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View Issue - International Debate Education Association
CONTROVERSIA
Controversia_52.indd 1
| an international journal of debate and democratic renewal
11/12/2007 10:39:53 AM
IDEA US Board of Directors
A publication of IDEA
International Debate Education Association
Summer / 2007
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Noel Selegzi
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Controversia Editorial Staff
Program Coordinator:
Hernán Bonomo
Co-editors:
David Cratis Williams
Florida Atlantic University
IDEA Netherlands Board of Directors:
Marilyn J. Young
The Florida State University
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Fort Hays State University
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issn number: 1521-4826
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CONTROVERSIA | Volume 5 Issue 2
Editors
Co-editors
David Cratis Williams Marilyn J. Young
Florida Atlantic University
Florida State University
Book Review Editor
William E. Shanahan, III
Fort Hays State University
Editorial Board
Satoru Aonuma
Robert Asen
M. Lane Bruner
David Cheshier
Alan Cirlin
F.H. Van Eemeren
Maxim Fetissenko
Vadim Golubev
G. Thomas Goodnight
Ekatarina Haskins
Michael David Hazen
Darrin Hicks
Jeffrey Hobbs
Thomas A. Hollihan
Michael Hoppmann
Cornelia Ilie
John Ishiyama
Robert L. Ivie
James Janack
Geoffrey Klinger
László Komlósi
Noemi Marin
Brian McGee
Gordon Mitchell
Catherine H. Palczewski
Georgios Papagounos
Barbara Pickering
Manolis Polychronides
Juha Raikka
Jack Rogers
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John Parrish Sprowl
Takeshi Suzuki
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Mark Wright
George Ziegelmueller
Joseph P. Zompetti
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Tsuda College
Wayne State University
Illinois State University
Japan
USA
USA
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CONTROVERSIA | Volume 5 Issue 2
Table of Contents / Оглавление
vol 5 nº2
Editors’ Introduction
David Cratis Williams / Marilyn J. Young
Вступительное слово редакторов
Дэвид Крейтис Вильямс / Мэрилин Дж. Янг
2007
11
11
Special Issue: “Democracies” in Transition
Специальный выпуск: Переходные «демократии»
Introduction: Considering “Democracies” in
Transition
M. Lane Bruner and Noemi Marin, Guest Editors
15
Вступление: Анализ переходных
«демократий»
Майкл Лейн Брунер и Ноеми Марин, приглашенные редакторы
Irony as a Pro-Democracy Trope:
Europe’s Last Comic Revolution
Tomasz Tabako 15
23
This essay proposes that irony, because of its pluralizing potential, is a pro-democracy
trope—‘demirony,’ or a rhetorical resource capable of opening up and ‘de-hermeticizing’ hegemonic discourses. The power of irony is twofold. First, it is capable of putting
an end to bipolar politics. Under irony, totally incongruent positions can become less
incompatible. Second, once the grip of bipolar politics is loosened, the tactics of resistance (and the programs of change) can be reconfigured and thereby revitalized. The
first part of the essay discusses the concept of performative irony. It suggests that for
performative irony’s operations to be successful in the political arena, at least three elements are required: axiological hunger, reciprocity, and opportunity, which accumula-
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tively can make a transition from dictatorship to democracy a peaceful and sometimes
entertaining possibility. The second part of the essay is application; it presents the
case of the ironic oppositional performances in then-communist Poland in the late1980s in the context of the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. It is
argued that such performances not only targeted the state apparatus to make it more
susceptible to change but it also assisted in de-hermeticizing the hegemonic discourse
of the anti-regime Solidarity movement, thereby helping both sides, the regime and
the opposition, reach a historical compromise.
Ирония как продемократический троп:
Последняя комическая революция Европы
Томаш Табако
23
В этой статье выдвигается гипотеза о том, что ирония, в связи со своим
плюралистическим потенциалом, является про-демократическим
тропом – «дем-иронией» или риторическим инструментом, который
обладает способностью сделать более открытым («разгерметизировать»)
господствующий дискурс. Ирония обладает двусторонней силой.
Во-первых, она способна положить конец биполярной политике.
Посредством иронии абсолютно несовместимые позиции могут
стать менее непримиримыми. Во-вторых, по мере ослабления хватки
биполярной политики, тактика сопротивления (и программы перемен)
могут изменить свои структуры и, таким образом, оживиться. В первой
части статьи обсуждается концепция «перформативной иронии». Автор
полагает, что для успешного использования перформативной иронии
на политической арене необходимы, как минимум, три элемента:
аксиологический голод, обоюдность и благоприятная возможность,
сочетание которых может сделать переход от диктатуры к демократии
мирным, а иногда и забавным процессом. Во второй части статьи
приводится пример подобного процесса. Автор описывает случай
иронического противостояния в тогда еще коммунистической Польше
конца 1980-х годов, имевшего место на фоне перехода страны от диктатуры
к демократии. Выдвигается точка зрения, что такие случаи применения
иронии были направлены не только на то, чтобы сделать государственный
аппарат более восприимчивым к переменам, но также помогли
разгерметизировать господствующий дискурс антирежимного движения
«Солидарность», что помогло обеим сторонам – правящему режиму и
оппозиции – достичь исторического компромисса.
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CONTROVERSIA | Volume 5 Issue 2
Argumentation and Democratic Disagreement:
On Cultivating a Practice of Dissent
Kevin Cummings and James K. Stanescu
55
In 1955, at the height of the Cold War, Karl Wallace wrote that a liberal democracy
invited the test of dissent while a tyranny circumscribed public debate and sickened
the art of public address. The thesis Wallace offered then remains relevant today. In
this essay, we explore the work of Giorgio Agamben to examine how governance during
times of crisis curtails dissent and implicates human rights narratives and arguments.
Drawing on the work of Jacques Rancière and Karl Wallace, we argue that Agamben is
too hasty in his rejection of human rights and contend that dissent and argumentation
can anchor a democratic ethos vital to defeating fascism.
Аргументация и демократические
разногласия:
О культивации культуры инакомыслия
Кевин Каммингс и Джеймс К. Станеску
55
В 1955 г., в пик холодной войны, Карл Воллас написал, что либеральная
демократия приветствует испытание инакомыслием, в то время как
тирания ограничивает публичные дебаты и приводит к упадку искусства
публичных выступлений. Тезис, выдвинутый Волласом, не потерял
своей актуальности и сегодня. В этой работе мы рассматриваем работу
Жоржио Агамбена, чтобы определить, как правление во времена кризиса
ограничивает инакомыслие и влияет на дискуссии о правах человека.
Беря за основу работы Жака Рансиера и Карла Волласа, мы утверждаем,
что Агамбен поспешил в своем отрицании прав человека, и выдвигаем
точку зрения, что инакомыслие и дебаты могут стать вдохновителями духа
демократии, жизненно важного для поражения фашизма.
The Banality of Nationhood:
Visual Rhetoric and Ethnic Nationalism in PostCommunist Romania
Ioana A. Cionea
77
This essay examines the use of visual rhetoric to promote nationalist discourse in postCold War Eastern Europe. Manifestations of ethnic nationalism became part of Romania’s political scene following the fall of the communist regime in 1989. The present
article examines the physical transformation of the city of Cluj-Napoca, Romania as a
result of the mayor’s decision to incorporate the Romanian national colors into the city’s
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infrastructure. Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification and Michael Billig’s idea of
banal nationalism are employed to explain nationalist symbolism as an essential manifestation of the mayor’s attempt to isolate and alienate the Hungarian minority while
escaping the European Union’s monitoring. The case study is a unique example of the
relationships among visual rhetoric, the public sphere, and nationalism in contemporary
politics.
Банальность государственности:
Визуальная риторика и этнический
национализм в посткоммунистической
Румынии
Иоана А. Чионеа
77
В этой работе анализируется использование визуальной риторики в
становлении националистического дискурса в странах Восточной Европы
после холодной войны. Проявления этнического национализма проникли
на политическую сцену Румынии после падения коммунистического
режима в 1989. В данной работе исследуется физическая трансформация
румынского города Клуж-Напока в результате решения мэра внести
румынские национальные цвета в инфраструктуру города. Концепция
«идентификации» Кеннета Бёрка и идея «банального национализма»
Майкла Биллига используется для объяснения националистического
символизма как важного проявления попыток мэра изолировать и
отчуждить венгерское меньшинство, избегая при этом контроля со
стороны Европейского Союза. Данный пример уникален в плане
отношений между визуальной риторикой, публичной сферой и
национализмом в современной политике.
Arguing War in an Era of Terrorism:
“Democracy to Come” and Critical Pedagogy
Kevin Kuswa and Briann Walsh
93
This essay attempts to both critique and defend a critical pedagogy informed by Derrida’s concept of a “democracy to come” and Dewey’s advocacy of a politics against war. We
begin by marking our present location in an era of fear and war based on terrorism and
counter-terrorism, a time requiring a vision of a radical, even if impossible, democracy.
We then join this concept of democracy with a critical pedagogy that includes advocating the abandonment of war and the need to encounter the Other without judgment,
without mediating rhetoric. We ultimately contend that it is possible to reach for the
impossible, making this particular drive for democracy, at least in terms of argumentation studies, a viable response to the binaries defining our era of terrorism.
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CONTROVERSIA | Volume 5 Issue 2
Дискуссия на тему войны в эпоху
терроризма:
«Будущая демократия» и критическая
педагогика”
Кевин Кузва и Брайан Волш
93
В данной работе предпринята попытка одновременно подвергнуть
критике и защитить критическую педагогику, на которую оказали влияние
концепция Дерриды о «будущей демократии» и выступления Дьюи в
поддержку анти-военной политики. В начале работы мы определяем
настоящий момент в эпохе страха и войны, основанной на терроризме
и контр-терроризме, как время, которое нуждается в идее радикальной
демократии, даже если эта идея кажется недостижимой. Затем мы
совмещаем эту концепцию демократии с критической педагогикой,
которая предусматривает отказ от войны и потребность в формировании
восприятия «Иных», не опосредованного риторикой и критическим
суждением. В результате анализа мы делаем вывод, что мы можем
пытаться достичь невозможного, используя это конкретное стремление
к демократии, по крайней мере в контексте изучения аргументации, как
жизнеспособный ответ на бинарность эпохи терроризма.
Notes on Contributors / Данные об авторах
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CONTROVERSIA | Volume 5 Issue 2
Editors’ Introduction
David Cratis Williams
Marilyn J. Young
As M. Lane Bruner and Noemi Marin, the guest editors of this special issue
of Controversia on “Democracies’ in Transition” note in their “Introduction,”
this special issue had its inception during the 11th Biennial Wake Forest
Argumentation Conference, held February 16-18, 2006, at Florida Atlantic
University with the cooperation of the International Society for the Study
of Argumentation. The Conference theme was “Contemporary Perspectives
on Argumentation.” Professor Bruner, from Georgia State University, and
Professor Marin, from Florida Atlantic University, co-led a seminar on “Argumentation, Neo-Liberalism, and Democratization in Transitional Nations.”
That seminar was the springboard to this special issue, although not all of the
seminar participants are represented in this issue nor were all of the authors
of the articles in this issue participants in the conference. From that inception,
through the diligence and hard work of Professors Bruner and Marin, this
special issue grew. We thank both the editors of this issue and the authors of
the articles for their work. This is a very special “special issue.”
We need to offer a correction for an error in the “Notes on Contributors”
for Volume 5, number 1. Robert P. Newman is former Director of Debate for
the William Pitt Debating Union at the University of Pittsburgh. So far as
we are aware, there is no “William Penn Debating Union,” as we mistakenly
reported, and certainly not at the University of Pittsburgh.
