🦋 Lost in the arcades of democracy

The allure of the arcades

It is noteworthy that Gagnon has turned to cultural theorist Walter Benjamin as a model for his plans to develop a lexicon of democracy. Benjamin is a seductive figure, one who provokes, tantalises, impresses and frustrates with his pearls of wisdom. Sadly, his patchwork brilliance was never fully woven together, his life disappearing amid the turmoil of the Second World War. Benjamin captured these contrasting features in his final, incomplete undertaking, The Arcades Project. It was, in the words of his translators, a ‘blueprint for an unimaginably massive and labyrinthine architecture — a dream city’.

Trash and treasure

We must still ask: what exactly does a lexicon of democracy offer? Here I echo Matthew Flinders’ doubts about whether the value-added is as self-evident as Gagnon and some others seem to suggest. What precisely is it about finding forgotten or lost conceptions that holds democratic potential? A rather crude — but not wholly unjustified — conclusion would be that most are discarded for good cause: they have been of limited consequence or use, and will likely remain that way.

How best to tackle the challenge?

How exactly will digging up discarded and lost conceptions of democracy help us discover powerful insights and convincing ways of addressing the challenges we collectively face in the here and now? Is getting lost in democratic marginalia the most productive use of our time? We already know that democracy is heavily contested, that it has many meanings, and that the democratic canon has been overly provincial. Finding some more descriptors to add to the list is not going to change any of that.

Talking to the historical moment

There is a kind of power law at play when it comes to democracy. A handful of conceptions matter much more than all the rest combined, and of these, one matters the most. For better or worse, the world we inhabit is one in which liberal democracy stands at the centre. This formation is fundamental in shaping the contemporary conditions of possibility for democracy.



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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”