind of argument is related to some extent to the radical democratic project as identified to a greater or lesser degree with theorists such as Connolly (1991, 1995), Mouffe (2000, 2005) and

10 Democratic Piety Butler (2004) insofar as these theorists attempt to open up existing liberal democracies to potential ways in which they may be made more inclusive. Nonetheless, it should also be clear that these approaches ultimately remain within the prevailing democratic paradigm (Va´zquez-Arroyo 2004). The primary lesson of radical democratic theory is in demonstrating the exclusive practices of actually-existing liberal democracies and in identifying the contingent nature of the politics of democracy. What it does not do, however, is move beyond the pursuit of a more inclusive form of democracy; it tends therefore to be more critical of the liberal dimension of liberal democracy rather than the actual assumptions and practices of democracy. More recently, however, a rather disparate band of iconoclastic theorists such as Agamben (2005), Badiou (2005) and Zˇizˇek (2004a) have offered a more radical critique of democracy itself and, therefore, the illusory and deceptive politics of democratic piety. Both of these approaches will be used in this book to demonstrate the limitations of democratic theory and practice, but the second group of authors will be employed to argue for the need to unsettle and disrupt democracy itself rather than merely pointing to the inability of contemporary democracies to match theory with practice.

Structure of the book The first part of the book examines the implications of complexity theory for contemporary understandings of democracy. In Chapter 1, I point to the way in which the idea of complexity has had a substantial impact in fields such as public policy and organisational theory, whilst noting that it has rarely been applied to the politics of conflict and its relationship with democracy. The chapter suggests that such an approach is integral to developing a critical theory of democratic politics. Borrowing from the natural sciences, complexity theory suggests that social and political phenomena cannot be understood through strict linear models of scientific explanation. Instead, it should be recognised that there is a multiplicity of factors that contribute to the emergence of political issues, issues that cannot be simply reduced to their most basic components. Furthermore, it is in the intersection of a multiplicity of phenomena that specific social issues emerge. As such, linear explanations of political disputes and means of resolving them are not particularly helpful in working out how to deal with these issues.

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 11 Complexity theory also has a fundamental bearing on our understanding of democracy. It suggests, by reflecting a wide range of social and cultural issues and divisions, that the substance of democratic politics goes far beyond the formal political arena. Whilst democracy often appears in contemporary political discourse as a means of resolving political problems, complexity theory implies that it does so by over-simplifying the many complications and conflicts of politics – and then over-determining their resolution. Using the work of Cilliers (1998), Urry (2003) and Zolo (1992) amongst others, Chapter 1 argues that the insights of complexity theory are most acute when they are combined with the analytical tools provided by elements of post-structuralist thought. Although these approaches are not necessarily inherently related, they provide complementary arguments in their assessment of the relationship between democracy and violence in particular. Thus, the combination of complexity and poststructuralism enables political analysts to articulate a more sophisticated but less definitive understanding of the nature of democratic politics and the way in which it deals with or engages in forms of violence. Whilst it is possible that complexity theory alone can retreat towards realist epistemology because complex situations may be deemed beyond our cognition, it is nevertheless a more dynamic (and potentially radical) theory when coupled with post-structuralist arguments that the components of complex situations need to be deconstructed in order to demonstrate that there is no single overarching explanation of a problem. These two theoretical perspectives, then, despite their different approaches and focuses, converge around questions of democracy and violence, and it is this point of convergence that is central to the critique of democratic piety. In Chapter 2 I build upon the combination of complexity theory and post-structuralism to draw out the implications of complexity for understanding political conflicts. By examining the dynamics of conflict in sites such Northern Ireland and the Middle East, the argument will point to a range of issues that give rise to multiple readings of conflict situations. On this basis, it is important to realise that attempts to reduce conflicts to their simplest components do not necessarily facilitate understanding of the contemporary dynamics of a contested situation. Explanations of different disputes as primarily national, territorial, religious, ethnic or cultural can help to obscure the interaction of a multiplicity of reasons for a particular conflict. However, rather than merely fusing

12 Democratic Piety together some of these explanatory arguments to provide a more comprehensive model, this chapter suggests that varying issues come to the fore in different political contestations. There is not one overarching explanation, or indeed a satisfactory combination of them, that is capable of definitively clarifying the root of a specific conflict. Instead, these understandings of conflict will at different times interact with issues of class, gender and other forms of identity to complicate the issues in hand. There is not therefore one problem in a situation such as Northern Ireland to be managed or transformed but rather a multiplicity (Finlayson 2006, VaughanWilliams 2006). Sources of conflict will take on the face of different aspects of social structure at different times. Thus, using the literature of complexity theory, the chapter suggests that a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of conflict is needed to explain political disagreements. This is not to say that conflicts are too impenetrable to yield explanatory factors but rather to suggest that a stronger sense of the lack of fixity is required in explaining such disputes. In understanding the complexity of political disagreements, it becomes less justifiable to make simplistic, reductive judgements on their resolution. In turn, this demonstrates the way in which path dependency can impel us in rather unhelpful ways towards certain types of answers to political problems. If, as Chapter 2 contends, many societies are characterised by a multiplicity of intersecting conflicts, Chapter 3 suggests that it is problematic to conceive democratic politics in terms of the pursuit of consensus. Where agreements are made to resolve or contain political disputes, they are best understood as transient and highly contingent upon their context. This chapter builds on this notion by grappling with the significance of disagreement for democratic politics. It identifies the emergence of some new liberal models of dissent in the face of criticisms emerging within radical democratic argument. Thus, the work of different liberal theorists such as Sunstein (2003), Hampshire (2000) and Ignatieff (2004)1 is contrasted with more radical theories (associated with Jacques Rancie`re and William Connolly, for example) that focus on the need for ongoing political disagreement as the lifeblood of democracy. Where the former concentrate on the need for the ‘right’ kind of dissent and its expression through the mechanisms of liberal democratic and/or deliberative politics, the latter see those mechanisms and procedures themselves as sources of political dispute. This casts new light on the way in which

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 13 phenomena such as violence are construed in democratic politics. Rather than seeing democracy and violence as dichotomous, this chapter suggests that they exist, overlap and intertwine on a political continuum. Thus, having more of one does not necessarily entail less of the other; rather, democracy requires challenge and critique and sometimes this is likely to manifest itself in violent forms of protest. In orthodox theories, however, the language of democracy can be utilised to close off the political to the challenge of dissent and criticism when, in fact, these phenomena are pivotal to the operation of democratic societies. This approach has a fundamental impact on the understanding of the ethical challenges that emerge in contemporary societies, especially around the issue of violence. In Chapters 4 and 5 this discussion of disagreement and conflict is enriched by analysing examples from contemporary politics that suggest that the differentiation of democracy and violence is problematic. These chapters contend instead that violence is prevalent in all democratic societies. To make this point, examples discussed include overtly conflictual societies such as Northern Ireland, as well as the way in which supposedly settled democratic societies such as Australia are characterised by considerable violence (particularly in the case of indigenous peoples). Moreover, this chapter points to forms of sexual, racist and homophobic violence all over the world. By using these examples, it identifies the difficulties associated with the simplistic rhetoric of democracy and violence perpetuated by many political actors and elements within democratic theory. By utilising Foucault’s inversion of Clausewitz’s aphorism that war is the continuation of politics by other means (Foucault 2004), the chapter examines the problems that are generated in attempting to construct a ‘civil’ politics that does not relate to old animosities and incivilities. Thus, rather than trying to cosset an embryonic democracy from antagonism, the argument suggests that societies building political institutions without recourse to historical animosities are unlikely to address the main schisms with which democratic politics should be engaged. This is a particular challenge in societies such as Northern Ireland or Israel/Palestine, where there is a fine line between reflecting political divisions and reifying them in the construction of democratic institutions. The point here is that the project of constructing and/or maintaining democracy in any given society is a fragile and tentative process that is not aided by the strident assertion of dichotomies between violence and democracy or civility

14 Democratic Piety and incivility. Of course, these discourses are part and parcel of everyday political rhetoric but the argument here suggests that the establishment of viable democratic institutions requires a less dogmatic approach than that imagined by the dominant political rhetoric, ethical certainties and pious democratic idealism. All of this suggests that the possibility of rethinking the relationship between violence and democracy should be a key concern of contemporary political theory. Rather than contrasting democracy and violence or imagining democracy as a means of ameliorating violence, the argument points out that many democratic societies have been founded on the basis of violent engagement at some level. And, of course, the modern state has always claimed the legitimate use of force as a key ingredient in its authority. By using the work of Ross (2004) and Badiou (2001), as well as Benjamin and Schmitt, the chapter contends that many contemporary democratic discourses have lost sight of the relationship between democracy and violence. Indeed, it is frequently the case that discourses of democracy are couched in ethical terms as the obverse of violence. Ironically, this trend is often most apparent where societies are either making a transition to democracy or where a process of conflict transformation is taking place. The limitations of these approaches for our understanding of violence and democracy are outlined through an examination of a range of contemporary political developments. These examples include the ‘war on terror’, the ongoing revelations about the treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guanta´namo Bay, the treatment of asylum-seekers in many liberal democracies and the response to the 2005 elections to the Palestinian Authority. These issues are often intertwined with the discourse of terrorism, which has become a convenient shorthand to describe political perspectives that act on the basis of the inadequacy of democracy (whether threatening or otherwise). Thus, Butler (2004) contends that certain beliefs and opinions are designated as ‘uninhabitable’ and in the process their adherents are cordoned off beyond the democratic paradigm. Rather than accepting the unsophisticated labelling of oppositional perspectives as ‘terrorist’, the argument here identifies the way in which we construct definitions of violence and terrorism and the impact that this distinction can have on our conduct of democratic politics. The Conclusion addresses the implications for democratic politics of a perspective informed by complexity theory and post-structuralist accounts of conflict and violence (Newman 2005). It draws together

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 15 the arguments and insights identified in the earlier chapters and outlines their implications for democratic politics, in particular for an understanding of democracy that reflects its limitations and inadequacies. The argument points to the limitations of the democratic vocabulary that prevails in political theory and the problems that are engendered in the application of this language to real political conflicts. It contends that it is instead more useful to articulate different discourses of democracy in order to make sense of embryonic democratic forms and understand the failings of democracy. Thus, without a more critical understanding of democracy, there is an increased likelihood that practical politics will fail to live up to the ideal typical models of democracy that prevail in the theoretical literature. This is evident in the schism between representative democracies and the major concerns that prevail in the everyday lives of their inhabitants. It is also apparent in the increasingly ubiquitous arguments about political apathy in liberal democracies around the world. My argument contends that many democratic theories that have tried to grapple with this ‘democratic deficit’, such as deliberative democracy, make unrealistic demands of political actors that involve them either relinquishing deeply held political convictions or abstracting these actors from the political context in which they work. Rather than merely adopting a realist response to this problem, addressing the democratic deficit actually necessitates a critique of democratic ethics in both theory and practice. Democratic theory must recognise the movement towards the terrain of ethics as the source of political disagreement in democracies and the inadequacy of liberal democratic theory in dealing with that adjustment. Rather than seeing democracy as the source of political consensus, the Conclusion contends that subjective ethical conflicts are more likely to be the main characteristic in democratic politics. In short, democracy needs to be envisaged as conflictual rather than consensual. However, rather than merely advocating a more radical form of democratic politics, this book suggests that democracy is likely to fail in pursuit of its objectives. This is precisely because of the contingent nature of the political and the complex dynamic that ensures that there are always new challenges to the established political order. In this sense, there is never a settled political order in which democracy is established. This ‘constitutive failure’ is part of the ‘ontological condition’ of democracy that ensures that neither democratic piety nor calls for a more radical, inclusive democracy are

16 Democratic Piety sufficient to circumvent the need for democracy itself to be subjected to more substantial critical analysis.

Conclusion Democratic theory is in a state of quiet crisis, reflecting (if inadequately) the more serious crisis of democracy itself. The quiescent assumption that democracy’s superiority can and ought to be taken as a matter of unchallenged belief rests on a set of largely unexamined presuppositions that point to a quiet desperation underlying much of contemporary democratic theory – a desperation, indeed, that has always been present in democratic theory from its earliest articulations in antiquity. (Deneen 2005: 1)

The challenges facing democratic politics that are generated by the ethical conflicts of the world today are considerable. Deneen argues that the roots of the democratic crisis lie in the inconsistencies between human beings as they are and as they might be, with too much democratic theory relying on a conception of the latter. This book suggests that a radical rethinking of democracy needs to move beyond narrow conceptions of democracy and their compatibility with essentialised notions of humanity or human nature. Instead, it rejects links between democracy, human imperfectability and violence and recognises that political conflicts generate a multiplicity of ethical positions which give rise to further political contestations. This is the nature of the political in any complex society but this is also a situation that is often marginalised in many of the universalist models of democracy in contemporary political philosophy. To a certain extent, then, the argument here builds upon radical democratic politics which recognise the normality of disagreement in democracies and the inevitability of conflicts between alternative perspectives. Whilst, of course, this realisation is not new, this book suggests that some of these insights about the place of conflict in modern political systems have been marginalised in the construction of pious discourses of democracy. Radical democratic approaches reject the consensual impulse that underpins most liberal and deliberative models of democracy and contend that the existence of conflict is unavoidable in complex societies, given the contested nature of political spaces and the clash of identities within them. This, in itself, is not unique; but the implications of the argument are more fundamental than many radical democratic critiques themselves recognise. It suggests that democratic politics need to be conducted at the same time as violence

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 17 and conflict and that there is a need to imagine a new phase in understanding the limitations of democratic politics. Whilst radical democratic theory criticises the prevailing orthodoxies of liberal democracy, it does not attempt to move us beyond the democratic paradigm by interrogating discourses of popular sovereignty or selfdetermination. In so doing, it fails to identify the extent to which such notions are marginal to the actual operation of many contemporary democracies, except in the most formal political sense. Radical democracy has a more modest objective of initiating an improvement in democracy through critical engagement with its main ideas. Its objective is an unsettling of the comfortable complacency emanating from democratic piety and the establishment of a more contingent and dynamic understanding of democracy that better reflects the conflicts and uncertainties of democratic politics. This leaves a further question hanging in the air: can democracy be rescued from democratic piety or does a radical politics demand a more forthright rejection of democratic politics per se? The danger with radical democratic politics is in enacting what Paul Cilliers, following Jacques Derrida, calls a ‘performative fallacy’. By this he means the process by which a theory is constructed that ‘insists on radical contingency, yet claims to be generally valid’ (Cilliers 1998: 142). In other words, what is at risk in the rejection of democratic universalism and the possibility of articulating generally applicable principles of democratic organisation is the smuggling into the equation of a universalism of contingency. Thus, it is important to face the danger of replacing one form of political universalism with another, albeit founded on the notion that all universalisms are contingent. For Cilliers, the point here is to accommodate the Derridean argument by remembering to consider the specific content of claims that are being made in complex political systems: the characterisation of complexity presented here is a very sparse one; it claims very little. It describes in general the structure of complex systems, but at a very low level. This means that the higher-level or emergent properties play no role as such in the theory itself; they have no ‘higher’ importance . . . Complex systems are held together by local interactions only. The model does not attempt to specify the effects of those interactions. (Cilliers 1998: 142)

In terms of the critique of democratic piety, this suggests a need to be circumspect in asserting the positive benefits of a more radically

18 Democratic Piety contingent model. Whilst radical contingency is wholly defensible, it implies that a result of such an approach is potentially less as well as more democratic. Contingency may be a fact of political life but it is not the object of democracy – instead, it is an inevitable by-product and characteristic of political engagement and decision-making. The critique of democratic piety, then, invokes radical contingency but does not see it as an end in itself. The outcomes of the critique remain open; it proceeds on the basis that there may be more or less democratic outcomes from a critical engagement with democratic piety. However, I am convinced that this is a worthwhile and necessary engagement because the operation of many modern democracies is so frequently at odds with the concepts and principles that democracy invokes that the risk is worth taking. When democratic societies increasingly operate in openly authoritarian, aggressive and discriminatory fashions (as manifest in the ‘war on terror’), it seems an opportune time to critically revisit their basic tenets. This is especially the case when these regimes increasingly resort to democratic piety as a means of protecting themselves from criticisms of their repression and authoritarianism. This is an opportune moment to return to Deneen’s thesis on democratic faith, for he points out the way in which democratic faith is based on a clear paradox in the contemporary world. His argument is founded on a need to explain how a political system designed to minimize claims of faith itself rests on faith, how a regime embraced for its modesty may be immodest in that embrace, how the rejection of truth in politics has led to the creation of a guiding truth in politics, and how that most anti-utopian regime may become most dangerously utopian at the moment it congratulates itself loudest for its defeat of utopianism in politics. (Deneen 2005: xvii)

These are indeed identifiable problems in democratic theory and practice but Deneen’s thesis also contains many presuppositions that require further inquiry. My argument intends in different ways to unsettle some of these assumptions, notably that democracy reduces claims of faith, that it is modest, that it rejects truth and that it is anti-utopian. These claims are deeply loaded, and whilst Deneen is surely correct that contemporary articulations do not live up to these ideals, it is not self-evident that these presuppositions have ever been justifiable. Thus, the argument here implies that democratic piety is the latest stage in the attempt to shore up the power of political elites

Introduction: Pious Discourses of Democracy 19 and the hegemony of neo-liberal political economy. In this sense, democratic piety is not particularly concerned with democracy and its realisation; instead, as Jacques Rancie`re (2006) contends, it is part of a political tendency that abhors democratic notions of political equality and self-determination. Thus, democratic piety is not a phenomenon that can be wholly divorced from the history of democracy itself and presented as a new bastardisation of an older, purer ideal. Instead, democratic piety is a modern attempt to protect elite democratic projects from critiques that are more forthright than ever in rejecting their theoretical claims and practical manifestations. In the twentieth-century many opponents of democracy sought to claim the language of democracy for themselves in order to defend systems that are rarely seen as democratic today. The critics of democracy now are more open both within and beyond liberal democracies. Therefore, although democratic piety is an attempt to ward off these challenges, it nevertheless invigorates critical opposition by hiding behind a messianic zeal and anachronistic evangelism that merely insists upon the propriety of democracy rather than seeking to persuade the recipients of this proselytism of its merits.

Note 1. For more detailed commentary on these perspectives, see Little (2007).

Chapter 1 Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics

In a complex world there is often a tendency to try to make politics as simple as possible. This tendency is evident, for example, in the cases of journalists seeking to explain events and situations to uninitiated recipients, intellectuals in the social sciences trying to identify grand theories that can make sense of a multiplicity of diverse phenomena, and politicians wanting to identify solutions to problems and events so that they will harness electoral support. In all these instances it is possible to identify efforts to explain issues by reducing them to a simplified calculus which then enables the process of making decisions to take place in a supposedly more straightforward fashion. Similarly, in the area of ethical debates about the rectitude of war, for example, complicated political events that emanate from a wide range of historical, social and cultural factors may be reduced to their most banal in order to engender decisions based on judgements about good and evil. Actors on the stage of global politics are sometimes guilty of establishing simple dualisms that create binary divisions between societies which are democracies and those which are not in order to make the world a simpler place to understand. This approach to political issues signifies the preference for ‘simplicity, for things to be definite and manageable, for wishing that the connections we establish between a simple cause and an effect are necessary and sufficient for establishing a scientific law, and that we have found the answer to our problems’ (Smith 1998: 321). Although some political issues and problems may be susceptible to straightforward analysis, in practice most political phenomena result from a multiplicity of processes that resist easy solutions. This realisation has filtered into political discourse in recent years through

22 Democratic Piety the emergence of complexity theory as a new approach to dealing with social problems. The complexity approach has been developed from the natural sciences, where it has been constructed to challenge the static, linear and fixed explanations of scientific phenomena developed in more orthodox and traditional scientific theories. Complexity theory emerged as a new form of scientific thinking that attempted ‘to demonstrate why the whole universe is greater than the sum of its many parts, and how all its components come together to produce overarching patterns. This effort to divine order in a chaotic cosmos is the new science of complexity’ (Coveney and Highfield 1995: 5). Complexity, then, is a paradigm where elements of disorder are always apparent but it seeks to use the knowledge of disorder to achieve a better understanding of the world. One of the most important aspects of complexity theory lies in the critique of reductionism. More orthodox scientific theories have traditionally sought to reduce and simplify phenomena in order to understand them. This reductionism arises from the belief that it is better to focus attention on ‘the investigation of the more or less simple elements, in the expectation that complex phenomena could be understood as mere aggregates of these elements’ (Niekerk and Buhl 2004: 2). Complexity theory, on the other hand, emphasises the interconnectedness of natural phenomena and the attendant difficulties attached to reductionist methodologies of explaining or changing the world. For example, Cilliers points out that a ‘complex system cannot be reduced to a collection of its basic constituents, not because the system is not constituted by them, but because too much of the relational information gets lost in the process’ (Cilliers 1998: 10). Complexity, then, is concerned with collectivities – the multiplicity of combinations of small units that come together to forge the environment. Thus, ‘complexity is the study of behaviour of macroscopic collectivities of such units that are endowed with the potential to evolve in time’ (Coveney and Highfield 1995: 7, emphasis in the original). From this definition it is clear that complexity theory is not merely concerned with explaining things as they are but also with making sufficient sense of phenomena as to be able to evaluate ways in which things might change. It is not a static or linear mode of thinking. Similarly, in the social sciences, complexity can be utilised to develop more nuanced understandings of social issues against functionalist, behaviouralist and rationalist accounts of the world. John

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 23 Urry provides a useful summary of the nature of the complexity approach when he paints a picture of the world as ‘disordered, full of paradox and the unexpected . . . There is a complex world, unpredictable yet irreversible, fearful and violent, disorderly but not simply anarchic. Small events in such systems are not forgotten but can reappear at different and highly unexpected points in time and space’ (Urry 2003: x).1 The point about complexity, then, is not to render social phenomena inexplicable and thereby avoid attempting to understand situations and improve political relations, but to highlight the contingent nature of much of what is taken for granted or presupposed in the terms of political debate. Thus, complexity implies that ‘we should always be open to the unexpected, that there are always different interpretations, that the things we take for granted are not universal, and that the way we see the world is just one way of producing meaning’ (Smith 1998: 321). Similarly, Mol and Law contend that there is complexity ‘if things don’t add up, if events occur but not within the processes of linear time, and if phenomena share a space but cannot be mapped in terms of a single set of threedimensional coordinates’ (Mol and Law 2002: 1). From this foundation complexity theory has had a growing influence on the social sciences, most notably in fields such as the theory of organisations and public policy. I want to argue here, however, that the analysis of political conflicts is also considerably enhanced if we adopt an approach within the complexity paradigm.2

Complexity Theory and the Challenge for Democracy Complexity theory suggests a need to think more deeply about social issues and the methods that are used to deal with them. It challenges political actors to grapple with problems and disputes in ways that go beyond the conclusive idea of resolution. Instead, complexity implies that any attempt to deal with social issues resists simple explanation. Here it is worth noting Ilya Prigogine’s idea of complexity as a ‘dissipative structure’ which is ‘marked by irreversible changes that give it a temporal or historical dimension’; it is ‘susceptible to changes in the course of its development that are unpredictable’ (Connolly 2001: 4). In this scenario, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for any actor or decision-maker to be equipped with a comprehensive knowledge of all the factors that generate particular issues. If a comprehensive knowledge of a problem is almost unattainable, then efforts to

24 Democratic Piety deal with problems will always be partial and open to failure. Complexity invokes the possibility of failure and the probability that social, economic and public policies will engender unintended outcomes that develop a new cycle of issues. It is this aspect in particular – the inevitability of failure – that will become central to the rethinking of democracy in the course of this book. Complexity theory embodies dynamism; it suggests that political issues are never fully resolved but can instead disappear and reappear. Thus the relationships within a system ‘are not fixed, but shift and change, often as a result of self-organisation. This can result in novel features, usually referred to in terms of emergent properties’ (Cilliers 1998: ix, emphasis in the original). The notion of emergent properties not only indicates the dynamism of complex systems, it also helps to differentiate complexity from complicatedness. As Cilliers indicates, many things are complicated but are still relatively static, which means that they are explicable as the combination of components that generates them, even if this is specialist knowledge. Complexity, on the other hand, because it recognises that components are constantly changing, challenges the view that a complex item can be understood by reducing it to its constituent parts. This is important in considering political problems because it implies that political actors are never dealing with a settled, static set of issues on which other actors concur. Instead, it suggests that social and political phenomena are always in the course of development and that this dynamic impedes attempts to reach definitive explanations of the kinds of issues that politics perennially throws up. This dynamic of continual development is pertinent for the study of democracy, in particular, because of the way in which political theory – at least in some parts of the world - has been constrained by a behaviouralist reductionism that has neglected the implications that a ‘layered conception of culture might carry for thinking, judgment, identity, ethics, and conflict in politics’ (Connolly 2001: 4). In these circumstances it is not surprising that the centrality of conflict to democratic politics has been superseded by the dull compulsion of the attainment of consensus and the pursuit of a singular rationality. In challenging reductionist methodologies complexity theory raises a pivotal challenge to dominant conceptions of democracy and the substance of democratic politics.3 Even contributors such as Susan Hurley, who are alive to some of the relevant issues, still tend to discuss the process of democracy in somewhat rationalistic terms. She

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 25 suggests that there is a need to rethink democratic principles in the light of complexity because ‘otherwise we are left with a reduced conception of democracy that is handicapped in its ability to provide a coherent ideal in the face of global complexity. It will be only a fragment of a political ideal’ (Hurley 1999: 274). But perhaps this is the key to rethinking democracy and complexity, namely, that democracy is but a fragment of a system that may help to make sense of complex issues. Inevitably, though, it does so only in a partial manner that impedes the development of a singular democratic rationality.4 The key point, then, is that political attempts to deal with or resolve contentious issues are never complete. The challenge for democracy lies in making sense of complex issues and reaching decisions in a way that reflects the emergent properties that unsettle the basis of the decision. Implicit in this argument is the point that definitions of problems have a direct bearing on the political capacity to deal with or ‘resolve’ them. It is only by constructing specific problems in certain ways that it becomes possible to grapple with them more or less successfully. Furthermore, it is sometimes the case that certain issues come to be depicted in specific ways precisely in order to make them fit in with a pre-existing construction of a problem.5 Initiatives to tackle these ‘problems’ will, as a consequence, be assessed according to the extent to which they remedy or rectify the specific problem that has been constructed. Thus, if problems are constructed in different ways, then the avenues for addressing them will be narrowed down into those that are deemed to address the issue most directly. This is not to say that there should not be efforts to investigate and explain the reasons underpinning social and political phenomena. Instead, it merely suggests a need for greater care in the way that social issues are characterised and in the selection of potential techniques that may be employed to tackle them. This implies that the idea of complexification needs to be central in addressing any social issue if there is a genuine concern for discovering ways of dealing with and managing these issues and formulating appropriate policies. For Smith, ‘complexification involves a step away from the conventional view of what it means to be scientific. If we accept that studying people means acknowledging these aspects of social complexity, then we must recognize that the adoption of a closed-system approach is inappropriate’ (Smith 1998: 321). One key issue here is to realise the limitations of approaches that rely on the behaviour of elements in controlled environments because, more often than not,

26 Democratic Piety things interact with each other beyond the constraints of control. Thus, Mol and Law point out that ‘laboratory experiments are simplificatory devices: they seek to tame the many erratically changing variables that exist in the wild world, keeping some stable and simply excluding others from the argument’ (Mol and Law 2002: 2). Similarly, in politics – even at its most metaphorical – attempts to imagine what the basis of a social contract might be through appeals to an essentialised model of human nature or a constructed ‘state of nature’ have limited appeal in providing persuasive foundations for models of governance, given that these conditions never actually exist. It is also important to stress that the use of complexity theory in political analysis does not equate with the idea of chaos as it is commonly understood. Certainly, complexity theory sheds light on the problems of linear approaches to scientific phenomena and issues but the idea of non-linearity should not be confused with the notion of chaos. In abstract terms, ‘Nonlinear relationships imply that an independent variable does not have a constant effect on the dependent variable. Furthermore, even the direction of change need not be the same across all cases, and there may be qualitatively different phenomena observed from a small change in a variable’ (Richards 2000: 1). Thus, linear theories that relate simple models of cause and effect often overlook the ways in which different variables overlap and interact with one another, giving rise to complex outcomes. Instead, complexity theory develops the idea that order and disorder constantly co-exist with one another. Indeed, often the ostensible appearance of complex, disordered factors in social life is somewhat orderly. However, this orderly exterior often masks a range of complicated phenomena under the surface – in this sense, the orderly and disorderly exist simultaneously in complex life (Urry 2003: 22). The challenge for democracy, from this perspective, is to glean an orderly basis on which to make decisions when the actual phenomena being discussed are dynamic and, at least partially, chaotic. It should be clear that complexity theorists are not suggesting that the world is completely unintelligible or that it is impossible to understand factors that contribute to the development of a particular issue. Nonetheless, if it is accepted that issues are part of a dynamic process in which the factors that contribute to them are also in a state of flux, then it is difficult to track down singular answers for any particular social problem. Even if it is plausible to identify the contributory factors, those factors themselves are part of a changing

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 27 dynamic generated from a complex range of factors. The emergent nature of this process gives rise to disorderliness because of the unpredictable nature of change that is taking place under the surface. Even though individuals and societies may try to understand phenomena through orderly systems of thought, complexity suggests that all issues contain unsettling, disorderly facets. In this way, attempts in politics to think systematically about particular issues encounter the problem that systems themselves are unstable and disorderly. Whilst they are designed to contain and rationalise actors and ideas, they are incapable of doing so to the extent that is sometimes imagined. Thus, for theorists of complexity, systems themselves are ‘unstable, dissipative structures’ (Urry 2003: 28). This makes attempts to rationalise thoughts and behaviours in terms of the requirements of systems much more speculative. One of the most significant ideas that emanates from complexity theory is its interaction with sociological notions of path dependency. Path dependency alludes to the way in which decisions that are taken in any sphere of life can establish a framework through which subsequent decisions tend to be filtered. Thus, whilst a ‘rational’ decision about a course of action may take us in one direction, the established frameworks, structures and ways of behaving may take us in another.6 In making a decision on a particular course of action, then, methodologies and mindsets may be set in place that are extremely difficult to alter in the future: notions of path dependence emphasize the importance over time of the ordering of events or processes. Contra linear models, the temporal patterning in which events or processes occur very significantly influences the way that they eventually turn out . . . Causation can indeed flow from contingent minor events to hugely powerful processes that through increasing returns then get locked in over lengthy periods of time. (Urry 2003: 54)

What path dependence implies, of course, is that it is wise not to take anything at face value. Systems and processes that may have been in place for substantial periods of time do not necessarily provide the most appropriate means of achieving an objective. Traditional ways of acting do not necessarily have scientific validity in themselves beyond their foundation in tradition. This means that orthodox modes of behaviour need to be challenged to ascertain whether or not they continue to represent the most appropriate actions in specific

28 Democratic Piety developing circumstances. Thus, path dependence helps to explain the reasons why contemporary societies do things in certain ways. Shifting social action away from such dependence is a more difficult proposition precisely because activities and ways of thinking become socially and culturally ingrained. Indeed activities may become part of cultural practice to the extent that they are thought to be ‘natural’ or fundamental to particular groups of people. In this scenario – especially given the higher profile of cultural traditions in contemporary political debates – it is not easy to move away from established paths. In terms of complexity, path dependence is all the more significant because the various factors that generate any social outcome may themselves be the outcomes of a multiplicity of path dependencies. This makes complexity even more complex. In understanding an issue, it is not just the contributing factors and catalysts that generate it that need to be understood but also the fact that the factors themselves are not the outcome of rational systems. This clearly fits with the ethos of complexity theory in identifying order alongside disorder and demonstrating the dynamism in the processes that create any social object. Nonetheless, this does generate the question of whether complexity theory is so disordered and non-linear that everything becomes inexplicable and all that remains is a disorganised mess that is not comprehensible through social scientific observation. Whilst undoubtedly complexity theory makes social and political theorising more complicated, this does not render it completely directionless. Instead, it posits a theoretical model that is dynamic, fluid and non-linear, where the ‘characteristics of nonlinear processes, including possibilities for sensitivity to small changes, nonequilibrium dynamics, the emergence of complex patterns, and sudden changes in outcomes, all imply that much less is static, stationary, and fixed in a nonlinear than in a linear model’ (Richards 2000: 8). The idea of non-linearity is central to complexity theory. This is because it suggests that ‘systems do not obey the simple rules of addition’ (Coveney and Highfield 1995: 9). Non-linearity implies that the scientific methodology of reducing issues to their most basic components in order to understand how they come together is limited in the information it provides. Thus, for example, chemical formulae can be used to explain how different substances are formed but it is important to remember that quite often external factors will influence such processes when they are taken out of controlled environments. The linear understanding of combining elements to make other

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 29 substances does not allow for the ways in which other natural or humanly constructed phenomena may interfere with this process. In other words, non-linearity ‘causes small changes on one level of organization to produce large effects at the same or different levels . . . In general, nonlinearity produces complex and frequently unexpected results’ (Coveney and Highfield 1995: 9). In this way it is difficult to think of social phenomena in a strictly linear fashion. Thus, just because a particular public policy is developed to meet a specific need, this does not mean that the outcome will be successful. Quite often, this will be because of the impact of an unconsidered element on the way the policy operates or perhaps a key actor in the process of implementation will behave in unpredictable ways. Similarly, in organisations we cannot be sure that individuals will act in accordance with what we expect of them, especially in complex scenarios where there are multiple conflicting demands being made of one person, for example, by their manager, by personnel departments, by their trade union, by their clients, by their co-workers, and so forth. It should be clear, then, that complexity theory in the social sciences raises questions about the capacities of political actors and what individuals or groups can achieve. In particular, it suggests limits to what is within the wherewithal of politicians and other influential figures. As noted above, complexity disrupts discourses of rationalism in the social sciences by challenging ideas of a singular rationality. It does this through questioning the knowledge base from which rationality is constructed. It implies, instead, that there is a range of rationalities that try to make sense of the complex world we live in. These rationalities reflect the different political perspectives that actors embody and the competing interpretations and explanations of social and political events. In light of this, it is evident that complexity theory contrasts sharply with theories of the rational actor (at least in terms of individuals being able to identify ‘the’ rational course of action). Even individual self-interest does not necessarily reflect the ‘rational good’ for the individual, if individuals cannot fully comprehend the systems and processes that constrain and provide opportunities in their lives. This is a fundamental challenge for the rational-choice models that have become so prevalent in the field of political science in certain parts of the world. For Urry, theories of the rational actor rely too heavily on the idea that there can be linear actions that enable individuals to translate ‘rational’

30 Democratic Piety thought into ‘rational’ outcome: ‘this seems wrong, since it presumes a clear and irreducible ‘‘individual’’ whose rational actions can explain the social phenomena in question’ (Urry 2003: 77). It seems clear, then, that complexity theory radically tests rationalism’s claims of universality in social scientific explanation. Where there are gaps in the availability of information – which seems inevitable from a complexity perspective – there will be ‘uncertainty as to how a sequence of events during a crisis translates into outcomes’ (Richards 2000: 333). If complexity provides a substantial challenge to rationalism, then it should also have profound ramifications for the nature of political and social theory and, in particular, the tendency within democratic theory and practice to advance democratic claims with zealous piety.