We would also like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Martin
Marinos, our graduate assistant at Florida Atlantic University. Martin has
maintained much of the correspondence with contributors and reviewers over
the past year, as well as assisted in many other aspects of the preparation of
the journal, and we both thank him for his work over the past year and look
forward to his return for another year. We also thank Maxim Fetissenko and
Michael Launer for their work translating the titles and abstracts for the Table
of Contents for this issue.
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ARTICLES
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CONTROVERSIA | Volume 5 Issue 2
Considering “Democracies” in Transition
M. Lane Bruner and Noemi Marin
Let us begin with an unfair question: “what is democracy?” The question
is unfair because critical philosophy, particularly in the wake of semiotic
theory, has shown persuasively that to ask what a word means, no less than to
ask what an individual letter or sign means, is to profoundly misunderstand
how language works. Those who carefully study language in use understand
that the meaning of words shifts within different linguistic contexts and
shifts over time; therefore, asking what a term “means” is a less productive
question than asking how a term has been used in different contexts. Better
to ask: how has the term “democracy” been used across time and in different
contexts, and with what effect?
Once our question is appropriately reframed, what are we then to make
of the claim that the world has supposedly witnessed a wave of “democratic”
revolutions since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the fact that the
phrase “democracies in transition” rolls easily off the tongues of innumerable media pundits, scholars, political analysts, and politicians? John Dunn,
Professor of Political Theory at the University of Cambridge, goes so far as to
claim that “democracy” is little more than “a highly desirable label for which
the exceedingly heterogeneous class of modern states show a strong predilection when they come to describe themselves in public.”1 Who would argue
otherwise, when North Korea is called The Democratic People’s Republic
of Korea, or when most citizens of the United States would hardly question
the claim that their country was the “greatest democracy” the world has ever
seen, or that the Iraq War is designed to bring “democracy” to that country?
One can only wonder what “democracy” might possibly mean in the North
Korean context, and students of the American Revolution know that if the
Founding Fathers feared anything it was “democracy” (which they generally
understood to mean mob rule by the poor). No less an authority than Aristotle argued that “democracy exists when the free and poor, being a majority,
have authority to rule,”2 noting that the “healthy” forms of government are
monarchy, aristocracy, and polity, and that the “sick” versions of these forms,
respectively, were tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy.3 As Dunn notes, what
we really have today are “two distinct and developed democratic theories . .
. one dismally ideological and the other fairly blatantly Utopian.”4 Perhaps
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this is why Kevin Cummings and James Stanescu argue in this volume that
“democracy as a term is in the midst of a crisis of meaning.”
Despite this “crisis of meaning,” however, everyone today seems to be
deeply in love with “democracy.” Why? Obviously, one reason is that some
people associate the term “democracy” with political liberties and human
rights (the utopians), while others see the term as a convenient label for
economic liberty and the protection of property rights (the ideologues).
Economic neo-liberals, and the powerful international institutions that
implement their policies, certainly work to protect economic liberty and
property rights, as did their Federalist predecessors (the ones who feared
“democracy”), but what equally powerful institutional actors are interested
in protecting political liberty and human rights? Why do people not love the
republican forms of polity once valiantly defended, albeit unsuccessfully, by
the Old Whigs in the British Empire of the early eighteenth century, or by
the ideologically misnamed Anti-Federalists in the late eighteenth century?
Keeping in mind that Aristotle’s most healthy form of government consisted
of a balance between just executive rule by the one (monarchy), just aristocratic rule based on a natural meritocracy (aristocracy), and just majority
rule based on a broad base of citizens capable of wise deliberation on issues
of common concern (which together added up to his notion of polity), one
can only wonder what has happened to this interesting history of “utopian”
political theory.
A key factor in erasing the historical notion that properly balanced governments, where balanced and separated powers checked political corruption
and protected the commonwealth (not simply the wealth of the wealthy),
is the sad fact that today many people confuse capitalism with “democracy”
(or economic liberty with political liberty). For instance, when the states
formerly under the influence of the Soviet Union clamored for “democracy,”
many of the “democrats” interpreted that call to mean a dismantling and
privatization of state assets and the “freedom” of markets. As Ioana Cionea
notes in her contribution to this volume, “Romanians discovered that
democracy was not as easy as they might have imagined. The initial hopes
for a miraculous improvement in living standards came crumbling down.”
Should people assume that “democracy” will automatically lead to an economic miracle? When “democracy” enters a new public arena in the New
Europe, is it possible that the concept is translated in two completely different ways (i.e. as economic and political liberty)? If so, and despite ideological claims that “free markets and democracy” go hand in hand, recent devel-
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CONTROVERSIA | Volume 5 Issue 2
opments in China prove that the claim is utterly false. That said, and going
back to what Dunn calls the more “ideological” use of the term, there is no
doubt that the International Monetary Fund gave Russia its new “democracy” through neo-liberal economic shock therapy, not through the development of institutional and constitutional arrangements that would guarantee
political liberty. If the “great democracies” of the West put economic liberty before political liberty when advising those in charge of “democracies
in transition,” then how can everyday citizens in those “democracies” best
enhance and protect their political liberties? In sum, and as these opening
remarks are designed to suggest, there is obviously a great deal of thinking
that remains to be done about “democracy” and “democracies in transition,”
and the main purpose of this special issue of Controversia is to productively
complicate these terms for those seeking to explore contemporary political
discourse in the global arena.
In February 2006, the two editors of this special issue on “Democracies
in Transition” held a seminar on this very topic in conjunction with the
Biennial Wake Argumentation Conference at Florida Atlantic University
(held under the auspices of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation). Our seminar brought together ten scholars to present papers at
the intersection of public argument and “democracy.” The essays included
in the following pages are the result of that initial seminar. Given our training as rhetoricians, we were not looking to find the answer to what the term
“democracies in transition” means, but instead to productively problematize
that term. As editors of the work that eventually emerged from that conference, our selection of the following four essays follows in the spirit of that
seminar: to introduce readers to conversations that problematize “democracy.” It is our sincere hope that, together, these essays will help to spur
additional scholarship on “democracies in transition,” especially scholarship
that will help protect human freedom and dignity in the face of innumerable forces that would otherwise continue to lead us into “sick” forms of
government.
In what follows, readers will find two case studies of “democracies in
transition” (one in Poland and another in Romania), and two theoretical
essays exploring the notion of “democracy” and “democracies in transition”
through the lens of philosophers as diverse as Giorgio Agamben, Hannah
Arendt, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, John Dewey, Michel Foucault,
Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Rancière. We begin with Tomasz Tabako’s
exploration of the public use of irony in Poland’s “comic revolution.” Tabako
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argues that carnivalesque protests, beginning in literary and popular culture
circles, eventually made their way into the serious protests of those involved
in the Solidarity movement, leading, at least for a while, away from communist totalitarianism and toward political pluralism. Following with a theoretical essay, Cummings and Stanescu explore the relationship between what
they define as “democracy” and the cultivation of a “practice of dissent.” They
argue that human rights rhetoric, contra Agamben, can be used as a “fundamental tool” for dissent, particularly by undoing the kind of “demonization
of the Other” that is all too common in collective identity construction.
We then turn to Ioana Cionea’s essay because it deals with the construction
of ethnic nationalism in Romania, and in so doing it perfectly exemplifies
the very kind of anti-“democratic” identity construction deplored by Cummings and Stanescu. Paradoxically, whereas Tabako’s “comic” essay ends on
a sobering note (i.e. the eventual “triumph” of neo-liberal capitalism over
social democracy), Cionea’s “tragic” essay concludes on a positive note (a
“primitive” form of ethnic nationalism has been effectively suppressed, at
least for the time being, due to pressures created by the desire for membership in the European Union, triggered in large part by the desire to join the
global neo-liberal order).
Once we have witnessed a relatively successful transition from communism to “democracy,” once we have considered the problematic relationship
between collective identity construction and “democracy” from a theoretical
point of view, and once we have reviewed a case study dealing with a relatively unsuccessful early transition from communism to “democracy” (exemplifying the construction of anti-“democratic” ethnic nationalism), we then
conclude with a final theoretical essay by Kevin Kuswa and Briann Walsh on
the crucially important Derridean notion of “democracy to come” in light
of the so-called War on Terror (which interestingly mirrors the problematic
relationship between global capitalism as economic liberty and global political liberty).
Together, these four essays raise a number of interesting questions for those
seeking to better understand “democracy” and “democracies in transition.”
First, what is the relationship between dissent and “democracy?” Cummings and Stanescu argue that “democratic society should allow and actively
promote democratic transgressions in political identifications,” and that
“human rights discourse” provides “voice for the voiceless, or those excluded
from hegemonic discourses.” But what are “democratic transgressions,” and
what are the conditions that allow excluded people to productively trans-
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form hegemonic discourses? Tabako provides one example of an excluded
voice (i.e. those who were no longer “True Believers” in Polish communism)
transforming the hegemonic voice; however, the new “consensus” has its
own (inevitable?) exclusions. When does dissent help to produce “democracy,” and when do “successful” forms of dissent become “undemocratic?”
Second, Kuswa and Walsh, drawing selectively from some of the later
writings of Derrida, argue that “democracy” depends upon encounters “premised on an unconditional hospitality and a willingness to feel love for and
as the Other,” that democracy requires “a quest for a non-mediating rhetoric,” “unconditional encounters with the Other,” giving “priority to unconditional preconceptions,” and that “democracy starts from a place where
anyone can live free from initial defining structures.” How, though, are we to
take these ideals and translate them into practice? Their essay contemplates
the notion that democracy requires an encounter with the Other untainted
by essentialist stereotypes denying the discursive dimensions of identity (i.e.
that identity is not something one is, but something one becomes across
time and circumstance). While the idealistic goals of the essay are undoubtedly laudable, and while teaching such ideals in our schools and universities
will undoubtedly contribute to more responsible forms of citizenship, how
can we translate these ideals into practical action outside of the classroom?
How do we defend “democracy” as radical identity problematization when
everyday politics is oftentimes predicated on essentialism? While Cionea’s
essay seeks to problematize “primitive” ethnic nationalism, who would deny
that race and ethnicity are always lurking in the background as kindling for
identity entrepreneurs ready to start a conflagration whenever economic or
political conditions deteriorate?
Third, what is the role of pedagogy in promoting “democracy”? Two of
the essays explicitly argue that a significant source for democratic thought
is pedagogy, and the relationship between “democratic thought” and education has a particular resonance in Eastern and Central Europe. In the last
decade, for example, research conferences and academic work have related
“democracies in transition” to academic and pedagogical activities geared to
create a more coherent shared meaning of “democracy” in the area. Hence
the American Democratic Project works in conjunction with the University
Partnership for Education and Citizenship, assisting with conferences and
pedagogical discussions seeking to enhance “democratic” citizenship and
civic engagement among university students in post-communist countries.
But how are we to best approach “democratic” education?
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Going back to the two essays and their explicit arguments in support of
the role of pedagogy for “democratic” life, troubling questions persist. If
we could simply teach people the absurdity of essentialism, if we could help
them to understand identity philosophy, if we could help them to identify
“dangerous” and “sick” forms of identification, then “democracy” would
supposedly flourish. But who will provide this education? How widespread
will it be? How will it reach into those areas of the world where unquestioned identities remain a primary resource in the struggle against cosmopolitan and neo-liberal thinking that would atomize all enduring social and
cultural ties (and the collective protections they oftentimes provide)? Kuswa
and Walsh maintain that their “argument ends and begins from the position
that practices of political pedagogy in an argumentation studies setting . . .
mark a potential response to violence and a polarized Other.” We wonder,
however, how widespread the impact of such pedagogy will be if confined to
“an argumentation studies setting,” and we wonder how effective such studies would be in areas of the world torn by ethno-political violence (which,
arguably, is most of the world).
