From Antagonism to Alienation : Redirecting Radical Democracy

Sammanfattning: How can democratic theory address contemporary problems of alienation? Today, alienation manifests itself primarily in processes of precarization and deprofessionalization. When the subject’s work security or professional autonomy is undermined, her relations – not only to others, but also to herself – can become inhibited. This dissertation argues that while alienation poses a serious problem in today’s democracies, it is a form of social suffering that is particularly difficult for democratic theory – preoccupied by the political – to address. In this dissertation, I seek to address alienation in a radical and open way by taking agonistic democracy as my starting point. Indeed, I assume that a suitable theory of alienation should satisfy two general criteria. On the one hand, it should be radical, engaging with the suffering that people experience in a way that encourages them to contest it. On the other hand, it should be open, avoiding the pitfalls of determinism, human essentialism and the ideal of harmony, all of which risk breeding authoritarianism. In this respect, agonistic democracy seems like the best theory to address alienation. The theory is characterized by its emphasis on transformative social struggle as well as its concern with avoiding what it sees as the authoritarian pitfalls of traditional socialism. However, while agonistic democracy, preoccupied with the struggle against social marginalization, should be able to address alienation, it cannot. This, I argue, is not merely due to the historical conditions from which it emerges – marked by a turn away from traditional socialist concepts towards a focus on antagonism – but also due to a deeper tension in the theory itself. In its attempts to remain both radical and open, agonistic democracy comes to rely on a subject who is flexible, strong and conflict-seeking. For this reason, it fails to include those who cannot thrive in social disorder, those who are left alienated. I therefore seek to reformulate the subject of agonistic democracy in order to address alienation in an open and radical way.