Complexity and Post-structuralism The influence of complexity theory in the social sciences has been uneven, with a substantial literature emerging in some areas, such as public policy, sociology and organisational behaviour, but relatively little in political theory, democratic theory or the study of conflict. A good example of the treatment of complexity in contemporary sociology, for example, can be found in the work of David Byrne, where he applies complexity theory to areas including health policy and urban planning. Undoubtedly, these areas of applied social studies are excellent at demonstrating the impact of complexity on the formation of social and political problems and the implications that complexity theory has for the way in which societies grapple with those issues (Byrne 1998). The argument here, however, is more concerned with the way in which democratic theory is challenged by the complexity paradigm (especially the relationship between democracy and conflict). Certainly this involves the analysis of policy debates and the way in which different ‘experts’ disagree about the best course of action in a particular instance. However, it is also important to move beyond that domain in order to interrogate the implications of how to think about political change in democratic societies and, in so doing, look explicitly at the links between complexity and contemporary political theory. Thus, where the main approach to complexity elsewhere has focused on its practical policy implications, the argument here tries to draw out more general theoretical issues that affect the way in which many of the biggest

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 31 challenges that contemporary democratic societies encounter are conceived. This is not to say that the link between complexity and social and political theory has not been made. On the contrary, a rich vein of thought has explored the challenge of complexity to one of the major debates in the social sciences, namely, the structure/agency debate in modern sociological theory. Against the view that power is exercised either by individual agents against those unfortunate enough to have less power, or is solely entrenched in social structures, complexity suggests a more nuanced approach. In this sense, the notion of complexity does not correspond with the theory of the powerful rational actor exercising power but, at the same time, complexity theory does not want to downplay the impact that individuals can have on the workings of social and political structures. Instead, it tries to subvert the ‘distinction between agency and structure. Complexity transcends the division between free will and determinism and hence between agency and structure. It transcends the way in which power has been located, as agency’ (Urry 2003: 111–12). Using the work of Bauman, Urry constructs a non-contiguous understanding of power that moves beyond the structure–agency distinction: Travelling light is the new asset of power. Power is all about speed, lightness, distance, the weightless, the global, and this is true of elites and those resisting elites . . . Power runs in and especially jumps across the different global networks and fluids. Power is hybridised and is not simply social but material. (Urry 2003: 112)

To put it another way, it is worth noting that even where political actors are aware that they do not hold all of the information that may help to make sense of a particular political issue, this does not preclude them from acting in what appears to be the most rational way. Indeed, the critique of the rational individual actor does not necessarily pertain to the presence of a rationality when individuals decide on a particular course of action. Thus, it is important to remember that the constraints on knowledge imposed by complexity theory do not undermine the idea that political actors behave according to a particular rationality, be that an ideology, what they perceive to be common sense or some other system of vindicating a course of action. In this sense, what ‘matters is that – despite the missing information – most political actors most of the time attempt to function reasonably intelligently (but not perfectly rationally) in this

32 Democratic Piety partially revealed social environment’ (Richards 2000: 334). In short, a rejection of the perfectly rational actor behaving according to a singular reason does not mean that complexity theorists must resort to irrationalism. Linked to this point is the idea of complexity as a subjective concept. Things that some people might regard as being complex may seem much simpler to others and vice versa. There is very little agreement about what is complex and what is not, derived, at least in part, from disagreement about the meaning of complexity itself. Subjectivity, then, enters the equation in many ways, including different perspectives about how elements come together in social phenomena and also whether specific combinations are complex or not. This adds another layer of complexity to the mix and, of course, all of these subjective understandings are likely to provoke disagreement and conflict, especially when such a mode of thinking is applied to political debate. This suggests that there needs to be much greater cognisance of the propensity of contemporary democratic societies to generate disagreement and to struggle to contain or resolve conflict. When grappling with the events of any conflict and discussing potential courses of action, political actors must remember that understanding can only ever be partial and that ‘the limits to knowledge are models, metaphors and strategic representations. These limits are necessarily reflexive and are difficult to represent as a totalising model or a unified narrative’ (Haynes 2002: 154). Instructively, Mol and Law argue that it is useful to think of complexity in terms of multiplicity. Thus, in political theory, instead of trying to formulate universal, rational conceptions of the ideal democracy or of political justice, it is important to remember that concepts such as justice, equality and liberty have multiple manifestations. Moreover, given the number of rationalities concerning these concepts, it is likely that there will be considerable disagreement and contestation about their meaning and their practical import. In their engagement with contemporary political theory, Mol and Law point to Walzer’s notions of spheres of justice (Walzer 1983) as one that suggests ‘that there may be different orders and with those orders different gradients – gradients of right and wrong that establish different conceptions of the good’ (Mol and Law, 2002: 9, emphasis in the original). In this way, it is clear that complexity theory mounts a challenge to the boundaries within which modern conceptions of democracy tend to be articulated. Rather than seeing democratic

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 33 space as bounded by the mechanisms of formal politics – elections, parliaments, representation and so forth – complexity suggests that the sphere of politics is diverse and variegated. Furthermore, this approach implies that there is a need to problematise the justifying tropes of democracy, such as the rule of the people or self-determination, on the grounds that complexity disrupts notions of ‘the people’ as universal and therefore capable of ‘rule’ or ‘self-determination’ as a singular entity. In terms of the relationship between democracy and conflict, complexity theory requires us to conceive of the boundaries of democracy in a much more fluid and permeable fashion. Thus, despite the fences and boundaries that many in the liberal democratic tradition want to erect around their cherished political institutions, inevitably there are always challenges to those boundaries.7 For example, in somewhere like Northern Ireland in the 1990s, these challenges came from parties related to paramilitary organisations who had not hitherto been engaged in democratic politics by other parties. Similarly, there will always be political actors, such as some pressure groups, who do not want to promote their political message through formal representative mechanisms and prefer to exert influence through direct action. The boundaries of the formal democratic process are also challenged by those within its ranks who want to act in ways that do not accord with accepted forms of behaviour in the established procedures. The point here is that, in drawing attention to the primacy of politics beyond the formal democratic domain, complexity highlights the dangers of promoting democracy in a simplistic fashion. One of the most important contributions on the link between complexity theory and the realm of the political is provided by Cilliers (1998). He articulates the specific links that can be developed between ideas of complexity and post-modern and post-structuralist thinking, although his analysis seems closer to the latter than the former. In simple terms, he suggests that the link between complexity theory and post-structuralism is based on the idea that instead of trying to analyse complex phenomena in terms of single or essential principles, these approaches acknowledge that it is not possible to tell a single and exclusive story about something that is really complex. The acknowledgment of complexity, however, certainly does not lead to the conclusion that anything goes. (Cilliers 1998: viii)

34 Democratic Piety This view is somewhat caricatured in a renunciation from Byrne (1998). Where Cilliers sees intimate connections between complexity and the post-modern/post-structuralist ‘project’, Byrne applies complexity theory in a different way. Thus, whilst accepting much of the critique of positivist methods in modern sociology, Byrne lumps together post-modernism and post-structuralism rather uncritically (or perhaps too superficially critically) in his pronouncement that a ‘complexity-informed position . . . will certainly put the kibosh on postmodernism and poststructuralism’ (Byrne 1998: 35). This is the beginning of a rather intemperate dismissal of post-modernism and post-structuralism that fails to differentiate between them and indeed does not really engage with the work of any of the proponents of these theoretical perspectives: Complexity matters because the central ideas which underpin the approach are the foundation on which we might take forward the left modernist programme of universal human progress. Complexity gets us past postmodernism as an intellectual project. It enables us to transcend the combination of destructive abstract intellectual rigour and plain political bone idleness which characterises the ‘postmodern’ academy, and to again recognise the possibility of meaningful collective action for social change. (Byrne 2000:141)

Whilst post-modernism and post-structuralism are clearly related, it is erroneous and problematic to elide them in the way that Byrne does. The backlash against post-modernism that was widespread in the 1980s and 1990s was based primarily around the premise that the critique of universal rationality employed by theorists such as JeanFrancois Lyotard (1979) amounted to an embrace of relativism and a rejection of any attempt to engage with progressive politics. In this way, post-modernism was imagined as a wholesale rejection of the Enlightenment tradition and the effort to think of ways in which the world could be improved. By now this has become something of a caricature. The idea of the ‘post-modern condition’ has been grasped by a wide range of commentators who have attempted to move beyond relativist notions of post-modernism to construct a new form of radical politics (Bauman 1992). This is the space in which post-structuralism has emerged as an alternative reading of the post-modern condition, one which tries to reinvent radical politics as a process of analysing and deconstructing the linguistic formations of ‘normality’ that are encountered in

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 35 contemporary politics and everyday life. Insofar as it is concerned with the analysis and use of practical knowledge, post-structuralism attempts to construct a radical perspective founded in ‘a genealogical critique that wrestles with the emancipatory potential of the concrete social situation’ (Hoy 2005: 5). This, then, is a far cry from the relativist abstraction that is decried by critics such as Byrne. By challenging the constitutive basis of the accepted norms and orthodoxy of political discourse, post-structuralism tries to open up new spaces for readings that are alternative to the political orthodoxy. Where, at times, post-modernism could be accused of describing a condition in which universal rationality could not hold, post-structuralism is more politically engaged. It allows for a re-imagining of political life beyond the constructed limits of the dominant and acceptable. Thus, despite their diversity, poststructuralist positions are united by an anti-foundationalism – that is, a rejection of essentialism and the idea of an absolute moral and rational ground. If we take poststructuralism seriously, then, the practice of politics cannot be seen as being based on notions of a universal autonomous subject and unquestioned moral and rational criteria. Rather, politics must be seen as being based on an antagonistic and unpredictable dimension that both constitutes, and destabilizes, its limits. (Newman 2005: 6)

This reading of post-structuralism stands in stark contrast to the kind of analysis constructed by Byrne. In his defence, however, it is worth stating that the application of some forms of post-modernism to his areas of concern – social policy and applied social science – is sometimes difficult. Indeed, if the objective of policy is to deal with a stated aim in a specific way, then both post-modernism and poststructuralism can be awkward to apply. However, where they can offer great value is in demonstrating the difficulties of making theoretical ideas operational in the context of modern politics. There are considerable problems associated with post-modernism when it comes to the reasons behind policy formation. After all, if political actors are seeking to deal with a problem in policy terms, then they need to convince policy-makers that the problem is real and that the favoured policy is the most appropriate of those available or feasible to reach a particular objective. However, this does not mean that the insights of post-modernism should be rejected. Instead, we need to differentiate between the kinds of relativism associated with ‘doctrinal

36 Democratic Piety postmodernism’ (Norris 2000) and more considered positions – linked to post-structuralist or post-Marxist perspectives – that attempt to show the implications of a multiplicity of rationalities for political engagement. Instead of imagining that the most appropriate policy will be enacted in democratic societies, they concentrate on the political obstacles that often mean that the most appropriate policy in a specific instance is less likely to be implemented. This is not a relativist position of the kind imagined by Byrne; rather, it is built upon recognition of the real implications of complexity in democratic societies. Byrne is too keen to depict the post-modern/post-structuralist paradigm as renouncing rational perspectives. In fact the politics of post-structuralism associated with the works of thinkers such as Laclau (1990), Mouffe (2000, 2005), Rancie`re (1999) and others does not run contrary to rational thinking, but merely rejects the idea that there is a singular mode of rational thought that everyone can coalesce around. Hence, according to the foundational value upon which one bases one’s thought, a different rationality may emerge. It was not surprising in the 1980s and 1990s that post-modern and post-structuralist thinking raised suspicion, but it is less defensible that such suspicion should continue to hold sway now. Unfortunately, Byrne is naı¨ve when he asserts that in ‘the case of postmodernity we have to accept that the form of social action is absolute social inaction – the disengagement of the intellectual project from any commitment to any social programme whatsoever – bone idleness promoted to a metatheoretical programme’ (Byrne 1998: 45). The caricature is, in the end, disingenuous. It is no abandonment of the intellectual project to put forward a theoretical position that includes the realisation that modern democratic engagement involves a contestation of rationalities. This does not amount to a renouncement of one’s beliefs or a failure to mount a challenge to alternative prognostications, as many advocates of radical policy agendas such as that for a basic income guarantee would recognise (Little 1998, 2002a). On the contrary, the process of realising one’s theoretical objectives is probably advanced by greater awareness of the different programmes put forward in the name of alternative rationalities and acknowledging the likelihood that radical political theories face considerable obstacles in the shape of entrenched ideological positions and policy agendas. Such a realisation does not involve a surrender of one’s position, but merely amounts to

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 37 a recognition of what radical political perspectives must overcome, if they are to prove successful. As such, post-structuralist politics help us to think about the political problem of radical politics, namely, the entrenched nature of alternative, dominant positions and the linguistic formations that reinforce their power. Thus, whilst Byrne provides a useful rebuttal of rational-choice theory in explaining contemporary political agendas, his caricature of post-modernism/post-structuralism as an essentialised obverse to the rational-choice coin is deeply problematic. It seems clear that, although complexity theorists disagree about the implications of the idea for political theory, there is a widespread rejection of some of modern politics’ most powerful methodological traditions. Thus, both Byrne and Cilliers concur that complexity moves us away from empiricist and behaviouralist models of political science such as those that maintain a powerful influence in many American debates, for example. Similarly, Danilo Zolo (1992) rejects the contemporary relevance of these approaches in the light of social complexity as well as the neo-Kantianism and neo-contractualism that has re-emerged in political theory since the 1970s.8 For Zolo, the increasing complexity of contemporary societies has made the premises and the promises of democracy increasingly redundant. Thus, where societies are characterised by increasing numbers of variables and choices, with a concomitant interdependence between them, the blunt instruments of decision-making in modern democracies seem woefully inadequate. When these limitations are coupled with the fluidity and instability of complex societies and an increased awareness of complexity amongst ordinary citizens, the prognosis for traditional democratic theories – be they republican, participatory, liberal, representative, deliberative or whatever – is bleak. Zolo’s analysis of the relationship between complexity and democracy is rooted in the features of social complexity that he identifies and their implications for orthodox democratic theories. In dissecting the intricacies of post-industrial societies, he contends that the contemporary world is characterised by a proliferation of specialised subsystems that are evident in ‘the variety and semantic discontinuity of the languages, understandings, techniques and values which are practised within each subsystem and its further differentiations. Each subsystem tends to seek specialization and to work on the basis of distinct and autonomous functional codes’ (Zolo 1992: 5). The irony in this scenario is that, despite the drive for autonomy from different

38 Democratic Piety social sub-systems, there is increased interdependence due to the complex relations between them. This problem is accentuated when sub-systems develop languages and discourses that are not easily comprehended by other sub-systems. Thus, at the same time as complexity increases, the shared language available for dealing with sub-systems across difference becomes more elusive. This is evident, for example, in the separation of academic disciplines and the use of different discourses within them. Where, arguably, there is a need for a common language between sociology, politics and economics, for example, different hegemonic discourses nevertheless emerge that can dominate a sub-system to the detriment of its being understood from outside. In a complex society there needs to be more understanding of the interaction across sub-systems, rather than less. This is a major part of the contradictory dynamic that affects complex societies. Whilst complexity theory highlights these issues, it does not necessarily provide techniques that help to clarify obfuscatory language and this is perhaps where discourse analytical techniques are at their most useful. Here, again, it is possible to identify a convergence of interest in the fields of complexity theory and post-structuralism around the intricacy of political language and the way in which it emerges in the construction of political problems. The other key feature of Zolo’s theory of complexity is his depiction of epistemological complexity and his advocacy of ‘reflexive epistemology’. Given the multiplicity of factors affecting social and political phenomena, it is increasingly difficult to interrogate these phenomena through a closed disciplinary language. To address poverty, for example, solely through recourse to economic methods without fusing them with sociological and political explanations, can only tell a partial story. Similarly, political and sociological methods are, by themselves, inadequate in painting any kind of comprehensive picture of poverty. As Zolo argues: ‘Reflexive’ epistemology is bound to deny the possibility of a nomological and deductive explanation in either the natural or the political and social sciences. The reasons for this are entirely straightforward. First, any general law can only really be held valid within a particular defined area and, even within this area, only with exceptions and anomalies. Second, any empirical phenomenon can always be interpreted in the light of a plurality of different theories which are even, in many cases, mutually exclusive. (Zolo 1992: 9)

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 39 From Zolo’s perspective, then, it is important to understand the contingent nature of the discourses that are used within different areas of study and their propensity for establishing a unique, exclusionary language that simplifies the problems in hand. What is required is a more reflexive way of thinking about knowledge and the way it is established and shared between different modes of thinking. The question remains as to what this entails for political theory and, in particular, theories of democracy. Ultimately, Zolo is resigned to the imperfections of democracy but, instead of embracing these failings, he constructs his realism in terms of moving beyond or back from democracy. Rather than augmenting his theorisation of democracy with a critical notion of its failure, he elects to reject it. However, whilst Zolo criticises the dominant models of modern democratic thought and thereby reaches the conclusion that the appeal to democracy is increasingly negligible, more radical interpretations have been developed by theorists with a grounding in the post-structuralist tradition. A much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the challenge for contemporary political theory invoked by complexity than those of Zolo and, in particular, Byrne is provided by Cilliers (1998). Coming from a radical philosophical perspective, he is less encumbered by some of the theories that have concentrated the minds of applied social scientists such as Byrne. Instead, by examining some of the dominant theories in the philosophy of mind and language (especially the work of Derrida), Cilliers analyses the relationship between science and theory in the discourses of complexity, suggesting that language and its meanings are not transparent, that we cannot make assumptions about the meaning of statements and the way they will be understood by different groups of people. Following Derrida, Cilliers suggests that in post-structuralism ‘there is no over-arching theory of complexity that allows us to ignore the contingent aspects of complex systems. If something is really complex, it cannot be adequately described by means of a simple theory. Engaging with complexity entails engaging with specific complex systems’ (Cilliers 1998: ix). It is just such an approach that allows for a more nuanced understanding of particular political conflicts rather than the universalist and consensus-driven preoccupations of much contemporary democratic theory. This suggests that political theorists must focus more directly on the implications of an approach that weds complexity with post-structuralist analysis in addressing conflict in democratic societies.

40 Democratic Piety The question remains as to the precise link that enables poststructuralism to make sense of complexity in a more constructive fashion than either realism (Zolo) or faux radicalism (Byrne). This is not a straightforward issue because post-structuralism is notoriously elusive and multi-faceted, depending on the specific combination of theorists such as Foucault, Lacan and Derrida that is being employed. Quite simply, it is not a perspective that lends itself comfortably to a process of definition. However, in general terms, it can be described as a perspective concerned with the way in which ‘systems are dependent upon conditions that cannot be reduced to those structures or systems themselves . . . Poststructuralism sets itself the task of exploring these reflexive conditions in order to create strategies with which to relate such conditions to the systems they describe’ (Haynes 2002: 146). This approach sets out to disrupt established forms of order and organisation and the language and tropes that underpin them. It recognises the contingent nature of language and the intensity of a politics founded upon the task of unravelling constructed meanings. For this reason, post-structuralism thrives on failure and the inability of closure in the construction of meaning. It is, then, a dynamic approach that identifies the continual requirement for the analysis of political language and radical reinterpretations of the social order: The ultimate target of post-structuralism is the unity of the symbolic order. It rejects the idea that structures are self-generating or autopoietic . . . Rather than ask why and how there is stability to social systems, it asks why and how structures become undone. This leads to a concern, not with the origins of structures, but with their incompletion. (Finlayson and Valentine 2002: 11–12).

It is this notion of incompletion that is particularly valuable in the analysis of democratic piety, for it unsettles the presumption that a definitive normative entity called democracy is even possible, let alone in existence. If the pursuit of democracy must ‘fail’, in the sense that ideal typical representations are both controversial and unattainable, then the pious nature of its advocacy in contemporary politics is deeply problematic. This is not to say that the advocacy of democracy is necessarily incompatible with post-structuralist accounts but that democratic piety does not complement such an approach because of its over-simplification of complex political issues and its construction of a problematic binary division between the democratic and the

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 41 non-democratic. It is because of its inability to imagine democracy as constituted by failure and incompletion that democratic piety does not measure up to the insights provided by post-structuralist analysis. It is here that we can identify the intersection of the different concerns of post-structuralism and complexity because they both ‘represent a series of responses to an attempt to totalise knowledge – responses that centre on the problem of reflexivity and the way in which information feeds back into these systems of knowledge’ (Haynes 2002: 145). In particular, then, both complexity and poststructuralism converge around the critique of attempts to totalise the concept of democracy and thus the pious promotion of this totalised construction. A similar view can be discerned in Hoy’s theory of post-critique, which he predicates upon an approach he describes as ‘deconstructive genealogy’ (Hoy 2005).9 This perspective involves a fusion of Foucauldian and Derridean arguments to make operational a political and ethical critique of the dominant normative concerns of contemporary political theory. Like most theorists grounded in the poststructuralist tradition, he challenges the kinds of foundationalism that are evident, for example, in the appeals to reason and consensus that underpin many visions of deliberative democracy. Here, Hoy employs Derrida and Laclau to contend that our ‘minds are finite and the complexity of all the possibilities exceeds our capacity of understanding’ (Hoy 2005: 233). For this reason, a deliberatively-based democratic consensus cannot comprise rationality insofar as it could only be based on the specific possibilities that have been brought into the deliberative process. Given the multiplicity of potential arguments, and the finite capacity to digest them all, any such process must always be incomplete. This incompletion opens space for the further development of rationality rather than its achievement through the resolution of a specific debate. Importantly, this means that the process of critique is also radically incomplete: ‘deconstructive genealogy thinks and exceeds critique; deconstruction shows that even critique is exceeded by the complexity of possibilities’ (Hoy 2005: 233). Importantly, whilst this does not mean that social knowledge is completely impossible, it does imply that it is infinitely complex. Post-structuralism enables us to make sense of this infinite complexity by emphasising the unknowable and undecidable aspects of the construction of social knowledge. These dimensions do

42 Democratic Piety not preclude efforts to critically interrogate social phenomena and to make decisions on the basis of such analysis. However, they do imply that any such ‘knowledge’ that is generated should be viewed with doubt as to its certainty and fixity. Undecidability means that ‘we are not faced, as social theorists, with a choice between either rational structural determinism or irrational random events. No event is un-conditioned but there is no absolute conditioning origin’ (Finlayson and Valentine 2002: 13). This perspective embraces the probability of failure in attempts to establish fixed meanings or definitive knowledge and it casts all political decisions and rationality into doubt. Thus, for post-structuralism, ‘it is not only the relationship between structure and agent that is ‘‘undecidable’’. The structure and the agent are too’ (Finlayson and Valentine 2002: 14). This is vital to understanding the impact that the intersection between complexity theory and post-structuralism has on the nature of democracy. Both perspectives suggest that we need to relinquish foundational notions about both the structural basis upon which democratic politics are based and the political actors who comprise the democratic entity. The critique of democratic piety must emphasise the fallibility of the very foundational concepts upon which theories of democracy are established. Or, to put it in more demonstrably post-structuralist terms, ‘deconstructive genealogy disrupts methodological smugness by calling into question the very grounds of critique’ (Hoy 2005: 229).

Conclusion: Complexity and Conflict In modern political discourse, conflict often appears as something that must be overcome or resolved in order to establish the proper grounds for the operation of democratic procedures. From this perspective, democratic politics, rather than being the process of managing political conflict, is envisaged as that which takes place only after the most fundamental and potentially violent conflicts have been moderated. According to this line of thinking, conflict is not constitutive of democratic politics but rather an impediment to its workings. Both complexity theory and post-structuralist analysis, from their different foundational points, unsettle this assumption and the emaciated version of democracy that emerges from it. As we will see in Chapter 3, post-structuralist accounts tend to view conflict and disagreement as inherent to politics (Rancie`re 1999, Little 2007).

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 43 Similarly, more thoughtful accounts of complexity recognise that, such is the inability of political actors to fully countenance the conflicts with which they grapple, any notion of resolution of differences or abolition of the sources of conflict is doomed to failure. It is the contention here that approaches to conflict that seek to remove it from the democratic equation are profoundly anti-political: ‘complexity’ provides a wide array of metaphors, concepts and theories essential for examining . . . intractable disorderliness. Relations across that world are complex, rich and non-linear, involving multiple negative and, more significantly, positive feedback loops. There are ineluctable patterns of increasing returns and long-term path dependencies . . . Complexity elaborates how there is order and disorder within all physical and social systems. (Urry 2003: 138)

This notion of disorder has also been evident in recent poststructuralist accounts of the nature of political conflict. One such argument is provided by Samuel Chambers, who also uses Derrida to argue for an ‘untimely’ conception of politics that recognises that political theory is not merely a matter of applying political ideas to solve practical problems in the world. Instead, he contends that we are never in a stable position from which we can pin down the definitive nature of political conflicts, especially as many of them are haunted by the ghosts of history (Chambers 2003: 76). The post-structuralist account of conflict recognises the dynamism that complexity engenders. Because of the multi-faceted nature of political conflicts and the diverse range of interpretations that these enable, it is virtually impossible to achieve situations where conflicts are ever settled. Moreover, even if it were possible to resolve points of disagreement in a definitive way, those agreements are deeply context-specific. In other words, if the context of a problem changes with input from different political actors creating newly emerging circumstances, then the nature of a political conflict will also change. Any agreement that can be forged creates new circumstances in which older issues reemerge in different ways: ‘even the problems that seem solved may still contain lurking ghosts’ (Chambers 2003: 86). The problem here is not just the difficulty of predicting the future, but also the unpredictable ways in which older conflicts will manifest themselves in newly emerging situations. This is why Chambers argues for an ‘untimely politics’ that eludes the pitfalls of trying to imagine which

44 Democratic Piety form of democratic procedures have the best potential to resolve conflictual issues. Not only do the dominant democratic understandings of historical development simplify the complexity of the past, they also underestimate the capacity of the ghosts of the past to contribute to political disputes in the future: ‘History must be taken as something much more than simply a scarce resource for solving problems; political theorists must consider seriously its spectral effects. This implies that theory must be able to look to these spectral effects of historicity, to communicate with ghosts without trying to arrest them’ (Chambers 2003: 93). To be clear, then, accounts of complexity, when accompanied by post-structuralist theory, suggest a need for greater recognition of the difficulties of making definitive judgements about political issues and, in particular, creating democratic institutions as a way of resolving political conflicts. This does not mean that efforts to manage and indeed to transform conflict situations are invalid, but it does imply that a greater sense of modesty is required regarded the capacity of democratic institutions to do so. In no sense does this perspective lapse into relativism, as suggested by some of the less sophisticated analyses that equate post-structuralism with ‘doctrinal postmodernism’ (Byrne 2000). The recognition of the intractability of political conflict does not preclude the possibility of making judgements about the factors that characterise disputes or promoting specific strategies to deal with disagreements. What it does suggest is that discourses of conflict resolution are inherently problematic insofar as they are unsettled and disrupted by the logic of complexity. Simply put, if it is not possible to fully comprehend the sources, manifestations and interpretations of conflict scenarios, then it is highly unlikely that such conflicts can be resolved in a definitive manner. Political commentators who promote democracy as the antidote to political conflict miss the point of complexity, which is that it is likely to give rise to more rather than less disagreement and unrest. The issue here is not to draw a sharp distinction between simplicity and complexity. Instead, complexity needs to be understood in terms of its being composed of a multiplicity of simplicities. This demands great care from political actors not to extract explanatory systems from the simple; on the contrary, it is vital to comprehend the way in which complexity undermines systematic explanatory discourses. This does not invalidate attempts to understand the simple, but it does challenge

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 45 attempts to draw out wider conclusions from the simple. As Mol and Law suggest, there are modes of relating that permit the simple to coexist with the complex, of aligning elements without necessarily turning them into a comprehensive system or a complete overview. These are some of the ways of describing the world while keeping it open, ways of paying tribute to complexities, which are always there, somewhere, elsewhere, untamed. (Mol and Law 2002: 17)

This book contends that the most useful way to comprehend this co-existence of the simple and complex is through the employment of post-structuralist methods of discourse analysis that set out to complexify the banal articulations that characterise much contemporary politics without surrendering to either relativism or the over-arching pursuit of consensus around a universal rationalism. The chief target of this approach is the uncritical democratic piety that is so prevalent in democratic theory and practice today. Before continuing with this theoretical investigation, however, it is important at this stage to highlight some examples of the ways in which this democratic piety has developed and to analyse the discursive norms that underpin them. In so doing, it will become apparent how influential democratic piety is in contemporary political discourse and the ways in which it is increasingly being applied in democratic debates in a fashion that impedes the development of complex analyses of the phenomena that are causing political division and debate. In this way, democratic piety relies on strategies of simplification that serve little purpose in making sense of the major sources of political conflict and upheaval in global politics.

Notes 1. Urry is explicit that the translation of complexity into the social science mindset is not a simple matter of applying lessons from the physical to the social world. Complexity suggests that the physical is itself the source of contention and so are the sciences that attempt to explain it. Thus, Urry accepts that his argument artificially stabilises ‘a set of sciences that are in fact open-ended, uncertain, evolving and self-organizing’ (Urry 2003: 17). There is a large scientific literature in this area, but fewer contributions that address scientific concepts in the light of the humanities and

46 Democratic Piety




5. 6. 7.


social sciences. The latter include Umphrey (2002), Niekerk and Buhl (2004), and Sawyer (2005). One of the more informed discussions of the impact of complexity in the field of policy studies is Medd (2002), and complexity is also used fruitfully as the theoretical backdrop to Geyer’s critique of the ‘Third Way’ (Geyer 2003). Recent attempts to apply complexity theory to political communication and cultural studies can be found in Crozier (2007) and McNair (2006). One of the few attempts to apply complexity to international politics is Jervis (1997). Although complexity has received relatively little coverage in the literature on democratic theory, see Nash (2000) and Thrift (1999) as examples of some of the more useful contributions. The problem with Hurley’s analysis comes out more clearly when she discusses rationality as an emergent property. Rather than discussing the multiple rationalities that might emanate from complexity, she alludes to rationality in the singular as an emergent property of the whole system: ‘Rationality can be conceived in general terms as an emergent property of such a complex system, distributed across organisms and their structured environments . . . Rationality may emerge from complex relationships between horizontally modular subpersonal systems which, considered in isolation, generate behavior that is less than rational.’ (Hurley 1999: 284). For a discussion of this phenomenon in the literature on Northern Ireland, see Finlayson (2006) and Vaughan-Williams (2006). Urry describes the classical example of path dependency in the development of the QWERTY keyboard (Urry 2003: 54). I am thinking, in particular, of various forms of Habermasian deliberative democracy and Rawlsian liberalism, which rely on regulated proceduralism as a way of controlling political debate and policing its content (Little 2006). Whilst there is much to commend in Zolo’s analysis of democracy in the light of complexity, he is perhaps a little too quick to discount the future of democracy. The approach here suggests that we need to rein in our understanding of democracy and what it can achieve instead of discarding the idea of democracy altogether. I certainly would not agree with Zolo in promoting the benefits of a benevolent philosopher king as a potential alternative (Zolo 1992: 184).

Complexity Theory and Democratic Politics 47 9. Hoy prefers the label post-critique to post-structuralism, as he believes it is a more flexible term that can bring together a range of thinkers in the continental philosophy tradition, such as Butler, Laclau and Zˇizˇek, who share an interest in multiple forms of critical resistance.

Chapter 2 Complexity, Democratisation and Conflict

The idea of complexity outlined in the first chapter provides the theoretical backdrop to the rest of the argument in this book, in particular the position that ‘in a complex world there are no simple binaries’ (Mol and Law 2002: 20). This is a pivotal insight insofar as it unsettles and disrupts many prevalent ideas in democratic discourse, not the least of which is the assumption that democratisation and the inculcation of democratic practice around the world is the forerunner to a reduction in political conflict. Although binaries can help to reduce complexity and thus make it ‘readable’, the resulting knowledge is too often bereft of sufficient intricacy to enable sophisticated political analysis. Complexity theory challenges the binary separation of peace and conflict, for example, or the simple juxtaposition of democracy and political violence in such a way as to undermine the pious promotion of a peaceful, democratic world order. As such, it has fundamental ramifications for the ways in which we understand phenomena such as political unrest, war and terrorism. Moreover, complexity has an important bearing on the ways in which specific disputes are conceived and translated into the paradigm of contemporary democratic debate. It enables problematisation of the dynamics of conflict situations and many of the assumptions about political identities and their interests that underpin understandings of a particular ‘problem’ (Finlayson 2006). Complexity theory is, then, a means of challenging the articulation of contemporary political issues in certain ways that often lend themselves to pious discourses of democracy as the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ that has been identified. The insights of complexity theory are applicable across the space of politics especially where, as is often the case in political discourse,

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issues and problems are simplified in a way that facilitates simple policy solutions. Ultimately, however, this simplification of the complex lays the seeds of failure and disappointment, as political actions seem incapable of dealing with issues in the real world with the degree of success that their advocates suggest. The strategy of simplifying the complex is one that may be profitable in terms of attaining and retaining political power but the dangers of such an approach include an increase in public disaffection and apathy as complicated issues become reduced to a simplified calculus. This became evident in the increasingly banal justifications that accompanied the war in Iraq as the fabrications and sophistry around weapons of mass destruction, or the potential for their development, faded from view. Thus, although politicians may choose to couch their strategies in less sophisticated terms in order to attain greater public support, the example of Iraq can be used to show how public support for the war waned despite the increasingly simplistic arguments put forward in its favour: If fear is mankind’s basic impulse in response to the dangers of an environment to which we are excessively exposed, and if the political system is a social structure which reduces fear by selectively reducing the complexity of the environment, then political power must be the more effective, the greater the ‘reduction of complexity’ it is able to bring about. It is able to guarantee very high levels of security when it removes a wide range of expectations of disappointment. Clearly the simplest and most effective mechanism for obtaining this protection is a drastic reduction in social complexity. (Zolo 1992: 56)

The strategy of simplification is prevalent in the presentation of contemporary political issues. The commonplace banalities that have been interspersed in recent global politics, such as the ‘axis of evil’, the ‘war on terror’ and the denunciation of political enemies as ‘terrorists’, are evidence of simplificatory devices that enable the easy consumption of a political message and an elimination of the complexities of a situation which render simplistic solutions unworkable. Whilst these simple discourses may facilitate a reduction in fear, as Zolo implies, they may also generate more reasons to be fearful in the longer term when the promotion of democracy becomes synonymous with the kinds of aggressive, authoritarian policies that have characterised American government in recent years. This helps to identify an ongoing tension in the relationship between politics and

50 Democratic Piety complexity, as increasingly it seems as if we lack the political resources to grapple with the uncertainties that complexity engenders. It is here that the rethinking of democracy in terms of its ‘constitutive failure’ may be a way of identifying the incompleteness at the heart of democratic politics and the impossibility of designing political systems which can eradicate complexity or eradicate the need for the ongoing analysis of the discursive mechanisms through which social knowledge and meaning is constructed. In no sense should this be taken to mean that the tension between politics and complexity can be eliminated; it does, however, point to a means by which a more radical imagining of democracy (immersed in the idea of failure) can cast a sharper light on this ongoing problem. In the absence of such a conception of democracy, numerous examples abound of the reductivist tendency to construct political problems in terms of simplicity. In Northern Ireland, for example, simplification strategies have involved discourses revolving around the creation of a united Ireland as a political solution for republicans or the need for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to disarm for unionists as the precursor to political progress. Whilst these issues are undoubtedly important, they do not in and of themselves provide the key to ensuring the development of less conflictual politics. Similarly, the fear of terrorist attack from Basque separatists generates the well-worn sentiment that there must not be political engagement with those representing the political claims of violent opponents of the Spanish state.1 These measures feed into and off discourses of threats and thus the politics of fear. As Zolo suggests, the motivation provided by fear is a powerful one that may enhance the possibilities of gaining political power through simplification rather than admitting that complexity makes simple prescriptions unlikely to bear fruit. Ultimately, as politically unpalatable as these engagements may be at a given time, there are very few examples of violent upheaval being resolved through non-engagement with either violent actors, their political representatives, or the main issues that drive violent unrest in the first place. These engagements are almost by definition complex but they are also more politically realistic than refusals to engage with the people who perpetrate violence and their ideas or objectives. Undoubtedly, there have been attempts to utilise the language of complexity in the study of conflict but not in a way that is wholly compatible with the complexity paradigm. Thus, for example, in Sandole’s work on international relations and conflict resolution,

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despite the attempt to complexify the conflict resolution literature, there is a marked tendency to attempt to quantify political conflicts reductively (Sandole 1999). Certainly Sandole’s approach is multilayered, and he tries to move us beyond overly simplified explanations of political conflicts, but at the same time he relies on the incorporation of complexity into simulation theories and empirical modelling. However, on delving further into some of the examples Sandole uses, such as Northern Ireland, it becomes clear that his theoretical model is somewhat limited in throwing light on real, complex scenarios and this raises the question of whether it is really possible, let alone useful, to incorporate complexity into such empiricism. Ultimately, various examples can be used to ‘prove’ Sandole’s attempt to generate a systematic theory of complexity and conflict but these same examples can also refute the empirical argument as well. Sandole’s analysis ignores the difficulty that most conflicts do not operate along systematic, rational lines. As with many such studies, the problem with Sandole’s work is that, contrary to the direction of complexity theory, it attempts to articulate a generic theory of war and conflict that decontextualises the specific examples he employs (Sandole 1999: 110).2 Not only is this tendency evident in the treatment of complexity in the literature on war and conflict, but it is also apparent in recent discourses of democratisation.

Discourses of Democratisation An examination of important widely read journals in the field of political science, such as Democratization and the Journal of Democracy, demonstrates the lack of influence of complexity theory in this area of the social sciences. Certainly, a basic version of the idea of complexity is evident in many contributions to these journals but it does not necessarily emerge in a sophisticated theoretical manner. All too often the cardinal sin is committed of confusing complexity with complicatedness, and this is sometimes coupled with an uncritical understanding of democracy that does not recognise the challenge that complexity theory raises to much contemporary democratic theory. Commentators such as Buxton (2006) recognise that the acceleration of democratisation discourses in recent years reflects an increasingly ideological promotion of democracy. This development is frequently accompanied by subscriptions to the liberal peace thesis, whereby it is understood that democratic states are much less

52 Democratic Piety likely to go to war with one another than those using other political systems. The problematic assumption underpinning these approaches is that democracy prevents violent conflict, so that ‘democracy promotion has become an integral element of peace-building, with the construction of democratic institutions and practices serving as a key instrument of conflict management, reduction, and resolution’ (Buxton 2006: 710). The acceleration of the ideological promotion of democracy has been exacerbated by recent American administrations, particularly that of George W. Bush, as well as by fellow-travellers such as the British Labour government of Tony Blair. These governments have increasingly fused discourses of democracy with those of security and have advocated exporting liberal models of democracy as if they can be merely parachuted into non-democratic societies as a panacea for their ills (Buxton 2006: 711). The damage to democracy promotion of this short-sighted fusion of democracy and security is incalculable for the promotion of liberal democracy because it becomes increasingly synonymous with the security-driven agenda of the American government and its followers, who often behave in an increasingly undemocratic fashion in the name of securing their jurisdictions. However, even analysts such as Buxton, who are alive to the critical literature associated with democratisation discourses, cannot avoid the limited parameters in which the idea of democratisation is constructed. She notes uncritically the emergence of ‘a powerful and expanding international consensus on democratic norms’, which, while problematic, is mainly focused on countries that demonstrate hostility to Western democracy, have weak states, engage in violent conflict, and so on (Buxton 2006: 711). The implicit sentiment is that the problems of democratisation are not related to democracy as it actually exists in many (primarily Western) societies. This leads to an agenda that focuses on those parts of the world with a religious or ideological opposition to democratic practice or that are located in a context that has not been historically conducive to the development of democratic institutions. The major weakness, then, of discourses of democracy promotion is their failure to sufficiently problematise Western conceptions of democracy before turning attention to the way in which the idea of democracy can be promoted in less democratic parts of the world. Thus, even though there is an influential literature that problematises contemporary democracy promotion agendas,3 the inherent problems in the conception of Western

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democracy that underpin them is less frequently subject to the same degree of critical analysis. The pivotal point is that the problem of enacting democracy in nondemocratic countries is imagined as a problem of those particular areas rather than of democracy itself. For example, Buxton notes that some non-democratic countries declare their support for democratic principles without enacting them but there is little recognition that similar claims can be laid against most Western regimes regardless of the particular principles of democracy that they subscribe to most heavily.4 Similarly, the pressure to democratise is less forcefully felt by allies of the major democratic powers (such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) than it is by their opponents. Buxton notes how elections are increasingly seen as a problematic aspect of democratisation in the transition of non-democratic societies when, in fact, they are a troublesome element of all democratic systems. It is of course true that elections may help to reify ethnic or cultural differences in divided societies (Mann 2005) but their operation in Western liberal democracy should also be subject to critical evaluation. For example, we need only point to the controversies of the American presidential election that brought George W. Bush to power, the minority of Britons who actually vote in favour of their prime minister (which reached a nadir during Blair’s period as prime minister), and so forth.5 Thus, from a complexity perspective, elections certainly are a problematic aspect of democracy promotion in democratising societies but similar kinds of flaws can emerge in many Western societies too. Quite often, as we will see below, the problem of elections in democratising societies is that they produce the wrong results in the eyes of those who are enforcing or encouraging democracy there. The point is that the problem – if it is one – is one of democracy itself. The major issue is the tendency of democracies to simplify the issues that increasingly permeate the societies in which democracy is established. The friction between democracy and complexity is at the heart of the issue here, rather than any inherent incompatibility between democracy and the historical or social context of a particular state or the disposition and attitudes of the religious and cultural groups that comprise it. This problem in the Western conceptualisation of democratisation is exemplified by some of the actions of coalition leaders in recent years, especially Tony Blair. Indeed, his perspective coincides with

54 Democratic Piety much of the ‘transitology’ approach that suggests that democracy is open to any society as long as the necessary conditions can be created and, in Blair’s case, the appropriate ethics are in place. It follows from this approach that democratisation will be much more successful if the right political elites – that is, those who agree with the ethical beliefs of those imposing democracy – can be assisted to attain power. This approach was manifest in Blair’s tour of the Middle East in late 2006, when he openly espoused the election of certain individuals as the basis of transition to democracy.6 The underlying message was clear: if the people were going to elect the wrong parties and individuals into power, then they must be discouraged from doing so. For the advocates of democratisation, elections need to generate the correct results to enable the process of democratisation to continue. The will of the people and self-determination are amongst the core democratic concepts that are marginalised in this form of ‘transitology’. The distance between democracy as the ‘will of the people’ and elite-driven processes of democratisation imposed by outside agencies is apparent here and demonstrates the double standards at work in many pious discourses of democracy. As Carrie Manning makes clear in her study of attempted democratisation in Bosnia and Iraq, the ‘experience suggests that at least in this type of democratic transition, the notion that politics is less constrained by structural factors and more easily influenced by elite choices may be overstated’ (Manning 2006: 735). Similarly, Mandy Turner, in the same issue of Democratization, rejects the view – which the coalition has subscribed to – that the success of Hamas in the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Authority was an impediment to the process of democratisation in the Middle East. In this instance, the democratic decision of the people was renounced because it did not coincide with the overarching American agenda in the region. Democratisation in the Middle East, on this account, is not something that we can actually expect the people to understand; instead, they must be encouraged to vote for the correct representatives who coalesce more obviously with the dominant Western agenda. The failure of the West to recognise the validity of this particular expression of the will of the Palestinian people is more likely to discourage support for democracy than to encourage it. Turner’s summation is that the ‘US’s uncompromising response to Hamas’s electoral success will only serve to undermine democracy promotion in the region by showing other Islamist groups that it only

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accepts the outcome of free and fair elections if the victor suits them’ (Turner 2006: 752). The major issue at the heart of this discussion is the misunderstanding of complex situations as merely complicated. After all, if a situation is merely complicated, then all that needs to be done to rectify it is to understand the complications. For transitologists, that means envisaging democratisation as a process of getting the appropriate people with a certain understanding of the issue into power to govern correctly. For this reason, it is clear why discourses of democratisation are often elite-driven, with little awareness of the actual implications of complexity analysis. Complexity provides a fundamental challenge to the arguments associated with Samuel Huntingdon, that the latter part of the twentieth century was witnessing a third wave of democracy. As Carothers points out, this approach was laden with misunderstandings of the processes that were afoot, not least the view that ‘democratization was in some important sense a natural process, one that was likely to flourish once the initial breakthrough occurred. No small amount of democratic teleology is implicit in the transition paradigm, no matter how much its adherents have denied it’ (Carothers 2002a: 7). Given the context-dependent nature of complexity, it is highly problematic to imagine democratisation as an established pathway that is independent of the particular conditions on the ground. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that the achievement of one feature associated with democratisation will lead to another; there is no singular direction to democracy and there is an ever-present possibility of regression linked to a wide range of social, economic and political issues. Carothers notes that many theorists faced with the actual practice of democratising have had to back away from principles into a ‘gray zone’ characterised by a range of qualifying adjectives to explain the malfunctioning nature of democracy in a given society. He contends that many of these societies are characterised by either ‘feckless pluralism’ or ‘dominant-power politics’, both of which call into question the benefits of regarding these as democratic societies at all (at least in terms of grouping them together as part of a democratising wave). Ultimately, the ‘transition paradigm’ is challenged by the uneven and complex nature of democratisation. Even countries that are regarded as having democratised relatively more successfully, such as Mexico and South Korea, can be seen as part of ‘chaotic processes of change that go backwards and

56 Democratic Piety sideways as much as forward, and do not do so in any regular manner’ (Carothers 2002a: 15). If complexity problematises the transition paradigm that dominated the study of democratisation in the latter part of the twentieth century, one might imagine that democratic piety would decline alongside the emergence of complexity analysis in the 1990s. That this has not been the case is at least partially linked to the shifting context of global politics in the early years of this century. In particular, democratic piety has taken on a new lease of life as it has become closely aligned with the response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ forged by George W. Bush and other members of his coalition to undermine the ‘axis of evil’. Not only has this signalled a new phase in the democratisation agenda, but we are also bearing witness to the rise of a global political order in which the pious promotion of democracy is increasingly at odds with the behaviour of those countries that align themselves most closely with the cause of democracy promotion.