Finally, though, and given these three openings for constructively critiquing the efforts of our contributors, we believe that there is one more thread
(perhaps Ariadna’s thread?) that is worthwhile to pursue: Derrida’s notion
of “democracy to come.” 5 In his exceptionally rich essay “The ‘World’ of
the Enlightenment to Come (Exception, Calculation, Sovereignty),” Derrida provides his most detailed description of “democracy to come,” which
resonates deeply with Foucault’s notion of a “limit attitude” in his own essay
on enlightenment.6 Put perhaps most simply, Derrida’s point, derived from
his reading of Walter Benjamin’s work on “violence,” is that any appeal to
justice must refer to law, but true justice must always be a unique application/interpretation of the law under the given circumstances, not simply a
rigid application of the law.7 The law depends upon two forms of violence:
the violence that establishes the law and the violence that enforces the law.
In order for justice to occur, the violence of the law must be overcome; that
is, the limits of the law must be exceeded by reason. In this sense, reason
exceeds the limits of sovereignty, although “it would be imprudent and
hasty, in truth hardly reasonable, to oppose unconditionally, that is, head
on, a sovereignty that is itself unconditional and indivisible.”8
Allow us to make an analogy to identity and “democracy.” Essentialism
would parallel sovereignty, the limit, the law, and the certainty of rationality,
while “democracy” would parallel the productive transgression (not head on,
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but indirect) of reason in the face of sovereignty, the limit, and the law. In
this precise sense, democracy is always “to come” because every time a new
law is established (supposedly to enforce justice), a new limit, a new violence
is produced; therefore, democracy becomes rather much an attitude toward
the power of identity/law (an attitude that always recognizes the violence
of consensus and identification). This is precisely Foucault’s description of
enlightenment as “an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the
critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of
the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of
going beyond them.”9 What this leaves unresolved, however, is to make such
an “ethos” politically practical. Perhaps the resolution requires an incessant
process: discursive patterns engaging “democracy” must inevitably become
practice; practice, however, must immediately be problematized in order
to revisit the notion of “democracy in transition;” and new conceptualizations of “democracy in transition” must then reinvigorate discursive patterns
engaging “democracy.”
Tabako’s essay points toward at least one way of “indirectly” confronting the “sovereignty” of the “law” and problematizing discursive patterns
of “democracy:” through the artful application of irony “serious” power is
“unmasked.” Cionea’s essay points in another direction: revealing the cynical
manipulations of “democratic” ethnic entrepreneurs to those already predisposed to cosmopolitan thought. Yet these directions only point toward
a new series of pressing questions: under what conditions can irony productively function to “democratize” power; and given that all power/law
immediately assumes a sovereign seriousness, how can we sustain such
irony? That is, once patterns of “democratic” discourses become practice,
how can we ensure that such practices are immediately “democratized” yet
again? One can easily imagine political environments where the laughing
people are simply shot, or where critics who dare to unmask the machinations of ethnic entrepreneurs are jailed; therefore, we also need to study
those “serious” conditions that undo healthy humor, and those conditions in
which “false democracies” can be effectively critiqued. What, precisely, are
the conditions that lead to identity entrepreneurship? How can we actively
promote conditions that best support productive forms of irony? How can
political liberty be protected in advanced capitalism? How, in sum, can we
best work to ensure that “democracy” will continue to come?
We do not presume that the following essays can answer these questions with finality, but they certainly begin to productively address them.
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Together, they constitute a dialogue between the historical practices of political actors in “democracies in transition” and theoretical considerations of
“democratic” ideals. Through this mixture of practice and theory, coupled
with complex examples that reveal surprising successes and failures, we hope
that other scholars will be motivated to continue the project this special issue
is meant to simply inaugurate.
Notes
1 John Dunn, Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1993), p. 12.
2 Aristotle, Politics, trans. Carnes Lord (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984),
p. 123.
3 Aristotle, Politics, p. 96.
4 Dunn, Western Political Theory, p. 27.
5 Ariadne was the daughter of Minos and Pasphae who gave Theseus the thread with
which to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.
6 Jacques Derrida, “The ‘World’ of the Enlightenment to Come (Exception, Calculation,
Sovereignty),” Research in Phenomenology 33 (2003), pp. 9-52; Michel Foucault, “What
is Enlightenment,” The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books,
1984), pp. 32-50. Derrida’s essay appeared later in one of his last books, Rogues: Two
Essays on Reason (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
7 Derrida, “The ‘World’ of Enlightenment to Come,” p. 41.
8 Derrida, “The ‘World’ of Enlightenment to Come,” p. 49.
9 Foucault, “What is Enlightenment,” p. 50.
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Irony as a Pro-Democracy Trope:
Europe’s Last Comic Revolution*
Tomasz Tabako
“Because it most often is used to express skepticism
toward authority, ‘irony’ has come to describe, not just a
figure of a speech, but a questioning attitude and critical
stance as well.”
– James W. Fernandez and Mary Taylor Huber Consider the following scene. A group of people are gathering in a small
square in front of a church building, having just found shelter running away
from a showdown with the riot police. The smell of tear gas is lingering in
the air. A while ago, they were marching through the neighborhood and
chanting anti-government slogans. Now, upon seeing the police nearing the
church, some protesters are ready to find refuge inside the church building.
But most of them begin clapping instead of escaping. They are laughing and
crying out, “Bravo! Bravo!” The policemen stop. They look confused. They
are being greeted not by ‘angry bastards’ but by a cultural crowd thanking
the police for their performance. On their part, the protesters are sending
a message that what seems to be real is, in fact, unreal. By behaving like a
theater audience, they are redefining reality. The incident, they say, is not a
real confrontation between the protesters and the oppressive machinery of
the state; instead, it is a spectacle, a fiction, a play with its pre-arranged roles
and boundaries. By claiming to be an audience, the protesters are converting
the police into actors, themselves into viewers, and a nightmare reality into
a theatrical convention that needs to be recognized as such and respected. In
a play, there is no place for real violence. Even the immediate future seems
predetermined: when the play is over, the ‘oppressive condition’ that the play
is talking about will disappear.
* The author would like to thank L. Michael Bruner, Bruce Gronbeck, and David Hingstman for their instructive comments.
1 James W. Fernandez and Mary Taylor Huber, “The Anthropology of Irony,” in James W.
Fernandez and Mary Taylor Huber (eds.), Irony in Action: Anthropology, Practice, and the
Moral Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 1.
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The above scene illustrates the potential of performative irony, an irony
through which people can change their perceptions. When observing the
clapping crowd, one might ask, What would happen next? Would the audience give the police actors a standing ovation? Would both sides, the ‘enemies,’ meet and socialize at a post-spectacle cocktail? Or—would the police
attack the protesters anyway?
With these questions in mind, this essay examines the potential of irony,
especially performative irony, as a ‘pro-democracy trope.’ The described scenario did happen in Warsaw, Poland, in 1987; there the riot police did not
attack the protesters after having received such a bravo reception. During
that time, the democratization of the country was the main demand of
the opposition. This incident was one of the first signs that the protesters
effectively adopted new rhetorical tactics, those driven by irony, while the
country’s authoritarian yet fatigued regime was exploring new avenues for
handling the opposition.
This essay argues that irony is a key rhetorical resource, an asset whose assistance can transform a non-democratic, monologic, and monistic environment
into a more democratic, more dialogic, and more pluralistic one. The first part
of the essay discusses the concept of performative irony and irony’s prodemocracy function. The second part is application; it presents the case of
the ironic oppositional discourses in Poland in the late-1980s in the context
of the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Performative Irony
There are many kinds of irony. Irony can be oppositional, aggregative,
assailing, provisional, self-protective, distancing, ludic, complicating, and
reinforcing. Structurally, irony is “a figure which, at its simplest, states A
in terms of non-A (as when, on a day of bad weather, we might say, ‘What
a beautiful day it is!’”). Irony is part of the larger culture of laughter. It
Linda Hutcheon, Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony (New York: Routledge,
1994). In addition, one might think of Socratic irony, Romantic irony, and cosmic irony,
as well as tragic, comic, dramatic, verbal, situational, and poetic irony. For a survey of
kinds of irony, see, for example, Wayne C. Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).
Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1961), 18-19.
On the rhetoric of laughter, including irony, see Hugh Dalziel Duncan, Language and
Literature in Society (New York: Bedminster Press, 1961), and, more recently, D. Diane
Davis, Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter (Carbondale: Southern Illinois
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reflects the tension between what is stated and what is meant, between the
sign and the signified, or between the signified and meaning. It is a trope
of “a higher order, a perspective on perspectives.” Young children do not
understand irony—they have to learn it.
Irony is a double-edged trope. It may acknowledge and assert the
absence of actual integrity and the presence of ambiguity or antithesis. It
also certifies some knowledge, for it “always presupposes supplementary
information on facts, or norms.” It can be used from the ‘I know the truth’
perspective (as in Socrates or authoritarian discourse) or from the ‘I am
not sure’ perspective (when making no truth claims, irony can advance the
growth of skepticism). In short, “irony can afford political expression in
circumstances where direct dissent is hard to formulate, risky, or unwise,”
as in a politics of commitment, but “there can also be complicity in irony.”
As Fernandez and Huber note, irony “plays different roles at—and on—
different stages of the political process, whether one means by ‘politics’
the play of plural perspectives in most contemporary polities, the heavyhanded regimes of oppressive elites, the subtly subversive hegemonies discussed by Gramsci, the pervasive powers perceived by Foucault, or the
subversive powers extolled by Machiavelli.” However, as James McDaniel
observes, “Whether a master or a subordinate trope, from a democratic
perspective irony is its saving grace, and where the irony disappears the
genre’s advantages for democratic civic life go with it.”10
The social and political use of irony has been examined from a number of
perspectives.11 Broadly speaking, irony studies belong to a general tropology,
University Press, 2000), and F. H. Buckley, The Morality of Laughter (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003).
Michael Leff, “Burke’s Ciceronianism,” in Herbert W. Simons and Trevor Melia (eds.),
The Legacy of Kenneth Burke (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 120.
See Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language, and
Understanding (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, trans. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver,
The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1969), 208.
Fernandez and Huber, 5.
Fernandez and Huber, 25.
10 James McDaniel, “Figures for New Frontiers, From Davy Crockett to Cyberspace
Gurus,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 89 (2002), 99.
11 See, for example, Fernandez and Huber, Irony in Action, op. cit.; Linda Hutcheon,
op. cit.; James W. Fernandez, Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes
in Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986). See also Joachim Knuf,
“Ritual and Irony: Observations about the Discourse of Political Change in Two Germanies,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 80, 1994: 174-94).
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which includes arguments as diverse as proposed by Roman Jacobson, Paul
de Man, Hayden White, George Lakoff, and Fernandez and Turner.12 After
Vico and others, tropes have come to be seen as modes of thinking (rather
than the means of style), of conceptualizing reality—the basic strategies by
which to produce (and thereby perceptually ‘edit’) accounts of reality.13 Conceptually, irony “can be expected in situations of unequal power when discourses, interests, or cultures clash”; accordingly, it has often been “regarded
as a ‘weapon of the weak,’ providing space for subordinated persons to voice
resistance, imagine alternatives, build community, and mobilize for better
times.”14 In the form of parody and carnival, irony can hybridize and decentralize the forces involved in the ‘monologization’ of communication.15
Inasmuch as irony practiced from the truth position can reinforce the
convictions of the convinced (as in hegemonic discourse), irony performed
from the no-single truth position can generate the multiplicity of options
from which the non-convinced may choose. “The multiplication of political
spaces and the preventing of the concentration of power in one point are,
then, preconditions of every truly democratic transformation of society,”
Ernesto Laclau and Chantall Mouffe write.16 If that is accepted as a premise,
12 See Roman Jakobson, “Two aspects of language and two types of aphasic disturbances,”
in his Selected Writings (The Hague: Mouton, 1971), vol. 2: 229-59; Hayden White,
Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1973); Paul de Man’s Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in
Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979); George
Lakoff’s Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea (New York: Picador, 2007); and Fernandez and Huber, Irony in Action, op. cit.
