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Violence, alterity, community
Editor: Stella Gaon

This book explores the political implications of violence and alterity (radical difference) for the practice of democracy, and reformulates the possibility of community that democracy is said to entail. Most significantly, contributors intervene in traditional democratic theory by contesting the widely held assumption that increased inclusion, tolerance and cultural recognition are democracy's sufficient conditions. Rather than simply inquiring how best to expand the ‘demos’, they investigate how claims to self-determination, identity and sovereignty are a problem for democracy, and how, paradoxically, alterity may be its greatest strength. Contributions include an appeal to the tension between fear and love in the face of anti-Semitism in Poland, injunctions to rethink the identity-difference binary and the ideal of ‘mutual recognition’ that dominate liberal-democratic thought, critiques of the canonical ‘we’ which constitutes the democratic community, and a call for an ethics and a politics of ‘dissensus’ in democratic struggles against racist and sexist oppression. The contributors mobilise some of the most powerful critical insights emerging across the social sciences and humanities—from anthropology, sociology, critical legal studies, Marxism, psychoanalysis, critical race theory and post-colonial studies—to reconsider the meaning and the possibility of ‘democracy’ in the face of its contemporary crisis.

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Stella Gaon

This introductory chapter discusses the theme of this volume, which is about the ‘crisis’ of democracy that is manifest in the increased violence provoked by radical difference or alterity in Western democratic communities and its significance for the thinking and the practical development of democracy today. This volume examines the debates about the relationship between democratic community and intolerable or violently untolerated ‘others’ and the debates about the nature of identity and the possibility of radical democratic critique. It explores the relation between democracy and alterity with respect to power, with respect to the production of subjects and citizens, and with respect to political intervention and resistance. It also analyses the nature of democracy as alterity with respect to the nature of political critique and with respect to the aporetic quality of democracy itself.

in Democracy in crisis
Stella Gaon

This chapter analyses the relationship between alterity and the conception of ‘democracy-to-come’ that emerges in the later writings of Jacques Derrida. It argues that though the letter of democratic politics signifies its meaning as rule, the spirit of democracy is its radical openness to the alterity of others, and that, in this meeting between democracy's letter and its spirit rests the only hope for democracy. It contends that this willingness and openness, this alterity at the heart of political action is the very essence of democracy.

in Democracy in crisis