Simon Critchley writes: The Arab spring, notably in Egypt and Syria, seems to be running out of steam. The vivacious drive of the Occupy movement has faltered and it is not clear what new life will appear. Can popular protest regain its energy and inspiration, or is that it?
Rather than retreating into the comfort of despair or cynicism, perhaps this is a moment in which we can try and gain a broader view of matters.
Power is the ability to get things done. Politics is the means to get those things done. Democracy is the name for regimes that believe that power and politics coincide and that power lies with the people. The problem, as Zygmunt Bauman has reminded us, is that power and politics have become divorced. What we call democracy has become a sham. Power has evaporated into the supra-national spaces of finance, trade and information platforms, but also the spaces of drug trafficking, human trafficking and immigration – the many boats that cross the Mediterranean and other seas.
But the space of politics has remained the same as it has for centuries, localised in the nation state with its prosaic variations of representative, liberal democracy. Politics still feels local – we might feel British or Greek or whatever – but it isn’t. Normal state politics simply serves the interests of supra-national power. Sovereignty has been outsourced.
The premise of western representative democracy is the following: citizens exercise political power through voting; representatives are elected; governments are formed and these governments have power to get things done, a power identical to the will of the people.
The belief that many of us had (or perhaps still have) is that if we work for a certain party, then we can win an election, form a government, and have the power to change things. But every day this is proven to be wrong. [Continue reading…]