13 Accordingly, what tropological analysis is capable of doing (better than other techniques of inquiry) is to analyze various aspects of the process of mental construction of
reality, a process “by which all discourse constitutes the objects which it pretends only
to describe realistically and analyze objectively” (Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse:
Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 2. It is
worthwhile to mention that after Vico, many tropological inquiries are grounded in the
four-fold taxonomy of tropes, where metaphor is seen as a tool for changing perspectives
and thereby re-imagining and/or challenging the status quo; metonymy—as a tool for
simplification and compression of a reality into its manageable models; synecdoche—as a
tool for representation and integration of a system of social knowledge; and irony—as a
tool for expressing discursive contradictions and/or challenging the predominant system
of knowledge.
14 Fernandez and Huber, 17.
15 See, for example, Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélèle Isvolsky (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968).
16 Ernesto Laclau and Chantall Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical
Democratic Politics (New York: Verso, 1985), 178.
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and if irony is capable of challenging a hegemonic system and thus opening up new space for multiple, alternative discourses to emerge, then irony
could be renamed as demirony, a pro-democracy trope, when it comes to
creating the conditions of possibility for a genuine democratic environment
to develop.
However, can irony operate effectively in each and every environment?
With irony’s assistance, is a dictatorship (a theocracy, for example) always
convertible to democracy? Could irony be successful under a Nazi regime?
Would an ironist be simply shot to death if a dictator had no sense of
humor?
For irony’s operations to be successful in the political arena, at least three
elements are required: axiological hunger, reciprocity, and opportunity. The
first, axiological hunger, is a condition of possibility for the production of an
ironic subject. It is both an expectation built upon the perceived exhaustion
of the old system and a readiness (susceptibility) to accept a new order. It
is a mechanism similar to the perceptual process by which a metaphor can
be recognized or even welcomed as an order-creating agent.17 It is analogical to the Lacanian ‘lack’ and the Burkean drive for perfection.18 Axiological hunger can be enhanced by laughter since it is laughter that ironically
destroys an “unconditional value of necessity” and thus “frees human consciousness, thought, and imagination for new potentialities.”19 The second
element, reciprocity, is what Foucault calls a condition of possibility for
translating the state-subject relation of domination into the parrhesia-based,
dialogic relation of equality.20 It is a step into dialogue (Bakhtin) as opposed
to one-way persuasion (Aristotle). The third element, opportunity,
is what Sydney Tarrow, among others, points to as the degree to which
the polity is opened or closed, in terms of structural opportunities left for
non-institutionalized actors.21 The greater the polity’s openness, the better
17 See Gibbs, The Poetics of Mind, op. cit.
18 In this regard, axiological hunger could be seen as a drive state resulting from the perception of a lack; a craving for a harmony or stability, be it real or imagined, that one has
been deprived of; the phenomenologically experienced state that motivates ‘values-likefood’-seeking behavior; activated through rhetorical action (especially in a time of crisis)
and aimed at achieving the full (unachievable) satisfaction, fullness, wholeness, and/or
closure.
19 Bakhtin, Rabelais, 49.
20 Parrhesia = free/fearless speech. See Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech (Los Angeles: Semiotext/e, 2001).
21 Sydney Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements, Collective Action, and Politics
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the conditions for reciprocity, and thereby the lower the ‘risks’ of ironic
actors, whose ability to recognize external shifts (ones reflecting various
tensions within the power elites, for example) is essential for successfully
exploiting contextual possibilities and optimizing strategic choices.
Technically, not all kinds of irony can become involved in social change.
For example, one needs to make a distinction between discursive irony and
performative irony. The first, discursive irony, appears on the macro-level
of the whole discourse when the discourse’s intrinsic contradictions are
revealed.22 A case in point is the irony that appears when the empty signifier
‘controlling’ a hegemonic ideological discourse (that of a large social movement, for example) stops working effectively.23
In contrast, performative irony is one that appears on the micro-level of
discourse. 24 It includes a variety of irony-driven public performances25 as
well as auto-irony, one by which an ironic actor makes fun of himself. In
the history of oppositional performances, public laughter (in the form of
ridicule or sarcasm, irony’s militant subtype) has been commonly used to
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). By bringing the ‘structural opportunity’
thesis into play, I do not narrow down the arena where the absolutist poststructuralist
claim (all is discourse) can be left without being challenged. All I suggest is that what is
perceived as a structural opportunity (implying the existence of structure) can be likewise
viewed as a product of one’s agency/discourse.
22 An example of discursive irony is one described by Vico. As a tropological agent, irony
appears in the beginning of a time of skepticism (in Vico’s Scienza nuova, 1725). Such
a time could be “characterized not only by skepticism about heroes, heroism, and heroic
conceptualizations … but also a more general skepticism about categories themselves”
(Fernandez and Huber, 10).
23 Compare Ernesto Laclau, On Popular Reason (New York: Verso, 2005).
24 I ground the notion of performance in the tradition of George Herbert Mead (and his
conception of communication as interaction), Erving Goffman (interaction as performance), J.L. Austin (performance as a way of making), and, more recently, Dwight Conquergood (performance as a way of knowing). See George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self and
Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1934); Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City: Doubleday, 1959); J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1962); Dwight Conquergood, “Ethnography, Rhetoric, and Performance,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 78 (1992): 80-97.
25 The notion of public performance would include “a self-conscious, stylized tactic of staging songs, plays, parades, protests, and other spectacles in public places where no admission is charged and spectators are often invited to participate, and it conveys symbolic
messages about social and political issues to audiences who might not encounter them in
more traditional venues” (Bradford D. Martin, The Theater Is in the Streets: Politics and
Performance in Sixties America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), 4.
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attack and dehumanize the ‘enemy.’26 As a subtype of performative irony,
parody, too, has been popularly employed due to its capacity to be a threat
to all ideologies and to the seriousness of any regime or any reductive commitment.27
Of special importance is auto-irony, first, because it is “ironic self-ridicule, and apparent peristasis-in-reverse [that] nevertheless enlarges the speaking subject.”28 Second, it is notable because auto-irony enlarges and thereby
re-humanizes the adversary. For “humble irony,” as Kenneth Burke put it,
is the one “based upon a sense of fundamental kinship with the enemy, as
one needs him, is indebted to him, being consubstantial with him.”29 Subsequently, conflict can be reevaluated; hatred can be viewed as self-destructive;
and friendship between the adversaries becomes a possibility. In short, this
kind of irony can “soften” a revolutionary zeal and the brutality accompanying a radical transition.
Any particular configuration of axiological hunger, reciprocity, opportunity, and the type of irony to be used, together with their contextual intensity
and the quality of ironic performance, are contingent and vary historically.
However, a situation in which all these elements operate is substantially different from one in which the key element, irony, is missing. The non-ironic and
the ironic are unbridgeable; the former may generate violence, and the latter
may create a prospect of peace. Consider the following two scenes illustrating
the materiality of violence in a non-ironic environment and the potential for
friendliness as produced through performative irony, respectively.
In the fall of 1989, the dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, was
executed as a result of a revolutionary coup. A military tribunal found him
26 See, for example, Charles J. Stewart, Craig Allen Smith, and Robert E. Denton, Jr.,
Persuasion and Social Movements (Prospects Heights: Waveland Press, 4th ed., 2001),
193-98.
27 For a discussion of parody, see, for example, Margareta A. Rose, Parody: Ancient,
Modern, and Post-Modern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), and Linda
Hutcheon’s A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 2000). See also James Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), documenting how, “[by] playing their
performative repertoire, subordinate people can skirt patrols, elude supervisors, pilfer the
privileged, and make end runs around occupying authorities” (Conquergood’s words,
“Ethnography…” 82).
28 McDaniel, 99. Peristasis = a figure of amplification through a description of attendant
circumstances, such as situation, time, place, occasion, personal characteristics, etc.
29 Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962),
512.
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guilty of crimes against the state. As the British Guardian reported, “‘The
anti-Christ died. Oh, what wonderful news,’ a Bucharest radio announcer
exulted after the dramatic announcement that President Ceausescu and his
wife Elena had been jointly executed by a firing squad. Confirmation of
Monday’s execution of the despised pair came yesterday, when Romanian
television showed viewers two bodies crumpled beneath a bullet-shattered
wall. A close-up revealed the fallen Ceausescu, his eyes open, the right side
of his head stained with blood that also spattered the stone wall. The other
body was that of Elena, who had told her executioners: ‘We want to die
together, we do not want mercy,’ before she was led out with her husband
to be shot.”30 The immediate political outcome that emerged from this
scene in particular, and from the Romanian revolution in general, was far
from a democratic ideal. The violence of the non-ironic both structured
and exposed the environment where the adversaries were to be either dead
(the losers) or alive (the victors).
A year earlier, another revolution gathered momentum. In the Lenin
shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, workers went on strike. The shipyard was the
bastion of Solidarity, a pro-democracy movement and an outlawed labor
union. The strike, already in its fourteenth day, was aimed, in principle,
at transforming the authoritarian party-state into a less oppressive and
more just system. A column of military vehicles was lined up outside the
shipyard’s gate. By way of ironic response, the workers built mock military
vehicles—worker tanks, rocket launchers, and armored personnel carriers—
all of Styrofoam and cardboard. They stationed them inside the shipyard
gate, opposite the enemy forces, to both ridicule and humanize them.
Over the gate, some workers engaged in a conversation with the adversary
forces, both sides laughing loudly. But the strikers did something else which
transcended the ‘us-versus-them’ dichotomy. They put on a performance of
fake combat in the shipyard’s main square. One team of the workers played
the role of the riot police while another team formed a patriotic crowd of
pro-Solidarity protestors. After a while, the teams exchanged costumes and
roles.31 What they accomplished by ironically switching the roles was that
they questioned the rigidity of the very lines of a long and exhausting conflict
between Solidarity and the regime. They also challenged their own posture by
30 The Guardian, Dec 27, 1989 (“Television shows last hours of the ‘anti-Christ’.”) For
more on the Romanian revolution, see, for example, Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian
Revolution of December 1989 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007).
31 Tomasz Tabako, Strajk ‘88 (Warsaw: Nowa, 1992), 293.
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distancing themselves from rigid positions. The public mood communicated
through this scene was that of compromise as a desired possibility. Indeed,
the rhetorical force of performative irony along with parody and carnival was
bringing about change.32 This shipyard comic moment marked the process
of Solidarity’s self-evaluation and learned flexibility. During the next several
months, a Solidarity-led, soft, compromise-seeking revolution developed in
Poland. Likewise, it turned out to be an important link in the chain of
events that eventually led to the round table talks between the opposition
and the government and, subsequently, to the emergence of a fragile, postdictatorship democracy.
It is in this context that the pro-change and pro-democracy potential
of irony needs to be studied in detail. Giving its pluralizing power, irony in
general and performative irony in particular are a major rhetorical resource that
can be used strategically in a transition from dictatorship to democracy. The case
of Solidarity perfectly illustrates this point.
To explore the microcosm of irony in action, I will stick to the Solidarity
example. More specifically, I will examine the ways in which a number of
oppositional discourses in Poland in the late 1980s turned ironic. The discussion will cover (1) the question of why it was through the popular culture
of the time—and not via Solidarity—that irony entered the public sphere;
(2) avenues of resistance through irony used strategically by non-Solidarity
actors; (3) the strategies of the Orange Alternative movement; and (4) the
process of ‘oranging’ Solidarity, that is, of appropriating irony as Solidarity’s
rhetorical asset.