Complexity, Iraq and the War on Terror The period since 2001 has seen the increased fusion of discourses of democratisation with the security agenda; there has also been a concomitant growth in the tendency of political actors to articulate foreign policy objectives in rather simplistic ways. Common discourses here have included the idea of an ‘axis of evil’, as if evil was a tangible and definable phenomenon and that the opponents of Western hegemony have coalesced around a common agenda characterised by this feature. Similarly, the simplistic terms in which possible policy paths in Iraq are discussed have been devoid of a complexity perspective. For example, the idea of ‘staying the course’ in Iraq until ‘the job is done’ or, alternatively, the option of ‘cut and run’ fail to comprehend the banality of even thinking about policy choices in these terms. Of course, much political discourse in these times is conducted in such meaningless soundbites but even more disconcerting is the way in which they obscure some of the actual outcomes of the coalition enterprise in Iraq. Here, the comments of David Marquand on the British involvement are especially acute: Iraq was not a minor peccadillo . . . It was a monumental unmitigated disaster, for which Blair is as much to blame as Bush. The shabby

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tergiversations of the run-up to the war – the misuse of intelligence, the contempt for expert opinion, the disdain for international law and the collusion with the United States in shutting down the Blix investigation of alleged Iraqi WMD – were venial in comparison with the sequel. The endemic conflicts of the Middle East are more explosive than they were. Jihadist extremism is more widespread and more bloodthirsty. (Marquand 2006)

Importantly, the main charge that Marquand lays at Blair’s door is not that of illegal and immoral behaviour, although he notes that this took place. Rather, his major issue is that Blair, Bush and their allies were ‘utterly ignorant of the realities of one of the most complex regions in the world. It was worse than a crime. It was a blunder for which we shall pay even more dearly in future than we have already’ (Marquand 2006). For Marquand, then, the problems generated by the ‘war on terror’ lie in the hubris that was increasingly associated with the Blair government in Westminster as well as those in Washington, Canberra and elsewhere. This is manifest in the conviction politics that asserts that, regardless of the evidence to the contrary, such as that on weapons of mass destruction, the pathway chosen by the coalition was the correct one. Marquand contends that, once Blair was convinced of the case for war, he could no longer countenance information or policy options that undermined his predestined version of the ‘war on terror’ and its likely outcome. There is much evidence that Marquand’s is a correct interpretation but it is also worth drawing attention to the religious convictions of Blair in particular, and their impact on his beliefs. As has been evident in British education policy in recent years, Blair’s government has been prepared to support religious pluralism, seeing the influence of religion in the education system as something to be encouraged under certain circumstances. For example, this has led to a support for ‘faith schools’ associated with different religious beliefs and supporting a number of arguments that have been ridiculed in secular circles, such as creationism.7 There is at least some recognition therefore that the public sphere is not an area that needs to be protected from religion. It is also clear that, at least in the private sphere but also at times in the public too, Blair is a religious pluralist who sees little that is problematic in the existence of a multiplicity of views and faiths, as long as they don’t have a detrimental impact on social or public order. This, however, is where the problem arises, for Blair was never a pluralist when it came to ethics. Despite openly linking his ethical

58 Democratic Piety position with his religious beliefs, Blair did not support other denominational groups doing the same if those ethical beliefs ran counter to his chosen path of action. For others, then, Blair took the view that religious faith is essentially a private matter, albeit one that can be recognised in public through, for example, educational institutions. But he could not accept that a plurality of ethical views were as justifiable as his own on an issue in which his Christian convictions informed his decision-making. Zˇizˇek also sees a Christian aspect to Blair’s arguments about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) –a credo qua absurdum – which expressed a faith that ‘despite the lack of evidence, he personally is deeply convinced that they will be found’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 12). This line of argument fits with the analysis of democratic piety because it suggests that democracy must be exported and enforced just because the coalition has faith in it. They know it is the best system and their knowing as much is what makes it right for all. The evidence on which this piety is based is not as convincing as democratic zealots think but the fact that they believe it provides their ethics with a veneer that protects them from alternative approaches. For Blair, as with Bush and Howard, that ethical position accorded with an uncritical, if not naı¨ve, understanding of the workings of democracy, its exclusionary nature and its capacity to reify existing social divisions and create new ones. Democratic ethics were not well defined by the coalition and yet were pursued monotheistically, as if everyone knew what they were and only needed to implement them correctly in order to sort out many of the problems blighting contemporary global politics. This democratic theism demands faith because there is precious little evidence to support its implementation as a long-term driver of peace and security in polities that do not have a firm grounding in democratic principles. It is this faith in democracy that is hardest to maintain in the light of contemporary politics, especially in the Middle East. Scepticism about the attempt to democratise Iraq is commonplace in contemporary political analysis, even amongst those who are otherwise coalescent with the democratisation agenda. As such, commentators such as Larry Diamond recognise the problems in making too many generalisations about democratisation processes on the basis of the debacle in Iraq (Diamond 2005). That said, he notes a number of issues that have blighted the attempts to enshrine democratic government there. Important amongst these is the political and

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military domination of the coalition by the United States, which, when coupled with the lack of real power granted to the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), ensured that the whole exercise was largely perceived on the ground as an exercise in neo-colonialism. For Diamond, certain key lessons in democratising post-conflict societies were not heeded by the coalition. These included: . . . . . .

insufficient preparation for a long-term commitment; the failure to commit a sufficiently large armed force, with clear rules of engagement; the folly of entering Iraq without enough international legitimacy and cooperation; the inability to create trust in Iraq; the poor timing of elections, which prevented alternative voices to those prevailing gaining electoral legitimacy; the failure to engage in political and economic reconstruction with sufficient humility (Diamond 2005: 13–22).

Whilst each of these points has some merit, at no point does Diamond suggest that the whole enterprise in Iraq was misguided and that democratisation was no more than a smokescreen to shroud the real objective of ousting Saddam Hussein and providing a new geo-political interest for the USA in the Middle East. According to Zˇizˇek, however, in Iraq there where numerous arguments used to justify war that did not accord with each other or where the facts were elided in making the case for war. He states that the problem was that ‘there were too many reasons for the war’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 2, emphasis in the original) and that what happened was that ideology superseded logic in making the case for war. For Zˇizˇek, the reasons for the war were threefold and there is a complex interaction between the reasons which is sometimes contradictory. The three reasons he identifies are the goal of promoting democracy globally, the need to establish American hegemony in the New World Order, and economic interests (oil). He uses the Lacanian theory of Imaginary-Symbolic-Real to explain the knotting together of these reasons, with democratic ideology as imaginary, political hegemony as symbolic, and economic interests as real. In the case of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), such was the faith put in the campaign that they were there that, when it was discovered they were not, the story had to some extent already moved on. The focus shifted from WMD to the need to rid Iraq of

60 Democratic Piety Saddam and thence on to the implementation of democracy. This understanding owes something to complexity theory insofar as it seems at no point was there ever a simple hypothesis that could be tested to decide one way or another whether invasion was justified. An explanation grounded in complexity theory is much more useful in analysing the situation that has emerged in Iraq than one that exonerates the USA from responsibility for the creation of the problems that now exist. Diamond provides numerous examples of arguments where the USA’s harmful contribution is underplayed and responsibility for insecurity in Iraq is described as ‘a result of rising insurgent, terrorist, and criminal violence’ (Diamond 2005: 12). Thus, rather than being anything to do with the nature of American engagement in the first place, the subtext is that the coalition might have made many mistakes in Iraq but that, ultimately, democratisation is an inherently positive development and the USA is correct to promote it on the global stage. The fault for unrest and conflict can only be located on the ground in Iraq focused either on the problems with the locals or the inability of the coalition to apply democratic ideas appropriately. Similarly, in proclaiming the need for the deployment of more troops, Diamond contends that ‘there were not enough international troops on the ground in the wake of state collapse to secure the immediate postwar order. As a result, Iraq descended into lawless chaos once Saddam’s regime fell’ (Diamond 2005: 13). Whilst Diamond’s description of events and problems seems reasonably accurate, the ease with which the United States is exonerated from any responsibility for this situation is breathtaking. The state ‘collapsed’ and Saddam’s regime ‘fell’ as if there was no coercive, violent use of American power. Certainly, all of the problems in Iraqi democratisation cannot be simply laid at the door of the coalition or the United States but it is equally duplicitous to ignore the role that they played in bringing about the situation that has emerged in Iraq. Democratisation as a desirable end emerges from Diamond’s analysis unscathed; what is at fault is the clumsy and illegitimate way in which it has been implemented in Iraq. Although the faults of the Iraqi democratisation process are now widely documented, it begs the question of whether enforced democratisation could ever have worked and reinforces the problems that emanate from a global power acting without sufficient international support and hence legitimacy. When the USA is pardoned for its responsibility for

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creating the debacle in Iraq, it is relatively easy to reach the conclusion that ‘only military occupation in some form can fill the vacuum left behind when a state has collapsed and a country is in or at the edge of chaos and civil war’ (Diamond 2005: 17). If order has collapsed, then it must be restored, suggests Diamond, with no interrogation of the reasons behind the decline of order in the first place or the inability of democracy to magically create it. This is the paradox of democratic piety: that it promotes the benefits and advantages – the religion – of democracy whilst simultaneously turning a blind eye to the erosion of democracy in democracies themselves and ignoring the drawbacks of the emergent democracies that it evangelises. Zˇizˇek puts it thus: many liberal warriors are so eager to fight anti-democratic fundamentalism that they will end up by flinging away freedom and democracy themselves. They have such a passion for proving that non-Christian fundamentalism is the main threat to freedom that they are ready to fall back on the position that we have to limit our own freedom here and now, in our allegedly Christian societies. If the ‘terrorists’ are ready to wreck this world for love of another world, our warriors on terror are ready to wreck their own democratic world out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are ready to legalize torture – the ultimate degradation of human dignity – to defend it. (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 34)

Diamond’s argument sits uncomfortably with accounts of democracy based on complexity theory. Despite his awareness of the potential problems of elections, in common with much of the literature Diamond is eventually forced to spend considerable time outlining the need for them and the primacy of timing when it comes to democratisation. The focus on elections appears frequently in the democratisation literature, although it is worth noting that ‘elections – once promoted as a symbol of democratic change and a tool for legitimizing new political arrangements – are increasingly recognized as a potential driver of instability and conflict’ (Buxton 2006: 713). This signifies the difficulty of trying to impose democracy in nondemocratic spaces. If elections are called too early, then it is possible that they will reflect greater support for radical opposition groups that the powers enforcing democracy would prefer to be marginalised. If they are delayed too long, then local actors complain about the undemocratic nature of the imposition of democracy. These problems have been in evidence in Iraq. Diamond makes the

62 Democratic Piety case that it would have been preferable to hold local elections before national elections, to enable broader representation and the possible emergence of new interlocutors who were not part of the prevailing elite (Diamond 2005: 20). As viable as that might have been, it is astounding that much of the democratisation literature is characterised by uncritical discussions of the timing of elections to attain the desired results, rather than because elections are a positive development in their own right. The literature is notably free from the thought that trying to second guess elections is not particularly democratic, especially if specific results are already in mind. The democratic impetus for the expression of the will of the people gets lost behind the need for results that will help the preordained objectives of the ‘democratising’ powers. The real problem lies in the presupposition of the necessary outcomes for political progress. As Diamond himself admits, ‘when decisions are made by occupation powers and by their chosen interlocutors, without adequate national consultation and consensus, problems are kicked down the road and new ones are created that could undermine the prospects for democracy and tolerance’ (Diamond 2005: 21). Whilst much of this sentiment is correct, the underpinning notion of the primacy of consensus is worrying, for it is not an idea that is easily accommodated within complexity approaches. Instead, it too often mutates into a need to shore up ‘moderate’ elites – an enterprise that often alienates ordinary people, who frequently have more radical demands. It is interesting to compare some of the points that Diamond makes with post-conflict democratisation in other parts of the world. These comparisons are not scientific: from a complexity perspective, all social and political issues are deeply dependent on their context, which makes strict comparisons unhelpful. Nonetheless, it is worth drawing out how some of the issues that have characterised the treatment of Iraq resonate in situations such as that in Northern Ireland. The value of such a discussion is not in drawing out clear results or providing a blueprint for conflict resolution and democratisation; instead, the benefits lie in showing up how many of the issues that remain in Iraq are prevalent even in societies that are often thought to have been relatively successful in dealing with conflict. The parallels include the way in which the colonial or former colonial forces in both situations presumed greater longevity in local goodwill than was the case, the under-estimation of the scope for resistance, the need for greater humility on the part of the governing powers, and the

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difficulties of timetabling elections in the context of armed insurgency or the potential perpetration of violence. Thus, while the parallels are not direct, there is much about understanding the relationship between democracy and complexity that can be furthered by examining Northern Ireland in more detail.

Emergent Properties in Northern Ireland: A SelfReferential System? Since the 1990s, Northern Ireland has been involved in a process of democratisation that has established new political institutions which have sporadically operated to govern the province within the overarching provenance of the UK (Little 2004). Any examination of the recent history of this troubled territory would accept that the process has only been partially successful but that important steps are being taken that may lead to a more peaceful, democratic society in the future. Given the complex nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland, it is useful to revisit the process and the way in which conflict and violence have been conceptualised as a part of it. This is a contentious area because conflict and violence – albeit at a much reduced level – continue to blight Northern Ireland. A useful paradigm emerging from George Sandole’s work is his differentiation between ‘conflict-as-process’ and ‘conflict-as-startup conditions’, which provides an interesting contribution to the debate on complexity and democracy. Sandole argues that ‘ ‘‘Conflict-asstartup conditions’’ generates ‘‘conflict-as-process,’’ and once process comes to characterise conflict, it does not matter how (or when) the conflict started’ (Sandole 1999: 129). The important point here is that violent conflict, once it becomes a feature of a particular society for whatever reason, can become part of the modus operandi of that society. This is highly pertinent in the case of Northern Ireland. Thus, even when the sources that start violent phases of conflict are addressed, the situation may be such that these developments do little to resolve the conflict or end violence. This may be because the original reasons behind the outbreak of violence – even if they can be concretely identified, which is questionable – may be overtaken during the course of time as the most significant issues in a society. Or, it may be the case that the inhabitants of a society become so used to the prevalence of violence that it becomes part of the way of life in a manner that seems unimaginable in other societies. This corresponds

64 Democratic Piety to arguments that, in some situations, violence and conflict can be self-perpetuating. Whilst Sandole is not persuasive in outlining a generic theory of violence and war, he is correct to note that conflict can re-ignite even when start-up conditions are in abeyance and that the start-up mentality can become part of the process through cultural practice and expression (Sandole 1999: 130). This differentiation between ‘conflict-as-startup conditions’ and ‘conflict-as-process’ fits in with the focus in complexity theory on emergent properties (Cilliers 1998). In the case of Northern Ireland, this implies that it is impossible to reduce the conflict to its constituent parts and work to resolve the conflict as a whole by attending to each of its components. Moreover, it suggests that moves to merely shift towards some earlier phase, whereby we learn the lessons of history and rebuild Ireland or Northern Ireland in an improved fashion, is unlikely to succeed. The notion of emergent properties implies that the conflict in Northern Ireland contains aspects that cannot simply be wished away or reversed. Instead, the events of the last hundred years (and many more) have created the properties of the Northern Irish conflict that need to be dealt with now. These properties cannot be removed from the agenda because, following complexity theory, it is impossible to track down and isolate the exact circumstances and events that generated a particular issue. This position is further complicated if, using the risk society thesis, we understand that the properties of a given conflict are still emerging (Beck 1992). Moreover, in line with Derrida’s notion of the future still to come, there is a need to recognise that the seeds of future conflict have been sewn in the past and continue to be planted today. It is impossible to predict accurately the ways in which current or past actions will manifest themselves in future conflicts. With hindsight, it may be possible to identify certain actions, policies and beliefs that have influenced a particular instance of conflict but that does not provide a definitive explanation of its emergence. More importantly, it is not an option to change the events and ideas that have provided the backdrop to a specific issue that is part of a broader political problem. Thus, in explaining the nature of the Northern Irish conflict, for example, certain seminal events and decisions can be identified – the Falls Road Curfew, the Hunger Strikes, the proroguing of Stormont, the Enniskillen bomb, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and so forth. However, awareness of the symbolic significance of these events does not make it plausible to specify how the interaction of these different

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events has caused the political problems of today. The interaction of these factors is complex and it is not possible to reverse the sands of time. As such, although the conflicts of today must be dealt with in whatever way is deemed most appropriate, it is vital to recognise that decisions taken in the present will generate the conflicts of the future. Thus, not only does complexity imply the impossibility of changing the past, it also suggests that contemporary politics contribute to the shape of the future in ways that are not clear and explicable. For Cilliers, it is important to note that complexity is not sitespecific. The features of complexity do not reside in a particular part of a society or a political system. Instead, they are interspersed with other more or less simple or complicated phenomena in every walk of life. This is the idea of complex systems as dissipative structures. Thus, complexity is not located at a specific, identifiable site in a system. Because complexity results from the interaction between components of a system, complexity is manifested at the level of the system itself. There is neither something at a level below (a source), nor at a level above (a meta-description), capable of capturing the essence of complexity. (Cilliers 1998: 2–3)

As such, complexity cannot be isolated. It cannot be allocated a specific space in social relations or accommodated within particular policies developed to simplify complexity itself.8 Instead, it is important to realise that it resists compartmentalisation precisely because it is dynamic and in the process of evolution. This is because complexity signifies an open system whereby a multiplicity of factors contribute to the development and change of a society, sometimes unpredictably. What this suggests is a need to unsettle definitive explanations of a conflict such as that in Northern Ireland, as well as identifications of the key sites in which conflicts can be resolved. It is true that ingredients in the emergence of a conflict can be identified but their interaction is less explicable. In the case of Northern Ireland, we might variously point to things such as British imperialism, republican insurgency, sectarianism from all sides, discrimination in the pre-1972 Stormont regime and so on. However, none of these provide complete explanations of the conflict. They are all sources of conflict but the way in which they combine with each other is complex. The fact that the reality of all of these sources is contested means that there is a multiplicity of narratives that combine

66 Democratic Piety different aspects of the explanations of conflict. In this sense, the removal of Britain from Northern Irish affairs, the disarmament of republicans, the elimination of sectarianism or the removal of discriminatory practices should not be privileged as the sites of conflict resolution even if it were possible to agree that these initiatives were desirable. Moreover, even if removing these aspects of the conflict were possible in the present, it would not be feasible to remove their past and the long shadow that they cast over the politics of today and tomorrow.9 None of the comments above should suggest that conflicts such as that in Northern Ireland are inexplicable. Rather, what complexity theory implies is that while the individual components of a system may be analysed and explained, the interaction of them is not easily comprehended. However, this is not to say that the nature of the conflict is completely unpredictable. On the contrary, it suggests that certain dimensions of the struggle are predictable, in particular, following the systems theory of Luhmann (1995), the way in which loops and recurrent themes ensure that specific issues continue to impact on a system. The basic idea here is that complex systems are, at least to some extent, self-referential. Elements of a system operate in relation to one another within the paradigm of the system in such a way as to shore up the discourse of the system itself. This resonates with the notion of path dependency that was discussed in Chapter 1. The interaction of the components within a system can simultaneously challenge and shore up the parameters of the system. Although external forces may well affect these elements in complex ways, the interaction of the elements will lead to a looping affect as they come back to interact with the system within which they operate. In this way, even where elements are challenging a system their mode of doing so involves reference to the system itself. Thus the ‘particular social structure provides the grid of intelligibility for making sense of the actions as conforming to or dissenting from their given power configuration’ (Hoy 2005: 3). At this point, an example from Northern Ireland may help to clarify the theoretical point. Politics in Northern Ireland is a good example of a self-referential system and there are many examples to bear this out. Take, for instance, the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly in the late 1990s. A key part of the process of transforming the political system in Northern Ireland was to establish cross-community politics as more of a norm than had hitherto been the case. Hence the

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peace process had focused on finding ways of living together for divided communities and a central aspect of this was to establish democratic procedures whereby there was a minority veto to prevent the development of majority rule, as had been the case under the unionist regime until 1972. In order to do this, the elected members of the Assembly had to designate themselves as ‘unionists’, ‘nationalists’ or ‘other’. This process of designation, then, which was part of a structure designed to transcend the ethno-national divide in Northern Ireland, required politicians to take up the very ethno-national labels that the peace process was supposed to be moving beyond. This is the reason why many commentators, while perhaps understanding the need for designation, have criticised the process (Dixon 2001, Little 2004). This example explains the way in which information loops can reinforce a system by channelling potentially challenging discourses into a self-referential process that reduces the possibility of more radical systemic change. Perhaps this would not be a problem, except that there is widespread recognition that sectarianism was a major issue in Northern Irish politics and that the peace process was supposed to undermine rather than reinforce it. While complexity theory challenges the view that individuals or societies can categorically identify the outcome of interactions in complex systems, it does suggest a need for greater awareness of the propensity of history to influence these relationships. In political conflicts, then, as much as anywhere else, the main understandings of the way in which particular issues relate are likely to be based on historical precedent. In this sense, it is unavoidable that historical relations will have an impact on the future because decisions in the present are often based on differing perceptions of the past. In the words of Cilliers, complex systems ‘have a history. Not only do they evolve through time, but their past is co-responsible for their present behaviour. Any analysis of a complex system that ignores the dimension of time is incomplete, or at most a synchronic snapshot of a diachronic process’ (Cilliers 1998: 4). This rings true in Northern Ireland, where the significance of history to the past is deeply imprinted on political relations and society as a whole. It is rare indeed to encounter political arguments that are not grounded in one way or another in the historical enmities that have characterised Northern Irish politics. History casts a long shadow not only on formal political discourses but on all sorts of beliefs and cultural practices that are part of the fabric of everyday life in Northern Ireland.

68 Democratic Piety An interesting example of the centrality of history to Northern Ireland and the way in which it feeds into self-referential information loops that shore up the system is the marching tradition. The tradition of marching bands commemorating historical events – victories and defeats – is foundational to the fabric of life in Northern Ireland. Each year during the marching season conflicts take place regarding, among other things, the routing of marches, the behaviour of marchers, and whether marches should be held at all. So significant is this to life in Northern Ireland that a body called the Parades Commission was established in the 1990s to adjudicate on marching controversies. Where, at times, representatives of marchers and other affected communities have been able to reach agreements on the rectitude of specific marches, other conflicts in this area have proved more intractable. It is commonplace now for marchers to dismiss the deliberations of the Parades Commission to the extent that the institution itself comes under considerable pressure. What we have then is a political procedure established in the present to grapple with parades commemorating the past and the Parades Commission itself becoming imbued with the characteristics of the conflict. Why allow this march but not another? Why allow nationalists to march in an area but not unionists and vice versa? With every year that the Parades Commission adjudicates on contested marches, there is a reinforcement of the centrality of parades to Northern Irish life. In debating the issue, an information loop is created that refers back to and reinforces the marching tradition as significant. It is not surprising, then, that annual marching controversies provide a microcosm of the overarching conflict in Northern Ireland and an example of the impact of history on the present and so the present on the future. This brief account of some of the major issues in contemporary Northern Irish politics demonstrates the complex nature of that society. The significance of context means that no two conflicts are directly comparable with one another but that, bearing complexity in mind, it may be possible nevertheless to discern some similar trends between them. The example of Northern Ireland explains why democratisation is such a fraught process, characterised by regression and stagnation as well as progress. Systems theory helps to clarify the self-referential nature of much political and social activity and hence the impossibility of completely isolating features of complex systems. In this sense, it becomes clear that, as well as path dependency shrouding the origins of problems, there is no easy reductive strategy

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to identify and resolve them. In this scenario, social issues and political problems should not be regarded as merely complicated because the nature of their interaction with each other means that they cannot be disentangled. Therefore, not only is democratisation an overly simplistic strategy for establishing a political future for postconflict societies, it is also impossible to identify the kinds of dangers that may emerge from the employment of democratisation as a driving force in the ‘war on terror’. These problems are already emergent in Afghanistan and Iraq and are likely to deteriorate rather than improve with the course of time.

Complexity, Post-structuralism and Conflict In Chapter 1, a case was made for post-structuralist analysis as the most appropriate way of comprehending the implications of complexity theory for political conflicts. Post-structuralist accounts use genealogical approaches that seek to make sense of the concrete practices that characterise social life and contribute to the production of ‘knowledge’. They suggest the need to deconstruct political discourses in order to unveil the assumptions and interests that underpin statements and normative values. It is through these methods that the ways in which power is exercised and reproduced through language can be discerned. The deconstruction of political discourses forms part of a radical project by unsettling the political and, in particular, disrupting mainstream and traditional articulations of political processes. From this perspective, the accepted language of democratic politics masks power relations and impedes challenges to the democratic order. In terms of complexity, democratic procedures act as a way of sanitising political discourse and, because they are part of a self-referential information loop, democratic discourses reiterate and reinforce the system from which they emanate. Similarly, Paul Cilliers stresses the benefits of deconstruction as a theoretical lens that helps make more sense of the implications of complexity. Post-structuralism challenges orthodox theories of language by suggesting that neither the intention of the speaker, nor the context, is fixed enough to determine the correct meaning of any form of communication. Because any utterance becomes untethered from its origin as soon as the ‘tokens’ of which it consists – whether these tokens are the sounds uttered by a

70 Democratic Piety speaker or words written down – are let loose, so to speak, the intention cannot ‘accompany’ the linguistic act to control its interpretation. (Cilliers 1998: 55)

This is highly relevant to many societies because it challenges some of the assumptions that tend to be made about prevailing discourses. In complex dynamic societies it often serves politicians well to deride the arguments of opponents as ‘old hat’, ‘tired cliche´’, or ‘mere rhetoric’. This simplification of the meaning of discourses provides a filter through which arguments are digested and placed in categories. These categories often reflect the simple binaries that are used to construct meaning in modern polities and they serve as another example of how self-referential systems are reproduced. However, even if arguments from politicians are inevitably similar, each new situation – influenced by a number of differing factors – requires a fresh perspective. To summon an example already cited, the crisis over the marching season in Northern Ireland is never the same from year to year, even if the marches and their routes do not always vary enormously and similar arguments are used in their favour or against them. Complexity theory informs us that there are limitations to approaches that over-simplify the non-linear aspects of political issues although, of course, there are important reasons to savour simplicity in the way in which we explain complex phenomena. This approach is apparent in many discourses, including those on the democratisation process, the ‘war on terror’ and the recent politics of Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, there are good reasons to treat such approaches with caution, not least because of the tendency of pared back, simple explanations to lead to similarly unsophisticated proposed solutions to whatever ‘problem’ it is that has been constructed. Whilst some kind of framework of meaning may be necessary to enable democracies to perform their decision-making function, the warping of complex political issues to suit a simplified political calculus contributes to the inability of democracy to meet the grand objectives of its more pious advocates. In rejecting the seduction of simplicity, Coveney and Highfield point out the dangers of reductionism, which they call the ‘quest to explain complex phenomena in terms of something simpler’: Because of its power, reductionism is all too often perceived as the universal route to understanding. Yet it has driven a wedge between

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science and other aspects of human life. Reductionism, used naively, offers an analysis of phenomena by splitting them up into their smallest possible pieces . . . People are depicted as little more than survival robots who spread genes. Pain, suffering, and civil disorder are nothing more than manifestations of defective genes. (Coveney and Highfield 1995: 12)

This is the reason why articulations of simplicity need to be deconstructed. Post-structuralism promotes challenges to the ideas that are deemed to be ‘common sense’ or the basis of political consensus. It demands consideration of the values and interests that are imbued in political discourses and the way in which they work to sustain and reproduce the dominant order. It takes seriously discourses based on the experiences of everyday life and articulations that do not correspond with the accepted manner of political communication in any given society (or the imagined conditions of theories, such as those in many deliberative models of democracy). At the same time it recognises the ways in which much political communication is filtered through certain attractors that reflect acknowledged signposts in the expression of politics in a given society (Urry 2003: 83). These attractors represent the prevailing labels that help to locate political viewpoints in the spectrum of available positions. As Butler notes, this helps to locate ideas within the acceptable spectrum of views but also signifies which views can be discounted from serious democratic consideration because they emanate from ‘uninhabitable identification’. Similarly, Rancie`re points out how conventional constructions of meaning enable the process of the ‘distribution of the sensible’ to sanitise the political environment. Thus, rather than analysing the content of political discourse, the use of conventional attractors to filter political arguments serves to reinforce the prevalence of mainstream perspectives. From a post-structuralist perspective, complexity is an appropriate theoretical model to use in analysing the prevalence of democratic piety because it unsettles the linguistic and discursive structures that underpin this hegemony. The failure to fully comprehend the relationship – and indeed the tensions – between complexity and democracy is manifest in the many simplistic discourses that emanate from both popular and academic sources on the need to democratise nondemocratic parts of the world. This is frequently coupled with an uncritical air of superiority linked to Western models of liberal democracy which cannot comprehend the flaws that can be identified

72 Democratic Piety in most democratic systems. A good example here is the way in which fears of terrorism in the early years of this century have led to increasingly draconian legislation being implemented in the countries that are the supposed paragons of democratic virtue in the world today. Thus, it should be recognised that democracies need to address the developing nature of anti-terrorist legislation and the ratchet effect it has on the operation of the ordinary criminal justice system. The use of extreme measures, such as detention without trial, may have a salutary short-term impact but may prove counter-productive for democracies engaged in long-term governance building . . . Democracy and antiterrorist laws are difficult to reconcile. (McEldowney 2005: 767)

The irony of the ‘war on terror’ has been the cavalier fashion in which democratic states that are perceived to be under threat have been prepared to jettison cherished civil and political rights in an effort to ward off the threat from non-democratic terrorists. The impact of these developments is hard to specify, given that complex societies ‘are faced with historically unique problems in that prediction and projection become virtually impossible’ (Nash 2000: 223). Nonetheless, suspicions about the ratchet effect of draconian legislation are substantive and are being noted throughout the Western world.10 It is all the more startling in an era when democracy is being evangelised around the world that many global powers are weakening their democratic traditions.

Conclusion Post-structuralist accounts allied with complexity theory enable greater understanding of developments in liberal democracies by drawing attention to the ways in which juxtapositions between democracy and other pejoratively labelled concepts shore up its pre-eminent position. Here a specific democratic rationality emerges which contrasts democracy with dissensus, conflict and violence. This rationality reinforces the capacity of the democratic state to act in undemocratic fashion if it is warding off the enemies of democracy and the fear of increased violence and unrest. This encourages a somewhat reductive notion of that state as ‘a nucleus of rational action’ (Barry 2002: 159), which acts against greater awareness of social and political complexity and the rather simplistic

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understandings of the value of democracy that prevail in the West. The reductive nature of much contemporary democratic discourse is also evident in the way in which they de-temporalise complex social and political issues. Time and the fluctuating nature of the phenomena that contribute to complexity must also be brought into the equation when examining conflicts, particularly those marked by considerable longevity. The linkage of complexity theory and poststructuralism engages with not only complex spaces and complex language but also complexity of time (Chambers 2003). As Mol and Law point out: Once we start to attend to times that come and go, what is reduced at one moment may resurface the next. Elements that come to the foreground now shift to the background a little later. In this way the possibility of recomplexification is included in what is momentarily simple – and the nouns, simple and complex, give way to verbs, to talking of simplifying and complexifying’ (Mol and Law 2002: 13)

Whilst it often suits political actors and commentators to simplify the terms of debate into the usual, orthodox mechanisms of explaining conflict, such approaches rarely do justice to the complexity they address. Indeed, given the lack of fixity in complex phenomena, these simple explanations may be unhelpful in blinding us to underlying dynamics and complexities. Instead, it should be remembered that the constant and continuing intersection of discourses ensures that there is a lack of fixity which undermines simple explanation. Using the work of Lyotard, Cilliers contends that the identification of a multiplicity of explanatory discourses ‘is not a wilful move; it is an acknowledgement of complexity. It allows for the explosion of information and the inevitable contradictions that form part of a truly complex network’ (Cilliers 1998: 116). It is the inevitable existence of these contradictions and the political disagreements that emanate from them that demands a greater awareness of complexity theory in understanding democracy and the contemporary challenges faced by governments today. As Nikolas Rose contends, empirical studies of government and policy areas do not simplify issues; instead, they ‘generate complexity’. This requires us to abandon, once and for all, those binary divisions that have structured our political thinking and our theorizing about the political for

74 Democratic Piety so long: domination and emancipation; power and resistance; strategy and tactics; Same and Other; civility and desire . . . Our present has arisen as much from the logics of contestation as from any imperatives of control. (Rose 1999: 277)

From this sophisticated analysis it should be clear that poststructuralist approaches do not necessarily result in either relativist notions of plurality in which ‘anything goes’ or nihilistic arguments that ‘nothing matters’, as some critics contend. Instead, by pointing to the contingency of discourse, they try to understand the specific challenges of plurality in any given context and the demands of interpretation in any situation (Ricoeur 1965, Dallmayr 1993). Hoy contends that interpretation is pivotal to the process of making decisions in any pluralistic society but the way in which issues and arguments can be deconstructed and interpreted is not straightforward: ‘Interpretation is an ongoing process of balancing coherence and complexity. For the sake of coherence interpretation will sometimes have to pay less attention to complexity, but at other times it may have to admit to complexities that challenge the assumptions of coherence’ (Hoy 2005: 56). What must be remembered, then, is that ‘action in specific social and historical situations is less than perfect and is not well described by more idealized philosophical accounts of rationality and choice . . . Action often occurs without full information, or consensus, or sufficient reflection on principles and motivations’ (Hoy 2004: 237–8). This implies that there is a need to pay greater attention to the nature of political disagreement in complex societies and the way in which theoretical arguments about consensus and dissensus are integrated into the theories and practice of democracy.

Notes 1. See ‘Spanish PM halts Basque peace talks’, The Age, 1 January 2007. 2. In the case of Northern Ireland, Sandole relies far too heavily on a few out-dated newspaper articles as the basis of his information. Any attempt to genuinely ground a complexity approach cannot rely on such a limited body of literature as an explanatory source. 3. See, in particular, the work of Thomas Carothers (2002a, 2002b,

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6. 7.


2004) and the debate on his work in the Journal of Democracy involving Carothers himself as well as Hyman (2002), Nodia (2002), O’Donnell (2002) and Wollack (2002). Recent examples in Australia include the failure of the federal government to place sufficient pressure on the American government to either release or at least expedite the trial of David Hicks, an Australian citizen who was detained in Guanta´namo Bay for more than five years before his trial (and plea bargain) in 2007. This sits in uneasy contrast with the kinds of democratic values that Australia supposedly prides itself upon. For an explanation of the federal government’s rather flimsy justification of their relative inaction, see the article by Attorney General Phillip Ruddock, ‘Why he can’t return’, The Age, 7 January 2007, and the forthright responses by Lex Lasry, ‘Negligent or just ineffective’, The Age, 10 January 2007, and Alastair Nicholson, ‘Why the Attorney-General is wrong on Hicks’, The Age, 11 January 2007. This is the same government that deported a 33-year-old Australian permanent resident, Stefan Nystrom, to Sweden because of his criminal record despite the fact that he had spent only the first twenty-seven days of his life there due to his mother being on holiday when she gave birth. Not surprisingly, this has led to complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. See A. Jackson, ‘Human rights complaint to UN over deportation’, The Age, 3 January 2007. David Marquand noted that in the 2005 British general election Blair ‘scraped back to Downing Street with 35 per cent of the popular vote and not much more than 20 per cent of those eligible to vote. If that is a triumph then Waterloo was a victory for Napoleon and Stalingrad for von Paulus. The fact is that British democracy is now desperately sick, and the 2005 result was a symptom of its sickness’ (D. Marquand, ‘Life on Planet Seldon’, The Guardian, 21 December 2006). It should be noted that Marquand is widely regarded as a moderate commentator within the British social democratic tradition. See P. Wintour, ‘Blair makes one last push in Middle East with Palestinian funding plan’, The Guardian, 19 December 2006. See the resources provided by the Department for Education and Skills on faith schools available at, which notes their ‘contribution to community cohesion in England’. Accessed 29 April 2007.

76 Democratic Piety 8. This is not to say that complexity should not be simplified at times. For example, there is an argument for using more simple, universal techniques for welfare provision precisely because the current systems become increasingly rule-bound, complicated and ineffective. For coverage of the arguments surrounding a universal basic income scheme, for example, see Little (1998, 2002a). 9. See Ruane and Todd (2007) for a discussion of path dependence in Northern Irish politics. 10. McEldowney (2005) compares the current kinds of legislation in the USA and the UK with a particular view to the impact on the latter of early anti-terrorist legislation in Northern Ireland. Similar concerns have been raised in Australia by Alastair Nicholson (2006).

Chapter 3 Democracy, Consensus and Dissent

The challenges of complexity unsettle many of the prevailing assumptions in democratic theory. Most important among these is the consensual impetus that lies behind many contemporary articulations of liberal democracy and the rationalism and universalism that frequently underpin them. The notion of a rational consensus has become an increasingly controversial dimension of recent democratic theory, as radical democratic theorists have challenged the ways in which liberal democracies deal with political disagreement and contestation. Subsequently, several theorists within the liberal tradition have attempted to incorporate models of dissent in their democratic arguments or have reiterated the supposedly intrinsic place of disagreement in the organisation of liberal democracies. However, these protestations against the radical democratic critique have tended, in dealing with dissent, to regress into forms of majoritarianism or proceduralism that do little more than reflect the original limitations that inspired the radical critique. This chapter argues that a more useful approach is one that recognises that not only is contestation inherent to democratic politics but also that this generates a paradox of democracy based on the impossibility of establishing rational consensus in democratic practice. This correlates with the complex dimension of democratic politics and provides another challenge to the prevalence of democratic piety in contemporary politics. The pursuit of consensus is a fundamental element of contemporary democratic theory and practice focused on reconciling different moral viewpoints in pluralistic societies. Consensus is articulated in a multiplicity of ways in contemporary politics, although increasingly influential liberal theorists are less concerned with agreement about substantive moral beliefs and more focused on consensus around

78 Democratic Piety democratic procedures (Rawls 1993, Habermas 1996). From this perspective, liberal democracies should be constructed around the idea that everyone in a society can have faith in the procedures for political engagement and democratic decision-making. Thus, it does not matter if political actors disagree with each other on substantive issues as long as they have faith in the fairness of the mechanisms through which conflicts are resolved. On this basis, disparate individuals can accede to the validity of decisions (or even develop an ‘overlapping consensus’ on them, according to Rawls) even where the decisions made do not coincide with the perspectives of all affected participants in democratic processes. The pursuit of consensus is also implicit in recent empirical democratic theories of civil society and social capital. Even though most of these theories abound with references to diversity, pluralism and the recognition of difference, it is usually posited that the enhancement of intermediate institutions between the individual and the state can lead to the strengthening of the fabric of democratic societies (Putnam 2000, Fukuyama 1995). From this perspective, a vibrant pluralistic civil society helps to generate a universally improved democracy: respect for difference is something that benefits all. Here, individuals and groups are encouraged to engage with one another, despite their differences, in the spirit of mutual understanding. Instead of concentrating on the formal political mechanisms and procedures for settling conflicts, theories of civil society promote greater engagement and deliberation in everyday life. Thus, rather than focusing the energy of democratisation on formal and legalistic political spaces and institutions, civil society theory tends to be more bottom-up and associational. For this reason, theories of civil society are pivotal to models of deliberative democracy that are often focused on the development of forms of social consensus as a precursor to formal political decision-making (Habermas 1998, Fishkin and Laslett 2003). This perspective has been challenged by agonistic political theorists who reject the way in which deliberative theories neglect the deeply conflictual nature of the political differences that exist in contemporary societies and who problematise the idea that individuals will relinquish deeply held beliefs in the face of alternative rational arguments (Schaap 2006, 2007). What consensual models in democratic theory share is the belief that the greater the levels of unison that can be generated in a society (through either agreed decision-making

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procedures or intermediate social institutions), the more stable that society will be and consequentially the less conflictual its politics. Consensus, then, tends to be regarded as an inherently positive phenomenon in most contemporary liberal democracies, which ‘converge in their assumption that success lies in the elimination from a regime of dissonance, resistance, conflict, or struggle. They confine politics . . . to the juridical, administrative, or regulative tasks of stabilizing moral and political subjects, building consensus, maintaining agreements, or consolidating communities and identities’ (Honig 1993: 2). In recent years this consensual model of democratic practice has come under increasing challenge from more radical theories of democracy (Connolly 1995, 2001; Mouffe 2000, 2005; Wolin 1996). Essentially, these commentators question the extent to which substantive moral differences can be reconciled with one another and tend to stress the incommensurability of different moral viewpoints in democratic societies (Gray 2000). Whereas some liberals have attempted to incorporate a model of value pluralism into their normative philosophy (Crowder 2002), others have responded to the ideas of radical democracy by arguing that dissent is a fundamental feature of liberal democratic polities. Thus, even within the parameters of liberal theoretical reflection, it is not clear exactly what the implications of political disagreement are and how they are to be incorporated into democratic politics. The contention here is that, even where liberal democratic theories attempt to countenance the import of radical disagreement, they tend to end up resorting to some form of consensualism in their practical prescriptions. Jacques Rancie`re contends that this underpinning consensual dimension ‘is the reduction of democracy to the way of life of a society, to its ethos – meaning by this word both the abode of a group and its lifestyle’ (Rancie`re 2004a: 306). In evaluating the prevalence of democratic piety and its impact on contemporary politics, it is important to assess the efforts of theorists such as Cass Sunstein to integrate notions of disagreement within their model of pluralistic democratic politics. As we will see, such an analysis demonstrates that, more often than not, this has involved a rather thin, limited understanding of disagreement and its ramifications for democratic politics (Sunstein 2003). Similarly, even political philosophers who recognise the ineradicable nature of political disagreement and moral conflict, such as Stuart Hampshire (1983, 2000)

80 Democratic Piety believe that the only mechanisms that can deal with such conflicts are fair procedures. These approaches can be contrasted with the recent work of philosophers such as Alain Badiou (2005) and, in particular, Jacques Rancie`re, who contend that what ‘makes politics an object of scandal is that it is that activity which has the rationality of disagreement as its very own rationality’ (Rancie`re 1999: xii).1 From this perspective, disagreement is constitutive of politics. As will become clear, the argument constructed in this book suggests that this provides a much more dynamic understanding of political disagreement than is the case in many of the more dominant forms of democratic theory. Radical theories provide a more fruitful basis on which to understand ethical conflicts in contemporary democracies because they unsettle many of the assumptions and practices of liberal democratic politics. Instead of articulating alternative political models to liberal democracy, radical theories generate open-ended conceptions of democratic politics that provide little compass or guidance for decision-making or institutional design. It should be stated, then, that radical democratic theory does not propose a normative ‘solution’ to the failings of liberal democracy. Instead, it implies that the exclusion and marginalisation of certain ideas – what Rancie`re (2004b) criticises as the ‘distribution of the sensible’ – means that democratic politics is never as egalitarian as it purports to be in both theory and practice.2 This has led to considerable neglect of radical theories of disagreement precisely because they disrupt the ethos and modus operandi of liberal democratic systems. Furthermore, this oversight has generated a failure to comprehend the complexity of disagreement and a retreat into the ‘doctrine of consensus, which is in effect the dominant ideology of contemporary parliamentary States’ (Badiou 2005: 18).

