Division and Democracy: On Claude Lefort’s Post-foundational Political Philosophy
AbstractIn this article I contend that Claude Lefort is both a contingency theorist and a post-foundationalist. Both contingency and the emptiness of the place of power indicate that society is not built on a stable ground: they designate the absence of social or historical necessity, the absence of a positive foundation of society. What they also designate, though, is that the dimension of ground does not simply disappear since it remains present as absent. This is the point where democracy enters the stage. Our interpretation of Lefort's work will substantiate the following claim: Democracy must be understood as the ontic recognition of society's ontological condition. By this we understand the institutional recognition and discursive actualization of the absence of a positive ground of society. By actualizing the absent ground within the particular institutional, cultural and discursive dispositive of democracy, a place, or rather: a 'non-place' is symbolically allocated to it. It is obvious, we must add immediately, that this can only be a paradoxical enterprise since it is impossible to fully institutionalize something purely negative and absent into a presence. Therefore, democracy has to aim at the recognition of absence as absence, that is, the recognition of the impossibility of founding society once and for all. By accepting the logic of groundlessness and self-division as constitutive, the dimension of ground does not disappear. Rather, it is emptied of any positive content and retained as something which is absent. This is what makes democracy - and Lefort's theory of democracy - post-foundational. For, unlike any other form of society, democracy is founded upon the recognition of the very absence of any definite foundation.
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