Friday, February 25, 2005

Theoretical background of “Proletarian Expropriation”

How tolerant may a democracy be towards the enemies of democracy?

Are proletarian expropriators enemies of democracy or its challengers? IS there any difference between the two concepts?

Juergen Habermas points out that there is a thin line between an “enemy of liberty” that can be justifiably excluded from the public sphere and “radical defenders of democracy” that resort to extra-legislative means (i.e. civil disobedience) to fight for their goals. Further, Habermas thinks that civil disobedience, should be considered a continuation of legal and institutional process by other means and should be recognized under the following conditions: that the radical dissenters that resort to civil disobedience “justify their resistance by citing constitutional principles” and express it by non-violent means.

In other words, in order to be heard both in regular democratic procedures and in the wider public sphere that might include civil disobedience, arguments must be rational, in the sense of the generality test. Through his generality test Habermas would exclude a racist from the public sphere, “a racist should not be tolerant, he should quite simply overcome his racism.” What about proletarian expropriators?

First, concerning the ideal which both are defending it can be argued that there is a clear difference between a racist (fighting for a discriminatory society) and a proletarian expropriator (struggling for a world where substantial equality will reign). Granted, in terms of politics as “art of the possible”, communist strategy is dubious. Radical egalitarian goal, when pursued by the state (i.e. Communist state) did not prove as noble as the initial ideal, because of the high discrepancy/incompatibility between the end and the means (i.e. difference between ideal of classless society and dictatorship of the proletariat).

Proletarian expropriation as a form of civil disobedience is surely different from the state imposed equality?

According to Habermas’s definition of limits of civil disobedience it seems that “proletarian expropriation” would not qualify. Still, there are more radical definitions of democracy that would allow going beyond Habermas’s positivist constitutional limits.

Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, for example, call such model of democracy “agonistic pluralism”, or “agonistic democracy”, referring to the political regime that “stresses the importance of acknowledging its conflictual dimension.” Agonistic democrats wish to abandon the fiction of the Habermasian power free public sphere, in the sense that they want to cease considering power as external to the identity forming process but wants to emphasize the fact that power is constitutive of identities themselves.

Their democracy is about challenge, more then about security.

There is nothing more persuasive and illustrative of a liberty of a particular society as the expressed liberty of the intolerant. As it was mentioned in a metaphor of a tight-rope walker, the art of good exercise of state power is the art of the toleration of the intolerant or in other words a careful balancing of the wish to protect the constitutional order of the given state and the acceptance of the risk of its destruction. A drive towards absolute security is the main enemy of the ideal of a liberal-democratic state. This is the essence of the agonistic democrats approach

The more tolerant are we towards the intolerant and challengers of the system, the more liberal the system is. Balancing risk and a desire to protect the system can be conceived in terms of an artist walking on a tightrope. Abrupt moves, such as crackdown on the intolerant (if not absolutely necessary to defend the very liberty of the polity) are not desirable for they are bound to lead to the destruction of the liberal character of the polity, using the metaphor they are bound to lead to fall and grave injury of the artist himself and the spectators gathered around the tight-rope.

Agonistic democrats would tolerate proletarian expropriation as a form of civil dissobedience or at least their attitude towards this practice would be much more lenient.

Suggested reading:
Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and socialist strategy : towards a radical democratic politics, Verso, London, 2001.
Ernesto Laclau, “Politics and the Limits of Modernity”, in Thomas Docherty (ed.), Postmodernism: A Reader, Harvester, New York, 1993.
James Tully, “The Unfreedom of the Moderns in Comparison to Their Ideals of Constitutional Democracy”, The Modern Law Review, Vol. 65, No. 2, 2002, pp. 204-228.
James Tully, “The Agonistic Freedom of Citizens”, Economy and Society, Vol. 28, No. 2, May 1999, pp. 161-182.

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