Abensour departs from a programatic effort—to bring into relation Claude Lefort’s notion of “savage democracy” and Reiner Schürmann’s “principle of anarchy,” the latter understood as a “left-Heideggerian” approach to politics. He has doubts about the latter that are trivial for our purposes, but thinks savage democracy is still in need of supportive reflection.
Lefort, from the 1960s on, would no longer have been concerned with the distinction between an authentic and an inauthentic (bureaucratic appropriation) version of socialization, but would have contested the will to abolish social division from a will to indivision that cannot fail to be related to a totalitarian pragmatics. Lefort moves from a communist to a democratic horizon.
This amounts, for Lefort, to a rediscovery of politics as related, not to superstructural games, rather to the originary (and endless) division of the social.
This division was defined by Machiavelli as the division between a desire to dominate and a desire not to be dominated—desire for power and desire for freedom. But this means that there can be no stable manifestation of the social, as it would always be exposed to its fundamental division, which is also the risk and event of its dissolution and loss (as stable). A social structure must then be defined according to the position it takes regarding its fundamental, constitutive division, and in the face of it.
Democracy constitutes itself through the radical acceptance of the originary division of the social, that is, by never refusing the fact that there is conflict. Non-democracy is in the first place an attempt at suppressing the very possibillty of conflict.
Conflict is therefore the very source of a “ceaselessly renovated” invention of freedom.
“Savage democracy” makes reference to precisely such ceaseless and untimely dimension of conflict—a conflict for freedom against domination, on the democratic side, a conflict for domination against freedom on the non-democratic side.
Hence there is no “established order,” no established ground for political deployment, no social pact. There is only a fundamental indetermination of the social. But, if so, the social is something that refuses definition, that exceeds every definition, that challenges the very will to define. Democracy is “savage” because it cannot be reduced, in any given case, to an institutional formula, a political regime, or an ensemble of procedures and rules. “Savage” hence defines the “essence” of democray, to the extent that democracy is not but ongoing contestation and vindication: non-tamable, un-domesticatable, and also un-domestic. Democracy won’t come back into the house.
Right, that is, the law, must therefore not be considered an element of social stabilization, of social conservation, but must be seen as precisely an instance exterior to power, in excess of what is established, always available to new vindications. Savage democracy is always in excess of the State of Law, or the Rule of Law, through law itself.
So the social is always a battlefield between the symbolic and the ideological: right is the symbolic field, whereas the ideological is the ongoing attempt at appropriating the symbolic for a group, at giving it a determined content. But the symbolic exceeds every determination.
There is, therefore, no conceivable subject of history from a savage democracy perspective. Democratic struggles will not fall under the spell of the One. They simply deploy tumult, conflict on the necessarily empty site of power.
Abensour brings to an end this initial explanation of Lefort’s idea with an ontological reference particularly important for us. He refers to Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “the savage Spirit,” that is, “the spirit that makes its own law not because it has submitted everything to its will, but because, submitted to Being, it dreams itself always in contact with the event in order to contest the legitimacy of established knowledge.”
Savage democracy is therefore an experience of Being, of the opening of Being, of the principial unaccomplishment of every being.
[More to follow on the principle of an-archy]