Liberal Democracy and the Pursuit of Consensus The dominant trend in liberal theories of democracy, when confronted with pluralistic difference, has been to demonstrate the ways in which liberalism is the best equipped of all political outlooks to contain a multiplicity of political viewpoints. The liberal perspective is justified in a variety of ways that often allude to the supremacy of the basic organising principles of toleration or state neutrality. Alternatively, others contend that the types of legal and political institutions

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associated with liberalism, such as deliberative procedures, should be the basis of democratic societies. In these ways it is argued that liberal democracy provides a shell that can manage, accommodate or contain the numerous moral discourses of diverse, complex societies. However, in recent years there has been a sustained attack on these assumptions from, amongst others, a range of radical democratic commentators who believe that liberals underplay the extent of conflict in the contemporary pluralised world (Mouffe 2000; Connolly 1995).3 In response to these criticisms, some liberal theorists have attempted to deal with the implications of dissent in a more explicit fashion, reiterating why notions of disagreement have always been fundamental to liberal conceptions of democracy and, thus, why they are best placed to resolve them (Sunstein 2003). Sunstein’s aim is to demonstrate the ways in which democratic societies need forms of dissent and opposition to flourish. Societies that attempt to curtail disapproved views through limiting freedom of speech, for example, inevitably become more likely to generate violence, upheaval and unacceptable expressions of dissent. Sunstein, then, defends the ‘open society’ in which there is an established tolerance of dissenting viewpoints and spaces for oppositional political actors to express them. In dealing with these perspectives through legal and political mechanisms, outbreaks of violence and other types of extremism are more likely to be prevented. Sunstein harnesses a range of legal and psychological evidence to support his claim about the dangers of conformity and to reinforce the need to encourage dissenters to make their voices heard in acceptable ways. Moreover, he contends that democracies need to listen to minorities who are trying to convert the way of thinking of majorities and be prepared to change laws and institutions where necessary: When a law no longer reflects citizens’ values, people are unlikely to obey it without a great deal of enforcement activity. And when a law is so inconsistent with people’s values that it cannot, in a democracy, be much enforced, it loses its legitimacy. It has no claim to regulate conduct at all. (Sunstein 2003: 53)

This is all very well but it begs questions concerning the manner in which it is possible to judge ‘citizens’ values’ and the extent to which they contradict the prevailing laws. It is not contentious of Sunstein to

82 Democratic Piety argue that laws that contravene the behaviour or mores of a large majority of society should be subject to political scrutiny and a case be made for changing them. The problem is that he reverts to the old liberal standard of majoritarianism in order to justify action and measure the legitimacy of a law. However, what this argument neglects is the fact that contemporary liberal democratic societies are at least partially composed of substantial minorities whose values and arguments are consistently in tension with the established laws and institutions.4 On these issues, there are frequently clashes of moral values – a situation in which minorities rarely prevail. The nub of this issue is not just the fact that a majority and a minority disagree on a particular issue. Rather, minorities may find themselves consistently struggling with systems and institutions that contravene their deep-seated moral viewpoints. The problem here is not that there is dissent but that there is little hope for these minorities that majorities will take on board their arguments on what may be fundamental issues. Sunstein suggests that often laws and moral viewpoints emanate from cascades of information that can act in a positive or negative fashion. The notion of information cascades suggests that ideas and opinions emerge in the public sphere and subsequently filter into the establishment of legal institutions and moral positions. However, this approach underplays the value-laden nature of the public sphere in liberal democracies, and hence the obstacles that face certain moral arguments. Sunstein neglects the difficulties that minorities and critics of political systems face in establishing cascades of information in their favour. For example, he might point to a movement such as the civil rights movement of the 1960s (there are several positive references to Martin Luther King in Sunstein’s book) that was eventually able to achieve some of its objectives through the expression of dissent. However, this example fails to demonstrate the extent of the difficulties that are faced by those who actually disagree with the structure of a particular political system. What the civil rights movement rejected was the way in which basic rights of citizenship in the USA were not experienced by blacks on an equal footing with whites. The rights of citizenship themselves were not the target of the campaign; rather, the focus was on their unequal distribution. This is rather different to the campaigns of minorities who reject the very moral principles on which liberal democratic societies may be based, such as secularism. Rather than wanting to experience these

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institutions, minorities in contemporary societies may want absolutely nothing to do with them. Sunstein offers little in trying to deal with such demands.5 The process of dealing with dissent will always be a matter of subjective judgement for those with the power to choose, rather than a categorical, rational decision. In this situation, the power that is conferred by the maintenance of sovereignty is vast. Sovereign powers are able to adjudicate on acceptable forms of dissent and therefore which expressions may be tolerated in a liberal democratic society. In reference to Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, Sunstein himself recognises that ‘dissenters are often wrong or unreasonable, and they might start unjustified movements of their own. Conformity pressures and bad informational cascades are often a product of such dissenters’ (Sunstein 2003: 89). What this does not do is explain how societies are to adjudicate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ forms of dissent, or what is valuable and valueless. This is the nub of Sunstein’s argument because ultimately he is forced to admit that many dissenters are speaking nonsense, and what they say is unhelpful or even harmful. What we want to encourage is not dissent as such but reasonable dissent, or dissent of the right kind. In terms of producing good decisions and counteracting the risk of bad cascades, this should be the fundamental goal. (Sunstein 2003: 91)

There is clear evidence here that Sunstein’s attempt to resurrect the place of dissent within liberal democratic thinking is predicated upon rather traditional liberal concerns for reasonableness. Indeed, it is demands such as for reasonableness that provided part of the original radical democratic critique of theorists such as Rawls and Habermas (Mouffe 2000). Thus, despite attempting to grapple with the primacy of dissent for democracy, Sunstein falls back into the trap of imagining a world of difference that is permeated by a concern for rational consensus. The pivotal question remains unanswered: why should I act ‘reasonably’ in a society that excludes me or where the established procedures run contrary to my moral principles? What form of political action aside from the transgressive can I use if the political system in which I reside does not recognise me as legitimate? Like many other theorists of liberal democracy, Sunstein provides no persuasive answer. Indeed, his position merely generates a further range of questions that can only be answered subjectively:

84 Democratic Piety It is proper for social pressures to discourage senseless, hysterical or paranoid forms of dissent. It is also proper for norms of civility to discourage dissent’s most hateful and dehumanizing forms. When conformity and cascades lead people in good directions, society has no particular need to encourage dissent. (Sunstein 2003: 91)

This statement begs numerous questions: who is to decide what is ‘senseless, hysterical or paranoid’? How does a society define ‘civility’? Who is to adjudicate as to when information leads people in ‘good’ directions? All of these are matters of opinion and it is not difficult to imagine powerful political actors dismissing the voices of opponents or critics as senseless, uncivil or paranoid. As usual, theorists like Sunstein utilise the mechanisms of liberalism and, in particular, the filters of reasonableness, rationality and the drive for consensus. The limitations of these filters are well documented in terms of marginalising the views of those who are critical of the dominant order, as can be seen in the recent history of societies such as Northern Ireland (Little 2004). To be clear, it is not the fact of subjectivity in making decisions about who is included and excluded that should be challenged, for, as Schmitt has shown, such decisions are part and parcel of all political systems (Schmitt 2005).6 Rather, it is the attempt by democratic theorists such Sunstein to mask subjectivity in such decisions through recourse to reason and the law that needs to be addressed. Sunstein is aware of the difficulties that some groups face in engaging with the decision-making process in liberal democracies. Thus, for example, he notes how the legal principle of freedom of speech is not always experienced equally by ‘low-status groups’ and that there needs to be an extension of this legal principle to the broader socio-cultural domain. To this end, he contends that a ‘wellfunctioning democracy has a culture of free speech, not simply legal protection of free speech . . . In a culture of free speech, the attitude of listeners is no less important than that of speakers’ (Sunstein 2003: 110, emphasis in the original). This places considerable emphasis on the role of the principle of freedom of speech in placating those who may dissent against prevailing norms and laws. It also fails to grapple with the complexity of communication and the fact that the opportunity and ability to express a particular utterance do not necessarily mean that it will be understood as intended. Sunstein offers no remedy to the absence of a culture – as opposed to a legal system – of free

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speech in established democracies or the cultivation of this kind of culture in other types of society. Instead, there is little more than a justification of the dominant legal-political values of liberal democracy, accompanied by a realisation that these cultural values rarely prevail. In the light of the justification of key aspects of American liberal democracy in Sunstein’s work, this seems a somewhat blase´ approach to the democratic deficit exacerbated by inequalities of power experienced by many marginalised groups. When this is coupled with the deep entrenchment of the cultural attitudes that generate this marginalisation, there would appear to be a serious schism between Sunstein’s legal-political idealisation of liberal democracy and the practical reality of socio-cultural relations in existing liberal democratic regimes. Ultimately, Sunstein pays lip service to the notion of dissent insofar as he encourages it within the existing frameworks of liberal democracy without encouraging thorough criticism of the nature of liberal democratic regimes. His work is characterised by subjective value judgements between what is good and bad dissent and the best ways for dealing with it. The manner in which he notes but then glosses over forms of exclusion and conflict within existing liberal democracies is worrying and problematic. Ultimately, his thesis relies on the rather weak claim that ‘at least it can be said that a society which permits dissent and does not impose conformity is in a far better position to be aware of, and to correct, serious social problems’ (Sunstein 2003: 149). If this is the case, however, then theorists such as Sunstein need to address the question of why so many serious social problems continue to exist in contemporary liberal democracies. Moreover, he needs to address the contention that systems of law and entrenched political procedures do act to filter out opposition and impose conformity on democratic practices (Derrida 2001, Newman 2005, Ross 2004). In the end, Sunstein establishes an argument for liberal democracy that theoretically corresponds to an idealised American polity but contains an extremely thin, limited understanding of dissent that offers little to those who are effectively excluded from decision-making processes in contemporary liberal democratic polities.

Disagreement, Conflict and Justice Within the domain of mainstream political philosophy, there have been some more critical analyses that recognise the ineradicable

86 Democratic Piety nature of disagreement and its implications for political organisation and institutions. Such an approach is evident in the philosophy of Stuart Hampshire and, in particular, Justice is Conflict (2000). Hampshire challenges procedural liberal perspectives in his identification of the centrality of political conflict to democracies. His main contention is that the inherent nature of conflict means that the path to justice is founded upon the mediation of political disagreements. As such, he questions the traditional pursuit of rationality in political philosophy that remains dominant in both liberal and democratic theory. Hampshire recognises the problematic nature of demands for a singular reason and the advocacy of reasonableness as the basis of political engagement across difference. Thus, his argument is built upon the view that there must always be moral conflicts which cannot, given the nature of morality, be resolved by any constant and generally acknowledged method of reasoning. My claim is that morality has its sources in conflict, in the divided soul and between contrary claims, and that there is no rational path that leads from these conflicts to harmony and to an assured solution, and to the normal and natural conclusion. (Hampshire 1983: 152).

Against the direction of Rawlsian liberalism in particular, Hampshire contends that reasonableness places a heavy burden on political actors. This is especially the case in divided societies, where groups may define themselves in terms of their opposition to other groups.7 Where Rawls (1971) originally tried to construct a substantial, universal model of justice, Hampshire recognises that fragile settlements to political conflicts tend to be the products of compromise rather than agreed adherence to a single conception of what is just. This is based on the belief that the ‘desires and emotions [of individuals] are usually ambivalent and always in conflict with each other’ especially where ‘the tension between contrary forces and impulses [in society], pulling against each other, is perceptible and vivid’ (Hampshire 2000: 32). Social diversity inevitably leads to competition and conflict in complex societies and this suggests a need to be sceptical of models of consensus (which usually reflect the predilections of their advocates). Quite simply, there ‘is no end to conflict within and around the civil order’ (Hampshire 2000: 39). The political institutions and rules that help to mediate conflicts must also be subject to contention and challenge.

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Having noted some of the limitations of the Rawlsian approach, however, ultimately Hampshire’s prescription is for fair procedures as the basis of justice. This presupposes that conflicts exist independently of procedures and that conflicts can be represented adequately in procedural mechanisms. He openly argues that ‘fairness in procedures for resolving conflicts is the fundamental kind of fairness, and that it is acknowledged as a value in most cultures, places and times: fairness in procedure is an invariable value, a constant in human nature’ (Hampshire 2000: 4). Leaving aside the questionable appeal to human nature in this statement,8 Hampshire does employ a more critical version of proceduralism than is the case with influential strands of liberalism, such as Rawlsianism. Whilst Hampshire vindicates the pursuit of procedures that are regarded as fair as the basis of justice, he also recognises that perceptions of fairness are always contingent to some extent. He understands that, such is the nature of political compromise, the element of fairness will always be imperfect and open to challenge. Hampshire, then, is much more amenable than more orthodox democratic proceduralists to challenges to the polity by groups who perceive ill-treatment. However, this immediately raises the question of why members of a polity will assent to the fairness of procedures in which such fairness is understood to be imperfect. This is why some kind of ‘overlapping consensus’ is fundamental to the work of the later Rawls insofar as it is important that a plurality of groups can have faith in legal and political institutions at a given time (for whatever reason). Thus, Hampshire appears to be endorsing a rather strong proceduralist model when he contends that there is ‘one overriding moral principle that every citizen has good reasons to accept and to honor in practice: that is the principle of institutionalized fairness in procedures for the resolution of these conflicts’ (Hampshire 2000: 79). This is not just established as a ‘moral principle’ that everyone should accept, even though they might disagree with the practical workings of procedures – it is an ‘overriding principle’. This leaves rather limited scope for the expression of disagreement with the democratic mechanisms of a given polity, especially as Hampshire also contends that engagement within these procedures will not reflect principles of rational decisionmaking. If political institutions relent on claims to rationality and embrace imperfection, this would make it difficult for groups that perceive ill-treatment to have the requisite faith in the system. Whilst it is important to recognise the conflicting rationalities that are

88 Democratic Piety brought to bear in ethical debates in complex, diverse societies, Hampshire fails to explain why political actors should accept the moral principles underpinning political mechanisms if they adhere to different or oppositional ethical rationalities. For Hampshire, the rather limited answer to this dilemma lies in the ‘institutional loyalties and in deep-seated habits of living together and arguing together’ (Hampshire 2000: 94). The question remains of how such loyalties and habits are to be cultivated if they do not already exist. Moreover, just as such habits and loyalties are difficult to create, once they are established that does not mean that they will not regress and disintegrate. Perceptions of fairness are not deeply entrenched, as Hampshire realises; rather, they will wax and wane over time, and vary according to the specific political or ethical debates in hand. One further important point that differentiates Hampshire’s argument from other forms of liberal proceduralism is his belief that there is not a universal set of procedures that he sees as applicable in order to guarantee justice. In his early work, Rawls (1971) famously put forward a universal model of justice that reflected his liberal predilections and, even in his later political rather than metaphysical perspective, the Rawlsian vision of liberalism seems to inform the most appropriate set of principles to underpin a model of fair political procedures. For Hampshire, on the other hand, there will be considerable variations between the procedures that guarantee justice in different societies. As long as they guarantee fair opportunities for individuals and groups to express their discontent, the procedures for justice may differ considerably between different polities: The local institutions, each with its peculiar history, customs, and conventions, will specify the typical forms of fairness and even-handedness established in the particular institutions. The plurality of forms of institution extends across the plurality of types of conflict. Therefore the requirements of procedural justice vary immensely in different places and at different times in virtue of local customs and rules. All the diverse customs and conventions are recognized to be subordinate to a common and very general purpose – the just and fair weighing of conflicting policies, proposals, or opinions. (Hampshire 2000: 55)

As a universal principle, this is a weak and generalised guide to the efficacy of democratic procedures. Nonetheless, it makes it all the

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more applicable to contemporary democratic practice when compared to Rawlsian proceduralism or the highly regulated models of deliberative democracy of Habermas and his followers. For Hampshire, the only principle that claims universal applicability is that of fairness in procedures but, in practice, he realises that it will vary considerably in different societies. Without such a basic principle of fairness, he argues, conflicts in diverse societies are more likely to be resolved (or not resolved) in violent fashion. For Hampshire, the absence of agreed procedures raises the spectre of much more damaging unregulated conflict: ‘If either the rational requirement or the respect for custom breaks down and ceases to operate, we should expect catastrophe. Conflicts will then no longer be resolved within the political domain but will be resolved by violence or the threat of violence, and life will become nasty, brutish, and short’ (Hampshire 2000: 98). According to Hampshire’s perspective, justice requires that the mechanisms for political decision-making are established so that they are open to all pertinent arguments. If this is the case, he contends, then political actors will be more likely to accept decisions with which they do not concur. This is possible if democracies are capable of recognising that disagreement is fundamental and therefore that everyone will lose arguments some of the time. This is a contentious claim. The idea that individuals or groups will accept unquestioningly decisions with which they disagree is a dangerous assumption and one that runs counter to many modern polities.9 Quite often, losers in political disagreements will question the procedures through which decisions have been taken, or seek to renew political engagement through other methods and procedures. Of course, Hampshire could reason that this does not fit his model, as in this instance not everyone agrees procedures are fair. However, in practice, many of the losers in political conflicts will only recognise or articulate their fundamental objections to the decisionmaking process after the decision has been taken. Moreover, there is a continuing danger that one group in society (or more) will constantly lose political arguments because they are always in the minority and their beliefs differ substantially from the dominant mores. Hence the imposition of democratic procedures per se is not the solution to political unrest in contemporary situations such as Iraq; the question is more what type of democratic procedures might reduce the likelihood of violent conflict. As yet there seems

90 Democratic Piety very little agreement on what those procedures might be, either within or beyond Iraq (Manning 2006). In situations of political division it is likely that a group that may assent to the fairness of procedures at one stage may change their position over the course of time as more political arguments are lost. Quite rightly, Hampshire might argue that this means that the procedures must be constantly under review. For example, he explicitly states that ‘procedures of conflict resolution within any state are always being criticized and are always changing and are never as fair and as unbiased as they might be’ (Hampshire 2000: 26). However, what this also means is that the procedures will never generate unison and harmony in society. Some groups will always be critical of the unfairness in decision-making mechanisms. Thus, the nature of contemporary Western societies, with their attendant inequalities and differentials of power, ensures that unanimous acceptance of the fairness of procedures is unachievable. Once political actors accept, as Hampshire seems to, that consensus is unachievable, then the advocacy of fair procedures as the basis of justice appears to be aspirational rather than based in the realities of complex, diverse societies. Whilst it might be true that ‘respect for a process can, as a matter of habit, coexist with detestation of the outcome of the process’ (Hampshire 2000: 46), frequently it does not and that is where Hampshire’s argument fails to convince in overcoming the difficulties of liberal democracy. In short, Hampshire’s theory is an advance on Sunstein’s position but it is still insufficiently focused on the full implications of exclusions and power inequalities. Perhaps symbolic of this problem is Hampshire’s primary focus on using redistributive politics to achieve justice. Whilst redistribution is indeed a central dimension of theories of social justice, the production of disagreement emanates from a much broader range of exclusions from public life (Young 1990; see also Fraser 1997, Brown 2005, Little 2007). To address the sources of these exclusions, we need to develop a more systematic understanding of their origins and their implications.

A Radical Politics of Disagreement Despite the attempts of various theorists to incorporate conceptions of disagreement in their understandings of democratic justice, we have seen that there is a tension between dissent and reasonableness

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(in the case of Sunstein) and conflict and proceduralism (in Hampshire’s theory). To ascertain whether there is an inevitable tension between the embrace of dissent and models of liberal democracy, it is instructive to turn to the more radical theories of political contestation that are developed by continental philosophers such as Jacques Rancie`re and Alain Badiou. The former, in particular, has articulated a substantial theory of political contestation in a range of philosophical works (Rancie`re 1991, 1995, 2001, 2004b) but most notably in Disagreement (1999), where he argues that we should take disagreement to mean a determined kind of speech situation: one in which one of the interlocutors at once understands and does not understand what the other is saying. Disagreement is not the conflict between one who says white and another who says black. It is the conflict between one who says white and another who also says white but does not understand the same thing by it or does not understand that the other is saying the same thing in the name of whiteness. (Rancie`re 1999: x)

One useful way to examine this perspective is in terms of the concepts that comprise the dominant parlance of democratic theory. Conflicts in contemporary liberal democracies are not merely between those who hold morally incompatible perspectives on political issues (although these exist as well). Rather, the types of conflicts that Rancie`re is concerned with are those where dispute is over the nature of things like justice, equality and freedom. These disagreements appear in many forms, from macro-political issues such as immigration policy and the rectitude of going to war through to the micropolitics of the location of new hospitals or road-building programmes. Thus, for example, disagreement in France regarding the rectitude of students wearing religious symbols in a supposedly secular education system is not a simple matter of whether such symbols are appropriate or not. Instead, these debates are fundamentally bound up with notions of social justice, equal treatment and religious freedom. In other words, political actors on both sides of this particular dispute couch their claims in terms of the same concepts: notably, what is just. From Rancie`re’s perspective, disagreement alludes to the way in which we differ on what is just and fair. We appeal to the same concepts and it is therefore difficult to even imagine the kinds of fair

92 Democratic Piety procedures that Hampshire identifies emerging in a non-controversial fashion. In short, procedures and the extent to which they are fair will be the subject of political disagreement. Disagreement, then, is not just a matter of misunderstanding or ignorance of the moral claims of others. Rather, as Rancie`re sees it, disagreement can emerge even when we are fully aware of the views of others but reject the way in which those claims relate to the higher political concepts of freedom, equality and so forth. In analysing any disagreement, Rancie`re claims that there ‘are all sorts of reasons why X both does and does not understand Y: while clearly understanding what Y is saying. X cannot see the object Y is talking about; or else, X understands and is bound to understand, sees and attempts to make visible another object using the same name, another reason within the same argument’ (Rancie`re 1999: xi). The point here is that disagreement refers to different rational interpretations of concepts such as justice. As such, disagreement about the fairness or otherwise of liberal democratic procedures is likely to be even more substantive than even Hampshire envisages. To be clear, disagreement is about substantive differences rather than just misunderstanding or ambiguity. This understanding of the centrality of disagreement to politics relates to Rancie`re’s other primary political claim, which is that the domain of politics is always predicated upon exclusions from the polity. Indeed, it is the existence of excluded groups from the democratic polity that underpins the radical democratic view that the constitutions of liberal democracies are constantly subject to political challenge and upheaval. Thus, what is usually regarded as politics in contemporary thinking – the formal domain of organised parties, voting and elections – is regarded as something different by Rancie`re: ‘Politics is generally seen as the set of procedures whereby the aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved, the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems for legitimizing this distribution. I propose to give this system of distribution and legitimization another name. I propose to call it the police’ (Rancie`re 1999: 28). Rancie`re is clear that he wants to differentiate this understanding of the police from the ‘state apparatus’. Where the idea of policing as part of a state apparatus has a long history in political theory (especially Marxism), Rancie`re sees it as a much more contingent and arbitrary phenomenon. The idea of a state apparatus presupposes the notion of an ideological foundation upon which state mechanisms

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are organised in the way that they are, whereas Rancie`re’s interpretation of policing sees the exclusion of certain groups and voices in society as part of a much more complex dynamic. Instead of imagining politics as a process of disruption, contemporary politics (or ‘the police’) focuses on ways of channelling disruption into appropriate political discourse or else excluding it altogether as mere ‘noise’ rather than discourse: politics is thus first an order of bodies that defines the allocation of ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of saying, and sees that those bodies are assigned by name to a particular place and task; it is an order of the visible and the sayable that sees that a particular activity is visible and another is not, that this speech is understood as discourse and another as noise. (Rancie`re 1999: 29)

This is an interesting perspective on the exclusionary nature of contemporary politics. In line with some other radical critiques of democratic theory (Honig 1993, Wolin 1996), it recognises the ways in which the processes of democracy, which are theoretically understood as being based upon relations of equality, frequently operate in such a way as to exclude or marginalise oppositional perspectives. Moreover, such exclusions are not necessarily evident in the forceful or coercive operation of institutions of the state but take place instead in numerous ways and through the covert workings of a range of bodies in the sphere of politics and government as well as in broader socio-cultural relations. Opposition to the system may not always emerge in formal political institutions, according to this argument, because of the ways in which democratic procedures marginalise and exclude potentially critical voices. In addition, issues such as the forms of representation of certain groups in the media become just as relevant as the formal right to participate in elections and so forth.10 Rancie`re’s theory of disagreement is predicated on the notion of equality insofar as he conceives politics properly construed as the challenge to the dominant order by a part of the potential body of citizens that has been excluded (Rancie`re 2001). This, as he sees it, is the paradox of democratic politics whereby, in order to construct a body of citizens that is governed by equals, a part that is not included in the count of the community must be established. In Rancie`re’s terms, this is ‘the part that is no part’. We see this excluded section in contemporary politics in the form of the refugee, the homeless person,

94 Democratic Piety the prisoner, the terrorist and so forth. These ‘uninhabitable identifications’ (Butler 2004) signify those who are not counted as valid parts of the community of equals and therefore these designations signify who is visible and what is sayable in democratic politics. The moment of the political for Rancie`re comes in the shape of the challenges to the democratic polity by those who are not counted and yet who lay claim to fundamental equality (Chambers 2003). In rebutting these challenges to the procedural order, liberal democratic politics polices the community of equals and thus the types of political argument that are deemed to count. Against this method of policing, Rancie`re wants to promote an alternative understanding of politics. He contends that we should reserve the term ‘politics’ for those activities that stand in opposition to the policing of contemporary democratic regimes. Politics is, then, the activity of those groups and voices that have been excluded from the polity. For Rancie`re, political action is that which ‘shifts a body from the place assigned to it or changes a place’s destination. It makes visible what had no business being seen, and makes heard a discourse where once there was only place for noise; it makes understood as discourse what was once only noise’ (Rancie`re 1999: 30). Similarly, Jessop contends that a properly conceived politics should involve ‘the disruption of police’ and suggests that ‘politics destabilizes, disrupts, and disorders established divisions and distributions’ (Jessop 2003: 6). Such an approach is one that recognises the demands placed on contemporary forms of governance by complexity and chaos and the unknowability of the shape of the polity and the people who comprise it. Moreover, this approach comprehends how future developments will inevitably disrupt and destabilise the dominant political order. It is only by recognising the centrality of disagreement to politics that we can envisage a democratic order in which the minorities that are generated by complexity and dynamism are able to challenge the status quo. Conceived as such, disagreement is the lifeblood of a democratic order; it is the only way that the dominant order can be challenged and reordered. The pursuit of a static, consensual order acts against such a process of reconception (Schaap 2007). To be clear, liberal democracy ensures the creation of disagreement by its exclusion of certain groups at any given time and the politics of disagreement is essential to democratic engagement across difference. It is only by making possible the challenge to the democratic order by hearing

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voices of disagreement that liberal democracies can avoid political stagnation and closure. The failure to allow sufficient challenge to the political order is more likely to lead to the expression of disagreement through violence and other forms of disorder.11 Whilst all of the authors discussed here concur on the need for critique and disagreement, Sunstein (and, to a lesser extent, Hampshire) fail to recognise the extent of disagreement and the direct challenge to prevailing liberal democratic institutions and procedures that it might entail.12 Understanding the primacy of a politics of disagreement has profound implications for the nature of democratic governance. It lays bare the inadequacies of a consensual model that closes politics to necessary challenges. Moreover, it recognises that decision-making in any polity will never be a matter of certainty and outcomes are never guaranteed. Instead, the complexity of modern democratic orders demands that there are limits to democratic decision-making and that judgements over appropriate courses of action need to embrace the potential for failure and the temporal specificity (and thus the transience) of the decision at hand (Jessop 2003: 24; Wolin 1996: 43). This is a very different conception of politics to that of representative liberal democracy. Instead of regarding the political process as one in which political actors convince sufficient numbers to constitute a majority on the rationality of a particular course of action, the radical democratic conception of disagreement sees all such decisions as matters of contingency. From this perspective, fragile coalitions may be built on specific issues not just through rational agreement but also through a politics of passion or emotion. It recognises that these fragile coalitions are likely to evaporate over time and that the kinds of coalitions built on one issue may dissipate when it comes to other issues and decisions. This is why commentators such as Rancie`re and Jessop promote ‘fidelity to the disagreement’. For the latter, governance should be constructed around a ‘law of requisite irony’ in which ‘those involved in governance choose among forms of failure and make a reasoned decision in favour of one or another form of failure’. On this view, self-reflexive and participatory forms of government ‘are constitutive of their objects of governance, but they also become a self-reflexive means of coping with the failures, contradictions, dilemmas, and paradoxes that are an inevitable feature of life’ (Jessop 2003: 26). In the light of this, political decisions should be understood as choices of one particular rationality over another. Decision-making is not, then,

96 Democratic Piety a matter of establishing a rational consensus but of choosing between different rationalities. This approach also highlights the transient nature of political consensus and thus the inadequacy of consensus as the provider of long-term legitimacy to a political decision. Instead, following William Connolly in his discussion of the work of Sheldon Wolin, it is more useful to conceive of democratic politics in an indeterminate fashion: ‘democracy must not be governed too tightly by a prior set of moral principles, constitutional rules, corporate dictates, or normative codes. Democratic spontaneity encodes a measure of uncertainty and indeterminacy into the operative politics of the political’ (Connolly 2001: 15). This indeterminacy and scepticism stands in stark contrast to the faith and certainty that characterise pious discourses of democracy. What is important to remember, then, is the way in which the decisions taken on an issue inevitably generate potential for further political upheaval and sources of future disagreement. Insofar as decisions taken may fail to achieve desired objectives, they will create further contestation and, even where they meet objectives, this does not mean that everyone will coalesce around them because many will disagree with the original objectives.13 Decisions may also establish boundaries around the terrain for policy-making that act to police that order.14 Thus, for example, the paradigm for peace initiatives in the Middle East may be framed in terms of what is acceptable to the major players at a given time and, as a consequence, provide a pathway – or a road map – that is difficult for future political actors to withdraw from. In so doing, then, political decisions may actually work to exclude certain views or specific groups that hold alternative beliefs to those of the dominant order. For this reason, decisions will always establish new potential conflicts, although the extent to which these conflicts manifest themselves may rely on the success of the attempts to police the policy-making paradigm and the democratic order. For Rancie`re, these kinds of disruptions lie at the heart of a democratic paradox that is manifest in the conflict that emanates from the competition between the egalitarian logic that he sees as inherent in politics and the exclusionary logic of policing. It is in that disagreement that what Wolin calls the episodic emergence of the political can be identified (Wolin 1996: 31). This can come through the articulation of political alternatives that have been isolated from the established landscape or through the arrival on this terrain of new

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political actors. Often these voices will be challenged on the grounds of irrationality where they differ from the dominant paradigm, only to become part of the accepted discourse on that particular topic at a later date. The dichotomy between the rational and the irrational is often blurred and must be subject to challenge in democratic polities, which requires disagreement and contestation. Moreover, it is often the case that the language of realism is misused to exclude perspectives which challenge the dominant order and way of seeing things. This parlance of realism is in fact ‘the police logic of order, which asserts, in all circumstances that it is only doing the only thing possible to do’ (Rancie`re 1999: 132). To put it another way, politics (as it is commonly understood) is always established on the foundations of exclusion and the erection of boundaries around who is counted (or politically acceptable), especially when it suggests that the political community and the democratic polity form the basis of a universal rational truth around which consensus should be established (Rancie`re 1999: 82–3).

Democracy, Ethics and Disagreement The contention in this book is that an understanding of disagreement borrowed from the continental philosophy tradition and, in particular, post-structuralist methods of genealogy and deconstruction, is more instructive in opening up spaces for democratic engagement than the established practices of liberal democracy. This implies that the ethical terrain of contemporary political debates must be viewed in terms of the political disagreements that emanate from political exclusions. Philosophers such as Hampshire recognise that incompatible ‘conceptions of evil would be a more realistic phrase for incompatible moral values, because a moral outlook or theory is usually best defined by its exclusions and prohibitions’ (Hampshire 2000: 44). However, there is also a need for more radical interpretations of the ways that these incompatible values will generate future challenges for democratic politics. This implies that democratic politics will be characterised by instability created by the ethical challenges raised by excluded voices. This is the fundamental paradox of democracy: namely, that in attempting to establish consensus, it must marginalise disruptive voices on the fringes. Radical theories of disagreement do not have the solution to the democratic paradox but, following Connolly, they wager ‘that it is better to expose it than

98 Democratic Piety suppress it’ (Connolly 1991: 13), if a genuine interest in establishing more inclusive forms of democracy is the primary objective.15 Increasingly the realm of formal party politics and representative institutions seems distant from the everyday concerns of the lives of ordinary people. This does not mean that people are becoming less political but that the processes that are conducted under the label of politics seem far removed from what many people perceive the issues to be. This alienation is manifest in numerous indicators, such as declining rates of electoral participation where voting is voluntary and a growing void of mistrust between politicians and the electorate. At the same time, ethical issues continue to divide people and generate political debate between those who bring different moral perspectives to the sphere of democratic engagement. It is ironic, then, that some democratic theorists continue to offer us different variants of consensus democracy as the most appropriate institutional systems for diverse societies. It is for this reason that Rancie`re views models of consensus democracy as ‘the disappearance of politics’ (Rancie`re 1999: 102). This critique of consensus shows up the ways in which a universal – in this case, the unity of the political community – manifests itself in the rule of law and establishes boundaries as to what is the proper concern of politics and which groups of people are allowed to participate in the political process. Under the fac¸ade of consensus, this linkage of the rule of law and the universal political community becomes synonymous with democracy. In fact, for Rancie`re, it is the denial of democracy. This is where the pursuit of consensus relies on exclusion despite the common argot of contemporary governments invoking a consensus aimed at tackling social exclusion: the theory of the social contract and the idea of a ‘new citizenry’ have today found a privileged conceptual terrain: that of the medicine applied to what is known as ‘exclusion.’ This is because the ‘fight against exclusion’ is also the paradoxical conceptual place where exclusion emerges as just another name for consensus. (Rancie`re 1999: 115)

From this perspective, the model of consensus democracy is always predicated upon exclusion to some degree. The existence of exclusion is a recognition of this and the attempt to ‘fight’ exclusion becomes a process of trying to subsume more and more groups under the aegis of the established consensus.

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To summarise, the consensual drift in much contemporary democratic theory is symptomatic of the tendency to close down spaces for genuine political engagement between competing ethical perspectives. The inability of formal party politics to reflect the diversity of arguments helps to explain why genuine political disagreements are increasingly evidenced within the field of ethical disputes. This is precisely because representative politics and institutions exclude many views that are regarded as unpalatable. Formal politics is constructed around the ‘rational’ and ‘realistic’ and this is the very terrain on which ‘consensus’ is built. In so doing, people or opinions that differ from the prevailing order are marginalised or excluded. In short, these voices become the irrational and the utopian in ordinary political discourse when, quite frequently, they should be viewed as the excluded. It seems clear that radical theories of democracy offer a vision of a radically indeterminate polity. Whilst some theorists within this school, such as Mouffe (2005), propose a model of a more inclusive democracy than is currently the case in existing liberal democracies, others, such as Rancie`re, contend that a radical politics is one that continuously tries to unsettle and disrupt the social and political order. The unanswered question remains: what is the precise nature of a radical democratic polity? Radical democratic theory is not fully equipped to address that question, except insofar as it implies a need to think about democracy in different ways. A radical theory of democracy is one that is predicated upon the inevitable failure of democracy to meet its lofty objectives. It is precisely that inherent failure of democracy that demands radical critique and the perpetual possibility of change. The inevitability of failure and the need for a dynamic of reform is precisely what is neglected in the pursuit of the rational consensus. It is for this reason that, contrary to the direction of dominant forms of democratic theory, it is more pertinent to embrace radical views of disagreement as the lifeblood of democratic politics.

