Ranciere and Contemporary Political Ontology
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology

A striking feature of Jacques Rancière’s oeuvre[1] is its strong unity. The many books he has written, covering a wide array of topics, make up one coherent conceptual world. This coherence stems from a fundamental intuition, of which all his books are the sophisticated exploration, in all its consequences and contradictions: the idea that equality is not an essence, a value or a goal, but the first presupposition from which theory must start. This simple and radical axiom led to the break with Althusserianism in the 70s.[2] Underneath Althusser’s shifting intellectual position, and in Marxism more generally, Rancière recognised the same fundamental gesture that, according to him, was also the founding gesture of philosophy: the exclusion of a silent majority from the privilege of thought and art, the implicit alliance between philosophy and the repressive order of social hierarchy.[3] Against this elitist posture, Rancière holds that the role of the philosopher is not to give his/her voice to the silent aspirations of the dominated, but to add his/her voice to theirs, to hear their voices, rather than interpret them, to help them resound, to make them circulate. The division of labour that keeps apart the intellectual’s science from ordinary experience is an ideological fallacy that perpetuates the relations of domination. The turn from political philosophy to the hermeneutics of injustice has a direct methodological consequence: the analysis of domination and exclusion can no longer be carried out from above or behind the back of the exploited, but has to be carried out immanently, in the exploited’s own words and actions. The hermeneutics of the social and political fields demand that the observer take the position of a participant. This explains the extremely original course of Rancière’s work in the late 70s and early 80s, when he undertook extensive research into the “archives of the proletarian dream,” in order to uncover the forgotten voices of 19th century workers.[4] The key event that lured Rancière back from historiographical work to political conceptualisation was the encounter with Joseph Jacotot. In the Ignorant Schoolmaster, Rancière recounts conceptually the pedagogy of emancipation propounded by Jacotot, founded on the axioms of the equal intelligence of all human beings and the intractable inequality of the social order. The famous analyses offered by Rancière in La mésentente and Aux bords du politique, are simply the conceptual development and reappropriation of Jacotot’s revolutionary politics of education. It would be easy to show that the second period in Rancière’s writings, devoted to aesthetic questions, is in direct continuity with his political philosophy. Instead, I would like to position Rancière within the field of contemporary political philosophy. After a brief recapitulation of his main political theses, I will show in what sense his politics of disagreement are akin to a form of critical theory and can be formally compared to Axel Honneth’s ethics of recognition. In a third part, I will compare his work to some of Alain Badiou and Jean-Luc Nancy’s teachings.

As is well known, Rancière’s political ontology is structured by a paradoxical logic: politics (la politique) is opposed in essence to philosophy, there is no such thing as political philosophy. It is not false to say that Rancière’s political philosophy goes to great lengths to prove that political philosophy is a logical impossibility.

When turning its attention to the organisation of the Polis, philosophy does so with the resources of rationality as a means of establishing the normative principles of a political community and critically analysing existing communities. It presupposes that there are rational ways of accounting for the existence, structuring and functioning of political communities. This leads to the task of finding normative principles that give justification for the social and political orders. The presupposition of an arkhe, an underlying principle, of the political community implies that there are reasons behind the linking of individuals to certain political functions. In other words, philosophy poses principles of the community by articulating the political to the social. The...