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TRANSLATION: Ségolène Royal's favorite philosopher

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In this brief article, translated from the Dec. 14-20, 2006, number of Paris Match, Patrice Bollon delineates the thought of Jacques Rancière, a philosopher who has influenced the thinking of Ségolène Royal, the recently nominated Socialist Party candidate who stands a good chance of being elected president of the French Republic in May 2007.[1]  --  "For Rancière," Bollon writes, "democracy is the inverse of what he calls the 'police':  the management of organized society in the State.  With respect to consensus on the management of societies, democracy is the 'supplement' that brings dissension to them and transforms them into something else:  truly political collectivities."  --  A partial list of titles by Rancière available in French and in English follows.[2] ...


[Translated from Paris Match]


By Patrice Bollon

** Scoop: we've found out where the Socialist candidate got her ideas! From this intellectual sensitive to political alienation. The American continent reveres this ultrademocrat. **

Paris Match
December 14-20, 2006
Page 34

At the conclusion of the first chapter of her interactive book, Le Désordre démocratique ('The Democratic Disorder'), posted online on her blog and supposed to be modifiable by internet users, Ségolène Royal opens the quotation marks. There follows a long declaration about the ancestral hatred of "democracy" and the "scandal" that it continues to represent. We also learn that the name "democracy" was at first an insult: for well-born and well-educated Athenians, it certainly meant the power of the people, but in a negative sense, that of the mob, "the government of the rabble, the multitude, those who have no right to govern." In short, it meant, in their eyes, the end of all order: the descent into anarchy.

The author of these committed, erudite lines? Jacques Rancière. In France known only to specialists, abroad, in the United States and Latin America, in particular, this rather discreet 66-year-old philosopher passes for one of our most stimulating thinkers, continuing the critical "French theory" of Deleuze, Derrida, and Baudrillard that was so popular on American campuses in the 1970s.

A student in the mid-1960s at the École normale supérieure on the rue d'Ulm, he was then one of the brilliant young disicples of Louis Althusser, who held an informal seminar at which he commented on Capital. A member of the Communist Party but critical with respect to it, Althusser advocated a rigorous, scientific Marxism. He was a Mandarin whose purism would be discredited by May 68 and its cult of spontaneity. Leftist in spirit without being an activist, Rancière took the occasion to break with him, publishing in 1974 a settling of accounts with his former master, La Leçon d'Althusser ('Althusser's Lesson'), a book in which he denounces his "hierarchical vision" of thought. He then entered a long period of development. A generalist, he touched on all subjects: political philosophy, but also pedagogy and aesthetics. And above all, his thought freed itself from Marxism in order to turn resolutely toward the question of democracy.

For Rancière, democracy is the inverse of what he calls the "police": the management of organized society in the State. With respect to consensus on the management of societies, democracy is the "supplement" that brings dissension to them and transforms them into something else: truly political collectivities. Such is the thesis that he will develop in his major work, published in 1995, La Mésentente ('Disagreement'), which he then developed further in a short essay that appeared last year, La Haine de la démocratie ('Hatred of Democracy').

It is in this philosophic pamphlet, which has since become a mini-bestseller, that the sentences quoted by Ségolène Royal are to be found. Recalling the abyss that opened up between a political and intellectual class that was almost unanimously in favor of yes and the victory of no in the May 2005 referendum on the European Constitution, Rancière criticizes in passing the use of the term "populism" to shout down the "people's bad vote."

It will be seen how these theses resonate with the "democratic deficit" attacked by the Socialist Party candidate and with her announced intention to bring "participation" into politics. Except that his thinking goes much further. Rancière does not hesitate to attack the "oligarchic" functioning of our democracies, i.e. the seizure of power by a self-proclaimed administrative élite, the one coming from E.N.A. [École nationale d'administration] -- of which Madame Royal is herself a product. He even suggests that it would be appropriate to revive the method of choice used by the earliest Greek cities, choosing leaders by lot, the only way to open a path to a true democracy. If Rancière is an ultrademocrat, though, he's not a utopian. In Hatred of Democracy he does not reject the government of the best. He considers it inevitable and even a good thing. It's just that he thinks it can only ground its legitimacy in a mutually acknowledged equality of citizens. Beneath its radical appearance, his thought is thus rather balanced, though tempted by a democratic voluntarism that sometimes resembles libertarianism. It remains to be seen whether the fate of his ideas -- apparently their adoption by Ségolène Royal does not displease him -- is different from that of the long-buried "social fracture," taken in 1995 by Jacques Chirac from the works of sociologist Emmanuel Todd, which quickly became nothing but an electoral slogan.

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


By Mark Jensen

United for Peace of Pierce County
January 2, 2007

Aux bords du politique (Gallimard, 2004)
Chroniques des temps consensuels (Seuil, 2005)
Courts Voyages au pays du peuple (Seuil, 1990)
La Fable cinématographique (Seuil, 2001)
La Haine de la démocratie (La Fabrique, 2005)
Lire "le Capital" (Presses universitaires de France, 1996) (with Louis Althusser et al.)
Le maître ignorant : Cinq leçons sur l'émancipation intellectuelle (10, 2004, reprint)
Malaise dans l'esthétique (Galilée, 2004)
Mallarmé: La Politique de la sirène (Hachette, 1996; poche, 2006)
La Mésentente: Politique et philosophie (Galilée, 1995)
Les Noms de l'histoire (Seuil, 1993)
La Nuit des prolétaires (Hachette, 2006, reprint)
La Parole muette : Essai sur les contradictions de la littérature (Hachette, 2005)
Le Philosophe et ses pauvres (Fayard, 2002)
La Politique des poètes : Pourquoi des poètes en temps de détresse ? (Albin Michel, 1992) (editor)
Les Scènes du peuple : Les Révoltes logiques, 1975-1985 (Horlieu, 2003) 

Disagreement: Politics And Philosophy (University of Minnesota Press, 1998)
Film Fables (Talking Images) (Berg, 2006)
The Flesh of Words: The Politics of Writing (Stanford University Press, 2004)
The Future of the Image (Verso, 2007)
Hatred of Democracy (Verso, 2007)
The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Stanford University Press, 1991; out of print)
The Names of History: On the Poetics of Knowledge (University of Minnesota Press, 1994)
The Nights of Labor: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France (Temple University Press, 1991; reprint)
On the Shores of Politics: Radical Thinkers (Verso, 2007)
The Philosopher and His Poor (Duke University Press, 2004)
The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (Continuum International, 2004; paperback, 2006)
Short Voyages to the Land of the People (Stanford University Press, 2003)
Sonic Process (Actar, 2003) (with Christine Assche, Diedrich Diedrichson, et al.)


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 January 2007 18:44