Big Planet

A note on the love of democracy

In rhapsody on August 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm

What does it mean to love democracy? I was born in 1988, two years after the end of a dictatorship. I have no direct experience of the criminal regime, and I am forever confused about what it means to love democracy. I have a feeling that, for young people like me, it is easy to celebrate freedom because democracy is certainly part of the spirit of the times. But there is no reason to condemn what is easy in this case. The main cause of my perturbation is: what does it mean to love democracy, if one did not experience dictatorship? How can I love an orange, if let’s say all my life this is the only fruit known to me? Perhaps the possibility of loving a variable (X) rests on a structure of difference between (X) and any other member of class (Y) to which (X) belongs. In that case, this love for freedom is at the mercy of the structure of the sign. Inevitably, this invokes the notion of the structure of the sign as difference, which has already been anticipated by St. Augustine in De Magistro (see Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language by Umberto Eco). We will refer to an early essay entitled “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” by J.D. because the meaning of our subject matter — the possibility of loving democracy this late in time — is informed by the same concepts. There are a lot of answers in the social sciences; for instance, psychology may explain that even though the person did not live during Martial Law, he can imagine dictatorship by magnifying his experiences of suppressive parental authority. But the discipline we’re turning to right now appeals directly to the conditions of being — nothing can be more broad. How can one love democracy at all, if he did not experience dictatorship? Maybe there is something that opens up its possibility: a “structure” — of what? The jargon is confusing because it is structure, pure and simple. To be a “structure of” a given connotes being a constituent of a more encompassing structure. We denote this structure which no greater structure can encompass as the structurality of the structure. This opens up and closes off the possibility of love. The organizing principle of the structure is the center — in what sense? We mean center in every sense of the word. We substitute the center for any presence: God, substance, man, essence, et al. Then it is the center that determines the free play within the structure. I have a feeling that this love of democracy is made possible by the substitution of this center as democracy. At any point in the locus of time and space, the cognate concepts of “democracy”, “freedom” and “independence” are just substitutes for center, and at any given moment, this center may incarnate into any of its avatars: truth, God, substance, essence… This love of freedom can never result from an internal dialectic — this love is never fully mine, since the order of center is “only to itself that an appeal against it can be brought, only in itself that a protest against it can be made” (J.D.). Where does this love take root? From the object’s own terrain. Nevertheless, we love, but this love can by no means be wholly ours, because the center (as freedom or democracy) can only be questioned on its own terms. For love to be possible, the object must be capable of being questioned on terms other than its own. The Zen Buddhist koan says, only when our head is plunged in the water can we learn to love air — but our problem is the possibility of loving air even without finding our heads plunged in the water. Perhaps what we’re really saying is that we are always already in love.

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