Lefort and Rancière on democracy and sovereignty

Philosophy and Social Criticism 50 (2):323-342 (2024)
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Abstract

This paper focuses on Lefort’s and Rancière’s conceptions of democracy as a set of conflictual processes through which the composition of the public sphere is reassessed. Reading their works together and sometimes in opposition to each other, the paper extracts elements of a theory of inessential sovereignty that avoids the pitfalls of populist antagonism and of neoliberal diffuse domination. It analyses Lefort’s and Rancière’s understandings of democracy as rule of the people, which are based on ontological and aesthetical distinctions between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’. It argues that in the structural situation of dissensus described by both Lefort and Rancière, popular sovereignty could be conceptualized as lying in an ability to shape and transform the public sphere.

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