Solidarity, Irony, and Popular Culture
It was not Solidarity that promoted the use of irony in oppositional discourse. In much of its history, Solidarity was a ‘serious’ movement. It was
the first independent labor movement in the Soviet bloc. Born during the
strikes in 1980, it grew to ten million members. In 1981, Poland’s Moscowdependent regime imposed martial law and arrested Solidarity leaders. Subsequently, a weakened Solidarity transformed itself into an underground
movement. Internationally, in the second half of the 1980s, the program
32 For more on carnival-like oppositional strategies, see M. Lane Bruner, “Carnivalesque
Protest and the Humorless State,” Text and Performance Quarterly 25 (2005): 136-55. See
also Padraic Kenney, A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989 (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2003).
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of perestroika and glasnost (reform and openness) developed in the Soviet
Union. This development effectively put an end to the Brezhnev doctrine—
the principle by which individual communist countries had the limited right
to self-determination. Poland entered an era of liberalization. In 1988, in a
country torn apart ideologically and ruined economically, Solidarity and the
regime entered negotiations. In 1989, the negotiations resulted in semi-free
elections, which Solidarity unexpectedly won. The first non-communist government was established. The old system collapsed.33
There were at least two reasons why Solidarity was slow in appropriating performative irony. One was the movement’s ‘tropological’ clock. The
other was the seriousness (and particularity) of the movement’s demands.
Tropologically, Solidarity went through a number of stages. Before irony,
there was metaphor—Solidarity’s metaphor stage (a time of inventing a
new perspective and lexicon, 1976-1980). What followed was the synecdoche and metonymy stage (a time of totalizing and universalizing
the movement’s popular demands and organizing them into Solidarity’s
system of knowledge, 1980-1986). It was during that time that the movement demonstrated a great ability to influence and unite groups as different as industrial workers and ballet dancers, plumbers and college professors, secretaries and managers. It structured its five mobilizing frames:
the truth frame (moral superiority), the unity frame (solidarity), the
sacred fatherland frame (theological nationalism), the charismatic leader
frame (Lech Walesa, the Noble Prize-winning leader), and the self-management frame (the Utopian program of a ‘third way’ bridging socialism
and capitalism and calling for an alternative society to be established).
After having laid a foundation, Solidarity entered the irony stage (a time
of discursive fragmentation, when various intrinsic contradictions in the
movement’s system of knowledge were revealed, 1986-1989). In other
words, Solidarity’s frames, or ‘empty signifiers,’ to borrow Laclau’s term,
aged and lost their cohesiveness and monopoly by which to control discourse. Psychologically, Solidarity’s journey was a progression from the
mindset of a prophet activist (envisioning a program of change) to the
mindset of a true believer (agitating the masses) to the mindset of a skep33 For more on the history of Solidarity, see, for example, David Ost, Solidarity and the
Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968 (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1990); Lawrence Goodwyn, Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). See also Gerard Hauser’s book
chapter on Solidarity in his Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres
(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 119-37.
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tic (having a second thought). Given these transformations, it was not
until the time of skepticism in the late-1980s that Solidarity came to be
‘ready’ for playing with auto-irony and developing anti-heroic attitudes.
That is, diachronically, Solidarity’s hourglass predetermined the moment
the movement recognized the potential of performative irony to be used
broadly and strategically.
Moreover, the seriousness—and concreteness—of the movement’s proreform demands (such as relegalizing Solidarity, releasing political prisoners,
and raising the basic salaries) made Solidarity less susceptible to the appeals
of performative irony. Many Solidarity activists, especially workers, inclined
to use the language of simplicity (and militancy) as a better mobilizing tool
than the language of ambiguity, as in irony.34 In short, it was not until the
exhaustion of Solidarity’s old language and hardcore poetics of resistance (via
boycotts, street demonstrations, and fervent patriotic and religious agitation) that the condition for the movement’s greater political and rhetorical
flexibility arrived.
Not surprisingly, irony as linguistic and theatric performance entered
the public sphere via popular culture. Three channels for diffusing irony
came to be productive: alternative youth movements (including the rock
music scene), popular dissident literature (published underground), and the
Orange Alternative movement (one combining veteran counter-cultural artists and young surrealists). Together, not only did they practice performative
irony but they also challenged Solidarity’s orthodoxy and its cultural hegemony in the realm of oppositional politics.
Irony and Non-Solidarity Actors
Consider the two images (as below, 1-2). The first is Solidarity’s most sacred
emblem—Solidarity’s logo.35 The other is a parody of the logo. The parodic
34 An excellent discussion of the language of ideological militancy, as embedded in the
language of ‘early’ Solidarity, can be found in Alain Touraine et al., Solidarity: Poland
1980-81 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), and Sergiusz Kowalski, Krytyka solidarnościowego rozumu ([A critique of solidarity reason]Warsaw: PEN, 1990).
35 Note the logo’s design. It translates the connectedness of the characters into the implied
unity of a larger group (of the Solidarity members and Polish society at large). The shape
of the font/word creates an image of a parade or religious procession. With the white-red
flag flying in the breeze, it suggests motion and progress; the white-red color of the flag
connotes both Poland and ‘sacrificed blood.’ Together, all these elements articulate the
voice of the ‘people,’ Solidarity.
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effect is produced via imitating the structural elements of the original.
Images 1-2. Solidarity’s logo (on the left) and its ironized graffti mutation.
Logos of the second type came to be visible as painted on the walls in Poland’s
towns and cities. In general, ironic attitudes towards both the humorless state36
and the serious Solidarity were promoted by a number of alternative youth
movements which resided on the peripheries of the opposition, or, quite
often, within a discursive no man’s land somewhere between the opposition
and the state. Those in-between groups, while searching for an alternative to
both the officialdom of the regime and the dullness of Solidarity discourse,
tried to develop their distinctive voice—ironic, satirical, sarcastic, angry, and
always anti-doctrinal. “Sex, yes. Socialism, no,” read one of the headlines in
a clandestine magazine.37
The awakening of the ironic peripheries paralleled the renaissance of the
Polish rock scene. The scene developed into a hotspot of cultural resistance.
For example, consider a number of ironic names of the Polish rock bands
of the time, the names that blended political irony and sometimes nihilism:
Moskwa (Moscow), Nadzor (Surveillance), Kolaboranci (Collaborators—in a
country filled with heroes), Niepodlglosc Trojkatow (Independence of Triangles—a hint embracing free love in the environment ‘monitored’ by Catholic conservative signifiers), and Protest Martwego Miasta Gdansk (Protest of
the Dead City of Gdansk—where Solidarity was born).
The ironic shift from the seriousness of an oppositional discourse into the
playfulness of counterculture was likewise reflected in the titles of clandestine magazines produced by activists of the younger generation. Compare
these titles with the titles of ‘aging’ Solidarity literature (Table 1). While
the titles of publications circulated by Solidarity emphasized such ultimate
terms as ‘us,’ ‘unity,’ ‘fatherland,’ ‘self-management,’ and ‘God,’ the titles
36 Bruner’s phrase, “Carnivalesque,” op. cit.
37 Przegiecie Paly 4 (1988).
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coined by young ironists emphasized ‘me,’ and/or celebrated slang, jokes,
and local idioms.
Aging Solidarity’s Titles
My, Solidarnosc (Us, Solidarity), Nasz
Samorzad (Our self-government), Bog
i Ojczyzna (God and the fatherland),
Prawda (Truth), Jednosc (Unity),
Niepodleglosc (Independence)
New Generation’s Titles
Czekista (A Cheka officera), Dezerter
(Deserter), Raj (Paradise), Biust (Breast),
Lewitacja (Levitation), Przegiecie paly
(Fish story), A Capella (A capella),
Kontrabas (Contrabass)
Table 1. Sample titles of Solidarity’s magazines as compared to sample titles of clandestine
magazines published by the new generation, 1986-1989.38
Finally, the ironic Zeitgeist came to be heard in dissident literature. In his
poetic pamphlet Dla Jana Polkowskiego (For Jan Polkowski), Marcin Swietlicki, smashed the patriotic poetry that “lives on because of an ideal, / but
ideals are the watery substitute for blood” and he demanded the right to say
“my tooth hurts.”39 The key controversy arose in the question of how much
politicization the Polish literature could stand and yet remain a literature.
“Whoever truly creates,” Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “is alone.”40 Dialectically,
“the collectivity (the nation, society, generation),” Adam Zagajewski noted,
“is the chief protagonist and addressee of creative, artistic works.”41 A ‘pluralizing’ poet (the author of “Ode to Pluralism”42) and a veteran of the antiregime opposition, Zagajewski was among the first who loudly criticized the
morally and aesthetically self-destructive subordination of the Polish literature to the cause of the Solidarity movement.43
38 From the archives of the Osrodek KARTA (a research center) in Warsaw, Poland.
39 Marcin Swietlicki, “For Jan Polkowski,” first published in 1988. See Donald Pirie (ed.
and trans.), Young Poets of a New Poland: An Anthology (London: Forest Books, 1993),
172.
40 Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953), 217.
41 Adam Zagajewski, Solidarity, Solitude, trans. Lillian Vallee (New York: Ecco Press, 1990),
87-8.
42 He wrote: “Who has once met / irony will burst into laughter / during the prophet’s
lecture” (Adam Zagajewski, “Ode to Plurality,” in Tremor: Selected Poems, trans. Renata
Gorczynski (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1985), 22.
43 In his book Solidarity, Solitude, he suggested that there was a fundamental conflict
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The Orange Alternative
The key player in the realm of performative irony was the Orange Alternative. An art movement established in the city of Wroclaw in the early
1980s, it gained momentum in the second half of that decade, when it
spread its ‘orange revolution’ throughout the country. For example, the
playfulness of the Alternative’s irony was articulated through new symbols. Consider the following circular:
An action without violence, one bringing positive results, is the only
kind of activity that is to fit a real man of our times:
This is the
man who is no longer the sad, mean homo sapiens of real socialism but
one who grows into homo entelicus of socialist surrealism. No wonder
that on walls in cities—in the places where white-paint blots have covered the signs of
[Solidarity]—gnomes have come in to
44
existence and have brought some flowers:
In a country whose authorities kept removing Solidarity’s logo from all
and any public sites whenever and wherever it appeared, the figure of a
gnome (
) was politically more complex, and removing by painting
over it must have been greeted (and it was greeted) with an ironic smile.
All that which, in the early 1980s, was symbolically unequivocal now
revealed a possibility of multiple readings, including that of revolt as a
holiday.
“Can a revolt become a holiday? As we know, a holiday abolishes all
hierarchies; all people are ennobled, even those who are usually humiliated.”45 In these words, the critic Miroslaw Peczak described the key
dimension of surrealistic street happenings46 improvised by the Orange
between the sentiment of solidarity, required for mass mobilization, and the ethics of
solitude, necessary for honest judgment.
44 A 1987 circular issued by the group Orange Alternative (private archives). All translations are mine, unless otherwise noticed.
45 Miroslaw Peczak, “The Orange Ones, the Street, and the Background,” Performing Arts
Journal, May 1991 (38), 52.
46 The genre of street happenings was pioneered in Europe in the 1970s. As avant-garde
performances, they “encouraged audience participation and allowed for spontaneous
development. The idea was to jar members of the audience (passers-by usually unaware
that a performance was taking place) from their settled, daily routine and force them to
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Alternative, a group of young, ironic oppositionists and scandalists, who,
in the late 1980s, frequently turned the streets of Polish cities into scenes
of holiday and carnival. A fusion of Rabelaisian sense of humor, Dadaism aesthetics, and political savvy, the Alternative organized parodic street
shows, a kind of theater of absurdity, in which both the seriousness of the
party-state regime and the bureaucratization of Solidarity’s forms of resistance were challenged, and the violent participation of the riot police was
anticipated and welcomed as a laughable contribution to the performance.
