I wrote this essay for a “Contemporary Democratic Theory” class several years ago. It covered a lot of topics that I don’t think about too much anymore, but I enjoyed writing it and am posting it here largely for my own reference.
Contemporary debates over democratic theory often center on questions of political subjectivity, of who should be included in democracy and how that inclusion should function. The deliberative democracy of Iris Young, for example, attempts to expand modes of democratic participation to turn back the tides of political apathy and exclusion. Chantal Mouffe, on the other hand, calls for a radical ‘agonistic’ democracy which seeks to maximize disagreement against the risk of stale ‘consensus.’ Against both of these positions, I consider a democratic politics concerned not with particular models of subjectivity or participation, but with the relation through which democratic citizens rule and are ruled. For Jacques Rancière, democratic politics begins with a presupposition of equality, from which political relations emerge that do not rely on any qualifications for rule or participation.