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Hi there my name is MacKenzie Wark I would like to talk to you about general intellects.
So what is a general intellect?
A general intellect might be somebody who has concepts that can help us think through living in
the twentyfirst century.
Well we all know that facts are good things but a good fact is only mostly true about
something in particular. While a good concept while it might only be slightly true, is slightly true
about a lot of things. General intellects can help us join facts and concepts together
to perceive more of the world.
The one I want to talk to you about today is Chantal Moufee.
So let's talk a bit about Chantal Moufee and what she might have to say about liberal democracy
the political and politics today.
So the first thing is this idea of liberal democracy. We pretend to think that it is all one thing
we say it as if it is one thing, but maybe the liberal and democratic really pull against each together
and form a bit of a paradox. On the one hand the liberal part of it is about the idea of
individual rights, the rule of law, and sort of a weak version of what being a citizen might be.
On the other hand the democratic part is about a strong sense of being a people,
of having some shared thing in common, and being opposed to some enemy outside of us.
So there are two kinds of stress that maybe this hybrid liberal democratic paradox are being put under.
So on the one hand there is austerity, there is the withdrawal of resources from
the whole space of the political. And the other is the refugee crisis, possibly
driven in part by climate change, where millions of people are trying to gain entry to
states that are not their home. So perhaps we are seeing an increase in the amount of stress
that is being placed on the liberal democratic form of the political which means that
maybe we need to think about the political as a deeper concept underlying liberal democracy.
So what do we mean by the political. The first thing is maybe it is more about feeling than reason.
Sometimes think politics would be a great thing if everybody just came to a consensus.
But maybe it is more about a feeling of belonging and of necessarily finding
somebody excluding from that belonging. So politics might not be an entirely rational sort of process.
Maybe politics always needs what Moufee would call a constituted outside.
There is something against which we can all come together. Now in this time of increasing stress
in this liberal democratic mode of politics perhaps the weakest part of it
has turned out to be the democratic side. Now I am going to use democratic here in
a sense that is completely alien to how americans tend to think about this.
Because I am going to suggest that in recent history both donald trump and
bernie sanders were versions of the democratic with a small d.
And what I mean by that is that they both appeal to a strong sense of belonging together
and of somebody else being pushed to the outside. And in the sanders case the belonging
together is the american people with an emphasis on the working class and what is excluded is the
1% and the big banks that need to be broken up and all that.
Whereas the trump version of the democratic stresses the american people in the national sense
and excludes the other who is foreign. So it is two different uses of the concept of the
demos of a people who share something in common who share an essence who share a substance but then
a strong sense of someone being pushed to the outside. What was interesting was how
while one succeeded better than the other these both put a lot of pressure on the liberal
side of the liberal democratic paradox. So the hillary clinton or maybe jeb bush
version of it which tended to stress a weak version of citizenship an idea of
individuals just pursuing their own individual gain. What we call neoliberalism
came under a lot of pressure from democratic movements from either side of it
from both further to the left and further to the right and as we saw in the american
case it was the right wing version of it that succeeded. Although in other parts of the world
you will notice that sometimes it is further to the left version of the democratic
that pushes to the mainstream. Now in Chantal Moufee's view there is no way out
the kind of friend enemy relationship the kind of constituted outside that we nominate someone who is
not included. But for her the whole thing would be to avoid having antagonisms
break out into open kinds of violence so the interest would then be in forms of
agonisms, as she calls it, agonism maybe something that is a bit gamelike
that can hold these tensions together without having them fly apart and lead to
some kind of violence. So is that actually possible within the fractured space
of a 21st century liberal democratic polity would be the question for our time.
I want to just put one little bit of pressure on the way that Moufee thinks about this
She thinks only in terms of friend and enemy but I am always interested in the way
that you would flip some kind of binary into something else. And maybe politics is more
about four catagories which would be the friend and the enemy but then also the nonfriend and the non enemy.
Maybe not all differences are antagonistic and maybe it is more about forming alliances
and agreements among those four kind of groups in a sort of more gamelike political space
than Moufee would have us think. So that would be the additional sort of pressure I want to put
on this concept. Liberal democracy is not something that neatly all fits together.
It might be a paradoxical kind of a concept that doesn't really make sense and what we
might be witnessing is the paradox pulling apart. We are never get a theory of
everything from one individual general intellect but when we start threading them together maybe
we can understand how to grasp the world we live in from the inside and understand it
and act in it.
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