For example, by distributing goods in short supply (including Tampax
given out to female passers-by) or organizing pro-Lenin demonstrations
(dispersed by the communist police), the Alternative “aimed to show the
real dimension of people’s everyday problems and the ideological nakedness of the authorities.”47 “Even a single militiaman [a police officer] on
the street,” the Alternative’s leader suggested, “is an object of art. Let’s play;
our destiny is not the crucifix. Why should one suffer if one can play?”48
The art historian Waldemar ‘Major’ Frydrych, the Alternative’s leader, was
reported as saying, “the dialectics of the Polish street [is] the perpetual
clash of surrealism with sub-realism.”49
According to one report, “The Orange Alternative’s first large-scale happening took place on June 1, 1987, the date of the communist ‘Children’s
Day’ holiday. At the appointed hour, elves [gnomes] showed up in red elf
hats, dancing about and handing out candies and hats to children and
their parents as they walked by. There were shouts of ‘there is no freedom
without elves!”50 The slogan There is no freedom without elves was a direct
transformation of Solidarity’s long used slogan There is no freedom without
Solidarity. “When the police showed up, they too were asked to join the
fun. At first they reacted in a rather confused manner, but in the end, they
rousted up a number of participants for several hours of questioning at
take a fresh look at the world around them,” as in J[an] Kucio, “The Laughing Oppositionists: ‘Major’ Waldemar Frydrych and the Orange Alternative,” Uncaptive Minds, May
1988, 36-37.
47 Miroslawa Marody, Dlugi final (Warsaw: WSiP, 1995), 57.
48 Cited in Szopski, 63-64.
49 Waldemar Frydrych and Bogdan Dobosz, Hokus pokus, czyli Pomarańczowa Alternatywa
(Wroclaw: Inicjatywa Wydawnicza Kret, Wydawnictwo Kret, 1989), 70; the author’s
translation. For more on the Orange Alternative, see Wojciech Marchlewski, “The Eve of
the Great October Revolution: Chronicle of a Happening in Wroclaw,” Performing Arts
38 (1991): 43-50; Juliusz Tyszka, “The Orange Alternative: Street Happenings as Social
Performance in Poland under Martial Law,” New Theatre Quarterly 3 (1998): 311-23.
50 Kucio, 37.
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the police station.”51 When the growing-dense crowd of passers-by realized
the police had arrested the “dwarfs,” it chanted, “Free the dwarfs, free the
dwarfs.” The therapeutic effect of the happening was immediate: restoring a sense of reality by exposing the absurdity of an unwanted reality.52
According to another report, covering the same event, “in Wroclaw 2,000
hand-sewn dwarfs’ [gnomes’] hats were distributed by Orange Alternative
members urging, ‘Dwarfs of the World Unite!’”53
As a Western observer noted, the Alternative “has made its name by
mocking the issues which government and opposition hold sacred.”54 Not
only did the Alternative deconstruct the political mythologies of the communist regime, it also challenged the cultural orthodoxy of Solidarity. Consider the calendar of the Alternative’s events, as presented below (Table 2).
Date
June 1
Oct 1
Oct 7
Oct 12
Oct 15
Nov 6
Dec 6
March 1
March 8
March 21
Apr 14
Apr 27
What an Orange Alternative member should keep in mind
Revolution of the Gnomes’ event
Who’s Afraid of Toilet Paper? event
Independent Policeman’s Day
Melon in Mayonnaise (Polish People’s Army Day)
Second Day of Toilet Paper event
The Eve of the Soviet October Revolution event
Santa Clauses’ event
Plainclothesmen’s Day
Women’s Day
Welcome Spring event
Cosmonaut’s Day
There’s No Freedom without the Military event b
Table 2. The calendar of an Orange Alternative street soldier, listing street happenings
organized by the Orange Alternative, 1987-1988.
Now compare this list to Solidarity’s activist calendar marking the occasions for patriotic and religious gestures. The occasions were thematically
related to suffering, invasions, massacres, and heroism. Solidarity’s nonironic commemorations included: executing 14,000 Polish officers—pris51 Ibid.
52 See Seymour Fisher and Rhoda L. Fisher, The Psychology of Adaptation to Absurdity (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993).
53 Husarska, “Socialist,” op.cit.
54 “Alternatively, in Poland,” The Economist, May 21, 1988; emphasis added.
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oners of war—by the Soviet Union, 1941 (April), passing the liberal constitution of the reformed kingdom of Poland, 1791 (May); pacifying the
worker protests in Poznan, 1956, and in Radom and Ursus, 1976 (June);
the beginning of the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis and the Soviets, 1944 (August), the establishment of the modern Polish state, 1918
(November), the massacres of the shipyard workers in 1970, and the anniversary of the imposition of martial law, 1981 (December). Clearly, the
seriousness of Solidarity’s commemorations stood in start contrast to the
happenings of the Orange Alternative, which were promoting an alternative sensibility and more flexible attitudes towards the political realities of
the time.
Frydrych’s performances had reinvigorated the opposition with its imaginative, life-giving energy. Imagination, he maintained, “transcends everything without using any real force; our imagination lives in us as long as it
is free.”55 Even his nickname, ‘Major,” was a comedy weapon. Why ‘Major’?
“Because I went to a [military] psychologist in order to avoid military service,” Frydrych confessed. “Once I showed up in dark sunglasses with my
head shaved clean, the psychologist started shouting that I was to take them
off, and that he was my superior officer. I started calling him ‘Colonel,’ and
referred to myself as ‘Major.’”56
The theme for another happening was “Who’s afraid of toilet paper?”
“In Poland,” Frydrych explained, “everything is upside down. Thanks to
the communists, Surrealism has penetrated the most intimate parts of life.
In the Polish People’s Republic (PRL), there is no toilet paper available in
the market; one can buy it only when having a special coupon available
through selling recycled paper.”57 A circular inviting the mass public to the
event read: “Socialism, with its extravagant distribution of goods, as well as
its eccentric social attitude, has put toilet paper in the forefront of people’s
dreams... In order to satisfy the imperative of progressive thinking, let us
come to Swidnicka Street on October 1, at 4 P.M. Let us bring our own
toilet paper... take it out slowly, and distribute it to people piece by piece.
Let us share justly. Let justice begin with toilet paper.”58 Predictably, on
the stage of the street, the deadly serious police, evoking laughter from the
55 Cited in Marek Szopski, Politics of Embarrassment: Orange Alternative versus Party State, a
dissertation (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2000), 63.
56 Kucio, 37.
57 Cited in Frydrych and Dobosz, Hokus pokus, op. cit., 56.
58 Cited in Anna Husarska, “Socialist Surrealism in Poland,” The New Leader, Aug 8, 1988.
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passers-by, soon arrested those giving out the paper.59
Not only did such happenings break the routine of Solidarity-style
marches, they also promoted a sense of holiday, of carnival, and thus abolished the existing hierarchies and dichotomies. As one observer remarked,
“after hundreds of bloody street fights all over Poland (and in Wroclaw in
particular), it was not easy to face once more the police on the street, to be
arrested, and interrogated.”60 But in a play performed in the street, in open
theater, the police were no longer expected to be potential murderers; rather,
they were now viewed as committed actors, part of the many who were
figures in a script. In a carnival-like scenario, fear was thereby overcome.
“Our principle,” Frydrych reiterated, “is to break certain norms. These can
be behavioral norms, or norms of form in art. Fear is a certain norm, torpor
is a certain norm.”61 The alternative brought about by the Orange Alternative meant, “while nothing serious can make sense of social reality, its
transformation into a large scale cabaret at least helps people cope with dayto-day life.”62
Perhaps most telling was an extravaganza organized to celebrate the eve
of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik October Revolution on November
6, 1987. Proletarian rhetoric, once successfully reclaimed and utilized by
the workers on strike in August 1980 as a weapon against the Polish United
Workers’ Party, was used here once again. This time, however, the purpose of
using a revolutionary lexicon was not to reclaim language but to deconstruct
the hypocrisy of the communist regime whose police—the alleged iron arm
of the workers in the workers’ state—were to prohibit an independent commemoration of the October victory. Announcing an upcoming street spectacle, an Orange Alternative leaflet declared,63
59 “Do you know,” a police officer asked the detained Major, “that it was an attempt to
change the social and political system in our country?” The Major replied: “I appeared on
Swidnicka Street in a paper sack and with the stocking on my head because I was creating
art there... I am creating dialectical art, influencing people’s consciousness. I think everything is art, everything is [an] object of art” (Frydrych quoted in Tyszka, 317).
60 Tyszka, op. cit., 317.
61 Frydrych as quoted in Husarska, op. cit.
62 Bronislaw Misztal, “Between the State and Solidarity: One Movement, Two Interpretations—the Orange Alternative Movement in Poland,” The British Journal of Sociology 1
(1992), 72.
63 Quoted from Wojciech Marchlewski, “The Eve of the Great October Revolution,” 43-4.
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“The day commemorating the
outbreak of the Great October
Revolution
of the Proletariat
is the day of the Great Event...
Comrades, now is the time to
overcome the passiveness of the
masses! Let’s start celebrating the
Eve of the October Revolution.
Let us meet on Friday, November
6 at 4 p.m. on Swidnicka Street,
under the clock of history. Comrades, put on your festive clothes,
dress in red. Wear red shoes, a red
cap, and a red shawl. If you don’t
have at least a red band or any
other piece of clothing, borrow
a red purse from your neighbor.
Then, if you lack a red flag, paint
your fingertips red. In case you
don’t possess anything red, buy a
red hot dog with ketchup.”
Image 3. A leaflet distributed by the Orange Alternative prior to the November 6, 1987,
street happening.
By bringing the ‘revolution’ to the streets of a Polish city, the Orange Alternative injected contextual fluidity into the regime’s consecrated semantic
and semiotic codes (comrades, the Great October Revolution, the red color)
and thus exploited their latent absurdity. As the Alternative’s members, sympathizers, spectators, passers-by, and the police troops grouped together they
all made up a crowd of several thousand actors participating in an improvised stage-setting of the revolution:
At the nearby bus stop the “Proletarians” gather. They are workers from the factories, members of Solidarity. They have a rolled banner and red shirts hidden
in their pockets... Two men bring an original used banner with the sign:
“The Anniversary of the Great Socialist October Revolution.” This banner
will later be spread across the width of the street... At 4 p.m., the time scheduled to begin the action, the Potemkin64 with its four-member crew leaves [a
64 The Russian battleship Potemkin was the site of the mutiny during the Russian Revolution of 1905.
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local] Stadium to appear on Swidnicka Street. Militiamen [the police] hastily
move toward it and tear the carton structure to pieces. Tumult. The nearby
spectators approach to see what happens. In a few minutes the crew of the
Potemkin is arrested... Militiamen reach the group of Aurora65 by driving up
very close; they leave their cars to surround them. Other participants of the
happening start using whistles. The militiamen grow nervous. The crew of
the Aurora sits on the ground. Militiamen pull the men out of the canvas to
arrest them; the vacant places are filled instantly by people from the crowd.
