Democracy and the People to Come

Image Source: The New Yorker

Democracy holds the impossibility of embodying its own essence into itself in a totalizing sense. We have to admit this impossibility for the sake of democracy itself. This is why democracy works. We have always democracy left to come. We can only live with Democracy with the hope of its coming. There always remain more Democracy to come. This means in some sense Democracy has to remain in its negative form and hold a promise for its fuller coming in an imminent future. Democracy has to empty itself in order to offer hope for its coming fullness. Thus, Democracy is a politics of the future. This future impinges itself on the present. Summons it to live up to its promises and interrogates it for its infidelities. Therefore, Democracy always lives in a mode of deconstruction. It always is less and promises more to come in the future. There is always a fuller democracy to come. It always opens itself to a horizon that does not close on it to close it. This suggests that we have democracy without having it. Democracy thus lives in the exteriority of its promise. Democracy becomes democratic because we hope for democracy to come. Democracy lives in putting its future promise to test in the present. It thus lives in the very possibility of its indefinite perfectibility/ impossibility.

Democracy is paradoxically found in its rupture. It is in its disruptive rupture that the hope of its coming is found. We do have the challenge to think together both the withdrawal and the coming of Democracy. Democracy seems to come to us in its withdrawal. This is why we may say democracy is impossible in the Derridian sense. This means we have the challenge to think Democracy outside our habitual substantive, positivist and essence-centric models based on the metaphysics of presence. Hence, we cannot fully define democracy. This means democracy is performative. It lives in its practice. By enacting democracy we produce democracy. There is no democracy outside its practice. This is why we have to agree that Democracy can only be found in its coming. Practice, therefore, becomes the condition of its impossibility. The absence of the practice of Democracy makes Democracy impossible. This practice of Democracy brings Democracy to us. The end of practice is the end of Democracy. The practice of Democracy can never be perfect. It is always perfectible and can engender Democracy. It can threaten to bring Democracy to its end. Democracy has a habit of collapsing away from itself as it comes closer to itself. In several ways, democracy lives in its own death. It paradoxically lives by threatening to die. It lives in its own impossibility. Democracy tends towards demagogy and thereby becomes opposite of itself. It does threaten to slip into tyranny. Hence, we hope for democracy to come. It is perpetually perfectible and ignites our hope for justice, peace and equity to come.

The paradox of democracy is that its most perfect form can turn into its least perfect form. It is perpetually always falling short of its own ideal. It cannot live in the present. We never really have Democracy in the present. It can only live in its coming. This is why we can criticize the practice of democracy in the name of democracy itself. Democracy remains in deconstructive mode. This is because democracy fails to live its own telos. It lives by disrupting its teleology. This condition always keeps it in the mode of coming. This is why we have the challenge to be vigilant and play a mediating role to usher in more Democracy that stays in the coming. We have to embrace deconstruction as our tool of critique to interrogate the practice of democracy. There is no substitute for assiduous and conscientious work. Democracy continuously self-constitutes itself and therefore we as belonging to the self-constituting people have to mediate or intervene creatively in the practices of Democracy to make them more democratic.

Maybe we have to embrace politics as the art of the possible and consider possibilities to let Democracy enact its highest ideals. Our interventions will remain as the demand of the possible while the ideals of democracy remain in the realm of impossible and will only be enacted to be deconstructed in search of ever more ideal forms of the ideals of Democracy. Our interventions have the power to save Democracy from deviating into forms of totalitarianism and tyrannies of the majority. The temporality of Democracy is the impossible one. It makes Democracy always live in its promise to come. Hence, we have to engage with it day by day. We cannot take a holiday. The moment we dis-engage with Democracy, it will slip into its inferior mode and become sometimes exactly the opposite of its highest ideal. To let Democracy become democratic and maintain it in that state, we have to continuously critique the practice of Democracy.

The fall and the decay of Democracy is our opportunity to work for its coming. Hence, Democracy cannot remain democratic without a vigilant citizenry. We cannot outsource this vigilance. We are told that the media plays this role of vigilance for us. Media does play this role of vigilance at many levels but media also can become the cheerleader of politicians who bend Democracy for their vested interest. This is why we have to accept that there cannot be a vibrant Democracy without a vibrant citizenry. The citizenry has to continue to constitute themselves as people by their active participation in the processes and practices of Democracy. We cannot abdicate this role. We have to excise our political role and intervene in the practice of Democracy and shape its coming. Hence, we have to rise up from being passively subjected subjects to active citizens of Democracy. Our self-constitution as a people is a political and as well as democratic process. This is the reason why we have to actively participate in the politics of our Democracy. Our Democracy then constitutes us as people to come. We as people to come is the ideal we have to work to bring about.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao