Being political

Political democracy in Europe prides itself on being a rational and just way of conducting public life. It is supposed to represent a move beyond the simple reproduction of traditional ways of life, shirking myths in favour of reasoned consensus. But accounting for political democracy can be seen to oscillate between two types of problematic and tacit grounding myth.

‘The political realm’ can be seen as a background myth that drives the notion of democracies wherein voting in elections is seen as the democratic expression. What such a notion means is that in the act of voting in an election, legitimisation is given to an individual, group, party, in the instant that their tally outweighs that of their opponent. From a position of no government, in a moment, one is born via the ritual of electing.

On a different account of democracy, one that emphasises political discourse, each citizen has an equal voice and the only force permitted is that of the better argument. Here, ‘the political’ is everything under serious discussion. It’s what the people do, and is just in representing the realities of those concerned. Democratic societies on this pole ought only to recognise democracy as action, as an ongoing process and as a learning process – not a moment grounded in a myth, but a modus operandi of a rational society.

But how are such a citizenry to engage in the processes of democracy? Are they to try to attain a reflective position based on what’s best for society? Or should they represent themselves in a very practical sense, according to their experience and belief? The former seems to contradict the spirit of a communicative basis for action — it advocates for a hypothetical public. However, to see practical identities as those which are the relevant points of view in a communicative exchange seems to introduce points of view that are likely constituted by narrative components, themselves myth-like in nature.

There is no clear way in which claims that motivate in a political sense can, in virtue of that, motivate on the personal in a practical way. Nor is there an obvious route from the personal, practical to the political. 

The mythic tacitly endures, internal to the democratic, from ‘the political realm’ or from the people. On either pole, the motivating types of reasons for action are not themselves open to the democratic kind of rationality they themselves are supposed to ground.

One way out could be to separate out elements of political discourse in a self-conscious way- the procedural, the reflexive, and the value based. These could correspond to the rules, the contexts, and the motivators at play in the discourse.

Setting out political discourse in at least these framings, overtly, could help to generate the sort of hypothetical contest among reasons upon which discourse can run. It could also serve to permit value to be seen operating in political discourse such that the mythic could be acknowledged and handled in a clear way.

Making sense of the mythic in political reality could serve to ameliorate rational and justice lacunae in public life more generally.


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