Forced to be Free? Reflections on an Agonistic Citizenship

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 19:30
Oral Presentation
Martin OPPELT, Bavarian School of Public Policy - Technical University of Munich, Germany
Political Theory traditionally distinguishes two ways of being a “good citizen”. The liberal strand focusses on the righteous citizen, fulfilling his or her minimal civic duties (taking part in elections, obeying the law, paying taxes) and therefore receiving state guaranteed liberties and safeties in order to interact with fellow citizens as market participants. The republican strand on the other hand highlights the meaning of virtues and the intrinsic value of political participation and therefore demands from “good” citizens to subordinate their self-interests to the public will and the community’s wellbeing.

Facing profound political and social changes within democratic societies, it nowadays seems high time to critically overcome these two ideal types, as well concerning their normative as their analytical quality. They both don´t match the post-foundational conditions of modern democracies (Laclau) and the individuals´ experiences resulting from them. This incongruence in my point of view contributes to the development towards “societies of fear” (Bude) in which neither interests nor virtues, let alone solidarity and tolerance are the civic leitmotifs, but mistrust, hate and isolation, replacing the “good citizen” by the return of the “good underling”.

Subsequently the “attack of the anti-democrats” (Salzborn) and their continuing successes in democratic elections entails a general shift towards a dismantling of historical achievements and a deconstruction of democratic rights which is driven by what I call the “democratic fear” of citizens, who are overwhelmed by not knowing how to deal with the postmodern condition (Lyotard) of a general absence of stable and reliable social fundaments (Lefort). Against these alarming developments I suggest to elaborate a theory of agonistic citizenship from current theories of radical democracy (Rancière) and agonistic politics (Mouffe), which not only accept but welcome the “dangerous liberty”(Tocqueville) and contingency of ‘modern‘ democracies as the condition of possibility for liberty at all.