Conclusion: Rethinking Democracy and Consensus The analysis above suggests that the place of consensus in democratic theory needs to be investigated anew, with a view to outlining not only how the pursuit of consensus can be damaging to democracy but also to political theorising more generally. The first point

100 Democratic Piety has been the main contention in this chapter, that is, that under the rubric of democracy in contemporary theory lies a consensual impulse that drives democratic practice towards liberal proceduralism. This proceduralism tends to reflect and reinforce key liberal principles, such as the advocacy of tolerance coupled with the demand for reasonableness and majoritarian methods of decisionmaking when it comes to incommensurable value pluralism. Throughout this chapter I have been at pains to stress that these principles are problematic when it comes to complexity because they rely on overly simplistic understandings and constructions of political problems that unavoidably lead to equally one-dimensional solutions. Democracy fits into this equation as the system that supposedly encourages complex pluralization and provides a mechanism for resolving this complexity. As Chapters 1 and 2 showed, however, this is a travesty of a theoretically sophisticated understanding of complexity and it generates pious arguments for democracy as the mechanism that should be used to plot a course through a multiplicity of complex issues. The impact of this naı¨ve faith in democracy on discussions of terrorism and violence will be charted in the coming chapters. The pursuit of consensus feeds into a model of democracy that suggests that the key issue is to persuade as many people as possible that a favoured course of action or a set of institutions or procedures is worthy of widespread support. It reinforces the view that democratic politics is a process of discovering rational courses of action through deliberation and debate. The problem here is that notions of power become marginalised and that the political process of democracy is imagined as if it can be isolated from other social, economic and cultural factors that may favour one decision or another. It is not surprising, then, that decisions that support and reinforce this model of decision-making will emanate from these democratic processes, devoid as they are of understandings of complex interactions of different social phenomena. As Wendy Brown notes, other disciplinary areas within the arts and social sciences must always be part of political inquiry because they ‘lap at the shore of the political’ (Brown 2005: 61). The crucial point here is that democratic theory should never focus purely on the political or formal processes of decisionmaking and law. Instead, Brown contends, the insights from other disciplinary fields act as vital counterpoints to the established epistemology of political theory:

Democracy, Consensus and Dissent 101 At once open-ended and tactical, counterpoint emanates from and promotes an antihegemonic sensibility and requires a modest and carefully styled embrace of multiplicity in which contrasting elements, featured simultaneously, do not simply war, harmonize, blend, or compete but rather bring out complexity that cannot emerge through a monolithic or single melody. (Brown 2005: 74)

The central point here is that political theorists should not merely refute the theories of other disciplines or discredit them because they employ different techniques than the dominant epistemologies of political theory and analysis. Rather, what is required is an understanding of the intersection of different modes of theoretical inquiry and various modes of practical experience. Political theory, then, needs to grapple with different forms of expression and argumentation and translate their insights into the mode of political thinking. This implies a reconfiguration of political theory to take account of alternative epistemologies, rather than merely trying to commandeer their themes and filter them through the established modes and symbolic concepts of political theorisation. Specifically, in terms of democratic theory, it is problematic to filter the epistemological challenges of other approaches through the consensual impulse that is evident in contemporary democratic politics: if ‘we do not make these crossings, we literally make ourselves stupid . . . about this world and the knowledges that will incisively apprehend and criticize it’ (Brown 2005: 79). This is a theme that is also developed by Michael Freeden. He suggests that the analysis of political concepts must comprehend their inherently ambiguous and indeterminate nature. Acknowledging the work of Connolly in this area, Freeden states that the ‘multiple interpretations of an ambiguous message are potentially dealt with through disambiguation: a rephrasing aimed at removing all meanings but one. Crucially for politics, ambiguity may be intentional as well as unintentional’ (Freeden 2005: 118). Thus, there may be available strategies to tackle the ambiguity that inevitably surrounds political concepts. Significantly, though, Freeden differentiates ambiguity from indeterminacy. The former is, at least potentially, resolvable by disambiguation whereas the latter ‘refers to an inevitable and ineliminable contingency of meaning’ (Freeden 2005: 118). Whereas uncertainty is the contingent feature of ambiguity, indeterminacy

102 Democratic Piety rules out determinacy. It can offer merely spurious and temporary ‘determinacy’, engineered (1) by the suspension of disbelief in the possibility of determinacy, and (2) by the political awkwardness of belief in the necessity of indeterminacy, a belief that could encourage political paralysis. (Freeden 2005: 118, emphasis in the original)

The parallels between this kind of argumentation and complexity theory is self-evident. Importantly however, beyond ambiguity and indeterminacy, Freeden goes on to identify a third key dimension of understanding political concepts: inconclusiveness. This refers to ‘the impossibility of reaching an end point in an argumentative chain or string’ so that a point is reached whereby it is not possible to improve upon an agreed understanding or generate a better knowledge that might facilitate some kind of overlapping consensus. Instead, it suggests a politics that is informed by the need to make decisions without perfect knowledge. When coupled with complexity, this suggests a radical notion of inconclusiveness in which all decisions are potentially contestable and need to be understood in terms of the capacity for reform and improvement. Significantly, in terms of the critique of consensus, Freeden also points to a threat emanating from what he calls ‘simulated decontestation’, whereby ‘the semblance of decontestation is created by ambiguity and vagueness’ (Freeden 2005: 121). This relates directly to the critique in this book of the dominant discourses of democracy and, in particular, democratic piety. This is important in relation to using ill-defined terms like democracy as a tool for encouraging political change in the world. Pious discourses of democracy promise almost nothing tangible except ambiguous notions of the propriety of Western liberalism. Such is their status as ‘empty signifiers’ (Laclau 1996) that it is little wonder that they generate considerable ambivalence both in the West and in the rest of the world. Increasingly today, people are aware on some level of the failings of democracy and its inability to deliver the good life, and yet democratic piety continues to no avail. Given the multiplicity of democratic forms and their considerable variations, it is not surprising that the contribution of democracy to some political conflicts is not viewed in a universally positive light. In this situation, the vague and ambiguous promises of pious democratic discourses can actually contribute to the generation of political unrest and conflict. Freeden’s approach problematises consensual models of democracy because it recognises the contingent

Democracy, Consensus and Dissent 103 nature of any consensus. Even though subscription to a consensual perspective may be based on one or other rationality, this rationality is always fragile and insecure, which means that consensus is similarly afflicted. Thus, for Freeden, ‘consensus is never securely founded in reason but on contingent ambiguities that may or may not be borne out in the future: elusiveness of meaning is the key to generating consent’ (Freeden 2005: 123). What does all of this mean for contemporary understandings of political theory? Freeden contends that it provides the lifeblood of the discipline because it embodies a recognition that a plurality of understandings will ensure that ideological contestation will never expire: ‘Indeterminacy is not synonymous with chaos or extreme relativism, but it holds out the promise of infinitely rich combinations of ideas from which societies may draw’ (Freeden 2005: 125). Importantly, this indeterminacy demonstrates some of the limitations of liberal models of democratic consensus because, where political language is inherently indeterminate, then the pursuit of consensus must inevitably at some point exclude understandings that differ on the implications of ambiguous or vague concepts. The attempt to achieve final clarity through disambiguation is itself a process that excludes alternative understandings. For this reason, liberal democracies operate in ways that their ideologies suggest they do not; herein lies a central aspect of the democratic paradox. For Freeden, the political is characterised not by the sanitised engagement of political liberalism but instead by a multiplicity of competing universal positions that liberal democracy attempts to regulate by processing them through its procedural filters (Freeden 2005: 127). Freeden’s work provides a fertile critique of political consensus that he argues ‘is predicated on ambiguity, not precision, and as political theorists we must understand both how the construction of ambiguity works, and how to produce it when necessary’ (Freeden 2005: 130). However, the establishment of agreements on certain areas through a process of creative ambiguity is beset by uncertainty and the stored up possibilities of future upheaval. Indeed, these possibilities are inherent to any such agreements: unanticipated strains in that coalition of conceptions may cause it to unravel at any future point, or to react violently back on the stability of conceptual cores. Decontestation is itself subject to continuous reformulation over time and space. Essential contestability engenders slippage as a

104 Democratic Piety consequence of the internal flexibility of positions and the impossibility (and political undesirability) of holding linguistic meaning constant. There always exists a decontestation continuum, in which subtle reformulations (negotiated or unprompted) are marshalled in order to remain in the competition over the control of political language. That is where inconclusiveness emerges. (Freeden 2005: 130, emphasis in the original)

This inconclusiveness ensures a vibrant dynamic in political theory whereby concepts, ideas and ideologies must be continually revisited and analysed in the light of changing social and political contexts. The contention in this book is that this essentially dynamic understanding of critical theoretical investigation has been neglected in many contemporary discourses of democracy, especially those of its pious evangelists. Nowhere has this absence of the spirit of critical analysis been more evident in recent democratic discourse than in the treatment of the concept of violence, which is often discussed in the kind of fixed, definitive terms of which political theorists should be sceptical, according to Freeden’s analysis. On this basis, then, the remainder of the book focuses on the articulations of violence and conflict in modern democratic theory and practice, with a view to disrupting the attempts at certainty and closure that frequently characterise pious democratic discourses.

Notes 1. It should be noted that there are some important differences emerging within this school of radical thinking on disagreement. Badiou, in particular, challenges Rancie`re for neglecting the actual machinations of the state and a tendency to ‘pit phantom masses against an unnamed State. But the real situation demands instead that we pit a few rare political militants against the ‘‘democratic’’ hegemony of the parliamentary State’ (Badiou 2005: 121–2). For a discussion of some of the tensions in Badiou’s work, see Hewlett (2006). 2. These ‘exclusions’ may not be wholly coercive. There are many arguments put forward in liberal democracies that can be freely articulated but which are not included in the count of ‘the sensible’. These are ideas that can therefore be excluded as mere noise, compared to acceptable political discourse. Examples here might include discourses that challenge the primacy of economic growth, or seek to give equal priority to unpaid as paid work,

Democracy, Consensus and Dissent 105







or which reject the category of ‘Australian values’ as a suitable prism for the discussion of immigration policy. Mouffe’s perspective is informed by a critical analysis of Carl Schmitt and his theory that ‘any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision’ and that ‘Sovereign is he who decides on the exception’ (Schmitt 2005: 2, 5). Examples here tend to focus on issues related to multiculturalism, where the values of certain minorities sometimes conflict with dominant value systems. For instance, some French Muslims may be at odds with the prevailing principles of secularism, especially on the issue of the treatment of religious symbols in educational establishments. Another interesting example is the case of immigrant workers (the Sans Papiers) in France, who contest their exclusion from rights by challenging the very categories that govern the allocation of rights in the French system. See McNevin (2006) for more details and various comments made by Badiou (2005). Similarly, Rancie`re (2001) sees the key decision of democracy as concerned with delineating who does and does not count as a member of the polity. Numerous instances could be used to exemplify this point, including the continued processes of self-identification after the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland (Little 2004, 2005, 2006). It should be noted that elsewhere Hampshire is critical of constructions of human nature in classical moral theory: I am making three points against the classical moralists: (a) that there cannot be such a thing as the complete human good; nor (b) can there be a harmony among all the essential virtues in a complete life; nor (c) can we infer what is universally the best way of life from propositions about human nature . . . The harm is that the reality of conflict, both within individuals and within societies, is disguised by the myth of humanity as a consistent moral unit across time and space. There is a false blandness in the myth, an aversion from reality. (Hampshire 1983: 155)

9. One could argue that there has been a degree of unwillingness on the part of many Western powers to accept the outcomes of democratic elections to the Palestinian Authority, for example.

106 Democratic Piety






The flaws in the reaction to the success of Hamas are detailed in Turner (2006). Furthermore, in societies such as Northern Ireland, the electoral success of anti-Agreement parties over the last few years has led to calls for the renegotiation of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which established contemporary political procedures from which they have arguably benefited. Thus, even those who prosper in a particular democratic climate will not necessarily unquestioningly accept the validity of procedures (Little 2004). For example, the forces that marginalise indigenous political issues from the priorities of the Australian mainstream are not merely a result of the exclusion and/or lack of representation of Aborigines in formal political processes. These exclusions feed into a number of other social and cultural conditions in a complex formula which helps to marginalise indigenous issues and prolong the social inequalities that blight many Aboriginal communities in Australia. It is no mistake that many closed political orders, such as South Africa, have eventually had to be opened up to the challenges of those who have been prepared to perpetrate or defend political violence because of the unwillingness of those in power to recognise the claims of marginalised groups. A useful example here is the assumption of the validity of the Australian legal and political system based on the imposition of English law in Australia in the nineteenth-century (Rudland 2005). Whilst indigenous politics frequently focuses on practical issues of under-privilege, inequality and so forth, a more fundamental variant points to the problematic implications of the original imposition of English law and the invalidity of the legal procedures and principles that have been invoked since that time. See also Muldoon (2006). A pertinent example here would be debates around the legalisation of gay marriage or ‘civil unions’ in Australia. Even if pressure from some gay and lesbian activists was sufficient to see such legislation enacted, this does not mean that all gays and lesbians would coalesce around an initiative that many would regard as retrograde. See the references in Badiou (2005) and the translator’s introduction to the way in which the agenda of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front National has helped to frame what is and is not acceptable in terms of French immigration debates.

Democracy, Consensus and Dissent 107 15. What radical theorists do with this insight is extremely varied, however. Where commentators like Badiou and Rancie`re see this paradox as the basis of a fundamental critique of modern liberal democracy, others such as Connolly and Mouffe end up affirming democracy, albeit in a critical fashion.

Chapter 4 Democracy and Violence

If conflict is an intrinsic feature of democratic politics, then the manifestations of this conflict should be subjected to critical analysis to assess the extent to which they lend themselves to violence. This is particularly important because modern politics – especially in pious democratic forms – tends to deal with these conflicts in ethical terms constructed on a juxtaposition between democracy and violence. For this reason, evaluation of the ethics of conflict is fundamental to the arguments for and against democracy in contemporary politics, in particular the relationship between violence and democracy. Rather than seeing democracy and violence as contrasting concepts, this chapter argues that democratic societies have always been founded on the basis of violent engagement at some level and that pejorative ethical judgements on the negativity of violence are therefore problematic. Of course, as Max Weber made clear, the modern state has always claimed the legitimate use of force as a key element in its authority. The chapter contends, however, that many contemporary democratic discourses have lost sight of this close relationship between democracy and violence. Indeed, it is frequently the case that discourses of democracy are couched in ethical terms as the obverse of violence. Ironically, this trend is often most apparent where societies are either making a transition to democracy or where a process of conflict transformation is taking place. The major contention is that such a simplistic juxtaposition of democracy and violence is essential to democratic piety, as it is an approach that glosses over the perpetration of violence in the name of democracy and, indeed, the importance of violent means as a potential tool of democratic regimes. As recently as ten years ago, violence was often thought to be a

Democracy and Violence 109 neglected concept in democratic theory (Keane 1996: 6). In the intervening period, though, there has been a growing focus on the relationship between democracy and violence, at least partly in response to the shifting terrain of international politics. In much of this study of the idea of violence, it is often conceived in terms of what democracy must counteract and suppress. According to this perspective, violence and democracy are dichotomous phenomena where, if we have more of one, we have less of the other. In this context, democratic theory has tended to concern itself with the discussion of concepts such as equality, rights and justice, or the appropriate nature of political systems to enshrine these concepts (Harrison 1993, Mackie 2003, Przeworski et al. 1999). However, even theorists sympathetic to the promotion of democratic politics have noted that there are problems with pious eulogies of democracy: Advocates of democracy sometimes appear to believe that the values of democracy constitute the complete universe of value: if you could have a perfect democracy, they imply, then you would have a perfect political order, maybe even a perfect society. But this is surely too restricted a vision. Democracy is only a part, though an important part, of the universe of values, goods, or desirable ends. (Dahl 1989: 8)

Despite these warnings, democratic theory has rarely focused substantially on the relationship between democracy and violence. This is remarkable, given the existence of violence in all democratic systems, and yet, frequently, we only see violence discussed in terms of studies of particular conflict-ridden societies in which democracy is perceived to be dysfunctional or inoperative, or where violence is considered as a mere social problem, as if it is possible to presuppose a clear distinction between social and political issues. This gap in the literature on democracy has become more evident in recent years and, as a result, new theories have emerged that attempt to evaluate the linkages between democracy and violence (Ross 2004). These approaches suggest that the failure to grasp the proximity of democracy and violence has profound implications for the way in which the political is understood in any society and, in particular, the underlying assumptions that may be enshrined in the rule of law. Clearly the concept of democracy has a long history that has provided much debate in political philosophy (Dunn 1993). However, despite this historical legacy, it is not immediately clear where

110 Democratic Piety the boundaries lie between democracy and other forms of political organisation or violence and non-violence. Rather than focusing on the technicalities of these distinctions, my main concern is the way in which discourses of democracy and violence intertwine with one another in the formation of contemporary politics and the implications of these discursive constructions. To this end, my argument points to the way in which unsophisticated understandings of the relationship between democracy and violence generate obstacles to the management of political problems in divided societies.1 Often, in pious discourses of democracy, democratic and violent methods are differentiated through appeals to the rule of law, without any recognition of the capacity of the law to engender and legitimise forms of violence. In the interests of clarity, it is worth considering some of these definitional issues surrounding democracy and violence. The former is, of course, a diverse and dynamic concept and it has emerged politically in a multitude of forms. For the purposes of the argument here, modern democracy will be conceived as a system that attempts to ground the idea of the people as sovereign in decision-making processes upheld by the rule of law. As Ross points out, this requires a number of provisions that enable the invocation of the people as sovereign, such as ‘freedom of speech, the separation of powers, or representative elections’ (Ross 2004: 6). It should be noted, however, that this is a somewhat generalised understanding of democracy, and that specific democratic forms and discourses attempt to implement these general considerations in a wide range of ways. In no sense, then, should the kinds of concepts associated with democracy above be considered universal and consensual. The concepts and structures that help to constitute and legitimise democratic government are all matters of contention within democratic societies, as manifest in disputes about free speech and the Internet, fairness and electoral systems, media ownership and so forth. The precise meaning of violence is similarly contentious but usually pertains to any ‘act of force or power . . . [that is] forceful enough to produce an effect’ (Ross 2004: 3). In practice, however, there is much disagreement about the nature of violence. For example, Muro-Ruiz differentiates between ‘violence as reaction’ by those who perceive a need to act against an injustice and ‘violence as action’, which regards violence as an instrumental means to achieve an end (Muro-Ruiz 2002: 109).2 Bufacchi, on the other hand, identifies a separation

Democracy and Violence 111 between those who articulate a minimalist conception in which violence is understood as an intentional act of excessive force and a comprehensive conception that includes a broader range of ways in which rights can be violated (Bufacchi 2005: 193). My sympathies here lie with the comprehensive conception because it is better able to comprehend the ways in which phenomena such as language can have a violent impact on people, as well as the way in which the inadequacy of democracies in maintaining justice can be perceived as a form of violation. These definitional problems noted, the particular focus here is democratic piety and the importance of challenges to the assumption that democracy provides some kind of panacea for the prevalence of violence. On the contrary, my argument contends that the relationship is a fluid one; democratic institutions have always relied upon the use of violence (or the ability to use it) as a means of exercising their authority. Thus, commentators such as Keane err when they attempt to establish clear distinctions between democracy and violence. Keane contends that violence ‘is the greatest enemy of democracy as we know it. Violence is anathema to its spirit and substance’ (Keane 2004: 1). In opposition to this perspective, I contend that it is unwise to establish democracy and violence as polar opposites; instead, we need to think of them on a continuum on which they co-exist and overlap. This democratic continuum is not necessarily progressive – it regresses at times and democracy can turn back on itself, reverting to overt violence where some political actors, particularly powerful ones, deem it to be necessary. Recent manifestations of the problems of a strictly linear understanding of democratic progression include the use of violent methods by the occupying forces in the course of attempting to establish democracy in Iraq and the negative reaction of several Western powers to the success of Hamas in the elections for the Palestinian Authority (Turner 2006). The first example demonstrates the willingness of Western democracies to utilise non-democratic means in achieving their objectives (which are supposedly democratic). The second points to an unwillingness to accept democratic outcomes that run contrary to the preferences of Western democracies. The critique of democratic piety contends that the meaning of democracy is inherently disputatious. This entails an understanding of the essentially contested nature of democracy and, in particular, the ideas and structures of which it is composed. Thus, not only is it

112 Democratic Piety possible to point to a multiplicity of justifications of different types of democracy – republican, elite, deliberative, direct and so on – but the mechanisms within democracies are also highly contentious. For example, questions abound in democracies about the fairest method of representation, the constitution and the protection of rights, the powers invested in politicians and/or the legal system to alter constitutional arrangements, the extent to which forms of social equality are required to sustain political equality, and so forth. Merely invoking democracy as a political objective, as some pious discourses do, provides virtually no information on the type of democracy that might be appropriate and/or the particular systems that will be most effective in a given social, cultural and political context. This is all the more worrying in the light of the tendency of influential commentators such as Michael Ignatieff (2004) to argue that the ends justify the means in establishing democracy. If there is no agreement on the nature of democratic governance, then it is hard to see how the idea of democracy can be used to justify anything on its own. The advocacy of democracy as an end in itself shows no comprehension of the kinds of ideas articulated by Freeden (2005), discussed towards the end of Chapter 3, on the prevalence in political theory of phenomena such as ambiguity, indeterminacy, and inconclusiveness. Democracy, like any other such signifier in contemporary politics, comprises contested ‘knowledge’ and disagreement on its definition, and this disrupts pious articulations of its benefits. It should not be surprising, then, that many of the conflicts that animate contemporary politics are about the implications of democratic theory for political practice. This is apparent in disputes such as that in Northern Ireland, where the understanding of democracy is an essential component in the substance of political conflict (Little 2004). Or, as Richard Bourke contends, ‘we simply cannot call upon democracy to fix the situation since democracy itself is half of the problem’ (Bourke 2003: 302). What Bourke, quite rightly, wants to challenge is the piety with which the discourse of democracy is used in contemporary politics. Indeed, he contends that the unanimity around democracy as the common currency of ‘proper’ politics should provoke considerable scepticism with regard to its potential to resolve contemporary political conflicts. This feeds into the argument that not only is democracy sometimes impotent in grappling with violent political conflicts, but the attempt to establish democracy may also generate more rather than less violence (Fine 2006, Derrida 2001).3

Democracy and Violence 113 Indeed, it is possible to go further and suggest that political disputes are sometimes resolved (or at least managed) despite appeals to democracy as a panacea rather than because of the sheer power of the idea. Such is the contestation over the meaning of democracy that any such power is considerably dissipated in practice. Where it holds considerable power, then, is at the level of political rhetoric. But, increasingly, the rhetoric bears little resemblance to the reality, and this threatens democracy itself. Thus, democracy ‘must be reinvented, such that it again gains the possibility of rupture, of disrupting the reality of what is currently violently unfolding itself’ (Ross 2004: 13).

Theorising Democracy and Violence As noted above, democracy, conceived as the rule of the people, has often been imagined as a system that organises politics in a nonviolent fashion. The concept invokes ideas of political equality and justice as the foundation for political institutions and procedures that harness the support of the people. Thus, the establishment of democratic procedures (whether representative or participatory) is constructed as a means of preventing people or states from turning to violence as a way of dealing with their adversaries. However, as Mann notes, many stable institutionalised democracies have less than virtuous histories: Most of them committed sufficient ethnic cleansing to produce an essentially mono-ethnic citizen body in the present. In their past, cleansing and democratisation proceeded hand in hand. Liberal democracies were built on top of ethnic cleansing, though outside of the colonies this took the form of institutionalised coercion, not mass murder. (Mann 2005: 4)4

Despite this violent heritage, where democracies do decide to act in violent ways, it is usually presented as either the action of last resort, having exhausted other mechanisms of political pressure, or as the only way to protect the values and principles of democracy from externalised threats. According to this view, democracies act with a heavy heart when they have to resort to violence to maintain their core beliefs or protect themselves from non-democratic actors. These discourses permeate contemporary political rhetoric and have established a popular support base in liberal democratic societies. Similar sentiments are usually apparent in the manifold utilitarian arguments

114 Democratic Piety put forward to justify war and other forms of state-sponsored violence that permeate contemporary popular political discourse.5 Implicit in these arguments is the spectre of liberal peace theory, which, in suggesting that democracies do not go to war with one another, implies that any threat to a given democratic society is a threat to democracy per se. However, this type of argument is also given intellectual substance through the work of commentators such as Ignatieff, who contends that: Thanks to the rights they entrench, the due process rules they observe, the separation of powers they seek to enforce, and the requirement of democratic consent, liberal democracies are all guided by a constitutional commitment to minimize the use of dubious means – violence, force, coercion, and deception – in the government of citizens. It is because they do so in normal times that they feel constrained to do so in times of emergency. Otherwise, these societies will not be true to who they are. (Ignatieff 2004: 16)

According to this line of argument, then, democracies only resort to ‘dubious means’ when they face imminent threats, rather than as a matter of course. But of course, for Ignatieff, this does not preclude the pre-emptive use of violence. Indeed, he states openly that ‘hitting terrorists before they can hit you, provided that less risky and costly means are unworkable, is less problematic than full-scale war against states’ (Ignatieff, 2004: 163). This statement is laden with unavoidable subjective judgements. It begs numerous questions: how do we decide who terrorists are and when they are going to ‘hit’ us? How do we measure the risks of such actions? How do we trade off workability and cost against the pre-emptive act? In what way do we define ‘problematic’? None of these questions can be answered definitively: is the terrorist a threat at the training camp or only when s/he straps on the bomb and boards the train? Ignatieff does not tell us how to measure ‘cost’ but one might imagine that, with the intersection of global geo-politics and economic interests, when talking about cost in this equation in the world today, the term does not refer to human cost alone. Even if the calculation of a threat is primarily focused on the human cost, it would be optimistic, if not naı¨ve, to assume that it is the only factor in the equation used by decision-makers in the contemporary international domain.

Democracy and Violence 115 Ignatieff goes on to discuss the difficulties of making decisions to wage pre-emptive war, recognising that the ‘case for such wars will always be speculative, based on uncertain intelligence gathered by means that require the concealment of sources and methods, and therefore extremely difficult for an electorate, let alone a legislature, to judge for credibility’ (Ignatieff 2004: 163). Why such a course of action should therefore be less problematic for a President surrounded by hawkish advisors is not made clear. Ignatieff chastises George W. Bush and Tony Blair for making the mistake of not couching their rationale for war in Iraq in terms of an ‘eventual’ threat of the Iraqi regime acquiring weapons of mass destruction. However, this semantic twist would not have been enough – certainly not for Blair – to justify their pre-emptive measures in the eyes of their democratic electorate. Indeed, the British government had enough difficulty rationalising its actions on the basis of an imminent threat of the use of existing weapons of mass destruction. Here it is clear that the desires of politicians and governments often run contrary to the mandate that their electorates are prepared to give them. The longer timescale Ignatieff refers to would have undermined Blair’s case for pre-emptive action in the context of British democracy. Indeed, the imminence of attack was – rightly or wrongly – perceived to be pivotal. The idea of pre-emptively attacking Iraq because ‘eventually’ they might attack you provides an ethical justification for attacking just about every adversary one comes across in global politics. Ultimately, Calhoun makes the persuasive argument that, although ‘short-term or immediate consequences of resort to deadly force are always cited in decisions to wage war by leaders, the idea of ‘‘waging war for peace’’ has proven to be an empty rhetorical flourish’ (Calhoun 2002: 106). It is not surprising, then, that democracies that act violently are likely to give rise to counter-violence, as well as accusations of hypocrisy. The point at which democratic states decide to exercise violence is therefore a subjective one, a matter of political decision rather than ethical certainty. Of course, that is a rather difficult message to sell to a democratic electorate, but it nevertheless represents the realist calculus that impels politicians and governments in their decision to act or not in a violent fashion. The argument then becomes one of how one decides which violence – in both international and domestic politics – is too unpalatable for us to tolerate. In interjecting in this debate on violence, Keane, for example, contends that there is a need

116 Democratic Piety to deal summarily with zealots and fanatics of violence (as opposed to those who use it to achieve worthy objectives). Thus, when faced with people who simply ‘want to kill’, we are justified in using violent methods: ‘Ultimately, if democracy is to be preserved or built in their presence, they will have to be arrested or, if they resist arrest violently, dealt with by violence’ (Keane 1996: 90). However, this view of violence is one-dimensional. Perhaps Keane needs to be reminded of the argument of Walter Benjamin (1996), in his differentiation between law-making and law-preserving violence. The latter is the kind of violence justified by theorists such as Ignatieff and Keane because it is focused upon defending the authority of the existing system and laws. However, as Newman points out, this tends to be differentiated from violence aimed at changing the prevailing laws (Newman 2005: 104). Contemporary defenders of democracy tend to reject violence that opposes the prevailing order but defend that which wants to ensure its longevity and reproduction. Benjamin’s idea of law-preserving violence demonstrates the close link between democracy and violence, and the subjective nature of the debate as to when it is justifiable for democracies to act violently in the name of protecting their systems. Whilst Keane may be right insofar as there is a need to work out ways to deal with those who pose threats to society, he provides us with no compass with which to make that judgement. Instead, violence can only be used legitimately against those who threaten the democratic values that are established a priori by Keane. It is not difficult to see how such thinking could be manipulated very easily by those in the world with power to exercise violence against any perceived threat. Arguably the practical exercise of this kind of logic is what we encounter in the world today, where any interest that is identified as a threat to American hegemony runs the risk of becoming a legitimate target for violent retribution. To be clear, this is not necessarily Keane’s intention but it is representative of the practical application of ideas of violence that exist in many liberal democratic theories today. Perhaps, then, democratic theorists need to take on a more circumspect approach, exemplified by Russell Hardin: ‘Because it faces severe limits on its workability, democracy is not a panacea for politics. It works only on the margins of great issues. The few big issues democracy can handle are those on which there is broad consensus’ (Hardin 1999: 276). However, whilst this may provide

Democracy and Violence 117 a more functional stage on which to conceptualise democracy, it severely limits the debates and contexts to which democracy is applicable. If democracy is to be put forward as the most desirable system of governance in the world today, then it would seem that its advocates should say more about the way in which it might ameliorate political conflicts or at least make such conflicts more manageable. Theorists such as Hardin tell us little about the utility of democracy in the absence of consensus, perhaps in the belief that consensus is much more prevalent than would appear to be the case for more critical commentators (Ross 2004, Mouffe 2005, Rancie`re 2001). Part of the power of populist discourses on the relationship between democracy as ‘good’ and violence as ‘evil’ is their foundation in what seem like self-evident ‘truths’. However, when we unpack these notions their power is much more flimsy than might seem the case at first sight. Much of the foundation of these ideas lies in an ethical approach that presupposes some kind of consensus over evil and barbarism.6 This helps to explain the uncritical and unsophisticated ways in which concepts of evil have been utilised during the ‘war on terror’, for if democracy can be imagined as the system of government that the world is converging upon, then it is much easier to construct discourses concerning the threat posed by alternative non-democratic political systems and their propensity to violence. But, as Alain Badiou points out, ‘Ethics is conceived here both as an a priori ability to discern Evil . . . and as the ultimate principle of judgement, in particular political judgement: good is what intervenes visibly against an Evil that is identifiable a priori’ (Badiou 2001: 8). Thus, for example, if a challenge to Western liberal democracy through nondemocratic means is clearly wrong, and the ‘evil’ method of terrorism is selected as the expression of this challenge, then any attempt to undermine and weaken this challenge will be a force for good regardless of the extent to which it must diverge from the traditional principles of democracy to achieve this end. In this sense, Badiou contends that ‘Evil is that from which the Good is derived, not the other way round’ (Badiou 2001: 9). The kind of reductivist thinking that underpins contemporary debate about good and evil also affects the rather narrow way in which democracy is conceived in modern liberal democracy. Democracy is conceived in a limited fashion as a system impelled by the rule of law, with elections as the source of political legitimacy for the

118 Democratic Piety exercise of authority. According to this perspective, democracy stands in stark contrast to what it is not – that is, systems where law and authority operate arbitrarily or through tyranny and coercion. However, the idea of democracy as something that has been ‘achieved’ is problematic, if not anti-political. In many liberal democratic discourses it is possible to identify the idea that democracy is something that needs to be encouraged or exported from the West to less politically and economically developed societies. Increasingly, for example, we see governments in the West couching their terms for overseas aid in the language of democracy and ‘good governance’.7 The implications of this kind of discourse are clear: the West has democracy, it is a good thing and the rest of the world should follow that lead. This, for its supporters, is an agenda for global peace, good governance and, usually, the establishment of spaces to allow markets to operate freely. Arguably, though, it is an anti-political perspective: it raises no questions about the nature of democracy in the West and the massive differences between liberal democratic societies. It does not question fundamentally what we mean by democracy or suggest that liberal democracies need to develop and improve their political systems or socio-economic conditions. It fails to recognise that democracy is an ‘unfinished project’ (Miller 2002). A similar point lies at the heart of the thesis of Daniel Ross: Politics always includes the possibility of disruption. Understanding democracy as a closed system eliminates what makes it political. It is to imagine the democracy of political philosophers rather than the democracy of struggle. It is to see democracy as the system already instituted and implemented, rather than as a political force, a possibility still to come, potentially threatening whatever currently is . . . Democracy is, then, a constant possibility, directed towards the future, a potential threat to any political whole, and a kind of promise. (Ross, 2004: 7, emphasis in the original)

According to this view, then, democracy has the constant potential for violence and upheaval. It is precisely because democracy should not be closed to critical voices that it engenders the capacity for critical challenge and, with that, the propensity to disintegrate into open conflict. The discursive constructions that contrast democracy and violence are trying to pull up the drawbridge around existing conceptions of democracy. By distinguishing between democracy and

Democracy and Violence 119 violence, they serve to cloud the violent tendencies at the heart of democracies and the often unpalatable activities that served to establish liberal democratic regimes. Historically, it is possible to plot the intersection of processes of democratisation and violence, such as during the French Revolution, but in contemporary politics democracy tends to be envisaged as the antidote to violence. It has been presented as the mechanism through which we overcome the violent propensities of many human societies and the means of establishing a more peaceful world. Thus, for example, in the ‘war on terror’, democracy is constructed as a metaphor for all that is positive and healthy in political organisation. This is contrasted in many political discourses – especially those of George Bush and Tony Blair – with concepts of evil and repression associated with perpetrators of violence and terrorism. However, what this simplistic understanding of the relationship between democracy and violence overlooks is the fundamental link between the two. Indeed, most contemporary societies have forged their political systems out of violent engagements of some kind and it is precisely these mechanisms – forged through violence – that provide the supposed legitimacy of democratic systems that is then used as means of justifying the authority to use violence (Mann 2005). In this sense, rather than democracy being antithetical to violence, it is actually the institutional legitimisation of violence. As Ross puts it, the ‘heart of democracy is essentially violent’ and contemporary political analysis reveals ‘new forms of the violent potential of democracy’ (Ross, 2004: 3). This argument is augmented by Foucault’s inversion of Clausewitz’s aphorism that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Instead, Foucault contends that ‘Power is war . . . politics is the continuation of war by other means’ (Foucault 2004: 15). The point here is that while war and acts of violence can be used to bring about more peaceful and civil interactions between differing parties, frequently they do not. Often they merely represent the temporary triumph of one group or another, with the subsequent transfer of its values and principles into law. This situation is what Hoy is referring to when he suggests that the ‘law depends on violence being misrecognized as legitimate’ (Hoy 2005: 130). In a similar vein, Foucault visualises continuing conflict and disruption but in a way that is not necessarily overtly violent or coercive. The conduct of conflict is ‘civilised’ and transformed into the systems and

120 Democratic Piety institutions of a society.8 For Foucault, the role of ‘political power is perpetually to use a sort of silent war to reinscribe that relationship of force, and to reinscribe it in institutions, economic inequalities, language and even the bodies of individuals’ (Foucault 2004: 16). This highlights the contingency at the heart of the rule of law, which supposedly provides the legitimising foundation of many discourses advocating democracy. Using this line of reasoning, we can argue that democratic institutions can be infused with different values and principles, according to the allocation of power within a given society. This depends to a large extent on contingent factors that relate to the historical, social and cultural context of that society at a given time. For example, as was the case following the bombs in London in July 2005, there may be much more of a political consensus around anti-terrorism laws in the aftermath of a spectacular atrocity than is the case at other times. Indeed, these contexts provide opportunities for governments to retreat from supposedly central aspects of liberal democratic societies, such as free speech, the right to silence and so forth. To put it in Foucauldian terms, Politics . . . sanctions and reproduces the disequilibrium of forces manifested in war . . . Within this ‘civil peace,’ these political struggles, these clashes over or with power, these modifications of relations of force – the shifting balance, the reversals – in a political system, all these things must be interpreted as a continuation of war. (Foucault 2004: 16)

All of this suggests that it is advisable to take a more radical and critical approach to contemporary discourses on democracy and, in particular, the relationship between democracy and violence. In recent years there has been a growth of literature that seeks to address and challenge the consensus-based rationalism of much liberal democratic theory (Rancie`re 1999, Mouffe 2000, 2005, Badiou 2005). In general, these radical theories eschew perceptions of democracy centred on the form of political institutions and focus instead on the way in which democracies tend to exclude or marginalise oppositional voices in the process of legitimising existing institutions. Here, procedures are used to police the boundaries of political discourse and the appropriateness of challenging or critical perspectives. Thus, the procedures that exist in liberal democracies are established as just (and sometimes as neutral) and promoted as the most legitimate

Democracy and Violence 121 methods of acting politically. In this sense, democracy serves to censor the articulation of opposition and to question the legitimacy of voices that find no expression in formal political discourse. Moreover, in liberal democratic theory it does so in such a manner as to suggest that these processes generate social and political consensus, that is to say, that they lead to rational and agreed upon understandings of how society should be organised. It is this ‘common sense’ approach that reinforces the doctrine of consensus and elevates consensual politics to a hegemonic position within contemporary liberal democracies (Badiou 2005: 18). Radical democratic arguments, on the other hand, tend to concur with Foucault’s approach: We have to interpret the war that is going on beneath the peace; peace itself is a coded war. We are therefore at war with one another; a battlefront runs through the whole of society, continuously and permanently, and it is this battlefront that puts all of us on one side or the other. There is no such thing as a neutral subject. We are all inevitably someone’s adversary. (Foucault 2004: 50)

It is important to note, however, that democracies do not necessarily have to resort to overt violence to repress critical voices. In this vein, Judith Butler notes not only the importance of dissent to democratic politics, but also the way in which it has been marginalised in the wake of the 2001 attacks in New York. Various labels have been attached to certain critical arguments concerning American policy and these labels have become censorious means of silencing alternative perspectives. As noted in previous chapters, Butler points out that one way of quelling dissent is to label the critic with ‘an uninhabitable identification’ that can preclude them from public debate or discourage them from engaging in democratic politics.9 Thus: To decide what views will count as reasonable within the public domain . . . is to decide what will and will not count as the public sphere of debate . . . The foreclosure of critique empties the public domain of debate and democratic contestation itself, so that debate becomes the exchange of views among the like-minded, and criticism, which ought to be central to any democracy, becomes a fugitive and suspect activity. (Butler 2004: xx)

It should not be lost on the world, given recent events, that the failure to engage with alternative perspectives and beliefs to one’s own

122 Democratic Piety can generate aggressive and often bloody reactions. This is not to say that engagement alone can prevent violent atrocities, merely that it is possible that such interaction may lessen the propensity of those who reject the modus operandi of liberal democracy to countenance such strategies. This requires an opening out of democracy and a willingness to interact with perspectives that are critical of democracy itself.10 It demands recognition that democracy is an ‘unfinished project’, that can be refined and improved through engagement with its critics. Moreover, it implies that there is not a simplistic, clear-cut distinction between democracy and violence. Instead, we need to appreciate the murky complexities of politics and, with that, the capacity of political actors to move from violent methods to peaceful ones and back again. Democracy, then, should not be conceived as the antithesis of violence; instead, the two cohabit the space of politics.

