Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review of Thinking Radical Democracy

Symposium has published my review of Martin Breaugh, Christopher Holman, Rachel Magnusson, Paul Mazzocchi, and Devin Penner (eds.), Thinking Radical Democracy: The Return to Politics in Post-war France. A well-edited volume has to avoid numerous pitfalls: issues of consistency, varying quality of contributions, and overall coherence. Breaugh et al. have done an excellent job in avoiding those potential problems. My overview:
The essays collected in Thinking Radical Democracy aim to situate the political thought of Rancière, Abensour, and Balibar within a tradition of radical democratic thought in postwar France that conceptualizes democracy as divisive and emancipatory. The book includes chapters on the “forbearers” of the return to radical democracy (the “French” Arendt, Merleau-Ponty, and Pierre Clastres), the critics of totalitarianism (Lefort, Castoriadis, and Debord), and concludes with essays concerning Rancière, Balibar, and Abensour. Despite the many differences between these figures, the authors and editors of the present volume argue that the radical democratic tradition is defined by its threefold exploration of  “politics, division, and democracy.”
It's longer than most reviews for Symposium but there's a reason. One of my goals in reviewing the book was to bring to the forefront how there is an important distinction between politics (la politique) and the political (le politique). I think that, in general, the attempt to foreground the possibilities of politics through first defining the political also opens the possibility that definitions of the political could come to police politics. I outline this problem in the review, so read all the way to the end.

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