Contemporary Political Theory 8 (3):255-275 (2009)

Pluralism's renaissance, thanks to William Connolly, Chantal Mouffe and others, has established its position as the distinctive voice of late modern democracy. It thus calls for an explicit theory of tragedy to address the antagonisms and enmities it reflects and fosters. Treating Machiavelli, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Weber and Camus as members of a minor tradition of thought, I articulate a political conception of tragedy that flows not from the failures of politics but, ironically, from politics at its best. A tragic understanding can provide a valuable re-description of intractable political conflicts that simultaneously de-moralizes them; it can also furnish vibrant ethical-political resources for an ethos of commitment and accountability suited to life in a democratic pluralist polity. Building on these thinkers, I propose the introduction of a Dionysian festival that subverts, even disables, mere patriotic celebration and turn to a classic in American cinema, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to explore a tragic conception of political life that can be a source of inspiration and energy in a revitalized democratic community
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DOI 10.1057/cpt.2008.40
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