8/27/2009

Constituent Power and London’s ‘Summer of Rage’?

Illan Rua Wall
05/April/2009

There has been much discussion and fear-mongering about this expected summer of rage. The idea is put forward by the media and political classes that we must expect the worst. However, in the light of the recent resurgence of the left and the countervailing ideology perpetuated by mainstream politics and the media, it is worthwhile to consider what we might call the boundaries of democracy. I don’t mean this in the straight-forward manner which is often discussed today. Raising this question usually demands that we conjure up the ‘exceptional’ threats that ‘democracy’ (read Western capitalist democracies) project in order to establish their precariousness. Once this precariousness is established then those measures to ‘defend the state’ are both facilitated and legitimated. We find these boundaries of democracy mapped out in a myriad of political, legal and disciplinary manners: The limits of the concept of ‘refugee’; the policing of the European border; the projection of the terrorist, envoirmentalist or anarchist other. Equally the limits of democracy are mapped out in the domestic and European courts on issues of free speech, freedom of association, labour rights and beyond. However, the questioning of the boundaries or limits of democracy that I propose is neither a question of when the constituted order is entitled to silence its opponents, nor where the democratic state is entitled to declare war upon its internal or external ‘enemies’. Instead of these direct questions on the nature and extent of the current liberal, democratic and capitalist state, I would prefer to ask the question what are the limits of democracy in a meta-political sense. At the heart of every democratic constitutional order lies the paradox of authority, this paradox is constitutive of the democratic State or the democratic order.

As a constituted order, representative democracy demands that political action and speech must fall within settled lines and channels. There are processes to be followed, authorizations to be obtained, clearance to be received from the offices of the state, the police, the local authority, etc. Settled channels of speech also exist: No one must incite, propose or undertake violence; The suggestion of extreme anger or hatred against a certain grouping, even bankers and politicians, is prohibited. Ultimately, we are told that change within a democracy must come from the authorized channels. Either the populace will manage to leverage enough pressure upon their ‘representatives’ or the option is open to any nascent political organisation or individual to stand for election, even to enter government. Thus, democracy provides both the means of change and the boundaries within which this change is organised and legitimated. However, it is here with these channels or boundaries of the legitimate action and speech that we find the paradox of the liberal democratic form itself. It lies precisely in the notion of a ‘democratic order’.


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