It’s the title of a book by Jacques Ranciere. Ranciere defines politics as “that activity which turns on equality as its principle.” This principle is an aporia and (or, an aporia which) produces a set of questions: “when is there and when is there not equality in things between who and who else? What are these “things” and who are these whos?” Ranciere describes these questions as “the quandary proper to politics” (ix), the occurence of which could I think be said characterize what he calls disagreement.

Ranciere defines disagreement as “a determined kind of speech situation: one in which one of the interlocutors at once understands and does not understand what the other is saying” (x). This takes place “wherever contention over what speaking means constitutes the very rationality of the speech situation.” This occurs at and as a result of the intersection of different idioms and their different uses of words. Disagreement “generally bears on the very situation in which speaking parties find themselves” (xi).

Disagreement “is less concerned with arguing than with what can be argued, the presence or absence of a common object between X and Y. It concerns the tangible presence of this common object, the very capacity of the interlocutors to present it. An extreme form of disagreement is where X cannot see the common object Y is presenting because X cannot comprehend that the sounds uttered by Y form words and chains of words similar to X’s own.” Such a situation “concerns politics.” “[D]isagreement bears on what it means to be a being that uses words to argue.” In disagreement “discussion of an argument comes down to a dispute over the object of the discussion and over the capacity of those who are making an object of it” (xii).

For Ranciere disagreement is the logic of politics. Political philosophy is a mechanism whereby philosophy tries to exorcise this logic, and thus to eliminate politics as aporia. This elimination is a condition by which philosophy constitutes itself. (xii.) This elimination is connected with “what normally goes by the name of politics,” that which Ranciere calls policing. (xiii.)

Ranciere intends for this to clarify, among other things, “what might be understood by the term democracy,” which for Ranciere “differs from the practices and legitimizations of the consensus system. How this differing takes place is another part of what Ranciere intends to clarify.

“There is politics – and not just domination – because there is a wrong count of the parts of the whole.” It seems that every count is a miscount, since “the people are always more or less than the people.” (10.) Or, since, as Badiou writes someplace, everyone is infinitely different from everyone, including themselves, any count is always already a miscount. Politics is an aleatory declaration or eruption which takes a count as a miscount.

“The struggle between the rich and the poor (…) is the actual institution of politics itself. There is politics when there is a part of those who have no part, a part or a party of the poor.” (11.) Ranciere is here addressing the division of rich and poor in Aristotle’s _Athenian Constitution_ but the point could be taken as a logical and historical claim about societies as well. The point should be made, though, that conflict between rich and poor, and the conflict of capitalist and proletariat, is a species of politics for Ranciere, not the reverse. In both cases – in every case of the political – politics is constituted in active sense by the aggrieved party’s activity in response to the aggrieving party’s domination. Party does not mean exclusively what is meant today by a political party, though Ranciere’s use of the term does seem to imply the inclusion of the political party within politics, in at least some instantiations of the party. (This sense part and party could be read into Schmitt’s writings on the partisan. Schmitt’s term translated as “partisan” is “parteiganger” which means “party adherent” or “party member”. I tried to address some of this in my contribution to the Long Sunday symposium on Schmitt’s Theory of the Partisan.)

“[P]olitics (that is, the interruption of the simple effects of domination by the rich) causes the poor to exist as an entity. (…) Politics exists when the natural order of domination by the institution of a part of those who have no part.” (11.)

The institution which Ranciere writes of here is ambiguous. He says that it “is the whole of politics as a specific form of connection.” (11-12.) “It defines the common of the community as a political community, in other words, as divided, as based on a wrong that escapes the arithmetic of exchange and reparation. Beyond this set-up there is no politics. There is only the order of domination or the disorder of the revolt.” (12.)


Somewhat related to this, on domination and politics, which relates to some themes I’d like to return to someday in my notes on Benjamin .

From a section of Kant’s Critique of Judgment.

SS 28. Nature as Might.

Might is a power which is superior to great hindrances. It is termed dominion if it is also superior to the resistance of that which itself possesses might. Nature, considered in an aesthetic judgement as might that has no dominion over us, is dynamically sublime.

If we are to estimate nature as dynamically sublime, it must be represented as a source of fear (though the converse, that every object that is a source of fear, in our aesthetic judgement, sublime, does not hold). For in forming an aesthetic estimate (no concept being present) the superiority to hindrances can only be estimated according to the greatness of the resistance. Now that which we strive to resist is an evil, and, if we do not find our powers commensurate to the task, an object of fear. Hence the aesthetic judgement can only deem nature a might, and so dynamically sublime, in so far as it is looked upon as an object of fear.

But we may look upon an object as fearful, and yet not be afraid of it, if, that is, our estimate takes the form of our simply picturing to ourselves the case of our wishing to offer some resistance to it and recognizing that all such resistance would be quite futile. So the righteous man fears God without being afraid of Him, because he regards the case of his wishing to resist God and His commandments as one which need cause him no anxiety. But in every such case, regarded by him as not intrinsically impossible, he cognizes Him as One to be feared.

The term for “might” is “macht” (I believe this is also the term translated as “power” in Nietzsche’s “Will to Power). The term for “dominion” is “Gewalt,” the same term translated as “violence” in Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence.” Gewalt is a net greater Macht, a differential in Macht. It is not simply Macht against an obstacle. If we read Ranciere’s terms into this, interpreting domination as Gewalt, as a differential in Macht, then politics is the interruption of Gewalt, the interuption of the differential relation. In this sense, then, politics is somewhat akin to aesthetics in Kant, particularly to the sublime. The sublime is that which is judged as fearful without one being afraid of it, that which is judged as fearful when judged from a safe distance. That which can be judged fearful is or has Gewalt. One of the results of the sublime is a reminding or a foregrounding of the ways in which the subject is (or has the capacity of faculty to be) superior to the Macht and/or Gewalt of nature (and presumably of any Macht and/or Gewalt), that is, of subjective freedom.

“Sublimity, therefore, does not reside in any of the things of nature, but only in our own mind, in so far as we may become conscious of our superiority over nature within, and thus also over nature without us (as exerting influence upon us).”

The power of or capacity for politics seems similar, it is the ability to not be fully causally determined (to not be fully exhausted or overcome by Macht or Gewalt) but to be – or to subjectively exercise a subtactive operation which renders – an underdetermination within the regime of the determined, and from there to operate a determining power.