The battle continues. More and more people are arrested... Suddenly the
traffic on Swidnicka Street freezes. A black man in a red beret comes out
from an underground passage and walks by the Aurora’s crew that is still
fighting... The black man marches slowly with dignity. Everyone observes
the foreigner intently. He disappears after a moment into one of the side
streets. The arrests continue. As all this is happening a bus arrives at the stop
near the Barbara [café]. It carries the Proletarians in red shirts and a banner:
“I will work more.” Already on the street they unfold banners declaring:
“We demand the return of Comrade [Boris] Yeltsin”; “We demand eight
hours per day work for Wroclaw’s Bureau of Investigation”; “We demand
the rehabilitation of Leo Trotsky.” The people on the street scream: “Yeltsin,
Yeltsin! Trotsky, Trotsky! Revolution, Revolution! Red Borscht!” The Proletarians are arrested; only one of them manages to escape.66
In an absurd theater of life, things touched by the Orange Alternative
suddenly lost their seemingly self-evident stability. “Red,” when being
confronted by “orange,” was contextualized and deconstructed, and thus
stripped of its referential symbolism.
Catching Up: ‘Oranging’ Solidarity
As a point of departure, consider this scene: It is 1986. Solidarity supporters
are gathering in a church. After the mass, 500 people are leaving the church,
forming a column and heading towards a symbolic location (a nearby patriotic monument). They are chanting a slogan (“Solidarity will win”) and singing a religious song. On their way, they are stopped by the riot police, and
the violent clash begins.
65 A volley of shots from the Russian warship Aurora was believed to have begun the October Revolution of 1917.
66 Marchlewski, 45-46; emphasis added.
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This kind of script belonged to the repertoire, repeated again and again,
of a poetics of protest that had turned into a routine, one signaling the
stagnation and ‘bureaucratization’ of oppositional life. Part of this life was
Solidarity’s once cohesive network of interconnected underground cells that
had gradually broken down into an archipelago of self-enclosed enclaves
with diverse, often divergent agendas. For those who wanted to join (but
failed), this hermeticism engendered increasing frustration. For example, a
young worker from the Lenin shipyard complained, “They [Solidarity activists] have become bureaucrats of a kind.”67 In short, as an aging orthodoxy,
Solidarity found itself in a crisis. “Solidarity is experiencing a serious internal crisis that potentially can lead to the union’s losing its ideational and
organizational identity,” the underground publicist Barbara Labuda wrote in
1986.68 “The time of negation is over,” a Solidarity leader Jan Litynski confessed in 1987.69 “A round table is a better thing than a square prison cell,”
Solidarity’s Jacek Merkel argued the following year,70 voicing a possibility of
compromise with the ‘enemy’ who was no longer perceived as immanently
demonic. The above statements reflected the presence of some axiological
hunger in play and some potential for reciprocity—an environment friendly
towards irony.
And then the structural opportunity came—from Moscow. Perestroika
and glasnost reached Warsaw precisely at a time when Poland’s communist
regime was running out of options. Five years since the imposition of martial law, the recovery of the country’s economy was far from being completed. Polish citizens voted with their feet; more than one million people
emigrated from the country in the 1980s. Social apathy did not translate
into acceptance of official policies. What was becoming clear was that any
far-reaching reforms, with the prospect of transitional economic hardship,
would have to be approved, to some degree, by society at large, and to earn
this approval the authorities needed to appease the organized opposition,
whose ability to persuade society was essential. Subsequently, the regime’s
intention was to make some concessions to Solidarity in exchange for some
legitimacy, and then, possibly, to co-opt some segments of the opposition
67 Zbigniew Stanecki’s account, available in one of earlier works on Solidarity, see Tabako,
Strajk ’88, 65.
68 Barbara Labuda, “Wobec ryzyka utraty tozsamosci,” Tygodnik Mazowsze 189, Nov 26,
1986.
69 Jan Litynski, “Skonczyl sie czas negacji,” Tygodnik Mazowsze 224, Oct 21, 1987.
70 From a speech given by Jacek Markel during a strike at the Lenin shipyard on August
26, 1988 (materials of the Gdansk Diocesan Center for Video Documentation).
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into the structure of power, without undermining the fundamentals of the
authoritarian system.
The test of wills came in the spring of 1988. In response to price hikes, a
wave of strikes hit several Polish cities. Initially, by default, Solidarity protesters resorted to the old (worn-out) rhetoric of political maximalism. A poster
placed over the main entrance to the Lenin shipyard, a protest center, read:
“One Lenin started, two Lenins will finish”—in which two Lenins referred to
Gdansk’s Lenin shipyard and Nowa Huta’s Lenin Steelworks, now both on
strike. The strikers’ demands called for: (1) relegalizing Solidarity; (2) raising
the basic salaries; (3) releasing political prisoners; (4) reemploying the workers who had been dismissed from work because of their political beliefs; and
(5) receiving legal assurances that no one from among the protesters would
be prosecuted.71
It was in this landscape that a group of young shipyard workers,
together with college students supporting the strike, tried to introduce a
new tone. “Contestants, artists, and madmen!” they wrote. “If you have
not gotten high yet, or if you are not tired after lovemaking, be informed:
there is a strike in the Gdansk Shipyard and several other factories!” They
struggled to be ironic and funny. And they failed. In the pages of their
bulletin A Capella, they published a mock list of social demands, but
the kind of laughter it generated was grotesque, rather than ironic. They
demanded: “(1) Bread and orgasm; (2) Porno-zines; (3) Sluts for free; (4)
Alcohol in the sewer system; and (5) Freedom for all those fruit-cakes
who think that the military uniform is out of date and therefore are in
prison. Masturbators of all countries, unite!”72 Burke calls the grotesque
“the cult of incongruity without the laughter.”73 What the ironists failed
to realize was that revitalizing Solidarity by undermining the seriousness
of narrowly defined demands via display of the grotesque was an impossible task. The masses (caught in their own apathy and a bleak realism)
turned out to be indifferent to both the serious and the grotesque. The
strike ended pointlessly after nine days, with no one on either side able
to claim victory.
71 Przeglad Polityczny 11, August 1988.
72 From a May 1988 circular issued by a group of workers and college students assigned to
the strike’s printing services, quoted in Tabako, Strajk..., 134.
73 Kenneth Burke, Attitudes towards History (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1959), 58.
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What the failed ironists accomplished, however, was a growing awareness
that Solidarity’s search for new rhetorical resources and flexibility needed to
continue. In the Poland of 1988, it was difficult not to notice that the streets
in many cities and towns were getting ‘orange’ due to an increased number
of performances by the Orange Alternative and the copycat effect the orange
activities brought about. The time when Solidarity caught up with the Alternative came soon, in the summer of the same year. Several coalmines in
southern Poland went on strike, and by August 22, several other enterprises
in central and northern Poland, including Gdansk’s Lenin shipyard, joined
the protest.
In Wroclaw, the Orange Alternative was busy too. Earlier that summer,
the Alternative organized a rally to welcome two Solidarity activists who had
just been released from jail. Slogans, such as “Annex Poland to Armenia,”
as well as portraits of Marx and Lenin, surrealistically greeted the activists.
The Alternative’s leader gave a speech proclaiming Wroclaw a free city.74 The
crowd of his listeners demanded that he become a minister in the Polish
government. They chanted: “Perestroika,” “Moscow,” “Gorbachev.”75 The
crowd also sang the Internationale and then did a march through the city’s
central district.
That summer, the strikers in the Lenin shipyard, while making their
demands (re-legalizing Solidarity, raising the basic salaries, etc.), gradually
turned orange in a Rabelesque way. First, the shipyard received the support
of gnomes (
). Their images appeared on the shipyard’s wall as well as on
occasional stamps that the strikers’ printing services produced (Image 4).
Image 4. A Solidarity stamp
featuring a gnome on strike,
issued by Free Printer of the
Gdansk Shipyard in August
1988.
74 Frydrych and Dobosz, 86-88.
75 Michail Gorbachev had just visited Poland (on July 11, 1988, two weeks before the
Wroclaw rally).
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Second, in order to address the presence of the police who cordoned off the
shipyard as it had done in the spring, shipyard workers started building their
own military vehicles. The material they used was Styrofoam. In general,
Styrofoam sheets are used as industrial insulation. Accordingly, during the
days of the strike, they served primarily as things to sleep on, but during
this time they were also employed as construction blocks from which to
build the orange military. “At first,” a strike bulletin reported, “folks from
the Gdansk Repair Shipyard [an enterprise adjacent to the Lenin plant] produced a piece of artillery by assembling a pipe, a Styrofoam bullet-shield,
and a trailer platform. A home-made cannon, painted in camouflage greenspots, was then placed behind the shipyard’s gate. Its barrel zeroed in on the
riot police troops that were blocking the street outside the factory.”76 Before
long, as a Styrofoam culture diffused throughout the shipyards, the Armed
Forces of a Shipyard Republic advanced:
On Sunday night, workers from the Z-34 department built a tank. It was
an electric cart, sandwiched with Styrofoam panels, and painted green. By
2:30 a.m., it passed a trial drive and started patrolling the shipyard inland
roads. The tank was quite pacifist; it carried a slogan addressed to the police,
“Leave your arms by the gate; we want a dialogue”... On Monday, a group of
workers from the Lenin shipyard had just finished a prayer ceremony when
a make-believe water cannon attacked the crowd. The vehicle, whose chassis was made of an electric cart, had a gunner’s sight and a water container
connected to a barrel from which the water was poured over a ‘wild mob.’ In
fact, this was the Lenin’s response to an armament race initiated by the folks
from the Repair Shipyard. Additionally, the Lenin guys engineered two Styrofoam howitzers and placed them at the most protruding redoubts of the
plant... Folks from the Repair’s W-17 department could not stand this Lenin
advance and vowed to construct a police van. Soon, the van shined with a
blue paint... and had an opportunity to confront, through a wire fence, a real
police van, where the otherwise gloomy police burst into laughter. The spiral
of an arms’ race continued: on Monday at 4 p.m., a ballistic nuclear missile
(5) Gdansk, December 1970
‘Pershing’ left the Z-22 department and drove into the narrow roads in the
(6) Gdansk, December 1981
Repair Shipyard... In the meantime, the fight was extended into waters: on
Saturday, a Styrofoam warship, carrying the telling name of Solidarity, sailed
out into the shipyard canals.77
76 “Wyscig zbrojen,” Solidarnosc: Pismo Regionu Gdanskiego 22 (Aug 31, 1988).
77 “Wyscig” op. cit.
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When observing the playfulness of irony and its pro-democracy energy in
Gdansk’s Lenin shipyard, one might reflect on how radically the poetics of
confrontation and resistance had changed in a city such as Gdansk and,
by extension, in the whole country over time. Consider three photographs
(Images 5-7). The first two photos (from the left) present tanks sent by the
authorities against Gdansk’s workers who were protesting the unfair price
hikes in 1970 (Image 5) and then were opposing the imposition of martial
law in 1981 (Image 6). This display of a brutal crackdown on the workers,
when the military controlled their life and death, is in a sharp contrast with
another scene (Image 7) presenting a column of mock military vehicles,
made of cardboard, that peacefully monitored the territory of the workers’
ironic republic in 1988.
Images 5-7. Three confrontations between the regime and the workers in Gdansk in 1970,
1981, and 1988, accordingly.
Now consider Solidarity’s appropriation of irony in the context of the
Orange Alternative’s comic revolution. In his essay “The Priest and the
Clown,” Leszek Kolakowski praises irony (and its medium, the clown) for
destabilizing all that “which is seemingly evident and undisputable.”78 In
this sense, the late 1980s turned out to be the time of the clown, as best
embodied by the Orange Alternative movement. The comic revolution, as
proclaimed in the Alternative’s poster (Image 8), helped Solidarity to be
equipped with an ironic and self-critical eye, one capable of recognizing in
the movement’s enemy a humane partner.
78 Leszek Kolakowski, “Kaplan i blazen” [The priest and the Clown], Tworczosc 10 (1959):
178.