Rethinking the Relationship Between Democracy and Violence The argument thus far suggests that the orthodox view of democracy as an antidote to violence is at best misleading and, at worst, potentially neglectful of the way in which democratic systems rely on violent means to retain power and exclude those who seek to challenge and undermine the dominant order. Either way, the reduction of democracy to the positive counterpoint to a negative conception of violence is not a very helpful way of understanding their relationship. As such, there is a need to investigate the way in which the laws and institutions of democracies may incorporate or employ violent methods. Moreover, such an analysis also demands an interpretation of the kinds of concepts that prevail in liberal democracies and the extent to which they are derived from the use of violence by democratic institutions. The rule of law that is assumed to be the underpinning structure of liberal democratic systems therefore needs to be interrogated. On this relationship between violence and the law, it is worth returning to the work of Walter Benjamin in more detail, in particular his examination of the ‘natural law’ and ‘positive law’ traditions in democratic theory. For Benjamin, the tradition of ‘natural law’ takes its lead from the terror after the French Revolution and implies that ‘violence is a product of nature, as it were a raw material, the use of

Democracy and Violence 123 which is in no way problematical unless force is misused for unjust ends’ (Benjamin 1996: 237). Natural law, then, analyses violence only on the level of ends and regards the use of violent means to achieve just ends as defensible; justice is the key criterion for deciding where and when violence is appropriate. Benjamin juxtaposes this with an alternative view of ‘positive law’, which focuses only on means and therefore employs the criterion of legality rather than justice: Both schools meet in their common basic dogma: just ends can be attained by justified means, justified means used for just ends. Natural law attempts, by the justness of the ends, to ‘justify’ the means, positive law to ‘guarantee’ the justness of the ends through the justification of the means. This antinomy would prove insoluble if the common dogmatic assumption were false, if justified means on the one hand and just ends on the other were in irreconcilable conflict. No insight into this problem could be gained, however, until the circular argument had been broken, and mutually independent criteria both of just ends and justified means were established. (Benjamin 1996: 237)

This is a crucial argument in terms of democratic piety. Largely, when considering the behaviour of democratic societies and especially liberal democracies in sometimes acting violently, democratic piety employs natural law justification. That is, violence by democracies can be justified if the protection of democracy is at stake. In terms of the ‘war on terror’, the sometimes violent, aggressive activities perpetrated by coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq has been justified on the basis that it is necessary to protect democracy and counteract less legitimate violent enemies. The interesting point is that the criterion of justice is that which is used to adjudicate on the violence of the coalition, whereas violence perpetrated against those forces is judged by the positive law criterion of legality. Thus, because insurgent violence is deemed illegitimate, it has no basis in democracy. It is not difficult to see how this logic could be easily reversed by those who oppose the coalition enterprise and democratic piety. Benjamin’s insights show how neither approach is conclusive in judging the appropriateness of violence: ‘Principles of natural law cannot decide this question, but can only lead to bottomless casuistry. For if positive law is blind to the absoluteness of ends, natural law is equally so to the contingency of means’ (Benjamin 1996: 237). Thus, Benjamin is categorical in his dismissal of natural law when it comes to making a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence because

124 Democratic Piety questions of justice are not objective. Similarly, positive law fails to enlighten us on these issues because what is and is not legal depends on political decisions rather than definitive judgements. Benjamin’s analysis also helps to develop some of the points raised in the discussion of Rancie`re in Chapter 3. The former contends that, in the modern state, the question of the legitimate use of violence is heavily policed. Thus, the ‘legal system tries to erect, in all areas where individual ends could be usefully pursued by violence, legal ends that can be realized only by legal power’. As a result, ‘all the natural ends of individuals must collide with legal ends if pursued with a greater or lesser degree if violence . . . From this maxim it follows that law sees violence in the hands of individuals as a danger undermining the legal system’ (Benjamin 1996: 238). Similarly, Rancie`re regards democratic institutions as those which police the nature of political conduct to ascertain what does and does not pose a threat to the political establishment. Why, though, is violence such a threat for the legal system? Again, in a passage resonant of Rancie`re’s critique of politics, Benjamin argues that the law’s interest in a monopoly of violence vis-a`-vis individuals is explained not by the intention of preserving legal ends but, rather, by the intention of preserving the law itself; that violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law. (Benjamin 1996: 239)

In terms of pious discourses of democracy, it should be clear that democracies want to retain the capacity for violence and, moreover, to preserve their status as the only legitimate perpetrators of violence. At the same time, however, it is important to recognise that the existence of violence outside the law serves useful purposes for democracies. It helps the system to define legitimate violence by contrasting it with that committed by ‘lunatics’, ‘criminals’ or ‘terrorists’ and, in so doing, reinforces the legitimacy of democratic state violence because of the just ends that vindicate its use. At the same time as it is a threat, then, illegitimate violence is also a tool for defining ‘legitimate’ state violence. Democracies are not averse to using violence to meet their specific ends, which reinforces the point that the juxtaposition of democracy and violence is problematic. What democracies actually oppose is the use of violence outside of

Democracy and Violence 125 the established framework of laws under which it can be more easily controlled for political gain. This is where Benjamin’s distinction between law-making and law-preserving violence is pivotal. The modern democratic state fears law-making violence (namely, that which attempts to overturn existing legal rules) because it involves a radical challenge to the prevailing order and the way in which democracy justifies itself. Thus, if democracy relies upon the rule of law (based on the commitment to justice) to vindicate it, a violent challenge to the prevailing laws is inherently an attack on a given democracy. For Benjamin, then, it is the nature of law that generates certain types of violence. For the critique of democratic piety, on the other hand, it is not just the law that is at issue but the way in which its legitimacy has been elided with democratic institutions so that they seem impregnable to political challenge. Benjamin is persuasive in showing why peaceful agreements cannot get around the problematic nature of the law: A totally non-violent resolution of conflicts can never lead to a legal contract . . . The origin of every contract also points toward violence. It need not be directly present in it as lawmaking violence, but is represented in it insofar as the power that guarantees a legal contract is, in turn, of violent origin even if violence is not introduced into the contract itself. (Benjamin 1996: 243–4)

This violent origin and nature of law is shrouded by the contemporary tendency to construct defensive arguments through appeals to democracy. Thus, even if democracies do retain the capacity or the propensity to act violently, their foundation in the rule of the people and the rule of law is used as an argument to reflect the justness of any violence that is exercised. The greatest vindicating mechanism is the supposed inclusion of opposing voices but, as Benjamin notes, where ‘frontiers are decided, the adversary is not simply annihilated; indeed, he is accorded rights even when the victor’s superiority in power is complete. And these are, in a demonically ambiguous way, ‘‘equal’’ rights’ (Benjamin 1996: 249). In short, democracies vindicate violence by attempting to exclude some Others who may oppose prevailing laws and systems while permitting other opponents who may pose less of a fundamental threat to remain within the polity. This is a point taken up by Giorgio Agamben in his recent work

126 Democratic Piety comparing Benjamin and Carl Schmitt on violence. Agamben contends that, unlike Benjamin, Schmitt rejects the notion of a ‘pure violence’ (that is, neither law-making or law-preserving) because ‘in the state of exception it is included in the law through its very exclusion’ (Agamben 2005: 54). Thus, for Schmitt, it is impossible to adjudicate on what forms of violence are ‘pure’ and what forms are not. This ‘impossibility is precisely what grounds the necessity of sovereign decision’ (Agamben 2005: 55). Agamben’s point in contrasting Benjamin and Schmitt is to demonstrate the gap between theories that suggest that sovereignty and the state of exception are inextricably linked (Schmitt) and those that imply that sovereign power is not able to make binding decisions on where the state of exception exists. The notion of sovereignty that emerges from Benjamin’s thesis is one that implies a different situation of the state of exception. It no longer appears as the threshold that guarantees the articulation between an inside and an outside, or between anomie and the juridical context, by virtue of a law that is in force in its suspension: it is, rather, a zone of absolute indeterminacy between anomie and law, in which the sphere of creatures and the juridical order are caught up in a single catastrophe. (Agamben 2005: 57)

Agamben employs Benjamin’s analysis of twentieth-century fascism to make the case that his perspective on the state of exception is increasingly the rule and argues that this provides a fundamental challenge to the Schmittian view of the state of exception. For Agamben, the state of exception can no longer function as an exception when exception becomes the rule because ‘the rule . . . devours itself’ (Agamben 2005: 58). In other words, the possibility of declaring the state of exception as a defining aspect of sovereign power relies upon the normal operation of the law in ordinary circumstances. It is only when there is a threat or emergency that the decision on the need for a state of exception comes into play. The capacity to make that decision on the state of exception is fundamental to sovereign power but when that state of exception becomes ubiquitous then the normal operation of law is no longer possible. This reflects Benjamin’s argument and implies that every ‘fiction of a nexus between violence and law disappears here: there is nothing but a zone of anomie, in which a violence without any juridical form acts’

Democracy and Violence 127 (Agamben 2005: 59). Thus, the failure of the sovereign power to translate violence into law lays bare the violence at the root of that power. The key to the dispute between Schmitt and Benjamin is the relation between violence and law – in the last analysis, the status of violence as a cipher for human action. While Schmitt attempts every time to reinscribe violence within a juridical context, Benjamin responds to this gesture by seeking to assure it – as pure violence – an existence outside of the law. (Agamben 2005: 59)

To be clear, Agamben does not want to reify a notion of pure violence as something that can be objectively defined. Instead, it is always part of and subject to political decision-making about the law. Rather than postulating purity as some kind of absolute, Benjamin regards purity as always conditional. Similarly, Agamben describes it as a ‘relational rather than substantial conception of purity’ (Agamben 2005: 61). This means that there is not something inherent to the violence that differentiates ‘pure violence and mythico-juridical violence’ but that the differentiation lies in the relationship between the violence and ‘something external’. Thus, Agamben states that ‘the criterion of the ‘‘purity’’ of violence will therefore lie in its relation to the law’ (Agamben 2005: 61). To come back to the initial argument, then, ‘mythico-juridical violence’ is usually perpetrated as a means to an end and therefore is typically justified in terms of natural law, that is, what were the ends that demanded violent action. If these ends are just, then ‘mythico-juridical’ violence may be deemed legitimate in modern democracies. For Agamben, ‘pure violence’ never occurs solely to achieve a particular end and therefore cannot be evaluated on a calculus of justice, as natural law would suggest. This perspective generates a highly contingent understanding of the relationship between violence and democracy. It is one where the state of exception becomes more commonplace and less defensible as the last resort of regimes that otherwise moderate violence through the rule of law. It is also a radical perspective, which understands the sometimes arbitrary nature of political decisions about the relationship between law and violence and the democratic institutions that are used to underpin and justify the laws that are decided upon. The question remains whether this bleak critique of democracy and violence can be redeemed in the dilemmas that characterise contemporary global governance and, in particular, international relations

128 Democratic Piety after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. To address that question, it is interesting to investigate the attempts of Judith Butler to engage with this troubled relationship in such a way as to help people to step back from the violent abyss that the permanent state of exception brings to mind. This is central to the argument around democratic piety because Butler is often considered one of the most influential radical democratic thinkers. Importantly, in the argument that follows, it is possible to identify ways in which democratic piety has influenced Butler’s agenda. This has important ramifications for my critique, as it suggests that democratic piety is not just a feature of populist political rhetorical but a tendency that has also infected those approaches to democracy theory that are often conceived as radical.

Overcoming Violence? Vulnerability and Mourning Like many radical theorists, particularly in North America, faced with the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, Butler wants to reestablish a notion of the ‘we’ that holds the potential to inspire collective action to address the increasingly unsettled circumstances of contemporary politics. In this context, violence is approached from a different angle from that discussed thus far. Where other radical theorists have charted the ineradicable nature of violence and its relationship with the law and democratic institutions, Butler wants to examine a politics based on human agency and common experiences of this violence: Despite our differences in location and history, my guess is that it is possible to appeal to a ‘we,’ for all of us have some notion of what it is to have lost somebody. Loss has made a tenuous ‘we’ of us all. And if we have lost, then it follows that we have had, that we have desired and loved, that we have struggled to find the conditions for our desire . . . This means that each of us is constituted politically in part by virtue of the social vulnerability of our bodies – as a site of desire and physical vulnerability, as a site of publicity at once assertive and exposed. Loss and vulnerability seem to follow from our being socially constituted bodies, attached to others, at risk of losing those attachments, exposed to others, at risk of violence by virtue of that exposure. (Butler 2004: 20)

It is clear that the ubiquity of violence and loss in the world today can give rise to some of the sentiments that Butler identifies. However, it is a jump from this experience to a notion of a collective ‘we’ that is

Democracy and Violence 129 capable of uniting around a common cause of opposing violence and suffering. Part of the reason for this is the political nature of much of this violence and the fact that there are as many perpetrators of violence as there are victims. Indeed, frequently perpetrators and victims will be one and the same people. In this scenario, it is not just a matter of exploiting common feeling because many experiences of violence involve sentiments of blame, hatred, revenge and so forth. To suggest to a perpetrator of violence that they should not act in a certain way when, for example, their motive may be grief over other victims, is not a simple matter. When dealing with relatively small numbers of individuals in a given polity, these kinds of sentiments might be encouraged but on the global political stage this is less applicable. This is especially the case where whole countries have faced extreme violence, as well as famine, poverty and so forth, and the reaction of the Western powers and global political institutions has often been to establish refugee camps and stricter immigration legislation. In short, there may be widely experienced violence across the world, as Butler implies, but this does not translate into common experience. Moreover, much violence has political motives that are shared by those who suffer from the violence of others. Thus, Butler does not provide a sufficiently political model of violence. There is considerable merit in Butler’s treatment of mourning insofar as it represents the fact that people are constituted in relation to others and that humans are forged in engagement with others. In particular, it reasserts the centrality of emotion as an inspiration in social and political action in a form that has been absent in the sanitised environment of deliberative democracy. But it does not follow from this that an awareness of this constitutive function of others (particularly those who matter to us) establishes a collective will across political divides, especially in the wake of violence that replicates and reinforces these schisms. Thus, awareness of notions of shared suffering, especially in conflict situations, does not necessarily override enmity directed against those perceived as enemies or aggressors. The experience of loss that Butler identifies as pivotal to her argument is often accompanied by feelings of culpability directed against those who are perceived to have mistreated victims. This is why it is problematic to neglect the political dimension of loss, if loss is not understood in political terms, then it is not clear why Butler accords it such significance in understanding violence as a political phenomenon.

130 Democratic Piety Butler wants to promote ‘relationality’ as a means of fostering collective feeling. Thus, it is the common nature of experiences of violence, loss and mourning that could enable disparate individuals to act together to prevent further loss. Mourning therefore becomes a way of understanding our ties to others, including those whom we might have harmed in the past. In liberal democratic societies, individualist notions of autonomy have been prominent in making claims to self-determination but Butler wants to accompany this individualism with a broader conception of relations between individuals. To this end, she tries to embody this discussion in the effects of violence on vulnerable bodies: ‘Although we struggle for rights over our own bodies, the very bodies for which we struggle are not quite ever our own. The body has its invariably public dimension. Constituted as a social phenomenon in the public sphere, my body is and is not mine’ (Butler 2004: 26). What is lost in all of this discussion of individuals and their bodies is the importance of social groups and the way in which they help people to make sense of, legitimise or criticise a variety of violent actions and forms. Butler is correct to emphasise that humans are not bounded beings, as individualist theories might suggest (Little 2002a). Her attempt to articulate the interconnectedness of individuals and the political potential of shared meanings and experiences is valuable. Nonetheless, the feeling remains that she has translated this potential for shared emotion into a more ubiquitous concept, which she then extracts from the politics of violence to establish its emancipatory potential. Thus, she neglects the way in which humans often consider their bonds to be mainly with those who are perceived to have common interests and experiences and does not necessarily countenance the difficulties of establishing similar feelings for those who are not part of ‘us’ (whatever that may be). In other words, human understandings of connectedness tend to relate to others with whom there is identification rather than the rest of humanity as a whole. Those considered as opponents or enemies tend to enter the equation only insofar as they help to make sense of who ‘we’ are (often by embodying what ‘we’ are not). This does not preclude sympathy when it comes to violence in the world but it does provide a rupture in the analogy of fellow-feeling that Butler wants us to consider. She wants to present her argument in terms of a shared understanding of vulnerability as a way of preventing violence but again, perhaps, this underestimates the capacity to see our own suffering (and that of

Democracy and Violence 131 others within our ‘us’) as different to the suffering of others (or the Other). This capacity is evident when we view any of the world’s conflict zones and the way in which victims of coalition forces in the ‘war on terror’ fail to be accorded the same kind of emotion that is extended to coalition victims, despite their much greater numbers. In essence, then, Butler’s argument seems highly optimistic. She is not wholly misguided in emphasising the capacity for empathy with victims and vulnerable people as a potentially fruitful social development; however, she is stretching the point considerably in implying that this is a force for major political change. The idea that violence might be inherent to democratic politics is largely ignored: Violence is surely a touch of the worst order, a way a primary human vulnerability to other humans is exposed in its most terrifying way, a way in which we are given over, without control, to the will of another, a way in which life itself can be expunged by the wilful action of another. To the extent that we commit violence, we are acting on another, putting the other at risk, causing the other damage, threatening to expunge the other. In a way, we all live with this particular vulnerability, a vulnerability to the other that is part of bodily life, a vulnerability to a sudden address from elsewhere that we cannot preempt. (Butler 2004: 29)

Butler accepts that this sense of vulnerability is highly exacerbated under certain circumstances, especially where there is a conflict situation in which violence may be regarded, rightly or wrongly, as part of the political dynamic with the ‘Other’. A sense of vulnerability and of the potential for loss may be widely felt in these scenarios but that does not mean that violence will not take place or indeed be considered too high a price to pay in achieving political aims. Martyrdom, for example, is central to this perception of conflict scenarios. Moreover, many perpetrators of violence can understand the vulnerability of victims, and even sympathise with the harm that they will cause, but still carry out violent acts because they perceive the political gain to supersede these concerns. Again, Butler confuses the potential of vulnerability as a motivator behind benign political action with the actual politics of conflict situations in which senses of vulnerability may be something to exploit rather than empathise with. Against this kind of argument, Butler is interested in exploring ways in which humans might learn from their own senses of vulnerability and translate those emotions into the experience of the ‘Other’.

132 Democratic Piety Thus, she wants to demonstrate how an understanding of human vulnerability may prevent people from acting violently against each other: ‘To grieve, and to make grief itself into a resource for politics, is not to be resigned to inaction, but it may be understood as the slow process by which we develop a point of identification with suffering itself’ (Butler 2004: 30). Whilst these ideas have some intuitive appeal (especially when she uses the example of the vulnerability of a child), it is not clear how this kind of reasoning and analysis can always be applied to political actors. These kinds of issues are political precisely because, in instances like war, political and military gain is weighed up against different types of costs, including human costs. It is for these political reasons that individuals might agree with the overall objective of a war (such as defeating fascism) without agreeing with all the methods that are used to achieve that objective (for example, Hirsohima, Nagasaki, or Dresden in the Second World War). Grief is indeed powerful but humans seem to have a capacity for distinguishing between ‘our’ grief and the grief of ‘the Other’. Judgements are always being made on these issues in such a way that vulnerability seems a weak criterion when placed alongside a range of other military, political and strategic imperatives. Indeed, Butler herself seems to recognise this: Lives are supported and maintained differently, and there are radically different ways in which human physical vulnerability is distributed across the globe. Certain lives will be highly protected, and the abrogation of their claims to sanctity will be sufficient to mobilize the forces of war. Other lives will not find such fast and furious support and will not even qualify as ‘grievable’. (Butler 2004: 32)

This statement is certainly a valid interpretation of the ways in which ‘grievability’ is constructed but there is little new about any of these processes. Whilst the growing criticism of the ‘war on terror’ has helped to bring them to light in the contemporary era, violence has always been perpetrated by democracies. Indeed, democracies have often traded on the threat of the non-democratic ‘Other’ to vindicate violent strategies. In some respects, then, democracy needs a threat to reinforce its identity. Fascism was one such ‘Other’, communism another and radical political Islam is the latest incarnation. These threats – or potential threats – have shored up democratic violence and eventually something will succeed Islam as the primary threat to

Democracy and Violence 133 the hegemonic enterprise of democracy in global society and the neoliberal political economy that it often serves. Quite often, it is the awareness of vulnerability that facilitates the transition of threat into violent action. Whilst Butler’s vision of vulnerability as potentially peaceable contains rhetorical power, the usual experience of vulnerability is something that is potentially darker and more foreboding inasmuch as it can actually increase the likelihood of violence. Butler writes a lengthy passage denouncing the newspaper rejection of obituaries of Palestinians and contrasts it with the coverage of the death of Daniel Pearl. Butler’s point is that the failure to engage with the victims belonging to the ‘Other’ (particularly in the USA) means that ‘violence is derealized and diffused’ (Butler 2004: 38). However, this is not because of a lack of understanding of vulnerability; rather, the more vulnerable the ‘Other’ may be, the more violent action may be encouraged rather than reduced. Put simply, Butler fails to recognise how the presence and visibility of vulnerability and violence against the other co-exist. Part of the problem with Butler’s analysis is that it reflects a new concern in America since 9/11 with issues that have perennially been part and parcel of living in conflict-ridden societies. This leads her to make statements that may be instructive to the radical American imagination but hold less sway in other parts of the world. Much of her analysis is concerned with the way America has recently (and we might add historically, like most countries) downplayed its own violence to its own people whilst accentuating that of others. She is right that the ‘violence that we inflict on others is only – and always – selectively brought into public view’ (Butler 2004: 39) but there is nothing new about this. The advocacy of greater coverage of victims of violence as a means of reinvigorating democracy requires an enormous leap of faith: From the subsequent experience of loss and fragility, however, the possibility of making different kinds of ties emerges. Such mourning might (or could) effect a transformation in our sense of international ties that would crucially rearticulate the possibility of democratic political culture here and elsewhere. (Butler 2004: 40)

It is not altogether clear why non-democratic cultures are supposed to embrace this invigorated notion of democracy given the havoc that has been wreaked on various parts of the world in the name of establishing democracy. Moreover, when societies like the USA have

134 Democratic Piety been happy to indulge non-democratic regimes in China, in Saudi Arabia and previously in Iraq, it is not apparent why democratic political culture should now emerge out of a shared sense of mourning. Mourning does not, in and of itself, have anything to do with a particular type of political regime. Political systems of all kinds employ mourning for reasons that may be more or less democratic. Interestingly, Butler recognises the heavy-handed nature of American democracy promotion in the contemporary world: the USA ‘decides when and where to install democracy, for whom, by means dramatically anti-democratic, and without compunction’ (Butler 2004: 40–1). Her point, then, is that democracy is to be encouraged in non-democratic societies but only through democratic means. It cannot be imposed and a democratic culture cannot be suddenly invented. This is all very well but in constructing this argument democracy gets exonerated from its relationship with violence. What remains is the belief that democracy has no inherent relationship with violence but has instead been used as a cipher by calculating politicians with unscrupulous violent objectives. For Butler, democratic culture can still be rescued from these politicians and reinstalled as the best system for organising modern societies and maintaining international order. However, she fails to provide any coherent explanation of how such a process might take place politically.

Conclusion The main problem with an analysis that seeks to maintain belief in the universal applicability of democracy by deepening people’s appreciation of shared human values is that it rests on an underlying assumption that politics – and, in particular, democratic politics – can or should be qualitatively affected by increased awareness of vulnerability and the powers of mourning. It is not clear, however, what increased perceptions of vulnerability and mourning have to do with the quality of democracy or how they might inspire processes of change. People can be aware of the vulnerability of others in all sorts of countries, and mourn their losses, without having a bearing on the fabric or culture of democracy. The kind of narrative constructed by Butler reflects on the violence perpetrated by democracies in the world today but fails to identify the historical precedents for this. In so doing, it shrouds the relationship between democracy and violence and reduces the equation to the actions of a small number of political

Democracy and Violence 135 actors rather than something more inherent. The argument in this chapter has suggested that this approach is dangerously flawed. Importantly, it demonstrates the impact of democratic piety on some of the more radical theories of democracy and the difficulties that some commentators – especially in North America – have had in critically analysing democracy in an environment in which it has become sacrosanct. To throw further light on this, it is necessary now to examine the ethical issues that have characterised these debates in recent times and, in particular, contemporary debates on terrorism.

Notes 1. I also contend that whilst these implications might be more apparent in deeply divided societies, they also exist in less overtly conflictual situations as well. For more detail on this claim, see Little (2004). 2. Whilst this chapter considers both of these forms of violence important, Muro-Ruiz does not do justice to the full the range of activities that may be seen as violent and his definition neglects many of the emotions and sentiments that may give rise to violent action. He admits, for example, that he pays scant attention to feminist and post-modern arguments (Muro-Ruiz 2002: 116). 3. Arguably this phenomenon is in evidence in contemporary Iraq, and the history of Northern Ireland is littered with instances where ‘progress’ towards political agreement gave rise to serious outbreaks of violence. 4. In talking about ‘institutionalised coercion’, Mann is referring to things like cultural suppression, segregation, language restrictions and suppression (Mann 2005: 12). 5. For a critique of utilitarian justifications of violence and war, see Calhoun (2002). 6. For a detailed discussion of the distinction between notions of good and evil, and the possibility of an absolute distinction, see Gaita (2004). 7. See, for example, the criteria for aid articulated by the Australian federal government at I am grateful to Lauren Wapling for drawing my attention to this issue. 8. The struggles of indigenous Australians to challenge the ‘normality’ of the political institutions that emanated from war and colonial conquest resonate here.

136 Democratic Piety 9. For further discussion of Butler’s arguments on violence and nonviolence, see McRobbie (2006). 10. Contemporary examples might include the engagement of Hamas on future directions in Israel and Palestine, and a more developed interaction with Iran in respect of its nuclear capacity.

Chapter 5 Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy

One of the reasons why democratic piety has become so prevalent in contemporary politics is the changing social and political climate in this century. The fear of terrorism in Western societies was exacerbated by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, alongside subsequent attacks such as those in Bali, Madrid and London. This has created a new phase in the conception of terrorism in political theory and, in particular, its implications for democratic theory and practice. Hitherto terrorism had been mainly conceived as a problem for specific societies grappling with social and political contexts that gave rise to violent unrest and upheaval, but the attacks in New York demonstrated the capacity of opponents of democracy and liberal values to bring campaigns of terror to Western liberal democracies. The reaction to this strike marked a shift in the conception of terrorism and the lengths to which countries like the United States were prepared to go in counteracting this strategy. The currency of terrorism as one of the defining principles of the modern era was assured and it became a common discourse for politicians and in the popular political lexicon. As understandable as aspects of the American response may have been to the 2001 attacks, the outcome for many liberal democracies has involved a backtracking from key tenets of democratic theory. This chapter will examine these developments and, in particular, the problematic status of democratic piety as the actions and ideas associated with democracy are increasingly discredited by the reaction to terrorism in the world today.

138 Democratic Piety

Democracy and Terrorism In the same way that democratic piety establishes a false juxtaposition between democracy and violence, it also relies on a construction of terrorism that serves to reinforce the primacy of democracy. At the same time as democracy is reified as the opposite of terrorism, the term ‘terrorism’ becomes a convenient shorthand to categorise voices and ideas that want to challenge democratic piety. In so doing, a problematically clear distinction is drawn between democracy and terrorism, with scant attention paid to the potentially terroristic behaviour of Western democracies in trying to enshrine democratic government elsewhere in the world. Simultaneously the threat of terrorism at home (often perpetrated by home-grown terrorists, as was the case with the bombs in the London public transport system in 2005) ensures that liberal democracies are enacting increasingly less liberal and less democratic legislation within their own jurisdiction. In this scenario, the promises of liberal democracy appear increasingly hollow both within the West and within the countries that are subject to Western-sponsored projects of democratisation. The growing discourse of terrorism has coincided with the declining legitimacy of democracies when judged by the standards of democratic theory. When faced with a threat, then, democratic theory has proved dangerously susceptible to the practice of enacting increasingly draconian and conservative legislation. For defenders of liberal democracy, the best strategy here appears to be to fly in the face of the evidence and concentrate on the pious promotion of democracy and the dubious juxtaposition of democracy and terrorism. In recent times, these arguments have been taken up by a number of theorists, such as Agamben and Zˇizˇek, who want to promote radical reassessments of democracy, as well as those who are actually sceptical of developments in continental philosophy, such as Ted Honderich. Thus, these trends should not be solely identified with radical and/or post-structuralist theory. Nonetheless, for the purposes of the argument here, it is worth dwelling on these radical accounts, for they go furthest in attempting to deconstruct the conceptual and linguistic underpinnings of democratic piety. For example, in his recent work Alain Badiou contends that the idea of terrorism provides a triple function for defenders of liberal democracy. First, when the notion of terrorism is invoked, a victim of terrorist activity – a subject – is automatically created. Because terrorism is usually articulated as a

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 139 pejorative notion, the subject of the victim is the blameless ‘we’ that is endangered by the threatening ‘them’. Second, Badiou’s argument suggests that the discourse of terrorism supports predicates whereby the ‘them’ is understood as being constituted by certain values or a certain group of people. In modern times, this has seen the seamless integration of discourses of terrorism with Islamic terrorism; this is an elision that serves to denigrate all forms of Islam and over-simplifies a highly complex relationship. Third, Badiou contends that the discourse of terrorism determines a sequence: because terrorism is something that cannot be seen to be ignored, it presupposes a campaign against it or, in the current parlance, a long war against terrorism. For Badiou, these assumptions become part of the dominant popular discourse of terrorism but it is the role of political philosophy to analyse them and demonstrate the damage they are capable of generating (Badiou 2003: 108). From this foundation, it is important to understand the effects of these discourses of terrorism on the understandings of democracy that are juxtaposed with them. The starting point here for Badiou, and some other commentators on the emergence of the contemporary concept of terrorism (Honderich 2006), is to return to the historical origins of the term and, in particular, its use in the aftermath of the French Revolution. At that time, terrorist was a term used to describe a person who practised and legitimised violence (to maintain the Republic, in the French case). Using the argument of Benjamin in the previous chapter, this was an individual engaged in law-preserving violence rather than someone trying to unsettle the dominant order. Badiou remarks how the term has been transformed to mean anyone who attacks dominant institutions rather than someone who defends the established regime: ‘at the end of its semantic evolution, the word ‘‘terrorist’’ is an intrinsically propagandistic term. It has no neutral readability. It dispenses with all reasoned examination of political situations, of their causes and consequences’ (Badiou 2003: 109). What this entails is that terrorism is no longer a term that conjures up a particular political disposition or set of ideas or ideology, nor is it used to ascribe a particular stance with regard to the dynamics of any given situation. Instead, terrorism is a pejorative term that is focused on a type of action rather than a set of ideas: It is first and foremost – for public opinion and those who attempt to shape it – a spectacular, non-State action, which emerges – reality or myth

140 Democratic Piety – from clandestine networks. Second, it is a violent action aiming to kill or destroy. Lastly, it is an action which makes no distinction between civilians and non-civilians. (Badiou 2003: 109)

It is at this point that Honderich makes the case that there is not much to be gained either way in trying to establish a singular agreed definition of terrorism. Instead, he suggests that meanings of terrorism, especially those that prevail in contemporary democratic discourses, are political – and indeed ideological – constructs that are designed to impugn the Other. However, whilst Honderich is correct to point out the partisan, political intent that underpins contemporary usages of the discourse of terrorism, he is less persuasive in regarding this as a purely recent phenomenon. This de-historicises the pejorative career of terrorism and, in particular, the way in which it has been used to ‘criminalise’ activities that had – whether justifiably or not – a political dimension. Thus, there are reasons to be sceptical of Honderich’s claim that before ‘the recent beginning of Islamic and some other violence . . . the word terrorism turned up only in history books, mainly on the French Revolution. Violence of the kind we are considering was known as political violence’ (Honderich 2006: 86, emphasis in the original). But, in fact, the opponents and/or targets of the activities of the Irish Republican Army, the African National Congress, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and so forth, were more than likely to castigate the activities of these groups as terrorism because the idea of ‘political violence’ carried with it, however spuriously, a whiff of legitimacy. By removing the ‘political’ appendage to violence, it becomes much easier to deride acts as the result of madness, bloodthirstiness or zealotry. Unlike Badiou, Honderich’s journey into the etymology of terrorism blinds him to the ways in which the contemporary usage of the term is not a purely recent phenomenon. The attack on the World Trade Center may have altered the modern political landscape but the manipulation of language to suit particular political objectives has a long history, as the discourse of terrorism shows. The de-historicised treatment of terrorism does not suit any clear purpose in Honderich’s argument, although it is fair to say that his analysis paves the way for him to develop a critique of the contemporary ‘war on terror’ rather than a more thoroughgoing analysis of democracy. This becomes clear when Honderich sets out

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 141 his own understanding of terrorism, which, contrary to Badiou’s more linguistic understanding of the term, suggests that: . . . . .

it involves the destructive use of force; it implies conflict that is a step short of full-blown war; it is pursued to meet political and social objectives rather than out of pure self-indulgence on the part of perpetrators; it is action that goes beyond the parameters of law; it is wrong or unjustified, unlike war insofar as it involves the ruining of other lives.

Importantly, then, this definition does not preclude states – including democratic states – from perpetrating terrorism. Moreover, it does not preclude the possibility of terrorism being used to reach democratic ends. The value of this definition lies in the fact that it suggests a need to countenance terrorism being employed for rightful ends: ‘It may be self-defence, resistance, resistance to ethnic cleansing in particular. It may be resistance to genocide, a liberation struggle, a humanly necessary opposition to the vile self-interest of others or another people or their leaders’ (Honderich 2006: 90). Whether one agrees with the definition or not, this provides a useful countertendency to ‘automatism about terrorism and democracy’ (Honderich 2006: 94). Quite clearly, this disrupts the common discourse of terrorism and democracy and the tendency of democratic piety to construct terrorism as all of the activities that go on beyond the acceptable parameters of democratic politics. Nonetheless, the pious discourse holds popular political sway and it would be better if Honderich developed his analysis further to demonstrate how linguistic sophistry is frequently employed by those who operate within democratic paradigms to castigate those who raise radical challenges from beyond their boundaries. It is therefore useful to return to the linguistic tradition of continental philosophy (which Honderich cheerfully neglects) to understand how the language of pious discourses is constructed. For Badiou, the precise definition of terrorism is much less telling than the political usages to which the discourse of terrorism is put. It is in understanding the latter that a more developed understanding of the meanings of terrorism appears. Thus, the term terrorism, like other political discourses, is constituted as much by what it is not as it is by definable content. Badiou thinks that it is much more pertinent

142 Democratic Piety to ask the question ‘Who is the ‘‘we’’ facing terrorism?’ Here, it is obvious that there is no clear answer that permits the definitive understanding of terrorism. In some discourses the answer will be that the ‘we’ is ‘the West’, or just ‘our societies’, or, more politically, ‘democracies’ or ‘liberal democracies’. The importance of this insight is that, for Badiou, it is ‘obvious that ‘‘terrorism’’ is a non-existent substance, an empty name. But this void is precious because it can be filled’ (Badiou 2003: 110). It is useful, then, to think of terrorism as what post-structuralists such as Laclau call an ‘empty signifier’. This reflects the significance of symbolic indicators as the producers of meaning in political discourse. These are terms that help the representation of society even though their content is not precisely defined. The term ‘terrorism’ is an ‘empty signifier’ because it ‘functions as a nodal point. In other words, emptiness is now revealed as an essential quality of the nodal point, as an important condition of possibility for its hegemonic success’ (Howarth and Stavrakakis 2000: 9). The power of the discourse of terrorism in contemporary politics is in reflecting what it is that Western democracies stand against and the threat that is posed against them. It is part of the power of the discourse of terrorism that there is an emptiness of meaning at its heart, for that enables it to be used in a multiplicity of settings as part of the justification for the organisation of Western democracies. What is vital to understand, then, is the indefinable nature of terrorism; this is so pivotal because it provides a vessel that can be filled with a variety of meanings that provide sustenance to the dominant democratic order. The counter-distinction with democracy means that the discourse of terrorism provides a justification for all sorts of actions against those who are perceived to be a threat. Or, as Badiou explains, ‘if the democracies are attacked by terrorism then, in view of their excellence, they have the right to avenge themselves. What remains to be known is against whom these legitimate reprisals are to be carried out’ (Badiou 2003: 111). The discourse of terrorism, then, becomes a legitimising tool that provides justification for aggressive action towards any country or regime that is perceived to pose a threat to the Western political order and liberal democracy. To counteract the perception that democracy may be a void filled with unsustainable assumptions that are being used to shore up the prevailing order, Badiou highlights the use of predicates as a way of filling empty spaces. In the contemporary climate, the most common of these predicates is the establishment of a clear link between

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 143 terrorism and Islam. As Badiou makes clear, the elision of terrorism and Islam serves to draw attention away from the less consistent relationship between Western democracies and Islamic societies, as the recent history of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, amongst others, makes clear. The point is that there has always been a political agenda underlying the way in which Western liberal democracies have reacted to and treated different Islamic regimes. Thus, ‘in ‘‘Islamic terrorism’’, the predicate ‘‘Islamic’’ has no other function except that of supplying an apparent content to the word ‘‘terrorism’’ which is itself devoid of all content (in this instance, political)’ (Badiou 2003: 115). The emptiness of the term terrorism, even when made ‘understandable’ through the appendage of certain predicates, makes it a vacuous opponent of democratic regimes. The war against terrorism amounts to nothing more than ‘the abstract form of a theatrical capture of an adversary (‘‘terrorism’’) which in its essence is vague and elusive. The war against nothing: save against what is itself removed from any war’ (Badiou 2003: 117). The tragedy of such a meaningless project is of course the damage and suffering inflicted around the globe in the name of such a vacuous struggle – a struggle that Badiou regards as little more than a hegemonic enterprise in which ‘moral and religious platitudes’ are employed to attain political, financial and military leverage. The victims in all of this are the very people democratic piety promises to protect. This radical line of argument is also evident in Slavoj Zˇizˇek’s recent discussion of terrorism and violence in the light of the campaign in Iraq (Zˇizˇek 2004a). He contends that it is easier for conflicting political actors to embrace the particular knot in which a conflict is already bound, and the enmities that comprise it, than to entertain the possibility of moving beyond established social and political divisions. In the case of terrorism, then, Zˇizˇek argues that it is more comfortable to hide behind the labels that castigate political opponents than to try to engage with their ideas or the reasons why they behave in certain ways. However, with characteristic candour, he also underplays the complex nature of some political conflicts. Thus, in allusion to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, for example, Zˇizˇek states that everyone knows the only way to resolve the dispute but that the actors find it simpler to return to the deadlock rather than open up to the Other (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 38–9). While there is a relevant point that often political disagreements provide comfortable surroundings for particular viewpoints, the argument in this book has suggested that,

144 Democratic Piety such are the complexities of conflict scenarios, there is rarely such a simple solution. The judgements of commentators external to conflicts regarding the ‘simplicity’ of resolving them can understate the way in which simplicity never underpins political practice. Nonetheless, Zˇizˇek is on surer ground in discussing the unwillingness of mainstream political actors to engage with terrorists. The pledge not to interact with terrorists has become a commonplace feature of discourse in Western liberal democracies but it emanates from high ground that politicians find difficult to occupy in processes of conflict transformation. In periods of intransigence or outright hostility, the failure to interact with those deemed terrorists may seem justifiable or be politically advantageous – indeed, it is increasingly expected in liberal democracies – but conflict transformation requires some degree of engagement with those who seek to unsettle the established order. However, rather than following a strategy of negotiation, political actors may prefer to emphasise the non-terroristic nature of democracy as a justification of non-engagement. In this manner, the construction of democracy in non-violent terms becomes a partial obstacle to political accommodation rather than a means of facilitating it. The key lacuna in this equation is the political character of political violence, or, as Zˇizˇek puts it, what is ‘foreclosed in this way is the thematic presentation of (and confrontation with) ‘‘terrorism’’ as (part of) a political project, which, of course, in no way implies agreement with it’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 45). The contemporary democratic argument on terror is problematic because it denies the political nature of terrorism. It treats terrorism purely as a ‘method’ and fails to grapple with the complex interacton of motives and different historical, social and cultural factors that can generate terrorist acts. Thus, the process of ending terrorism is never simply a strategy of putting an end to violence in order that proper political interaction can begin; instead, it suggests that terrorist violence can only ever be reduced through engaging with it within a political process. Of course, most political actors and commentators know this but feel compelled to provide the public with a face of outrage and pious promises not to engage with terrorists. It is little wonder, then, that the public accuse political actors of misleading them or lying when contacts with terrorist groups emerge (Dixon 2002). Terrorists need to be castigated in order to discredit the political objectives that their strategies are designed to achieve. However, without terrorism of one kind or another, many of these

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 145 objectives would be marginalised from the political mainstream. This is what pious discourses of democracy purposely ignore and what the naı¨ve juxtaposition of democracy and violence serves to cover up: ‘History confronts us with unexpected examples of what Deleuze calls ‘‘disjunctive synthesis’’, the co-dependence of radically exclusive positions’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 49). In other words, there is an element of co-dependence in discourses of democracy and terror insofar as they rely for their definition and their raison d’eˆtre on not being the other. Thus, the notion of ‘disjunctive synthesis’ helps to explain the way in which pious discourses of democracy rely on pejorative constructions of violence and terrorism for their definition and justification. It is only through the process of manufacturing the Other that the ‘empty signifier’ of democracy is filled. In contemporary politics, then, terrorism is a useful discourse for democracy because it conjures up a real or imagined threat that needs to be repulsed. But the notion of a threat begs many questions: what is a threat? Who defines it? How serious does it have to be to resort to violence? How do we judge whether it has reached such levels? This is, of course, the very stuff of politics but it is also the point at which the political justification of the war in Iraq falls down. The war was conducted on the foundation of an inability to persuade people (without recourse to the WMD misrepresentations) that the threat was sufficient to justify the violent actions that have since taken place. Indeed, parts of the ensuing campaign, such as the removal of Saddam, may have harnessed general support but, of course, as Zˇizˇek makes clear, they were not the reasons behind the original invasion. The subsequent attempt to establish democracy in Iraq and withdraw has proven fraught with dangers, not the least of which has been the inability of democracy to provide any kind of stability in the void left by the destruction of Saddam’s regime and the US-led interregnum. Thus, the example of the war in Iraq leads not to pious conclusions about the supremacy of democracy but instead highlights the sovereign power of the US as the decider and implementer of war. In line with this, Zˇizˇek opines that parts of the coalition argument against Saddam and the Iraqi regime were probably correct but that does not necessarily legitimise subsequent actions. In particular, what was not justifiable was the US taking it upon itself to act as the sovereign in this case. For Zˇizˇek, the most problematic aspect of the war has been the political reasons that inspired the American action

146 Democratic Piety and, in particular, the economic imperative underpinning it, that is, the issue of oil: The problem of its new moral vigour is not just that morality is manipulatively exploited, but that it is directly mobilized; the problem with its appeal to democracy is not that it is simply hypocrisy and external manipulation, but that it directly mobilizes and relies on ‘sincere’ democratic aspirations. (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 55)

Effectively, then, democracy becomes a parody of itself, a parody in which radical challenge to the mainstream is marginalised and democratic discourse is closed off to oppositional voices that seek to unsettle and disrupt the dominant order. What the example of the ‘war on terror’ demonstrates is that sovereign power has the capacity to suspend or take away democratic rights and that none of us are exempt from this possibility of a state of exception. It is this potentiality that highlights the contingency of the law in modern liberal democracies and the ever present possibility that key aspects of the organisation of liberal democracy – such as rights, freedoms, and the rule of law – can be withdrawn at the behest of sovereign power.

