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       mf : In the last chapter of your book you introduce the notion of “radical democracy”, which you link to the idea that citizens are never once and for all in consent of their society – in other words, that dissent is always possible, and even necessary, in a democracy. The crucial question in this kind of regime is then that of the voice, of expression: a government is legitimate when all can find their voice in it. Thus, as you say, the problem of democracy coincides with the problem of making my private voice be public as well. From this point of view, what role should intellectuals play? What voice can the intellectual claim in the present democratic conversation? And to what extent is it still possible today to subscribe to the critique of the “universal” intellectual in the style of Sartre (the intellectual as the “consciousness of all”) effected by Foucault, in The political function of the intellectual, on behalf of a “specific” intellectual, who works “within determinate areas, at precise points to which she is lead by her professional situation, or her living conditions (lodging, hospital, asylum, lab, university, family or sexual relations)”, and who is therefore engaged in “real, material, everyday struggles”?

       S. Laugier, A. Ogien : In a democratic society each person constructs her identity by the everyday accomplishment of a fragile relation between her subjectivity and the collective, between the “I” and the “us”. My consent to society and its political power is therefore a matter of constant conversation. The fact that I am anchored in the community confers on me a “voice” that allows me to speak on behalf of others, but also to express my refusal to speak on behalf of an unjust society or to allow it to speak on my behalf. Such is the project of a radical democracy, fundamentally different from that which is grounded in the idea of a constitutive contract.

It all stems not only from moral perfectionism, but also from Wittgenstein. Today it is almost an act of provocation to summon Wittgenstein in the name of a concept of the radical, since his reflections on the social, on ways of life, have been so thoroughly reinterpreted from an explicitly or implicitly conservative perspective: beginning with Alasdair MacIntyre, who constructs, in After Virtue[1], a traditionalist view of community on the basis of Wittgenstein and his British heirs (notably Elizabeth Anscombe), up to, now and then, Vincent Descombes.

All of that stems from what has been perceived for a long time as an anthropological dimension of Wittgenstein’s thought, above all in his concept of forms of life, his meditations on rules, and the community of language. But we need to examine, beyond an anthropological, or simple “social” dimension of his thought, what Wittgenstein thinks about the subject of language and the authority of this subject, over others as well as over himself, as well as the authority of his society over him. In short, the point is to find in Wittgenstein not only a reflection on the social and on ways of life, but a reflection on the individual voice against the voice of the community; against conformism. As Stanley Cavell has shown in The Claim of Reason[2], this is also the question of democracy and the voice. It arises as soon as we are dealing with ordinary language: what kind of obedience is implied by the use of language? If we recuse liberal individualism and the mythological free self-institution of the subject, this is not on behalf of a conformism of rule-following, according to which the concept of the subject is that of a desubjectivated acting according to the rule. For these reasons, and as Philippe Corcuff pointed out long before our work on disobedience, the subjective voice – as expression of a self at risk – is a way of thinking, and radicalizing, democracy.

The question of the voice is a question about us, about what this us is. How do I know what we say in a certain situation? How is the language I speak, inherited from others, my language? What is under discussion in Cavell’s work are our criteria, our common agreement about, or rather in, language; and more precisely the us that is in play in “what we say”. We are not in agreement about essential meanings, but about uses. But then, what is this agreement? This is Cavell’s whole problem, and it is here that Wittgenstein’s question about language becomes a political question. The problem is that of knowing how to connect the I to the us, without subjecting the one to the other, whether through the mythology of the self-assured subject, or through that of the conformist and inevitable following of socially instituted rules.

In Must we mean what we say Cavell, taking up Kant, defines the rationality of the appeal to ordinary language, following the model of aesthetic judgment, as the claim to a “universal voice”: to be grounded in oneself in order to say what we say. This claim is the basis of agreement, and the community is therefore, by definition, something that is claimed, and not something foundational. It is me – my voice – that calls for the community, not the other way around. To find my voice is not to find agreement with all, but to raise a claim.

We could also say that in Cavell and Wittgenstein a community can only exist through its constitution by the claims of individuals, and by the recognition of the claims of others. Therefore, it cannot be presupposed, and it makes no sense to solve moral disagreement or political conflict by referring to it. It is not a solution to the problem of morality, but rather a displacement of this problem, and of the foundation of communal agreement, towards the knowledge and vindication of oneself and one’s voice. This then would be, in a definite sense, the level of the ordinary.

We should then rethink all these topics within the present situation in France, where the capacity for expression has been entirely confiscated under the guise of a claim to veritable expression on behalf of all. The concept of democratic conversation is: for the government to be legitimate, all must have or find their voice in it. To make my private voice be public: that is the problem of democracy, and the political translation of a Wittgensteinian “critique” of private language. The private is the public, the internal is the external, if I am able to find my voice in politics, to find the right expression. The critique of conformism is then a condition for ordinary democratic morality. It does not concern only those who do not speak, who are, for structural reasons, unable to speak (who have been “excluded” from the conversation and on behalf of whom one pretends to speak): it also concerns those who could speak, and run up against the inadequacy of the word as it is lent to them, of policies themselves when they have lost their capacity to express, which is precisely their individuality.

The ideal of a political conversation – of democracy – would not be that of rational discussion, or of consensus, but that of a circulation of the word in which no one would be in minority, lacking a voice. Claim and dissent are not excesses of democracy, they define instead the very nature of a true democratic conversation.

The idea is to find in Wittgenstein, reading him again from the point of view of Foucault, not only a thought of the social and of forms of life, which can easily be refashioned into a form of conservatism, but also a thought of the individual voice against the voice of the community, against conformism – in order to think, and radicalize, democracy.

[1] A. MacIntyre, After Virtue, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame 1981.

[2] S. Cavell, The Claim of Reason, Oxford University Press, New York 1979.

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