2. Politics, community, and democracy

Politics

For Rancière, politics begins with a ‘major wrong’, through the staging of dissensus (1999:19), when subaltern voices make their demands heard. He makes two distinctions. To start with, he claims that there is a difference between politics as police and politics propre (the politics of equals) (1999:30). Politics as police is not political; on the contrary, it is the management and ordering of subjectivities, roles, and resources within the realm of the sayable, visible, and hearable – a ‘distribution of the sensible’ (Baiocchi and Connor 2013:96; Rancière 2001). This partition and distribution is challenged by the politics of equals which intervenes and interrupts the ‘natural order’ portrayed by policing practices (Rancière 2001). This form of politics manifests itself as a process of staging and inscribing the equality of previously uncounted individuals (integrated, but not belonging) as equal speaking beings. Following his argument that there is no subject of modern human rights, politics cannot be ‘declared on the basis of any pre-existing subject’ (Rancière 2001), so there is no revolutionary subject. The politics of equals proposed by Rancière is a counterpoint to identity politics, raising the ‘possibility of rupture’ and ‘deviation’ (Baiocchi and Connor 2013:91). Thus, it is not only desired that disidentified individuals resist control, but they ought to also challenge the roles policed, arranged, and performed within a social order, so that heterogeneity becomes fragmented and open.

 

Community

Rancière does not envisage a perfect community, for a future dissensual community is ‘meaningless’ (Rancière 2005:292). More explicitly, in communities based on consensus, counting always leads to miscounting, because there is always a part with no part whose input is not considered in political decisions, whereas a focus on dissensus constitutes a radical alternative for re-thinking a democratic being-together. The generic name of the subjects who stage such cases of verification is the demos, the name of the people. Within it, arithmetical counting cannot be done, as there is always someone else to arrive, to show disagreement; it is then a spatiality always open to the unpredictable, as Deleuze’s ‘n-1’ or Derrida’s democracy to-come (2005b:82), to which I shall come back later. The only attribute which characterises all humans is their equal qualification of having no qualification to rule (Rancière 2004a:305) – nobody is more entitled than anybody to be part of democracy and to govern.

There is no essence of a community of equals, its existence resting on the very event of ‘coming-together’ of individuals as political actors without the artificial hierarchy and sovereignty attached to social roles. What comes after the mere symbolic of a community (in modern times) is the supplementary part, ‘an empty part that separates the political community from the count of the population’ (Rancière 2004a:305). The ‘part with no part’ challenges the false sphere of inequality within the exclusionary community (Baiocchi and Connor 2013:96). This view is echoed by Derrida’s ‘supplement’ which never becomes a ‘complement’ to be counted in a totalising community, as it is always an ‘exterior addition’ (2007:157), posing challenges to the status quo. The ‘uncounted’ is a supplement itself – a surplus to the distribution of the sensible. Thus, writing (as seen in the previous chapter) and the demos can both be considered supplements.

 

Democracy

Rancière holds that democracy represents an impromptu disruption of institutional rationality, and it cannot be institutionalised. Similarly, Derrida talks about the mode of interruption to current democracy, posed by the presence of the foreigner. This interruption has the potential of widening the Law of hospitality and making democracy more ‘democratic’ in the realm of the political. For both Rancière and Derrida, democracy is open to threats and challenges: one’s exposition to these challenges is the very basis upon which democracy can exist. Thus, democracy is not to be confused with the ‘consensual self-regulation of the multitude’ (Rancière 2013:87). It is, instead, a political act of disruption, made by the demos who assert equality. Nobody else but the demos can adopt a politics of equality, as there is no ‘beyondness’ of inequality. Rancière explains that ‘to pose equality as a goal is to hand it over to the pedagogues of progress, who widen endlessly the distance they promise they will abolish’ (2003:223); thus, any claim to authority or hierarchy ought to be dismissed as fallacious, ad verecundiam.

Likewise, Derrida contends that in order for one to talk about democracy democratically, the word ‘democracy’ has to be understood by anyone (2005b:71) – this statement ought to be regarded as an (im)possibility, because neither the meaning of ‘democracy’, nor of ‘human rights’ can be fixated within essentialist legal terms. The very possibility of an ethics of democracy (and of hospitality) lays not so much in its actuality, but in its impossible finitude. Meaning can never express the experiences of all beings; it is subject to contestation which can challenge rigid legalism, and the asymmetrical distribution of power. Constant disruption of the meaning of a term is necessary, to avoid it become a totalitarian tool for the powerful. In other words, constant disagreement between radically equal beings who regard themselves as such leads to a reordering of society, and places sovereignty under constant scrutiny.

As rights are of those who have ‘not the rights that they have and have the rights that they have not’ (Rancière 2004a:302), it is in the very event of claiming the rights that one has them; this event reflects also a disruption of the false idea of the existence of a community of equals, as it shows the unequal relation of power between asylum seekers and citizens, in relation to the state. The subaltern voices who claim asylum inscribe and affect the status quo of the host country, demonstrating their ipseity in testing the validity of the promised enactment of equality and hospitality through human rights. The newcomers cannot be anticipated or invited; they can arrive at any time. It is the notion of unpredictability in Derrida and Rancière’s work that poses an ethical dilemma to the host and allows for the affirmation and verification of equality and hospitality.

 

Welcoming the Other

Whilst Rancière’s axiom of equality and politics of dissensus offer a radical reconceptualisation of the political, the question regarding the social exclusion of the refugee remains partly untackled in his analysis, as he does not address the event of welcoming the foreigner. After 9/11, asylum seekers have been increasingly framed within a moral panic discourse, portrayed as potentially violent and dangerous, in order for ‘security’, ‘humanitarian’, and interventionist agendas to be furthered (Welch and Schuster 2005). More crucially, the nationalised subject’s very political power emerges through the guest; this happens as the state endows the citizen with sovereignty through the principles of nationhood and private property, which asylum seekers do not have access to. The ‘master of the “house”’, although ‘at home’ when the newcomer arrives, is nonetheless the one who ‘enters his home through the guest – who comes from outside’ (Derrida 2000a:125).

Although identifying the subject of human rights is not desirable for it produces a politics of exclusion and separation, the ethics of human rights is based precisely upon identities. The law of hospitality, in Derridean terms, is threatened by the UK’s policies which create a hierarchical relationship between asylum seekers and citizens. Rancière’s ‘democracy as police’ shows effectively how practices of inhospitality occur, which can be illustrated through the Home Office’s use of exclusionary practices through its Detained Fast-Track programme. In order to introduce asylum seekers in a new social order and be considered equal to the others, a further step needs to be taken in the sphere of ethics. Derrida’s ethics of hospitality strengthens Rancière’s argument for a radical move towards equality for the benefit of all, including asylum seekers. It also complements Rancière’s democratic politics, offering an insightful way of challenging sovereignty at the micro and macro level.

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