The Contingency of the Rule of Law Political developments in the early years of this century have thrown a new light on the nature of the rule of law and the way in which it can be used at the behest of the sovereign power to control populations. Interestingly, this process is often carried out under the auspices of trying to protect democracy and the democratic way of life from external threats, such as terrorism. Thus, the law becomes a tool for insulating democracies and the established powers within them from disruptive forces that undermine their authority. As a result, the principles and features that have traditionally vindicated and legitimised democracy are eroded and the naked exercise of power becomes more apparent. From this perspective, the rule of law operates up to the point at which it is no longer capable of containing unrest and dispute. Beyond that point democracies – especially liberal democracies supposedly bound by the rule of law – rely on extrademocratic measures. What becomes clear is that the rule of law is highly contingent and the point at which it ceases to be the dominant

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 147 regulatory force in democratic society is a matter of decision for the sovereign power. These insights owe much to the work of Giorgio Agamben and his attempts to apply aspects of the Schmitt/Benjamin debate to the contemporary operation of the ‘state of exception’. Agamben grounds his analysis of the state of exception in examples such as that of the Third Reich, which, he argues, implemented a twelve-year-long state of exception. But, even more worryingly, he identifies aspects of the same logic emerging in contemporary political developments. Thus, the major significance of the state of exception as the original structure in which law encompasses living beings by means of its own suspension emerges clearly in the ‘military order’ issued by the President of the United States on November 13, 2001, which authorized the ‘indefinite detention’ and trial by ‘military commissions’ (not to be confused with the military tribunals provided for by the laws of war) of noncitizens suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. (Agamben 2005: 3)

In this process we see the willingness of a democratic government to extricate itself from the usual standards and tenets of democracy.1 There is at least some realisation here of the incapacity of democracy to contain the forces that seek to disrupt it. And yet these developments are accompanied by a prevalent democratic piety which explains the supremacy of democracy in the principles of the rule of the law and the will of the people. This irony is lost on democratic zealots whose eulogisation of democracy blinds them to the inability of the system to provide sufficient ways of containing the unrest and dissatisfaction that often emerges from within. The need to proselytise the benefits of democracy goes hand in hand with increased evidence of the failure of democracy to meet the standards that are so immodestly attributed to it. Not only does this process undermine the democratic fabric that is eulogised by pious democratic advocates, but it undermines the individual rights that provide a major building block and justification of liberal democracies in particular. For Agamben, what is ‘new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnamable and unclassifiable being’ (Agamben 2005: 3). This development reaches its nadir in the shape of ‘the detainee at Guanta´namo, [where] bare life reaches it maximum indeterminacy’ (Agamben 2005: 4).2

148 Democratic Piety The crucial point here regarding the state of exception is that its true ramifications go much further than the mere suspension of democratic law. Defenders of the liberal democratic order point to the unusualness of the kinds of radical measures that have been adopted during the last few years. Thus, they view the state of exception whereby democratic practices are suspended as a blip that can be rectified as soon as the threat to the democratic order has passed and normal service can resume. For Agamben, however, the state of exception is much more significant insofar as it signifies a point at which the contingency of the rule of law becomes apparent. Thus, the ‘state of exception is not a special kind of law (like the law of war); rather, insofar as it is a suspension of the juridical order itself, it defines law’s threshold or limit concept’ (Agamben 2005: 4). Agamben’s primary contention here is that the temporary suspension of the rule of law amounts to anything but in practice. Instead, once different societies have pushed the rule of law to one side, once their sovereigns understand where the limits of the rule of law lie, then the possibilities for moving into the state of exception become much more widespread. Therefore, one of the main ‘characteristics of the state of exception – the provisional abolition of the distinction among legislative, executive, and judicial powers – here shows its tendency to become a lasting practice of government’ (Agamben 2005: 7). Moreover, even if a state of exception is not declared, the capacity of the sovereign to make this decision enables social control and induces a reluctance to express dissent against the prevailing order. After all, it is a brave individual that challenges the dominant order in the knowledge that the legal rights that supposedly characterise that order can be removed through the sovereign declaring a state of exception. Agamben points to a number of historical precedents for the longer-term institutionalisation of the state of exception in constitutional democracies. In the case of inter-war Germany, he contends that the state of exception during the Hindenburg presidency was justified by Schmitt on a constitutional level by the idea that the president acted as the ‘guardian of the constitution’ . . . but the end of the Weimar Republic clearly demonstrates that, on the contrary, a ‘protected democracy’ is not a democracy at all, and that the paradigm of constitutional dictatorship functions instead as a transitional phase that leads inevitably to the establishment of a totalitarian regime. (Agamben 2005: 15)

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 149 Similarly, in his analysis of the historical transition of Italian democracy, Agamben contends that, technically speaking, democracy in Italy has become executive rather than parliamentary. This is a process that he suggests is taking place in all Western liberal democracies, although at varying speeds and stages. Thus, at the same time as democracy is piously advocated as the most advanced and desirable system of government in the world today, its major liberal democratic adherents are involved in processes whereby standard democratic principles are in decline. Or, in Agamben’s words, at ‘ the very moment when it would like to give lessons in democracy to different traditions and cultures, the political culture of the West does not realize that it has entirely lost its canon’ (Agamben 2005: 18). The dangerous implications of the state of exception are even more significant when the nature of the sovereign decision over the state of exception is brought into the equation. Thus, it is not just that the limit conception of exception becomes more apparent to the sovereign and the inhabitants of democracies, it is that the basis on which to decide when that state of exception should apply is also problematic. Although democratic governments may try to quantify threats to the democratic order, the decision over the risks that democracies face are always subjective. Even if threats are readily apparent, the extent to which they endanger the democratic fabric is less obvious. It is ultimately a question of judgement, especially as democratic orders themselves may have eroded the democratic principles upon which they were founded. Therefore, it is erroneous to view the decision over the state of exception as an objective, rational decision. Instead, it is a subjective political decision, which may be manipulated for a variety of reasons by unscrupulous governments. It is for this reason that Agamben rejects simplistic approaches that view the decision over the state of exception as objective: This naı¨ve conception – which presupposes a pure factuality that the conception itself has called into question – is easily critiqued by those jurists who show that, far from occurring as an objective given, necessity clearly entails a subjective judgment, and that obviously the only circumstances that are necessary and objective are those that are declared to be so. (Agamben 2005: 30)

Not only is the sovereign enabled to make the decision about the state of exception, but it is also in a privileged position to articulate

150 Democratic Piety the potential threat that necessitates its declaration. This kind of privilege is evident in the manufacturing of sufficiently convincing evidence in the UK in the build up to the assault on Iraq. There is never an objective basis on which the decision over the state of exception can be established; instead, the decision always requires a calculation of political advantages and disadvantages that can only be carried out with binding authority by the sovereign power. Or, in Agamben’s words, not only ‘does necessity ultimately come down to a decision, but that on which it decides is, in truth, something undecidable in fact and law’ (Agamben 2005: 30). This undecidability over the condition demanding the implementation of the state of exception lends the concept and the sovereign decision-maker even greater power. Because the state of exception is a ‘floating signifier’ that looms in the background of all democratic governments in the world today, and because the sovereign is the only entity capable of deciding upon it, it assumes an all-encompassing threat to the democratic order. Thus, while ostensibly protecting the democratic order, the state of exception simultaneously throws a permanent shadow over it. It is in its inherent indeterminacy that the state of exception empowers democratic governments whilst simultaneously threatening the democratic order. It is a threat to the democratic order precisely because the capacity to suspend the established legal machinery does not openly equate to its eradication. After all, for democratic governments the state of exception is supposedly only operational in extreme and unusual circumstances. And yet, the ability to exercise sovereign power to open up spaces where the law does not apply threatens the principles of popular sovereignty and the rule of law that underpin most contemporary democratic theories. For Agamben, this is pivotal because the state of exception is a space ‘devoid of law’ – it is in the very non-operation of normal legal processes that sovereign power is most threatening. After all, if the state of exception is devoid of law, then the actions undertaken by the sovereign ‘are neither transgressive, executive, nor legislative’ and ‘seem to be situated in an absolute non-place with respect to the law’ (Agamben 2005: 51). An examination of the recent work of radical continental philosophers such as Badiou, Zˇizˇek and Agamben points to the contingency of the rule of law that is so pivotal to contemporary liberal democracy and the piety with which its adherents advocate its benefits and expansion. It is in the tactical use of discourses of terrorism and

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 151 violence that these democracies are able to use sovereignty and the force of law to undermine their own democratic credentials and the principles that they seek to export to non-democratic parts of the world. However, what requires further exposition is the way in which these sovereign powers, accompanied by the contingency of the rule of law, have enabled the hegemonic liberal democratic discourse of today to engage in a wide range of questionable activities that have a paradoxical relationship with the kinds of democratic ethics that supposedly underpin the systems of their perpetrators. It is to these activities that the last part of this chapter turns.

The Retreat from Democratic Ethics and the Irony of the ‘War on Terror’ While democracies in the world today have sought to differentiate themselves from non-democracies, or those perpetrating acts of violence or terrorism, the actions of democracies themselves have come under sharper focus in the early years of the twenty-first century. Undoubtedly, part of the reason for this is the forceful response of the United States and its allies to the 2001 attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, but increasing coverage has also drawn attention to the fact that many democracies have behaved in ways that seem counter-intuitive to the ethics of democracy. This is not to say, of course, that there is some unitary set of ethical positions that can or should be attached to all democracies; patently this is not the case and arguably neither it should be. Nonetheless, the discourse of democratic piety does present democracy as a paragon of virtue, as the system that – perhaps influenced by the liberal peace thesis – provides the greatest safeguards for its citizens and is much less likely to engage in activities leading to human rights violations and so forth. It may well be that democracies are less likely to perpetrate these kinds of activities but the behaviour of certain democracies in the last few years makes claims to any intrinsic link between ethical conduct and democracy much less tenable. At the very least, critics of democratic piety have been armed with a wide range of activities, such as torture and rendition, that make any claims of ethical purity difficult for democracies to maintain. Critics of the ‘war on terror’ have been quick to identify many examples to undermine claims of democratic ethics espoused by democracy’s adherents. For commentators such as Zˇizˇek, for

152 Democratic Piety instance, rendition is a practice whereby regimes with fewer safeguards and standards than the USA are used by that country as a way of finding out the information it requires. Thus, rather than attempting to attain information through established means and protocols, the US claims it is necessary to go beyond the democratic procedures and find cover in other jurisdictions with lower levels of democratic protection for those in custody. For Zˇizˇek, this is ‘how, today, First World democracy increasingly functions: by ‘‘outsourcing’’ its dirty underside to other countries’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 22). There is a great irony at work in processes such as rendition. The United States government champions democracy as the obverse of violence, terror and evil, and yet, when faced with the process of fighting these opponents it feels it necessary to move beyond that which it eulogises. Of course, this is all done in the name of protecting democracy from its enemies but it weakens the case for democracy amongst those who have not been converted, as well as embarrassing established democracies when this conduct is discovered. Ultimately, then, it damages the case for democracy in both hypothetical and real terms. It offers the nondemocratic world a flawed alternative, without modesty or humility. It fails to recognise its limitations whilst proselytising its virtues to people who can see the evidence to the contrary in front of them. This ironic deception – perhaps a self-deception – also feeds into the relationship between the United States and its non-democratic friends and supporters (Brown 2005). Zˇizˇek points out that the US has a profound interest in shoring up non-democratic regimes such as those in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where they are sympathetic to American hegemony. This situation is beneficial for the US because, as Zˇizˇek points out, democracy in these places would likely give rise to Islamic nationalism and greater resistance to the USA. This, then, is the great irony of Iraq, given that Saddam’s regime was secular in practice. When he was of political use to the USA, he was their model of an ally in an Arab state, providing a secular buffer against the rise of Islam. However, it was his aggression towards Kuwait in the early 1990s, rather than the earlier actions perpetrated against his internal political opponents, that provided the final straw for the US. Moreover, the unwillingness to push for regime change and challenge Saddam’s rule in the first Gulf War – dubious as such a process of ‘democratisation’ would have been – provided the inspiration for the current engagement in Iraq under the auspices of the ‘war on terror’. Thus, the current campaign has very little to do with implementing democracy

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 153 and is much more concerned with the shoring up of American economic and political interests in the region. There is a further irony here. Given the nature of the American campaign in the Middle East, in the long run it is likely that democracy there would likely give rise to stronger forces of Islam than America wants to countenance in the region. Remarkably, then, it may well be in America’s best interests that democracy does not become entrenched in the Middle East, as that may provide even greater opposition in the future than is currently the case. What the United States requires more than anything else in the Middle East – and in global politics more generally – is stability and greater protection for its economic interests. This is just as likely to be provided by non-democratic friends who are not as susceptible to the winds of political change and the possibility of electoral removal as democratic allies. Of course, this begs the question of why the US and its allies are conducting the ‘war on terror’ in the name of democracy. The only credible answer is that democracy is a cipher that is used to disguise more blatant self-interest, the expression of which may lead to greater unrest at home and abroad. The last irony here is that, in the name of spreading democracy in the Middle East, the Coalition of the Willing is sowing the seeds of future unrest and upheaval that will endanger rather than reinforce the primary objective of the United States, namely stability for economic interests. This is a theme also taken up by Zˇizˇek in his discussion of contemporary discourses of evil. These discourses form around the great threat that evil supposedly poses for the upstanding and democratic. As a result, any threat to the established democratic order is castigated as evil as a way of warding off political upheaval and instability. It is these rare but significant challenges to the dominant order that thinkers as diverse as Badiou, Rancie`re and Zˇizˇek see as the key moments of politics, and yet the language of evil is frequently employed to prevent these political moments from gaining currency. Thus, nowhere is ‘today’s resistance to the political act proper more palpable than in the obsession with ‘‘radical Evil’’, the negative of the act. It is as if the supreme Good today is that nothing should really happen, which is why the only way we can imagine an act is in the guise of a catastrophic disturbance, a traumatic explosion of Evil’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 74–5). The key problem this identifies is the fetishisation of the prevailing order – what is – and a lack of political vision to look beyond established parameters.

154 Democratic Piety Of course, this militates against acts that move towards different ends to those that prevail and shores up the unassailable perception of what is as the most desirable state of affairs. It indicates a lack of imagination and vision, for sure, but it also has profound political ramifications. It assists the understanding of evil as that which upsets the dominant order when in fact that may be a completely defensible political act or something that might improve the political order in any given society. For Zˇizˇek, this entails an unpacking of the notion of evil to move discussion beyond the conventional shorthand that uses it to discredit any disruptive activity. To this end, he identifies four types of evil that can be identified in politics (he notes that there are potentially others that are not necessarily put to political ends): . . . .

totalitarian idealistic evil, such as revolutionary terror; authoritarian evil for no other reason beyond attaining or maintaining power; terrorist fundamental evil, which aims to cause considerable damage; Arendtian banal evil used by bureaucratic structures.

The point here is that evil is a much more complex phenomenon than it frequently appears in contemporary political discourse. And just as evil may take on many forms, so too may visions of the good and conceptions of democracy. Thus, the simplistic distinction between democratic ethics and those of perpetrators of evil draws attention away from the complexity of these political issues. This is the major failing of democratic piety; in elevating democracy beyond the course of run-of-the-mill political analysis and critique, its advocates lose sight of the multiplicity of forms it takes and their proximity to or distance from conceptions of evil. It is worth reiterating, then, that the critique of democratic piety in this book is not designed to attempt to fatally undermine democratic politics. In fact, its goal is the opposite: to open our eyes to the limitations of democracy as a panacea for evil and terrorism in order to develop a more sustainable conception of democracy and the benefits that it might bring. Idealistic models of democracy that seek to excuse its excesses and ignore the paradoxes and contradictions that are invoked in democracy’s name are the primary target here. Democratic piety then is an excellent example of what Zˇizˇek argues

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 155 is a form of ‘liberal blackmail of dismissing every radical political act as evil that one should thoroughly reject’ (2004a: 79). This neglects the potential for unsettling, disruptive acts that could improve the fabric of democratic societies to emanate from outside the established parameters of liberal democracy. Thus: the awareness that politics is a complex game in which a certain level of institutional alienation is irreducible should not lead us to ignore the fact that there is still a line of separation which divides those who are ‘in’ from those who are ‘out’, excluded from the space of the polis – there are citizens, and then there is the spectre of the excluded Homo sacer haunting them all. In other words, even ‘complex’ contemporary societies still rely on the basic divide between included and excluded. (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 86)

In light of this, it is important for analysts of democracy to retain notions of the capacity of democracies for dynamic change. Despite the primacy of uncritical discourses of democracy, Zˇizˇek is clear that an ‘authentic political act can be, in terms of its form, a democratic one as well as a non-democratic one’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 87). The moments of these democratic authentic political acts are certainly rare but that should not preclude political theorists from evaluating their possibility, especially as it can be difficult to predict where they will take place in conditions of complexity. That said, it is also important to remember Zˇizˇek’s argument that non-democratic acts can also be authentically political. In this sense, the juxtaposition of democracy and terrorism or political violence is ethically untenable when we consider the origins of democracies and the ways in which they have frequently engaged in activities that seem incompatible with the kinds of ethical standards they purport to uphold. The ethical contradictions that emerge from pious democratic discourses on violence are not only noted by radical theorists but are also apparent in the work of inveterate defenders of democratic processes, such as Honderich. He contends that ‘No doubt there are times, even many times, when the right thing to do is to negotiate. It is inconceivable that it is never right to do otherwise, never right to be violent’ (Honderich 2006: 8). This exposes a democratic ethics that hides its actual nature behind a fac¸ade of pious simplicity about good and evil, or politics and terrorism. The great danger of such ethical simplicity lies in its elision of the right and the prevailing law. In so

156 Democratic Piety doing, it serves to depoliticise the origins of the law and therefore potential political strategies for challenging legal structures: Patently there is an entire distinction between what is right and what is legal, a gulf . . . What is actually right, patently, is not itself what has been made into law by someone or come to be law as a result of increments of decisions, precedents or pressures . . . We simply do not mean, in saying something is right, just that is the law of the land, or of lands . . . Judgements and agreements as to what is right are prior to and give rise to law, and are the stuff of arguments for and against existing laws, and are what changes those laws. (Honderich 2006: 9)

Ultimately, though, Honderich retreats into an ethical stance that bears a clear liberal imprint. This would not be so problematic were it not couched in terms of a singular rationality that implies that when we grapple with divisive ethical and political issues, there are certain universals that can provide a sound basis for decision-making. As noted in Chapter 3, such certainty about universal rationalism can close down space for political disagreement and serve the same purpose as democratic piety. Thus, the argument in this book resists the kind of singular principle invoked by Honderich in putting forward the ‘principle of humanity’ as the guiding motif of ethical decision-making, a principle that suggests that the right or justified thing as distinct from others – the right action, practice, institution, government, society or possible world – is the one that according to the best judgement and information is the rational one in the sense of being effective and not self-defeating with respect to the end of getting and keeping people out of bad lives. (Honderich 2006: 61, emphasis in the original)

While this definition accepts that political actions and decisions can never be taken from a position of absolute certainty, it still reverts to a notion of a singular rationality at any given point of time as the way of adjudicating the appropriate course of behaviour. While, of course, it is always necessary to make judgements in issues of political import, this does not entail the existence of a singular rationality that only needs to be discovered. Instead, there is a need to recognise the multiplicity of rational viewpoints, and the fact that what is deemed most appropriate or not in a particular instance will derive from the kinds of objectives that need to be met. To decide the objectives in

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 157 advance is to dictate the path of rationality and to prejudge it in such a way that alternative rationalities will be marginalised. In Honderich’s case, his definition of good and bad lives leads to a very specific conception of what is rational. This issue also emerges when he discusses the way in which we might frame violence in relation to the principle of humanity. Whilst noting that the latter is against terrorism and war, he argues that, ‘like all such policies rightly called realistic, it cannot be an absolute or completely general prohibition. Like all of them, it accommodates some possibility of justified war. Like fewer alternative policies . . . it can contemplate the possibility of justified action that falls under the name of terrorism’ (Honderich 2006: 65). Here it seems clear that Honderich wants to make a judgement between acceptable and unacceptable wars and violence and yet there appears to be little engagement with the idea that, such is the contention around these questions, agreement on acceptability and unacceptability is highly unlikely. Depending on the calculus employed to make this particular judgement, the answers may be more or less clear; it must also be recognised that the calculus is as likely to be controversial as the means of achieving the actual decision itself. Thus, deciding on the appropriate nature of different courses of action frequently depends upon the end to which they are put, especially in areas of controversial ethical dispute. Honderich recognises this in refusing to rule out violence or war in any situation. However, he should also recognise that the decision regarding where they are and are not appropriate is highly subjective. This being the case, it is highly problematic to return to the idea of a singular rationality as a means of adjudicating on this decision. Ultimately, then, despite his awareness of the need for critical interpretations of contemporary discourses of democracy, Honderich’s return to the ‘principle of humanity’ as the overarching guide in ethical dilemmas binds him to overly rationalist accounts of the problems facing modern democratic theory and practice. Indeed, his concern for the ‘principle of humanity’ is explicitly coupled with the argument for ‘a good democracy’: The first way to ensure the moral rights of those with bad lives is to give them equal voices. Another way is for them to claim their moral rights by themselves making their voices heard. What they must have is the same hearing as the rest of us, or rather some of the rest of us. Any

158 Democratic Piety practice of equality that serves that intermediate or instrumental goal, an advance in democracy, must be something that serves humanity. (Honderich 2006: 66)

While some may contend that these are noble sentiments, they fly in the face of Zˇizˇek’s contention that democracies are always and by definition exclusionary. Honderich establishes an unproven link between healthy democracy and the good of humanity, despite being fully aware and critical of the harmful actions against humanity in the world perpetrated in the name of protecting or promoting democracy. It is precisely the fact that the benefits of democracy are not understood or championed in the same way around the world that makes it a contentious system. It is not sufficient to simply say that unpalatable activities carried out by democracies are undemocratic when the mounting evidence suggests that the propensity to behave undemocratically is characteristic of all democracies. It is precisely for this reason that democratic piety must be challenged. Honderich goes some way down this road but fails to develop his argument to the more radical extent evident in the work of theorists such as Zˇizˇek and Agamben. There does not have to exist a fully formed alternative model to democracy in order for us to make the case that there should be much greater comprehension of democracy’s limitations and weaknesses. Such an understanding is what helps to prevent the dominance of mere assumptions that democracy can give rise to a universal rationality that enhances the ‘principle of humanity’ particularly on complex ethical terrain.3

Conclusion This chapter has examined and exposed the inconsistencies between pious democratic discourses and their intrinsic rejection of violence as a political strategy. As such, many democratic discourses labour under the misconception that a clear distinction can be drawn between the kinds of violence perpetrated by democracies and that conducted by ‘terrorists’. There may well be instances where such distinctions can be made but to construct democracy as the antithesis of violence and/or terrorism is blatantly misleading. It ignores the violent origins of many democracies and the fact that the pursuit of democracy is what, rightly or wrongly, drives many activists derided as terrorists to act. Whilst democratic piety might be assisted by the viewing of political violence as purely evil or the work of lunatics, the

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 159 reality is much more complex. Indeed, as Honderich notes, ‘some terrorism, including Palestinian terrorism, actually has the goal of nothing other than democracy. It is aimed at getting democratic selfgovernment in a homeland. There is reason to call it democratic terrorism’ (Honderich 2006: 57). It takes nothing away from opposition to particular acts to recognise that, in many cases, democracy and violence derided as terrorist are intrinsically linked. Instead of recognising the limitations of democracy – and in so doing, starting to develop more sophisticated analyses of the concept – democratic piety will hear of no challenge to its imperious dominance over contemporary political discourse. As noted above, this creates a range of ironic outcomes that undermine the hegemonic position that democratic discourse has established and the pious advocacy of democracy as the most developed form of political organisation. This is a contradiction that points to considerable conflict and upheaval in the future. Indeed, Zˇizˇek refers to this as the ‘inherent crisis of democracy’ and argues that it is part of a process that has brought about the resurgence of interest in the work of Leo Strauss. Elitists such as Strauss promoted the ‘noble lie’ to protect the established structure of society and to obscure the actual nature of political problems from the masses. The issue here for democratic piety is that, as Zˇizˇek and Strauss recognise, the noble lie is designed to not only deceive the masses of society, but it is also self-perpetuating in that it prevents the elite from divulging the truth. Thus, for Strauss, ‘the unbearable esoteric secret is the fact that there is no God and no immortal soul, no divine justice; that there is only this terrestrial world, with no deeper meaning and no guarantee of a happy outcome of ethical struggles’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 169). The irony here lies with neo-conservatives who have built on the work of Strauss to justify their project: ‘his message is embarrassing and basically unacceptable to American neoconservatives who will never publicly state that there is no God and eternal justice, that they really do not believe in all these things’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 171).4 Elsewhere Zˇizˇek (2004b) develops these ideas in order to demonstrate the nature of these contradictions for contemporary democratic politics. Like Rancie`re, he characterises modern democratic politics as an emaciated space in which political disruption is purposely marginalised. This bastardises contemporary understandings of democracy by distancing it from notions of rule by the people and equating it with the narrower field of formal parliamentary procedures, the

160 Democratic Piety operation of the law and so forth. This is ironic for democratic piety because ‘the basic aim of antidemocratic politics always – and by definition – is and was depoliticization’ (Zˇizˇek 2004b: 70). Paradoxically, then, in limiting the field of political interaction and marginalising disruptive, unsettling challenges to the prevailing order, democratic piety carries out the de-politicising project that has traditionally been characteristic of anti-democratic politics. Democratic piety masquerades as the defence of democracy whilst simultaneously eating away at the fabric of democratic life. This paradox takes on many forms but Zˇizˇek draws attention to the way in which de-politicisation is manifest in the communitarian turn in modern politics, the Habermasian/Rawlsian attempt to police appropriate political conduct and the ‘truth’ of Marxian meta-politics. More significantly, though, he adds another valuable argument in pointing to the way in which the rush to violent force as a way of ‘resolving conflict’ has superseded the realisation of the inherent role of conflict in the political (and indeed the democratic) condition: the most cunning and radical version of this disavowal is ultrapolitics, the attempt to depoliticize conflict by way of bringing it to an extreme via the direct militarization of politics: the ‘‘foreclosed’’ political returns in the real, in the guise of the attempt to resolve the deadlock of political conflict, of me´sentente, by its false radicalization, i.e. by way of reformulating it as a war between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, our Enemy, where there is no common ground for symbolic conflict. (Zˇizˇek 2004b: 71)

This provides a new dimension to our understanding of contemporary democratic politics. Not only does democracy comprise a limitation of the space of politics and a policing of the democratic order, but it is also increasingly characterised by a radical turn to overt force perpetrated by those who purport to defend democracy from the externalised Other. That this Other may be fabricated is irrelevant to democratic piety, designed as it is to stabilise the dominant order rather than to enhance genuinely democratic political relations. The threat posed by an anti-democratic Other justifies the resort to antidemocratic action on the part of the liberal democratic state. What we are witnessing, then, is not a protection of democracy under the auspices of democratic piety; instead, as Rancie`re makes clear, the masquerade of democratic piety actually disguises the emergence and institutionalisation of hatred of democracy (Rancie`re 2006).

Terrorism, Violence and the Ethics of Democracy 161

Notes 1. In the early part of 2007, the wrangling over the continued detention of David Hicks in Guanta`namo Bay reached new levels. Eventually, in early March he was charged with an offence that was only created after he had allegedly committed it under a jurisdiction with much less legal protection than American courts or the American constitution would allow. Although there are other instances where retrospective laws have been employed in liberal democracies less controversially (for example, in trying war criminals), a general principle of democratic law is not to legislate retrospectively in this way. Indeed, the American constitution does not permit ex post facto laws. Once again, the distinction between the democratic values that are promoted by democracy’s proselytisers and the actual practice of established democracies is made clear. 2. See Agamben (1998) for a fuller discussion of the meaning of ‘bare life’. 3. For a further example of how ethical issues such as torture can be countenanced in liberal democratic politics, see Ignatieff (2004) and, in particular, the debate between Steven Lukes (2006) and Geoffrey Brahm Levey (2007). 4. The point here is the distinction between the secret lie and the public truth, a distinction that pertains to democratic piety: This is where the liberal paranoia about the neo-Straussian conspiracy of the ideological group controlling the Bush administration falls short. If anything, the Straussian neocons bring out the implicit paradox of Strauss’s teachings: they bring into public view the difference between the public lie and the secret truth. (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 172)

Conclusion: The Constitutive Failure of Democracy

The argument in this book has suggested that democratic theory and practice needs to be reconsidered in order to accommodate the shifting meanings of democracy in contemporary politics and the spaces that have opened up between democratic aspirations and the actual operation of democratic societies. In particular, the tendency to view democratic political organisation as a given whereby everyone understands and agrees upon the types of mechanisms that are required to enable democratic societies to function must be analysed. The first major contention here is that an approach powered by the insights of complexity theory acts to deepen understanding against these forms of simplistic, unsophisticated universalism. The idea of complexity can equip democratic theorists with the wherewithal to challenge these interpretations of democracy that try to protect it from thorough, critical conceptual analysis. The second major contention in this work is that the insights of complexity theory help to shed light not only on the inherent relationship between democracy and conflict – something that most democratic theorists recognise to one degree or another – but also on the increased blurring of this fundamental relationship in contemporary political discourse. An alternative stance, based on the work of political thinkers such as Benjamin, Schmitt and, more recently, Agamben and Zˇizˇek, asserts the centrality of this link with particular focus on the deep-seated ways in which discourses of democracy are and have been intertwined with the language and practise of violence. The question that remains, then, is that of the implications of these theories of complexity, conflict and violence for contemporary discourses of democracy. The path to addressing the question of implications is not, however, a straightforward one. There are many obstacles that stand in the way

164 Democratic Piety of sustained critical analysis of contemporary democratic discourse, not the least of which is the hegemonic position that the idea of democracy has attained in modern politics. This does not make it unassailable, of course, but it does suggest that the influence of and support for unsophisticated notions of democracy is such that it is difficult to penetrate the protective barriers that have been established around it. In some ways, democracy has become a pre-eminent Master-Signifier such that attempts to deconstruct and disrupt the conceptual underpinnings of the idea face implacable opposition at every turn. To a degree, then, the discourse of democracy has become more than the sum of its parts: it has become an article of faith. The term faith is used knowingly here. Democracy is not merely promoted in the global political environment on the basis of its record. After all, taken out of a relative comparison with other political systems, there would be much to blight the record of democracies in meeting goals such as ensuring equality or guaranteeing universal human rights. What characterises the contemporary political era is the promotion of democracy as something we should believe in even if it has not delivered on all the promises its advocates make on its behalf. We should have faith that democracy is better equipped than other systems to meet the lofty demands we make of it and that, even where democracies err, things would be much worse under other types of regimes. This may or may not be true but it serves to sustain democratic discourses as somehow beyond the reach of critical commentary. It reinforces the hegemony of democracy and makes it difficult to mount serious challenges to the workings of democracy in contemporary practice. The final contention of this book, then, goes a step further than the identification of democratic faith. It suggests that the discourse of democracy is sustained by faith, of course, but that there is nothing inherently new about this. However, in recent years the omnipotent position of democracy has come to be sustained by the increasingly pious behaviour of its advocates. This democratic piety abhors the complexification of political analysis and renounces attempts to clarify and highlight the relationship between democracy and violence. It supports the position of democracy as the political concept par eminence, even if what is done in the name of democracy appears increasingly distant from its theoretical inheritance. It protects political actors from proper scrutiny of their activities and sustains these activities even when they seem in open contradiction of democratic

Conclusion 165 intuitions. Democratic piety goes beyond democratic faith insofar as it suggests that zealots of democracy have consciously taken leave of their critical sensibilities. It is no longer just a matter of having faith that democracy will prevail and that it will bring greater benefits to humanity than would otherwise be the case if it were not pursued. Instead, with democratic piety, democracy becomes an end in itself, no matter how bastardised the form that emerges from its pursuit or the ‘emptiness’ of its conceptualisation. The pious will brook no criticism of their idol and will justify the use of any number of dubious means to achieve their objectives. Those objectives are not clear, beyond the expansion of democracy itself; but with democratic piety, the ends justify the means, no matter how undemocratic the means or how ill-defined the ends. Democratic piety shores up democracy as a sacrosanct political concept and in so doing draws attention away from the increasing distance between democratic practice today and the origins of the concept in political theory. In noting similar tendencies, Michael Mann contends that democracy has become ‘a sacred term, at least in the realm of public discourse, responsible only for good things . . . So, anyone who points out in public the dark side of democracy receives much flak and gets labelled a demo-skeptic’ (Mann 2006: 292). What becomes apparent here is the way in which the term democracy itself becomes a buffer against critical interrogation. By hiding behind the ubiquitous discourse of democracy, zealots protect themselves from proper investigation of their methods and their objectives. In so doing, the interpretation of democracy as some form of rule by the people gets lost and democracy comes to mean whatever its advocates want it to. The failure to disrupt and evaluate the concept of democracy certainly augments its hegemonic power but, as Rancie`re argues, it also weakens it because what masquerades as democratic piety today is actually a form of hatred of democracy.

Politics and the Significance of Political Language The lack of clear definition in terms of the promotion of democracy and the best means of achieving it serves the purposes of democratic piety. Because the precise meaning of democracy is never delineated beyond basic principles and vague aspirations, democratic piety is able to eulogise the benefits of democracy as if there were universal agreement about exactly what it entails. Because these basic principles

166 Democratic Piety – such as the vote, political equality, the rule of law, and so forth – can appear in a multiplicity of forms, their advocacy alone is not particularly informative. It is here that the analysis of political language is paramount in demonstrating the covert meanings, interpretations and presuppositions that are being promoted in the articulation of a particular political discourse. This is particularly important in the case of democratic piety, where an ill-defined concept is employed to disempower critique of the prevailing political order. This is an example of what Freeden calls ‘simulated decontestation’, whereby ‘the semblance of decontestation is created by ambiguity and vagueness’ (Freeden 2005: 121). From this perspective, pious discourses of democracy promise almost nothing tangible in the world today, except ambiguous notions of the propriety of Western liberalism, and can actually contribute to the generation of political unrest and conflict. There is, then, a double bind at work in democratic piety: on the one hand, it gives rise to ambitious, unrealistic claims about the benefits of democracy that are unlikely to come to fruition; on the other, it generates increasing unrest because of its inability to achieve the high aims it promotes. Moreover, as Freeden makes clear, this effect is no accident, as political language is used quite purposively in such arguments: although the general public may see them as confirmation of the bad name given to politics, their elusiveness is not simply dissimulaton, trickery or slack thinking – though it may be any of these – but often the deliberate harnessing of political language in order to achieve one of the main ends of politics, quite apart from being an existential feature of political language. (Freeden 2005: 122)

This suggests that not only is vagueness symptomatic of many political arguments, even those of significant rhetorical power, but it may be one of the few ways of actually getting people to throw their support behind political initiatives. The ‘simulated decontestation’ identifiable in democratic piety is articulated in such a way as to encourage more people to support measures and objectives that are ill-defined and consequently unreachable. What emerges from Freeden’s analysis is a clearer understanding of the way in which the terms and concepts that are employed in political discourse can be used to obscure the actual objectives of political actors. Specific terms can, either knowingly or unknowingly, be used

Conclusion 167 to serve certain purposes and this insight can be applied to the idea of democracy that appears so elusively and ambiguously in pious democratic discourses. It is for just this reason that it is important to reassert the primacy of analysing political language in order to evaluate the precise implications of specific discourses and to unveil the presuppositions and assumptions underpinning them. As Vollrath points out: It is by a careful examination of political vocabulary, by scrutinizing the semantics of politics, that the theorist can gain access to that manner in which the political, all political phenomena and the political modality and quality of these phenomena, are perceived within a given culture. (Vollrath 1987: 19)

This is a seminal point for the argument in this book and it owes much to the insights of Paul Ricoeur in demonstrating the paradoxes of power that are at work in the construction of political meaning. These paradoxes give rise to perceptions of rationality and irrationality in political discourse and help to sustain the dualism between what is and is not rational thought or a rational course of action in a certain state of affairs. Thus, ‘techniques change, human relationships evolve depending upon things, and yet power unveils the same paradox, that of a twofold progress in rationality and in possibilities for perversion’ (Ricoeur 1965: 248). The implications of this are that political analysts must seek to deconstruct the political language and rationalities that are employed in different situations. In this vein, what appears to be ‘the’ rational course of action in a given event will depend to a great extent on the understanding of that event and the prevailing explanation of its causes and implications. As such, what is perceived to be rational relates directly to the interpretation of what is at play in a certain situation. Following Ricoeur, any such decision on ‘the’ rational course of action will give rise to a number of other ‘irrationalities’. The decision – which is always necessary to take political action – relies upon an interpretation between what is rational and irrational that may or may not be well grounded. Thus, the ‘paradox of politics emerges by virtue of the fact that concord is always crisscrossed and contested by particular strategies and the need for concretely binding, though necessarily partisan, policies’ (Dallmayr 1993: 183). As such, the spaces of politics and reason are always contingent and contentious, given their openness to numerous

168 Democratic Piety interpretations. This argument unsettles the certainty and simplification that is part and parcel of pious democratic discourses. At this point, it is worth returning to the work of Jacques Rancie`re in order to augment the discussion of the centrality of language to political analysis and to draw out the links with the theorisation of democracy. Rancie`re’s contention that contemporary conceptions of politics have been confused with the function of policing the political order is intimately bound up with the division between what is deemed sayable and unsayable in appropriate political discourse. This is the ‘distribution of the sensible’, which is constantly being reconfigured in political societies but always includes the exclusion of some. It is often through the use of language that polities police the boundaries of the political order. This feeds into an understanding of the inevitable failure of democratic politics: a politics in which equality and emancipation can never be fully realised; a system called democracy that can never be wholly democratic. Language is pivotal here because it enables societies to make sense of the extent to which they might meet the challenges of democracy. Unlike Jean-Franc¸ois Lyotard, who has a primary focus on discursive misunderstandings (Rockhill 2004), Rancie`re is more interested in the more robust conflict between ideas that are capable of being understood perfectly well by either side of a political argument. Disagreement is not a matter of simple misunderstanding, it is a clash of arguments that understand different things by the same concept: disagreement is neither a misunderstanding nor a general lack of comprehension. It is a conflict over what is meant by ‘to speak’ and over the very distribution of the sensible that delimits the horizons of the sayable and determines the relationship between seeing, hearing, doing, making, and thinking. In other words, disagreement is less a clash between heterogeneous phrase regimens or genres of discourse than a conflict between a given distribution of the sensible and what remains outside it. (Rockhill 2004: 4)

The problem for democracy, then, is not just a matter of resolving a conflict of discursive modalities and ways of speaking. Instead, for Rancie`re, it is always about where the line is drawn between the acceptable and unacceptable. As such, Rancie`re’s position revolves around the political problem of the precise locus of the distribution of the sensible rather than merely identifying linguistic confusion as a

Conclusion 169 feature of the democratic polity. The importance of political language in this argument therefore revolves around the extent to which it is used overtly or covertly to police the political order. The inevitability of this policing function raises the question of whether it is credible for critical political theorists to seek to radicalise their understanding of democracy, or, more fundamentally, whether the process of bastardising democracy has gone so far that some kind of alternative must now be sought.

