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Rancière and Anarchism
Article published on 10 January 2013
last modification on 26 December 2012

by r-c.
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Democracy first of all means this: anarchic ‘government,’ one based on nothing other than the absence of every title to govern.

Démocratie veut dire d’abord cela: un ‘gouvernement’ anarchique, fondé sur rien d’autre que l’absence de tout titre à gouverner.

This essay can be read as an attempt to understand the above sentence: its meaning, its motivation, and its significance for the theoretical tradition of anarchism. Among recent French thinkers, only Rancière has been willing to align his thought with the term anarchism. (Foucault, for instance, a thinker one might consider anarchist at least in inspiration, dismisses the movement with this brief gesture equating it with a racist form of biopower a) Only Rancière has been willing not only to reject the Marxist spectre which hovers over progressive European thought, but to refer in a positive way to the tradition that, during most of the twentieth century, was thought to have been left to the dustbin of history. With a return to anarchism in political action and more recently in political thought, Rancière’s gesture of embrace is both timely and deserving of reflective attention. He has much to offer contemporary anarchism, and his thought can itself be better understood in dialogue with that renewed tradition.

Understanding the meaning and significance of the above sentence will require some hermeneutical work. Rancière’s pronouncements, while not gnomic, are sometimes a bit programmatic in character. His texts are often short and suggestive. This, one might argue, is in keeping with the requirements of his thought. It seems to imply the equal intelligence of his readers. His writings do not tease us with obscure references or jargon, and neither do they explain themselves exhaustively. This invites the reader to engage with his texts; but this invitation is one not only to read but also to think and to work. One might consider this essay to be an acceptance of that invitation. Rather than being a violation of Rancière’s presupposition of equal intelligence, I hope this essay will be read instead as one person’s attempt to see what can be made of the role of anarchism in Rancière’s text.

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