Building Education for the Commons
November 8, 2014
The GCAS colloquium “Philosophy & the Political” has connected a diverse group of faculty and students from across the globe to talk about the present state of democracy and its future prospects. Over the past weeks of the course, two central themes have emerged that constitute a fundamental paradox scholars interested in democracy must confront if the project of democracy is to be saved. If actually existing democracy functions in undemocratic ways, how can scholars, activists, and those seeking social justice challenge these undemocratic processes and transform society into that which protects democracy rather than subverts it?
The first theme has focused on the present state of democratic processes worldwide. Professors have perceived the predominant stagnation and regression of democratic processes across the globe. Professor Negri discussed the contradiction between the nation and state. The state is the institution that plunders society through taxes and other forms of administration. The nation, and the associated notion of “patria” or “patriotism” emerges to mitigate the destructive effects of state power. In this way, it is possible to suggest that democratic processes, often saturated with patriotic symbols and imagery, may function to conceal the undemocratic features of state and corporate power. Professor Damle also highlighted such a sentiment when he explored concrete processes in India whereby the banner of increased democracy functions to conceal corporate interests. Furthermore, Professor Santiago discussed how democracy has already been framed. Modern societies have reached a point where democracy functions to exclude threats to the stability of its operation. What this means is that if actual political processes are substantively undemocratic, they are framed in such a way that it is difficult to challenge their legitimacy despite the blatant violation of democratic principles.
Recognizing the present state of stagnation and regression of democratic processes worldwide, there is a desire for transformation out of the present circumstances. Professors in the colloquium have sought novel ways of theorizing the possibility of transformation. This desire manifests as attempts to break out of the already-framed world and constitute new forms of agency, subjectivity, and cognition. Professor Allen discussed pedagogical methods to challenge students to re-think their relationship to democracy. Students, by their very nature of being part of a dynamic educational institution, are engaged with a changing world. The challenge is to awaken students to the realities of the political world so that they can make conscious and thoughtful actions later in their lives. Professors Katsiaficas and Meckfessel broadened the horizon to talk about the eruption of global social movements worldwide that have emerged as a response to the alienated and powerless feelings experienced by many in a neoliberalized world. Such global movements, although constantly threatened by cooptation from logic of the system itself, constitute a form of agency that can be harnessed to challenge existing practices. Professor Hardt explored a similar theme when re-thinking democracy as decision of the “multitude.” The global social movements and struggles of the multitude recognize the hollowness of actually existing undemocratic processes and demand something more substantial. And finally, professor Rosenberg’s research highlighted the necessity for spontaneous and creative actions that allow for a horizon of possibility where people are transformed from passive receptors of things-as-they-are to active creators who can perceive every instance as a field of possibility. Creativity and spontaneity are indispensible for those who seek to challenge an already-framed world of undemocratic practices cloaked as democracy.