Rejecting or Radicalising Democracy? The strident critique of democratic piety constructed here certainly generates questions regarding the capacity for redemption of the concept of democracy. The extent to which it has been hijacked by those with potentially undemocratic objectives at heart suggests that such a process of redemption faces many obstacles. Moreover, the popular and intellectual linkages between democracy and discourses of non-violence serves to cloud the extent to which such a process of conceptual reconstruction is necessary. What should be clear, then, is that a process of redeeming democracy and developing a suitably radical variation of democratic theory contains many pitfalls. This being the case, perhaps what needs to be asked is whether an alternative model of governance is needed to meet the requirements of contemporary politics. Whilst recognising the temptations of such an approach, the argument in this book suggests that an outright rejection of democratic politics would be precipitate. Instead, what is required is a theory based on some of the insights of radical democracy but which takes on board the inevitability of the failure of democracy to meet some of the ambitious objectives that have been established for it. This ‘constitutive failure’, as I will argue at the end of this section, is perhaps the most useful way to conceive of democracy in contemporary politics. Many of the most vociferous critics of aspects of democratic piety discussed in this book remained wedded to somewhat idealised visions of what democracy can achieve in contemporary politics. For example, Honderich makes clear his opposition to unsophisticated accounts of democracy but retains a faith in the concept to attain its advocates’ objectives if only it is pursued in a more ‘genuine’ fashion. Thus, he notes that many of the assumptions of democracy – liberty, equality, rights and so on – should be subject to much closer

170 Democratic Piety political scrutiny in order to demonstrate their limitations and to clarify why the distinction between the ‘benefits’ of democracy and the ‘failings’ of violence are not so clear cut. For Honderich, democracies do not deliver on these distinctive promises; they are democracies of ‘gross inequality’. However, he retains a faith in the promises of democracy if only it was improved and less shrouded by superficial premises and uncritical reflection. In this vein, he contends that liberty and equality are not involved in a paradoxical relationship, as theorists such as Chantal Mouffe would suggest (Mouffe 2000), but that instead, for freedom to be meaningful, it needs to distributed relatively equally (Honderich 2006: 52). However, Honderich is not clear about how this combination of liberty and equality can be achieved beyond retaining a faith in democracy to be able to balance competing demands. It is remarkable that, despite his awareness of the limitations of democracy and his critique of some of the key liberal justifications for it, Honderich has the capacity to assume so blithely that democracy is able to resolve these conundrums. It is as if he is unable to follow through with his critique to the point of asking whether democracy itself will inevitably fail to prosper. Given the vitriol with which he chastises the operation of liberal democracies in the war on terror, it is all the more disquieting that he retains his democratic faith. But this is the tendency that this book has sought to identify: that is, the way in which pious discourses of democracy have become pre-eminent to the extent that it is almost sacreligious to criticise democracy’s position as the dominant motif for contemporary Western governance. Such is the power of its pious advocacy that even critics of democracy stand back from challenging it as a political model. More significant, however, is the growing impact of democratic piety on some of the more critical authors in contemporary democratic theory. For example, Wendy Brown (2005), in an otherwise spirited and persuasive analysis of the failings of contemporary liberal democracy to deal with the issue of terrorism, is reluctant to challenge the system of democracy per se. She invokes the theme of timeliness to argue that what ‘renders terrorist violence as power is its inevitable, anticipated, yet random arrival, its capacity to disrupt and destroy everyday life any time and any place. Because terrorism has no regular time or place, we are made fearful less by actual terrorist events than by the specter of terrorism, a specter that works through incalculability’ (Brown 2005: 10). But this capacity to disrupt and destroy

Conclusion 171 everyday life is not the preserve of terrorism. Historically, it is reflected in the actions of democratically elected governments and experienced by a range of opponents the world over. This is not to say that we simply equate the actions of Western liberal democracies with those of ‘terrorists’ but instead to recognise that the reaction to terrorism in the West that Brown identifies is not particular to the West. What Brown’s comment suggests is an interest in rescuing democracy from the activities currently perpetrated in its name by politicians such as George W. Bush. She wants to open up the space between democracy as it appears on the world stage in the ‘war on terror’ and democracy as it could be if only it was organised in less hierarchical terms than is currently the case in liberal democracies. The serious question of whether democracy can be or needs to be rescued is never really posed. Brown links her perspective with Zˇizˇek’s ideas in The Sublime Object of Ideology, where he differentiates between imaginary and symbolic forms of identification. Where ‘imaginary identification is identification with the objects in an image, symbolic identification involves identification with the gaze that produces the image, and thus is not only socially located elsewhere from the depicted objects, but may be animated and organized by very different desires and social forces’ (Brown 2005: 32). This differentiation is significant because it enables a difference to be constructed between patriotic forms of imaginary identification – for example with flags, anthems, a particular way of life, aspects of a political system, and so forth – and more symbolic forms of identification that involve sympathy with specific views in which the Other is identified as problematic or a threat. As Brown implies, the symbolic identification is with the power associated with a particular institution or view of the world. This differentiation is significant because it enables radicals to reclaim the symbols of the dominant order – symbols of democracy, or the ‘real’ United States, or anything else that might have been hijacked by the powers-that-be to serve ulterior motives. It enables radicals to identify with the social and political entities and to argue that things would be better if only we were able to reclaim those entities from those that bastardise them. It lets the radical theorist imagine how things might be, if only people could imagine what a proper liberal democracy or an emancipated America might look like.1 Brown puts this clearly when she argues for the possibility of forms of political loyalty comprising ‘a love of country oriented toward a

172 Democratic Piety thoughtful and empowered rather than passive citizenry, a love of democratic traditions and practices rather than nation-state power’ (Brown 2005: 36). In terms of radical democratic theory, the main way of approaching this argument is to follow the kind of logic employed by Brown. Typically, radical democrats will contend that there is a vital difference between critically engaging with but defending democracy as something we value and the more imposing reasoning that supposes that the best defence of democracy is one that castigates as somehow deficient societies that do not embrace democratic governance. Radical democrats have been vociferous critics of the smug superiority that has characterised the recent political and military campaigns of the Coalition of the Willing, which, when faced with a perceived threat, is never slow to emphasise the supremacy of ‘our’ democratic model. In the aftermath of the Iraq War (or its continuation, depending on your viewpoint), this is taken a stage further as the coalition forces attempt to impose a form of democracy on another country as if it is a simple solution to the ills that give rise to the perceived threat. Once again, the potential of democracy to enshrine and exacerbate existing social divisions is never countenanced in the West, as if such a recognition would be a fatal blow to the credibility of a politicalmilitary campaign that lost most of any such credibility that existed a long time ago. Thus, the coalition purposely avoids the question of whether the pursuit of democracy is part of the problem, lest such an understanding might preclude it from being part of a potential transformation of the situation. Of course, asking such a question would be a recognition of political complexity and contingency that has no place in the pious advocacy of democracy. It is clear from this argument that the influence of democratic piety runs deep and inflects the arguments of even those critical theorists of liberal democracy whom one might expect to be articulating radical perspectives on these questions. In the case of Brown, for example, there is a need to envisage dissent and critique as a form of love for the democratic system rather than as a threat. The benefit of such an approach might be to preclude Western politicians from uncritically trying to export an amorphous concept of democracy as a clear-cut universal form of government that guards against ‘evil’.2 However, this raises a number of much more critical questions regarding the concept of democracy. Why is there perceived to be a need for patriotic identification? Why should we feel allegiance to a

Conclusion 173 nation-state or, indeed, a political system? Why must critique be grounded in love for a system or nation? One answer to these questions – perhaps too simple an answer, in the case of Brown – is to suggest that even radical democratic theorists feel the need to frame arguments in terms that are palatable to a post-9/11 America. Perhaps being a critic of Western liberal democracy itself, rather than merely challenging its political leaders, is too substantial a cross to bear for many contemporary theorists of democracy. It is possible, then, that being a critic of democracy is an ‘uninhabitable identification’ in the context of the hegemony of democracy piety. As Michael Mann hints, democracy itself becomes sacrosanct.3 The argument in this book plots a slightly different course to that established by radical democrats but recognises that there are important reasons why critical theorists might want to radicalise democracy rather than reject it altogether. The reason lies not in patriotism or other kinds of identificatory attachment, as in Brown’s thesis, but rests instead on a different interpretation of the nature of democracy.4 What some theorists see as a problem – that is, the enduring failure of democracy to meet its professed objectives in achieving consensus or, less ambitiously, bringing together large, disparate groups of people together in relative harmony – is instead something that might be embraced. Thus, for example, where Mann argues that it is ‘the collectivity involved in democracy that is the problem – the people’ (2006: 290), commentators such as Rancie`re see the contention emerging out of this collective ‘problem’ as the lifeblood of democracy. Democracy is, then, imbued with the difficulties of dealing with the collective and it is because of this that it regularly fails to provide answers to collective problems. But, rather than regarding this as a ‘problem’, perhaps it needs to be regarded as an unavoidable feature of the political organisation of democratic societies, something with which they must permanently grapple without reaching a definitive solution to the issue. Maybe, then, the attempt to resolve the problems of democracy in a conclusive manner runs counter to the very contestatory nature of democracy that theorists like Rancie`re want to celebrate.

Conclusion: The ‘Constitutive Failure’ of Democracy Ultimately, the pious advocacy of democracy creates many more problems than it resolves. Not only does democracy regularly fail

174 Democratic Piety to reach the heights of political accommodation that supposedly characterise its capacity as the best form of collective political organisation, but its pious advocacy raises unattainable hopes that it can achieve these kinds of objectives. In their different ways, complexity theory and elements of post-structuralist political analysis can be brought together, as they have been in this book, to show the limitations of such an approach. The major contention is that this is enormously damaging for the theory and practice of democracy, as the elevated claims made on its behalf are increasingly distant from substantial realisations of democracy, especially in its hegemonic liberal form. This reduces the relevance of democratic theory, and political philosophy more generally, as pragmatic and frequently self-serving democratic discourses overpower political debate and reduce the currency of sophisticated critical analysis. Of course, the linguistic sleight of hand that enables the strengthening of democratic discourse whilst political models of democracy emaciate opens up opportunities for the articulation of critical arguments. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise the extent to which powerful democratic discourses are deeply entrenched and, thus, the difficulties involved in mounting substantive challenges to this tradition. The argument constructed here recognises the need for a critical theory of democracy but one that actually takes the need to critique the fundamental conceptual underpinnings of democracy seriously. Thus, it understands that one of the most potent achievements of democracy has been to facilitate the construction of radical critiques of liberal democracy that do not seriously investigate the limitations of democratic theory and practice. Generally, my argument recognises the validity of democratic theories that do not want to rashly jettison the idea of democracy itself but simultaneously warns that this approach can dull the edges of critical analysis. Most significantly, then, it seeks to re-open notions of democratic failure predicated on the inevitable centrality of failure and incompleteness to understandings of the political. Thus, it is the very nature of the political that should be re-imagined in terms of radical failure or, in other words, as an incomplete process of challenge and reform. To this extent, the political is never completed; its conundrums are never resolved and new, unheralded issues and problems are yet to be discovered. This is a notion that both complexity theory and post-structuralism shed light on and it is the contention here that, when brought together, they help to explain why this

Conclusion 175 general notion of the ontological condition of the political should be applied to democratic theory. Thus, democratic theory does not stand apart from this issue; insofar as it is mainly concerned with the normative conditions under which certain objectives might be met, it is inherently imbued with this condition of failure. For this reason, following Valentine, it is important to recognise that ‘the political may have to be thought in terms of the radicalization of the ways in which failure and incompletion is organized, which is at the same time a radicalization of the way what is ‘‘to come’’ is thought’ (Valentine 2006: 511). In other words, the most substantive rebuttal that can be mounted against democratic piety is the recognition of the ‘constitutive failure’ of democracy. If democracy inevitably falls short of its ambitious targets, then that is all the more reason to challenge its supremacy and to ask why it is more desirable than alternative political systems. Democracy, then, needs to be lowered from the pedestal that democratic piety has placed it upon. It is, after all, nothing more than a political system, albeit one that has enabled highly significant reforms and challenges to the exercise of elitism, hierarchy and arbitrary power in various settings. However, as it appears in contemporary political discourse, it is increasingly stripped of this radical impetus. As Va´zquez-Arroyo (2004) contends, it is becoming increasingly synonymous with liberal rather than democratic political projects that often serve as a front for neo-liberal economic imperatives. This emaciation of democracy de-politicises the concept and deradicalises many of the critical theories of democracy that are put forward in contemporary politics. This is most notable in the currently fashionable constructions of agonistic democracy (Connolly 1995, Honig 1993, Mouffe 2000), which, whilst offering considerable insight into the workings of modern democracy, do not necessarily critically interrogate the nature of democracy itself. This point is reflected in Zˇizˇek’s critique of Laclau and Mouffe, who he criticises for underplaying the way in which relations of antagonism become more agonistic through the exclusion of those who remain illegitimate enemies. Thus, ‘within every society, antagonism is operative also as the principle of excluding a series of agents from the ‘‘legitimate’’ social body – in other words, that the self-organization of the excluded is radically different from that of those whose identity is admitted into the ‘‘legitimate’’ social body’ (Zˇizˇek 2004a: 91). For Zˇizˇek, it makes much more sense to equate democracy with the

176 Democratic Piety system where regulated antagonisms (agonism) co-exist but to simultaneously recognise that this agonism survives on the basis of the exclusion of those who do not subscribe to the rules of the democratic game. The issue, then, is partly about the extent to which democracy is inclusive or exclusive but, more fundamentally, it is also about the way in which all democracies are exclusive and antagonistic to their Others, to some extent, in order to regulate the behaviour of and conduct between those who are included. The question that Zˇizˇek raises, then, is that of the retention of democracy as the Master-Signifier. He implies that nothing substantial would change in the fundamental nature of democracy by the replacement of liberal versions with something approximating to radical democracy. What this suggests is that the radical democratic project does not go far enough in positing a critical alternative to the existing hegemonic order that is underpinned by democratic piety. This does not mean that it is the task of radical democratic theory to come up with a full-blown institutional alternative to liberal democracy, however. Instead, it needs to develop its understanding of what radical political theory is designed to do. Rather than merely reflecting prevailing liberal models of democracy, radical perspectives need to invigorate their notion of critique to take on the bastions of democratic piety. It needs to rebuff the view that critique demands rational alternatives and embrace a broader project of resistance. As Hoy contends, [critical] agents need not know explicitly all their reasons and principles in advance. Resistance itself may be required to make explicit through the resulting situation what the motives and grounds for that act of refusal are. On this account, the engaged agents will find out what is possible by seeing what their resistance opens up. (Hoy 2005: 10–11)

Hoy’s challenge to rationalist political philosophy is to leave to one side the view that a political order without resistance is possible. This correlates with Freeden’s contention that any decontestation around concepts in political theory is simulated rather than ‘real’ (Freeden 2005). The rethinking of democracy in terms of its ‘constitutive failure’ is one such attempt to reconstruct the boundaries within which a critical project of democratic theory can be imagined. By leaving behind demands for democracy to be theorised in terms of universal

Conclusion 177 rationality or institutional alternatives, it allows space for more radical articulations of democracy’s failure and the potential for such failures to be embraced as part of its constitutive condition. Where democratic piety expresses faith in democracy to simplify complex political contexts, the ‘constitutive failure’ of democracy recognises the inability of political systems to resolve political complexity. It relinquishes the idea that democracy should be directed towards the resolution of political disagreement and dispute in the name of reason or consensus. In the place of these prevalent ideas in pious democratic discourse, the ‘constitutive failure’ of democracy identifies the inevitability of political contestation and the ever present possibility of violence as part of the democratic condition. Indeed, given the constitutive failure of democracy, these outcomes are always in the offing. Rather than shying away from these explicitly political conclusions, however, the argument in this book suggests that we should embrace them as a way of thinking about democracy, its alternatives, and what they have to offer in the future. This is the space in which the radical rethinking of democracy can take place free from the suffocating yoke of democratic piety and its attendant enslavement to rationality, consensus and the emaciation of the political imagination.

Notes 1. Whilst my critical comments are directed towards the work of Wendy Brown (with whom I share considerable affinity) here, there are several others who might be challenged for failing to engage sufficiently with the failings of democracy despite adhering to some version of the radical critique. For an analysis of William Connolly on similar territory, see Va´zquez-Arroyo (2004). 2. It is also not impossible that the identification between critique and love of democracy may help to foster cosmopolitan perspectives that draw political analysts away from insidious nationalism, as theorists such as Ignatieff argue. Brown wants to challenge such cosmopolitanism on the grounds that it presupposes the capacity to translate the feelings that generate national identification into a form of cosmopolitan identification. Moreover, she believes it overlooks the capacity to feel both national and cosmopolitan identity simultaneously, asking why embracing the latter requires a relinquishing of the former.

178 Democratic Piety 3. This is not to say that some similar criticisms could not be leveled at Mann when he suggests that ‘genuine democracy involves not only free elections but also inalienable rights of the individual, and that the latter are incompatible with murder, and also with lesser forms of cleansing such as forcible deportation’ (Mann 2006: 290). Whilst not necessarily incorrect, his assertion makes uncritical connections between ‘genuine democracy’ and the ‘inalienable rights of the individual’. This reflects a belief in something called ‘genuine’ democracy, which might be said to indicate a degree of democratic piety. 4. One can hardly think of anything less likely to inspire emotional attachment like love than a political system. This does not prevent us, of course, from favouring one system over another and does not preclude the radical critic from challenging democracy while supporting it over, say, forms of totalitarianism. Similarly, recognising the inevitable failure of democracy does not necessarily mean rejecting systemic features such as free elections.


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184 Democratic Piety Mol, A. and Law, J. (2002) ‘Complexities: An Introduction’, in J. Law and A. Mol (eds) Complexities, London: Duke University Press. Mouffe, C. (2000) The Democratic Paradox, London: Verso. Mouffe, C. (2005) On the Political, London: Routledge. Muldoon, P. (2006) ‘The Sovereign Exceptions: Colonisation and the Foundation of Society’, mimeo, Monash University, Melbourne. Muro-Ruiz, D. (2002) ‘The Logic of Violence’, Politics, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 109–17. Nash, K. (2000) Contemporary Political Sociology: Globalization, Politics and Power, Oxford: Blackwell. Newman, S. (2005) Power and Politics in Poststructuralist Thought: New Theories of the Political, London: Routledge. Nicholson, A. (2006) ‘Where is Australia Going? A Discussion of Current Attacks on Human Rights, Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law’, Focusing on the Future, Australian Nursing Federation (Vic) Conference, Flemington Racecourse, Friday 13 October. Niekerk, K. and Buhl, H. (eds) (2004) The Significance of Complexity, Aldershot: Ashgate. Nodia, G. (2002) ‘The Democratic Path’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 13, no. 3, July, pp. 13–19. Norris, C. (2000) ‘Post-modernism: A Guide for the Perplexed’, in G. Browning, A. Halcli and F. Webster (eds) Understanding Contemporary Society: Theories of the Present, London: Sage. O’Donnell, G. (2002) ‘In Partial Defense of an Evanescent ‘‘Paradigm’’ ’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 13, no. 3, July, pp. 6–12. Przeworski, A., Stokes, S. C. and Manin, B. (eds) (1999) Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Putnam, R. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, New York: Touchstone. Rancie`re, J. (1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, translated by Kristin Ross, first published in 1987. Rancie`re, J. (1995) On the Shores of Politics, London: Verso. Rancie`re, J. (1999) Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, London: University of Minnesota Press. Rancie`re, J. (2001) ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, Theory and Event, vol. 5, no. 3. Rancie`re, J. (2004a) ‘Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 103, no. 2/3, Spring/Summer, pp. 297–310. Rancie`re, J. (2004b) The Politics of Aesthetics, London: Continuum. Rancie`re, J. (2006) Hatred of Democracy, London: Verso. Rawls, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rawls, J. (1993) Political Liberalism, New York: Columbia University Press.

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186 Democratic Piety of International Social and Political Philosophy, vol. 9, no. 4, December, pp. 513–26. Va´zquez-Arroyo, A. Y. (2004) ‘Agonized Liberalism: The Liberal Theory of William E. Connolly’, Radical Philosophy, no. 127, September/October, pp. 8–19. Vollrath, E. (1987) ‘The ‘‘Rational’’ and the ‘‘Political’’: An Essay in the Semantics of Politics’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, vol. 13, no.1, pp. 17–29. Walzer, M. (1983) Spheres of Justice, New York: Basic Books. Wolin, S. (1996) ‘Fugitive Democracy’, in S. Benhabib (ed.) Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Wollack, K. (2002) ‘Retaining the Human Dimension’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 13, no. 3, July, pp. 20–5. Young, I. M. (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Zˇizˇek, S. (2004a) Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, London: Verso. Zˇizˇek, S. (2004b) ‘The Lesson of Rancie`re’, in J. Rancie`re, The Politics of Aesthetics, London: Continuum. Zolo, D. (1992) Democracy and Complexity: A Realist Approach, Cambridge: Polity Press.


Abu Ghraib, 14 Afghanistan, 8, 69, 123 African National Congress, 140 Agamben, G., 9, 10, 125–7, 138, 147–50, 158, 161, 163 Agonism, 78, 175–6 Anderson, J., 4 Anglo-Irish Agreement, 64 antagonism, 13, 35 anti-foundationalism, 35 Australia, 13, 76, 105, 106, 135 ‘axis of evil’, 49, 56 Badiou, A., 1, 10, 14, 80, 91, 104, 105, 106, 107, 117, 120–1, 138–43, 150, 153 Bali, 137 Barry, A., 72–3 basic income, 36, 76 138 Basques, 50, 74 Bauman, Z., 31, 34 Beck, U., 64 Benjamin, W., 9, 14, 116, 122–7, 139, 147, 163 Berger, P., 2 Bin Laden, O., 83 Blair, T., 6, 52, 53–4, 56–8, 75, 115, 119 Blix, H., 57 Bosnia, 54 Bourke, R., 112 Brown, W., 7, 90, 100–1, 152, 170–3, 177 Bufacchi, V., 110–11 Buhi, H., 22, 46

Bush, G. W., 6, 52, 53, 56, 57, 58, 115, 119, 147, 161, 171 Butler, J., 10, 14, 47, 71, 94, 121, 128–34, 136 Buxton, J., 51–3, 61 Byrne, D., 30, 34–7, 39, 44 Calhoun, L., 115 Carothers, T., 55–6, 74–5, 135 cascades, 82–4 Chambers, S., 43, 73, 94 chaos, 1, 22, 26, 61, 94 China, 134 Christianity, 2, 57–8, 61 Cilliers, P., 11, 17, 22, 24, 33–4, 37, 39, 64, 65, 67, 69–70, 73 civil society, 78 Coalition of the Willing, 6, 53–4, 59, 60, 145, 153, 172 communism, 132 communitarianism, 160 community, 93–4, 97, 98 complexity, 4, 9, 10–12, 15, 16, 17, 21–47, 48–76, 77, 80, 81, 84, 88, 90, 92, 94, 95, 100, 101, 102, 106, 122, 143–4, 154, 155, 158, 159, 163, 164, 172, 174–5, 177 conflict, 1, 4, 10, 11–13, 14, 15, 16–17, 24, 30, 32, 33, 39, 42–5, 48, 50–1, 60, 62–9, 72–3, 86–90, 91, 108, 112, 116–17, 118, 119–20, 143–4, 159, 160, 163, 166, 168 Connolly, W., 7, 9, 12, 21, 24, 79, 81, 96, 97–8, 101, 107, 175, 177

188 Democratic Piety consensus, 7, 9, 12, 15, 16, 24, 39, 41, 45, 52, 62, 71, 74, 77–104, 110, 116, 117, 120, 121, 177 constitutive failure, 6, 8, 15, 169, 173–7 cosmopolitanism, 177 Coveney, P., 22, 28–9, 70–1 Crowder, G., 79 Crozier, M., 46 Dahl, R., 109 Dalimayr, F., 74, 167 deconstruction, 69, 71, 74, 97, 138, 164, 167 Deleuze, G., 145 deliberation, 2, 9, 12, 15, 16, 37, 41, 46, 71, 78, 81, 89, 100, 112, 129 democratic deficit, 15, 85 democratisation, 2, 4, 48–76, 113, 138, 152 Deneen, P., 3, 4, 5, 16, 18 Derrida, J., 17, 39, 40, 41, 43, 64, 85, 112 Diamond, L., 58–9, 61–3 disjunctive synthesis, 145 dissipative structures, 9, 23, 27, 65 distribution of the sensible, 71, 80, 168–9 Dixon, P., 67, 144 Dunn, J., 109 education, 57–8 elections, 53–5, 59, 61, 62, 63, 92, 93, 98, 109, 117, 153, 178 emergent properties, 17, 24, 25, 46, 64 emotion, 95, 129, 130–2, 135, 178 empty signifiers, 102, 142, 145 Enniskillen, 64 equality, 3, 6, 7, 19, 32, 84, 91, 92–4, 109, 112, 113, 158, 164, 168, 169–70 ethnic cleansing, 113, 141 fairness, 87–90, 92, 110 faith, 1–3, 5, 18, 58, 59, 164–5, 170 Falls Road curfew, 64 fascism, 126, 132 Feminism, 135 Fine, R., 112

Finlayson, A., 12, 40, 42, 46, 48 Fishkin, J., 78 Floating signifier, 150 Foucault, M., 13, 40, 41, 119–20, 121 Fradkin, H., 2 France, 91, 105, 106, 119, 122, 139 Fraser, N., 90 Freeden, M., 101–4, 112, 166, 176 freedom, 3, 32, 81, 84–5, 91, 92, 109, 110, 120, 146, 169–70 Front National, 106 Fukuyama, F., 78 Gaita, R., 135 genealogy, 35, 41, 69, 97 genocide, 141 Germany, 148 Geyer, R., 46 Gray, J., 79 Guanta´namo Bay 14, 75, 147, 161 Gulf War, 152 Habermas, J., 46, 78, 83, 89, 160 Hamas, 54, 106, 111, 136 Hampshire, S., 12, 79–80, 86–90, 91, 92, 95, 97, 105 Hardin, R., 116–17 Harrison, R., 109 Haynes, J., 3 Haynes, P., 32, 40, 41 Hewlett, N., 104 Hicks, D., 75, 161 Highfield, R., 22, 28–9, 70–1 Hitler, A., 83 Honderich, T., 138, 139–41, 155–8, 159, 169–70 Honig, B., 79, 93, 175 Howard, J., 6, 58 Howarth, D., 142 Hoy, D. C., 35, 41, 47, 66, 74, 119, 176 hunger strikes, 64 Huntingdon, S., 55 Hurley, S., 24–5, 46 Hussein, Saddam, 59–60, 145, 152 Hyman, G., 75 Ignatieff, M., 12, 112, 114–15, 116, 161, 177

Index 189 indeterminacy, 96, 99, 101–3, 147, 150 Internet, 110 Interpretivism, 167–8 Iran, 136 Iraq, 8, 49, 54, 56–63, 69, 89–90, 111, 115, 123, 134, 135, 143, 145, 150, 152, 172 Irish Republican Army, 50, 140 irrationalism, 1, 9, 32, 167 Islam, 2, 54, 105, 132–3, 139, 143, 152 Israel, 13, 136, 143 Italy, 149 Jackson, A., 75 Jervis, R., 46 Jessop, B., 94, 95 justice, 3, 32, 85–90, 91–2, 109, 111, 113, 123–4, 125, 127, 159 Keane, J., 109, 111, 115–16 King, M. L., 82 Kuwait, 53, 152 Lacan, J., 40, 59 Laclau, E., 36, 41, 47, 102, 142, 175 Laslett, P., 78 Lasry, L., 75 law, J., 23, 26, 32, 45, 48, 73 Le Pen, J.-M., 106 Levey, G. B., 161 liberal democracy, 2, 6, 7, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 33, 37, 53, 71–2, 77–8, 79, 80–5, 90, 91, 92, 94–5, 97, 99, 103, 104, 107, 113–14, 116, 117– 21, 122, 123, 130, 137, 138, 142, 143, 144, 146, 147–8, 149, 150, 151, 155, 160, 161, 170–1, 172–3, 176 liberalism, 9, 12, 16, 46, 51, 61, 77–8, 82, 83–4, 86, 88, 102, 103, 114, 120, 138, 155, 156, 161, 170, 175, 176 Little, A., 36, 42, 46, 63, 67, 76, 84, 90, 105, 106, 130, 135 London, 120, 137, 138 loops, 66, 68, 69 Luhmann, N., 66

Lukes, A., 161 Lyotard, J.-F., 34, 73, 168 McCann, E., 1 McEldowney, J., 72, 76 Mackie, G., 109 McNair, B., 46 McNevin, A., 105 McRobbie, A., 136 Madrid, 137 majoritarianism, 77, 82 Mann, M., 53, 113, 119, 135, 165, 173, 178 Manning, C., 54, 90 Marching, 68, 70 Marquand, D., 56–7, 75 Marxism, 92, 160 master-signifier, 164, 176 Medd, W., 46 Mexico, 55 Middle East, 11, 54, 57, 58, 59, 95, 153 Miller, D., 118 Mol, A., 23, 26, 32, 45, 48, 73 Mouffe, C., 7, 9, 36, 79, 81, 83, 99, 105, 107, 117, 120, 170, 175 mourning, 129–30, 133–4 Muldoon, P., 106 multiculturalism, 105 Muro-Ruiz, D., 110, 135 Nash, K., 46, 72 nationalism, 177 natural law, 122–3, 126–7 neo-conservatism, 159, 161 Neo-Kantianism, 37 neutrality, 80 Newman, S., 14, 35, 85, 116 New York, 137, 151 Nicholson, A., 75, 76 Niekerk, K., 22, 46 noble lie, 159 Nodia, G., 75 noise, 93, 94, 104 Norris, C., 35–6 Northern Ireland, 11, 12, 13, 33, 46, 50, 51, 62–9, 70, 74, 76, 105, 106, 135 Nystrom, S., 75

190 Democratic Piety O’Donnell, G., 75 Palestine, 13, 14, 54, 75, 105–6, 111, 133, 136, 143, 159 Palestine Liberation Organization, 140 participation, 37 path dependency, 9, 12, 27–8, 43, 66, 76 patriotism, 171–3 Pearl, D., 133 Pentagon, 137, 151 piety, 1–19, 48, 56, 58, 61, 70, 71, 77, 79, 96, 100, 102, 104, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 123, 124, 128, 135, 137–8, 141, 143, 144–5, 147, 149, 150, 151, 154–6, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164–9, 170, 172–5, 176–7, 178 pluralism, 4, 55, 57–8, 74, 77, 78, 100 police, 92–7, 120, 124, 160, 168–9 popular sovereignty, 6, 7, 17, 110, 150 positive law, 122–3 post-critique, 41, 47 post-modernism, 33–7, 44, 135 post-structuralism, 11, 14, 33–42, 44, 47, 69–74, 97, 138, 142, 174–5 Prigogine, I., 23 principle of humanity, 156–8 proceduralism, 9, 77–8, 87–90, 91–2, 100 Protestantism, 2 Przeworski, A., 109 Putnam, R., 78 Rancie`re, J., 12, 19, 36, 42, 71, 79– 80, 91–7, 98, 99, 105, 107, 117, 120, 124, 153, 159, 160, 165, 168– 9, 173 rational choice, 29–30, 37 Rawls, J., 46, 78, 83, 86–9, 160 realism, 97, 115 reasonableness, 83–4, 90 redistribution, 90 reflexive epistemology, 38–9 refugees, 129 religion, 1–4, 6, 52, 57–8, 61 rendition, 151–2 representation, 15, 33, 37, 99, 110, 112, 113 republicanism, 37, 112

Richards, D., 26, 28, 30, 31 Ricoeur, P., 74, 167 rights, 3, 109, 111, 112, 125, 130, 146, 147, 148, 151, 157, 164, 169– 70, 178 risk society, 64 Rockhill, G., 168 Rose, N., 73–4 Ross, D., 14, 85, 109, 110, 113, 117, 118, 119 Ruane, J., 76 Ruddock, P., 75 Rudland, S., 106 rule of law, 9, 98, 109, 110, 117, 120, 122, 125, 127, 146–51 rule of the people, 7, 33, 159 Sandole, D., 50–1, 63–4, 74 Sans Papiers, 105 Saudi Arabia, 53, 134, 143, 152 Sawyer, R. K., 46 Schaap, A., 79, 94 Schmitt, C., 9, 14, 84, 105, 126, 147, 148, 163 secularism, 1–2, 105 self-determination, 6, 7, 17, 19, 33, 54 simulated decontestation, 102 Smith, M., 21, 23, 25 social capital, 78 South Africa, 13, 106 South Korea, 55 Spain, 50, 74 state of exception, 9, 126–8, 146, 148, 149–50 Stavrakakis, Y., 142 Stormont, 64, 65 Strauss, L., 8, 159, 161 Sunstein, C., 12, 79, 81–5, 90, 91, 95 terrorism, 14, 48, 49, 60, 61, 72, 10 114, 117, 119, 120, 124, 135, 137– 61, 170–1 Third Reich, 147 Third Wave, 55 Third Way, 46 thrift, N., 46 Tocqueville, A. de, 2 Todd, J., 76 Toleration, 80, 100

Index 191 torture, 151, 161 transitology, 54–6 trust, 2, 59 Turner, M., 54–5, 106, 111

89, 95, 100, 104, 106, 108–36, 137–61, 163, 164, 177 Vollrath, E., 167 vulnerability, 128, 130–3

Umphrey, S., 46 undecidability, 150 uninhabitable identification, 71, 94, 121, 173 untimely politics, 43–4 Urry, J., 11, 22–3, 26, 27, 29–30, 31, 43, 45–6, 71 USA, 2, 37, 49, 57, 58–60, 76, 82, 85, 133–4, 135, 137, 145–6, 147, 151– 3, 161, 171, 173

Walzer, M., 32 War on Terror, 6, 14, 18, 49, 56–63, 68, 70, 72, 117, 119, 123, 131, 140, 143, 146, 151, 152, 153, 170, 171 Weber, M., 108 Wintour, P., 75 Wolin, S., 79, 93, 95, 96 Wollack, K., 75 World Trade Center, 128, 137, 140 Young, I. M., 90

Valentine, J., 40, 42, 175 Vaughan-Williams, N., 12, 46 Va´zquez-Arroyo, A. Y., 10, 175, 177 violence, 2, 4, 9, 11, 13–14, 16–17, 23, 42, 48, 50, 60, 63–4, 72, 81,

Zˇizˇek, S., 8, 10, 47, 58, 59, 61, 138, 143–6, 150, 15 1–2, 153–5, 158, 159–60, 161, 163, 171, 175–6 Zolo, D., 11, 37–40, 46, 49, 50

Taking on the Political Post-Foundational Political Thought

Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau

Oliver Marchart A wide-ranging overview of the emergence of post-foundationalism and a survey of the work of its key contemporary exponents.

Oliver Marchart is a professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Lucerne, Switzerland. July 2007 208pp Pb 978 0 7486 2498 0 Hb 978 0 7486 2497 3

This book presents the first systematic coverage of the conceptual difference between ‘politics’ (the practice of conventional politics: the political system or political forms of action) and ‘the political’ (a much more radical aspect which cannot be restricted to the realms of institutional politics). It is also the first introductory overview of post-foundationalism and the tradition of ‘left Heideggerianism’: the political thought of contemporary theorists who make frequent use of the idea of political difference: Jean-Luc Nancy, Claude Lefort, Alain Badiou and Ernesto Laclau. After an overview of current trends in social postfoundationalism and a genealogical chapter on the historical emergence of the difference between the concepts of ‘politics’ and ‘the political’, the work of individual theorists is presented and discussed at length. Individual chapters are presented on the political thought of Jean-Luc Nancy (including Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe), Claude Lefort, Alain Badiou, and Ernesto Laclau (including Chantal Mouffe). Overall the book offers an elaboration of the idea of a postfoundational conception of politics. Taking on the Political publishes works that address such themes as ethical resonsibility and commonality, emerging streams of governance, subjectivity and power, the legacies of political modernity and the political dimension of post-foundational thought.

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Taking on the Political Post-Marxism Versus Cultural Studies Theory, Politics and Intervention

Paul Bowman

Paul Bowman is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Roehampton University, London. April 2007 248pp Hb 978 0 7486 1762 3

Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies is an innovative exploration of the ethical and political significance of Cultural Studies and Post-Marxist discourse theory. It argues that although Cultural Studies and post-Marxism tend to present themselves as distinct entities, they actually share a project – that of taking on the political. Post-Marxism presents itself as having a developed theory of political strategy, while Cultural Studies has claimed to be both practical and political. Bowman examines these intertwined, overlapping, controversial and contested claims and orientations by way of a deconstructive reading that is led by the question of intervention: what is the intervention of postMarxism, of Cultural Studies, of each into the other, and into other institutional and political contexts and scenes? Through considerations of key aspects of Cultural Studies and cultural theory, Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies argues that the very thing that is fundamental to both of these ‘politicised’ approaches – the quest to establish a theory of intervention, and to relate this to a practice – actually remains frustrated and unrealised as a direct result of the way this has been approached. Because of this stalemate, Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies proposes a new theory of pragmatic intervention – one that is derived from Derridean deconstruction, post-Marxism and Cultural Studies, and which will be of importance and value for politicised academics and intellectuals working in all areas of political and Cultural Studies. Taking on the Political publishes works that address such themes as ethical resonsibility and commonality, emerging streams of governance, subjectivity and power, the legacies of political modernity and the political dimension of post-foundational thought.

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Taking on the Political Polemicization

The Contingency of the Commonplace

Benjamin Arditi & Jeremy Valentine

Benjamin Arditi is a Professor of Political Theory at the National University of Mexico. Jeremy Valentine is Lecturer in Media Studies at Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh. August 1999 176pp Pb 978 0 7486 1064 8

The distinctive feature of this book is its ingenious argumentative strategy: it takes on the political by developing a practice and a thought the authors call ‘polemicization’. They draw from the recent work of the political philosopher Jacques Rancière, for whom a polemic or disagreement does not refer to the case when one interlocutor says white and another black. Instead, it designates the conflict arising when, for example, both parties say white, yet each understands something different by whiteness. This situation forces the interlocutors to construe the scene of the validity of their claims, which is just another way of saying that the given or commonplace is never settled once and for all. The authors generalise the logic of this encounter and claim that disagreement is the very process through which objectivity is instituted. They develop the contours of polemicization and deepen its philosophical implications through a critical engagement with the work of leading contemporary theorists, such as Lefort, Schmitt, Laclau, Derrida. Taking on the Political publishes works that address such themes as ethical resonsibility and commonality, emerging streams of governance, subjectivity and power, the legacies of political modernity and the political dimension of post-foundational thought.

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Taking on the Political Speaking Against Number

Heidegger, Language and the Politics of Calculation

Oliver Marchart Numbers and politics are inter-related at almost every level – be it the abstract geometry of understandings of territory, the explosion of population statistics and measures of economic standards, the popularity of Utilitarianism, Rawlsian notions of justice, the notion of value, or simply the very idea of political science. Time and space are reduced to co-ordinates, illustrating a very real take on the political: a way of measuring and controlling it. Stuart Elden is a Reader in Political Geography at the University of Durham. December 2005 208pp Hb 978 0 7486 1981 8

This book engages with the relation between politics and number through a reading, exegesis and critique of the work of Martin Heidegger. The importance of mathematics and the role played by the understandings of calculation is a recurrent concern in his writing and is regularly contrasted with understandings of speech and language. This book provides the most detailed analysis of the relation between language, politics and mathematics in Heidegger’s work. It insists that questions of language and calculation in Heidegger are inherently political, and that a far broader range of his work is concerned with politics than is usually admitted. Features • A unique introduction to the political dimension of Heidegger’s work, opening it up to a wider audience • Offers an original exploration of the relationship between language, mathematics and politics in Heidegger’s thinking • Shows how questions of politics and calculation are interrelated in modern conceptions of the political Taking on the Political publishes works that address such themes as ethical resonsibility and commonality, emerging streams of governance, subjectivity and power, the legacies of political modernity and the political dimension of post-foundational thought.

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Taking on the Political Cinematic Political Thought Narrating Race, Nation and Gender

Michael Shapiro This book has two aims: to offer a series of investigations into aspects of contemporary politics such as race, nation and gender; and to articulate a critical philosophical perspective with politically disposed treatments of contemporary cinema.

Michael Shapiro is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii. August 1999 192pp Pb 978 0 7486 1289 5

What the author offers is a politics of critique, inspired by Kant, in which he attempts to show what it can mean to think the political. The interventions into aspects of contemporary political issues, as reflected in films including Hoop Dreams, Lonestar, Father of the Bride II , The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and To Live and Die in LA, are also influenced by Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard: theorists loosely regarded by the author as post-Kantian. This is a polemical work, aimed at encouraging critical, ethicopolitical thinking. Its breadth of theoretical scope and empirical reference, and the innovative style of presentation will make it vital reading for all those with an interest in the linking of culture and politics. Taking on the Political publishes works that address such themes as ethical resonsibility and commonality, emerging streams of governance, subjectivity and power, the legacies of political modernity and the political dimension of post-foundational thought.

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Taking on the Political Untimely Politics Samuel Chambers

Challenging the linear view of history which confines or predetermines the outcome of politics, this book argues for an ‘untimely’ politics, rendering the past problematic and the future unpredictable. Untimely Politics offers close readings of key texts in political theory and enters into debates involving metaphysics, philosophy of language, and psychoanalysis versus discursive analysis - all designed to demonstrate that untimeliness expands the scope of the political.

Samuel A. Chambers teaches Political Theory and Liberal Studies at the University of Redlands. September 2003 208pp Hb 978 0 7486 1766 1

The ideas are weaved together around the theme of the relevance of language analysis to political debate, answering those critics who insist discourse approaches to politics are irrelevant. Calling on key texts of Heidegger, Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida the book challenges the political burden which is placed on language analysis to prove its value in the real world. To demonstrate his arguments, Samuel Chambers uses the case study of same-sex marriage in the US to interrogate family values politics. In seeking to explore the bearing of contemporary theory on practical political life, this book makes a timely plea for a more politically relevant form of intellectual work. Features • Detailed case study of same-sex marriages in the US is used to interrogate family value politics • Shows the relevance of contemporary theory to practical political life • Makes a plea for a more politically relevant form of intellectual work Taking on the Political publishes works that address such themes as ethical resonsibility and commonality, emerging streams of governance, subjectivity and power, the legacies of political modernity and the political dimension of post-foundational thought.

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Also available from Edinburgh University Press Politics on the Edges of Liberalism Difference, Populism, Revolution, Agitation

Benjamin Arditi An innovative exploration of ways of thinking and doing politics that challenge liberal assumptions. ‘Politics on the edges of liberalism’ refers to a grey zone where phenomena such as difference, populism, revolution and agitation turn the distinction between the inside and the outside of liberalism into a matter of dispute. Benjamin Arditi is Professor of Political Theory at the National University of Mexico. January 2007 176pp Hb 978 0 7486 2511 6 September 2008 176pp Pb 978 0 7486 3637 2

Each chapter takes on one of these ideas, discussing the intellectual background animating the politics of the culture wars and its celebration of particularism over the universalism of classical liberal thought. Populism becomes a spectral recurrence rather than an outside of democracy. Agitation reappaers in emancipatory politics, and the idea of revolution is thought through outside the Jacobin view of insurrection, overthrow and total re-foundation. This is truly interdisciplinary inquiry at the cutting edge of contemporary debates in politics, critical theory, philosophy and sociology. The author draws from an impressive range of thinkers such as Kant, Benjamin, Derrida, Freud, Schmitt, Rancière, Gramsci, Canovan, Oakeshott, Foucault, Vattimo, Laclau and Žižek. Depsite the complexity of his reasoning, he writes with the reader in mind, presenting his ideas clearly and persuasively and drawing on examples from recent political history to illuminate his arguments.

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