Notes on: Valentine, J.  (2005) 'Ranciere and Contemporary Political Problems'.  Paragraph 28 (1): 46-60.

Dave Harris

[Discusses the more political texts such as On The Shores of Politics and Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy.  Also cites a useful looking text by Zizek (2000) The Ticklish Subject: the absent centre of political ontology.  London: Verso].

There is a relation between political philosophy and politics, since each sees a struggle between an 'originary unity', and 'persistence of conflict and division'(46).  R thinks that philosophy has put an end to the political as a separate area, because the two now coincide exactly.  This is seen in the idea of 'the police' which maintains individuals in particular allocated places: R's philosophy sees that [conventional] politics as an activity does this too, so that his philosophy is the basis of a new kind of politics.  The argument is intended partly to deny that philosophy is somehow an underlabourer compared with politics.

Politics in this sense refers to 'irreducible conflict' between the police on the one hand, and something which always resists it on the other, the '"part which has no part"', the prolific people who live and work outside the symbolic order [sounds very much like De Certeau].  The police order is constantly limited or exhausted in its efforts to fit everything within its symbolic orders.  Valentine sees this as a difference between a mathematical notion of equality, where 'each is one and only one', and a geometrical principle which introduces hierarchy, where some ones are more important and powerful than others.  The symbolic order represents this hierarchy, and tries to demonstrate that 'each one finds its place [only] within the unity of the One' (47).  R wants to restore mathematics.  He also refers to notions of '"the non place as place"'[which seems to be like the empty square in Deleuze's account of structuralism -  this empty square is the only thing that produces novelty and innovation inside what is otherwise a well ordered structure].  R also invokes an older language to refer to the Greek ochlos, 'the turbulent, disruptive and indeterminate mass' as opposed to the demos [that fraction of the mass that is involved in politics?].  The existence of the ochlos 'demonstrates that the demos is not one or One'.

This implies that the political in R's sense arises from something which cannot be symbolized, or if it is, only as something anonymous [empty category].  It is perhaps even necessary if some categories are to be brought into some symbolic order [maybe the argument is that the symbolic order itself depends on there being some notion of political rule].  However, this implies that political disagreement is only a matter of objection to being overlooked or misnamed [describes modern identity politics?], which means less than a fair share of advantages: this is the 'relational notion of the political' and it implies that it can be dealt with simply by renewing some consensual notion of recognition.

This is apparently the view by Deranty of R's politics -- originating in a denial of recognition by the dominated.  However, there will be a problem because recognition will involve losing a disruptive status and [appearing as a conventional subject, something interpellated?] accepted into the symbolic order merely pragmatically, not as '"ontological entities"'(48).  [what we're talking about here is legitimized otherness?  Valentine sees them as poised between integration and outsiderness 'Not one and not the other'].

However, this implies that the political is no longer ontological and symbolic, but rather 'aleatory'.  In other words, it is no longer just a matter of access to the symbolic order.  Zizek offers a critique of R along with Badiou, Balibar, and Laclau and Mouffe - all share an Althusserian legacy.  R risks problem with marginalist politics, [probably]  something to do with consisting of momentary outbursts which are excessively radical and which must fail to undermine the existing order.  If the political is to be radical, it must stay marginal 'as the demonstration of its own authenticity', but this means it actually needs the police order to define itself as something that it opposes.  However, totally subverting the order is '"proto-totalitarian"'.  Mathematical equality 'needs a place within' geometrical hierarchy after all, for Zizek.  [I think the implication is that all normal relational politics does as well].

Can a 'new positive symbolic order be established instead'?  (49).  It might start by recognizing that the existing symbolic order is [arbitrary], produced by 'a prior political moment'.  The argument would then be to struggle over 'which one is the better One'.  Valentine says that R seems to assume some miraculous coincidence between a political moment, establishing the authority of the symbolic, the capacity of the police to maintain it, and 'the philosophical elaborations which support it' [I think this is R's position - it is not clear if Valentine means R or Zizek, or Zizek's reading of R ].

Zizek assumes that the symbolic order is necessary to reproduce social order, although it also produces 'pathological consequences'.  What the symbolic order does is to connect to the general with the particular [then a strange bit where Zizek  somehow merges Hegelian romanticism with Durkheimian anthropology].  The symbolic order appears as an objectivity which is misidentified as subjectivity, relying on Lacan.  Ideology is therefore necessary and eternal, just as in Althusser.  However, R criticises Althusser precisely for trying to reconcile historical materialism and bourgeois sociology in this matter, relying on Marxism itself to deny any eternal structure in which the subject is linked to a system of representations.  Nevertheless, the later material on politics is ambiguous.

R gives three reasons for the development of politics: in the naming of things itself, especially in a naming of the people; in the selection of groups to represent the people because they are always too numerous to appear completely; in the attempt to relate the name of the people to the name of the community itself, or rather to manage the split between the community and the part of it that is the people [my gloss on a quote from R (50)].  In this schema, the people become both the community and only a part of it.  Another contradiction is that the economy of signs once established offers many 'possibilities of signification' and can never close off its own privileged ones.  The issue is whether this is an ontological contradiction.  R seems to imply that the last development 'interrupts' (51) the first two—the division in the last aspect of politics is not logically implied by the symbolic order, nor is anything which lies outside of it and which is not symbolized.  As a result, a grievance relying on the second contradiction is not logically predictable.  It might arise if we see, for 'metaphysical' reasons, seeing some necessary connection between non symbolization and social division.  Alternatively, the empirical example itself shows us the weakness of the symbolic [as a counterexample] and questions its ontological status—'symbol is subordinated to allegory'.

The last option is suggested by R's argument about the third reason for politics.  R borrows an argument from Lefort about the origin of modern politics and its connection with earlier notions of monarchy.  It all turns on the 'circularity of divine right'—the King is both the temporal and spiritual leader, and people owe the King allegiance just as they owe allegiance to God, a classic 'geometrical role of order'(51): [the idea of a community united under God] offers both mathematical and geometrical notions of equality.  However, it is not that the King is somehow doubled: instead, a political order is required to show the distinction between spiritual and temporal properties and how they are linked.  The link will seem arbitrary, however, and the king's body will always be split.  It is a politics that adds the arbitrary dimension, not something internal,as in double embodiment.  Politics also introduces a distinction 'between the symbolic and the real' by making a necessary distinction between spiritual and physical, which renders both of them as 'empty markers without positive properties' (52).  Lefort says that in modern politics, power necessarily appears as something empty, exercised by mere mortals who have occupied positions of power rather arbitrarily.  There are no fixed laws beyond contestation, no foundations. Gap or emptiness can not be symbolised, 'because it is a literal event which symbolises nothing'.  The exercise of power can therefore not be simply symbolic either, and politics becomes merely a polemical discussion of 'the symbolization of power'.  This might be a democratic virtue, although it can also turn into 'the totalitarian menace' involving a resymbolization of power.  To prevent this, 'democracy is all about preserving the gap between the symbolic and the real'.

R amends this argument by examining the attributes of the people not just the institution of the king [through the contradiction between part and community?]. However, this still doesn't lead us to a political struggle over power and authority—why would this contradiction produce grievance?  The issues seems to be that this division is never named.  Somehow, the 'spontaneous experience' of living together becomes a symbolic order of its own and this 'reveals the difference between the name and its referent, the general and the particular'[I am not at all sure why, except that people can perceive the difference between the actual communities in which they live and the phony invocation of community by national politicians?] The political constantly attempts 'a polemical relation' (53) yet this somehow 'reveals the difference between either of these names' [so apathy wold result, surely, as often as rebellion?] .