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The Boat Was My Friend

...The cliff edge of workaday morality

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We are all democrats now

Democracy in What State? - Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Daniel Bensaïd, Wendy Brown, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Kristin Ross, Slavoj Žižek, William McCuaig

This book is an interesting attempt to explore the conceptualisation and implementation of democracy starting from its roots in ancient Greece up to our own time, in order to identify, through theoretical scrutiny, why it’s still relevant today. 

Why and how. Despite its mishaps, despite being a key word here, because a quick read (aka the pointless type of read) could mislead the reader to suggest that democracy might as well be ditched altogether for something else. Why not! Don’t all self-proclaimed democratic governments abuse it all the time anyway? 

Well no, this is so not what the book is suggesting, even though the authors’ criticism on contemporary western democracies is unsurprisingly very harsh (and rightly so). Indeed, the book places heavy emphasis on the fact that paradoxically, democratic abuse tends to be the very way democracy is practiced today, but this is certainly not because there’s something fundamentally wrong with the theoretical framework of democracy itself. On the contrary, the theoretical framework of democracy is so perfect, from a philosophical point of view anyway, that it’s become the world administration’s favourite excuse for all political malpractice under the one-fits-all “democracy” umbrella.

So perfect and so intentionally overlooked. And this is where the authors intervene to suggest that because democracy’s theoretical framework is so perfect, democracy is always relevant and therefore there is scope in going back to its essence; to understanding what it really stands for, as today the term seems to be entirely up for grabs! Because, let’s face it: nobody can really accurately define democracy, and yet everybody agrees it’s “something good”.

In this respect, Democracy in What State? gathers the views of some of the greatest (and most hyped these days it seems, but I’m pretending this isn't the case) minds of our time on the de-democratising effects of the neoliberal status quo dominating modern societies (to the contrary of the egalitarian presupposition of democracy), as well as on the essential elements of meaningful practice of democracy.

Obviously, gathering Badiou, Bensaïd, Brown, Nancy, Rancière, Ross and Zizek together with a delightful preface by Agamben in a single book is an achievement enough. Also, of the authors present in this book, Wendy Brown and Kristin Ross are the two that I had not read before at all, so I’m grateful for their excellent contributions as well. Moreover, the authors make extensive and extremely interesting references to Plato, Marx, Mao, Rousseau etc, which provide the necessary context to their theses. 

Nevertheless, I found there isn't enough closure here, because these – otherwise extremely intriguing – thoughts read like a bit of a potpourri lacking a specific focus on today. Not that this is a big surprise and you can’t really condense the minds of seven theorists into some 150 pages; I knew that to begin with. But I couldn't imagine how much this book would make me want to go back to other relevant essays I've read, by Cornelius Castoriades, by Raoul Vaneigem or by the very authors in this book indeed!

Warning: Greek speaking readers only
If you don’t want to start questioning your basic comprehension capabilities, do not try the translated version in Greek. Patakis may be a fine choice of a publisher for fiction, but philosophy works completely differently. I thought I was being bold by ignoring this rule (of which I was perfectly aware, mind you), but it turns out I was simply mistaken. The translation is just incoherent and I had to turn to the English version in the end.