Polo wars (language, democracy and the death of the signified)

rc-am rcollins at netlink.com.au
Fri Jan 28 23:31:09 PST 2000

Hey Rob,

Rob wrote:

>(agreeing with ol' Jurgen the whole way) we essentially must presuppose the
>'ideal speech situation' in our practice - thus we must open ourselves to
>questions concerning the truth and acceptability in and of our speech acts.
>This ideal, and our implicit commitment to it, seems inescapably 'there' in
>any social organisation aspiring to democratic legitimacy, I reckon.

I've been thinking about Habermas a little more, and I can't help but think his stuff is really tied to the post-war west german experience of the police state and the terrorist corollary, hence H's assumption of the figure of 'democracy' as the indisputable terrain of rhetorical legitimation, as a simultaneous move both against and around terrorism, the CD machinery and east german 'totalitarianism'. Who knows how well it worked there; but when I think of its implications when it comes to thinking about, say, the debates over seattle or the presumptions of e-list protocols or what I might think of as the significant problems in australian politics, I find little that might make sense to me as provocative or evocative. For instance, wasn't the Battle over Seattle within the left in many ways about the ways in which the 'demos' is being delimited through the figure of those rule-breaking anarchists; or isn't much of the pain and flame of e-list discussions a feature of the assumption that the other speak 'the same language' (must perforce ask the same questions, etc) as a matter of course; or isn't australian politics more amenable to a discussion of representation and violence when we come to thinking about, say, the ways in which Howard stands up to give his Invasion Day address and announces a new round of dole-bludger floggings? You might say no; but even if you say 'in part', then I would think D might have something to offer, right along with anyone else who might touch on the issues of .

>I suspect Derrida's stuff on communication effectively denies a lot of
>this, and, in so doing, denies us the potential to engage with him in such
>democratic validation (communicative action).

What Christian said.

>some people reckon the notion of 'democracy' is but a discursive distillate
>no more or less than any other social possibility, and, as such, shouldn't
>particularly concern me (which sounds coherent in itself, but then, I do
>happen to be asking the questions where democratic norms are presupposed
>and where the consensus seems to be that a bit more of it would be nice

Err... I'm not sure what you mean by "discursive distillate" or social possibilities. But I will ask whether or not you think the organisation of a consensus includes violence. If it does, and if indeed the performative use of 'democracy' works to legitimate this violence (the ALP-ACTU Accords spring to mind), then there are limits to the Habermasian perspective which Derrida might well provide a useful way of thinking through. For instance, what is the relationship between 'demos' and 'cracy'?


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