The Lures and Logic of Democracy Today
Seminar 11th November 2017
For the launch of this year's work exploring points of intersection between psychoanalysis and politics we have chosen the theme of democracy today.
Current events in the UK and Europe indicate that democracy has become one of the burning questions of our times. One could say that for a long time the idea of democracy has served to keep politics out of politics, or at least to confine the question of politics to a safely neutralised zone.This is clearly no longer the case.
Events across Europe in the decade since the financial crisis demonstrate that the semblants of democracy and of capitalism no longer reign unquestioned. They have rather become a site of active contention. The framework that served to neutralise political questions has now become the frontier zone for the question of politics today.
This zone in which the question of politics comes to the foreis thus the zone in which we might best be able to track some of the modifications in the contemporary political discourse, whether this be new formations of the discourse of the master framed by hybrid mutations in the discourses of science and globalisation or new challenges to the discourses of mastery being played out on digital platforms, giving rise to configurations of mass psychology unknown to the Freud of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego or Civilisation and its Discontents.
It is here that we might pose the question of the role of the psychoanalyst today.What stake does psychoanalysis have in these developments?Let us not forget that the emergence of the psychoanalytic discourse is associated not just with the installation of the modern discourses of science and capitalism but also with the discourse of democracy. The practice of psychoanalysis has only ever taken root in countries where democratic principles have been upheld by the rule of law.
Is democracy thus a condition of psychoanalytic practice? And which democracy are we talking about anyway?Democracy has taken multiple forms and operated in various political contexts over the centuries. Here we might contrast the limited democracy of the ancients, where democracy functioned within a restrictedfield defined by the exclusion of women, slaves and foreign workers. It is not clear that democracy functions according to the same logic in the modern era of human rights, universal suffrage and the equality between the sexes, let alone in the era of globalisation, Facebook likes and digital algorithms.
Which aspects of modern democracy might then be considered salient from the psychoanalytic point of view? What place are we to give to the principle of free speech among the other aspects associated with the principles of democratic rights? And is democracy still in a position to mediate between competing and irreconcilable factions when the principles of free speech become drowned out in the new clamour of the right to enjoyment?
These questions will be our point of reference for the exploration of the questions posed by democracy today. Our seminar on the 11th of November will aim to open up some of the questions already being aired in the build up to the pan-European Forum on the theme Decided Desires for Democracy in Europe being organised under the auspices of the Euro-Federation of Psychoanalysis, due to be held the following week in Turin.
We will question the point at which psychoanalysis finds itself called upon to rally in defence of the principle of free speech, marking not just the point of intersection between the clinical and political fields but also a novel point of eruption of the enclosed sphere of the clinic into the public sphere of political discourse.
This is the point at which the Lacanian discourse might have something unique to contribute to a clarification of the political stakes of democracy today. One thing is for sure - this will be a conversation that requires multiple voices.
We invite you to come along and to be part of this work.