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Image 8. A poster featuring
the Orange Alternative’s
“Revolution of Gnomes,”
calling for a mass rally of
‘activists’ wearing red, gnomelike hats.
The strike in Gdansk ended on August 31. The opposition, led by Solidarity, and the government entered a long process of negotiations aimed at
a fundamental reform of the system. On June 4, 1989, the system factually
ceased to exist. The first semi-free parliamentary elections in Poland, organized under the Round Table agreements between the regime and the opposition, became a referendum, one in which people voted ‘for’ or ‘against’
the system, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the communist state, and brought overwhelming
victory to the Solidarity candidates.
The force of irony continued its operations. In 1989, Romania’s dictator,
Ceausescu, was shot to death during a non-ironic revolution. In contrast,
Poland’s former dictator, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, was elected the
president of a new Poland by, ironically, the votes of the former enemies—
now Solidarity’s parliamentarians and the old regime’s representatives. The
following year, President Jaruzelski courteously shortened his term of office.
Earlier elections were called for. Completing the story of irony operating in
Poland, the electrician Lech Walesa, Solidarity’s leader, became the country’s
new president.
By Way of Conclusion
This essay proposes that irony, because of its pluralizing potential, is a prodemocracy trope—‘demirony.’ It views irony as a rhetorical resource capable of opening up and ‘de-hermeticizing’ hegemonic discourses, be they
involved in the production of a new order (as in social movement discourse,
for example) or in the service of the old (as in the discourse of the state).
The ‘healing power’ of irony is twofold. First, irony is capable of putting
an end to ‘bipolar politics.’ Under irony, totally incongruent positions can
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become less incompatible. Second, once the grip of bipolar, Manichean, and
dichotomic politics is loosened, the tactics of resistance (and the programs of
change) can be reconfigured and thereby revitalized. It is in this context that
irony in general and performative irony in particular should be viewed as an
essential element of democratic politics. In its application section, the essay
points to the elements of performative irony, such as axiological hunger,
reciprocity, and opportunity, which accumulatively can make a transition
from dictatorship to democracy a peaceful and sometimes entertaining possibility. The essay suggests that in the late 1980s in then-communist Poland,
irony not only targeted the state apparatus to make it more susceptible to
change but it also assisted in de-hermeticizing the hegemonic discourse of
the anti-regime Solidarity movement, thereby helping both sides, the regime
and the opposition, reach a historical compromise.
Irony proves to be a double-edged trope, though. It does not need to
be glamorized. Instead, what needs to be examined carefully is a variety
of ironic byproducts of the very play of irony. For example, to the degree
irony helped to dismantle Poland’s old system of government, moving in
from the territory of authoritarianism to the realm of democracy, it likewise
promoted the market. With its neo-liberal version of the market economy
that has been attached to the system transformation, the irony-fueled transition has made the Polish working class—the engine of Solidarity’s peaceful
revolution—the biggest losers of this transformation. The inequality gap has
become so big that it has compromised the very idea of solidarity. As one
saying goes, ‘Be careful what you ask for ‘cause you may get it.’ The workers
asked for democracy and they got it, but in its neo-liberal style. As a result
of the neo-liberal policies developed during the transition, large segments of
Poland’s working class have in fact slipped down into the status of lumpen
proletariat.
Could change facilitated by irony have an unambiguous humane face?
In the age of corporate globalization, the question remains: How can one
win things through irony and, at the same time, be saved from irony? For
instance, how could one challenge a transnational market regime that operates under the auspices of democracy and impoverishes the public sphere?
To confront this situation more effectively, should one practice what Michel
Foucault calls “parrhesia in the care of the self ” and engage in a kind of revolt
that Julia Kristeva calls, not without irony, “a state of permanent questioning, of transformation, change, an endless probing of appearances”?79
79
Julia Kristeva, Revolt She Said (Los Angeles: Semiotext/e, 2002), 78.
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&
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Archives of the Osrodek KARTA (a research center) in Warsaw, Poland.
Materials of the Gdansk Diocesan Center for Video Documentation, Gdansk, Poland.
Endnotes
a The Cheka (the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Sabotage and Criminal Offenses by Officials) was the Soviet Union’s first secret police, formed
in 1917 by the Polish revolutionary and Lenin’s friend Felikx Dzierzhynsky. It eventually
evolved into the GPU, OGPU, NKVD and, finally, the KGB. In the Polish slang, the
word czekista meant a zealous activist or overacting security serviceman.
b A parody of Solidarity’s slogan: “There’s No Freedom without Solidarity.”
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Argumentation and Democratic
Disagreement:
On Cultivating a Practice of Dissent
Kevin Cummings and James K. Stanescu
If the political society be communistic, its rhetoric must be
devoted to communistic ends and means; if the society be democratic, its rhetoric must respect the values and processes of
democracy. The character of the instrumental art derives from
the master art. This is the context for the familiar observation
that tyranny and dictatorship circumscribe and sicken the arts
of public address and discussion and that a free society and a
liberal democracy, inviting the tests of dissent, foster a climate
in which public utterance – and all the arts of communication
– achieve breadth, depth, and vigor. (Wallace, 1955, 199)
If rhetoric, as Karl Wallace contends, prospers under conditions of democracy
and is choked under conditions of fascism and tyranny, then the horizon of
thought for argumentation theorists ought to properly be concerned with the
means by which dissent and democratic disagreement can be cultivated. In
the epigraph above, Wallace distinguishes communistic rhetoric from democratic rhetoric. The first sentence is particularly worthy of note, because it
does not equate the place of rhetoric under communism with rhetoric in a
democracy. Rather than conjoin democratic rhetoric with totalitarian rhetoric, Wallace sets up points of contrast. Rhetoric in communistic societies
“must be devoted,” whereas in democratic societies rhetoric “must respect.”
This distinction in the verbs is meant to show that not only is rhetoric used
differently, but it also has a fundamentally different character in each society.
Wallace is writing in 1955 and is specifically attacking the totalitarianism of
Soviet-style communism. Within that framework, rhetoric is “devoted to the
communistic ends and means” of the state. However, in democratic societies,
we must learn “respect,” which is to say a habit of cultivating spaces for dissent
The authors wish to thank the editors of the Special Issue for their valuable comments.
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and disagreement. Although Wallace’s conceptualization of a binary between
American democracy and Soviet communism may seem like an overly simplistic dichotomy today, his understanding of the relationship between rhetoric and democracy certainly is not. Totalitarian societies deploy rhetoric primarily as scaffolding for the architecture of the state. In a democracy, rhetoric
flourishes and emanates from both the state and from the people.
The argument advanced by Wallace about democratic rhetoric is clairvoyant in predicting the conditions of possibility for democracy and understanding how those conditions are challenged during a time of conflict. It is during
these times of crisis that the unfinished project of democracy is put to the
test. We are experiencing right now exactly that challenge vis-à-vis the War
on Terror, and this is always the dilemma faced by transitions in democracy.
The state response to the attacks of 9/11 has been to indefinitely detain noncitizens suspected of terrorism, to invoke a state of emergency, and to wage
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the United States continues to wage a War
on Terror, the justifications for intervention in Iraq have shifted from concerns
over the use of weapons of mass destruction to arguments about confronting
tyranny and fascism. This shift in the descriptive vocabulary has been accompanied by an argumentative apology for democracy and a call to plant the
seeds of freedom in the Middle East. In arguing for the need to enable a
transition to democracy, the Bush administration has embraced liberal logics
supporting human rights and dissent as primary justifications for their use of
violence. It would be hard to miss the irony involved in the Bush administration’s claim to promote dissent and human rights abroad while they have used
a state of emergency to declare war and to enact policies and legislation clearly
at odds with promoting dissent in the United States. The impingements on
freedom and dissent that have been enacted with the advent of recent terrorist
attacks on US soil are used by the current administration to warrant a seemingly democratic set of policies that control unruly bodies. It is exactly this
seeming paradox, the rhetoric used for the promotion of democracy being set
against democratic rhetoric, that we hope to explore in our paper. Specifically,
we investigate how human rights ground democratic values and processes and
simultaneously can serve to either derail democracies in transition, or aid in
the formation of democratic subjects.
We begin the first section with an exploration of the definition of democracy set against the background of the War on Terror. The second section
critically reviews the works of Giorgio Agamben and traces his analysis of
how governments transition away from democracy. In the third section, we
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examine the journey back towards democracy. Drawing from the works of
Jacques Rancière, we contend that Agamben is too hasty in his rejection of
human rights and we contend that dissent and argumentation can anchor a
democratic praxis vital to defeating fascism. Finally, our fourth section concludes with a return to the work of Karl Wallace in order to show that argumentation and dissent remain key conceptual frames for developing political
subjectivity, agency, and democratic praxis. At stake in the struggle to define
democracy is the risk that democracy will be understood as a justification for
endless war and atrocity done under the aegis of defending liberty. Our argument attempts to reclaim and recover human rights and dissent from those
who would use those concepts to justify violence. We offer instead a set of
argument strategies for pursuing a truly egalitarian democracy.
Democracy in the Age of Terror
The aftermath of 9/11 found a nation in grief, shock, and anger. An intense
national patriotism accompanied these feelings, as American flags and slogans of
“United We Stand” swept over the landscape of the United States. This national
patriotism was not simply pro-American, but contained an imperative of unity
and cohesiveness which seemed to view dissent from any American policy as traitorous. The unspoken correlative to “United We Stand” was that those opposed to
this unity might cause us to fall. Perhaps the most extreme rhetoric of this variety
emerged directly from the White House, when on November 6, 2001 President
Bush declared, “You are either with us or against us in the war on terror.” Dana
Cloud (2004) presents us with an example of the function of this nationalism. She
relates a story in which a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, having
written a piece critiquing the war on Afghanistan, was publicly insulted and undercut in an article by the University’s own President.
Under the backdrop of these extreme conditions, Dana Cloud (2004)
explains how a consolatory rhetoric of grief was juxtaposed with nationalism
in order to justify a stance in favor of war and in opposition to dissent and
argument. Cloud terms this new epideictic rhetoric a rhetoric of consolation because it coalesced around a desire to grieve for the victims and mete
out justice against the attackers. This rhetoric exists in direct opposition to
controversy and reasoning.
The by-product of this culture of consolation included extreme measures
to curtail liberty in the elusive search for security. Cloud provides an extensive
précis, noting,
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The war on terrorism has required not only media propaganda
but massive witchhunts, secret detentions, roundups of thousands of Arab and Arab American immigrants and citizens;
military tribunals, proposals for legalized torture, retinal ID
cards, and internal passports; harassment and discipline of students, professors, and media reporters who speak out; a new
racial profiling that has led to attacks and deaths; delay in visa
processing for thousands of innocent immigrants; and many
other repressive acts. The USA Patriot Act allows sweeping antidemocratic actions, including searches of citizens and
noncitizens without probable cause, detention of immigrants
without a hearing, email and internet spying, and tremendous
expansion of government powers to spy on and prosecute political protesters, dissenters, and organizations. (77)
As if the list was not enough, Cloud cautions us that the use of discourses
of consolation after 9/11 have eroded the spaces for meaningful discussion
and have reduced the capacity of the public to engage in meaningful public
deliberation.
In order to examine the nature of this dilemma it is necessary to identify
and conceptualize the vocabulary that is often used in discussions of democracy. David Trend (1996) makes the case that democracy as a term is in the
midst of a crisis of meaning. The interpretations of democracy vary widely and
are the subject of much contest. In addition to understanding democracy in
relation to values such as equality and freedom, the term also has numerous
meanings related to participation in political process (deliberative democracy)
and respect for diversity and difference (pluralistic democracy). Because of
the variations in what democracy entails, it is relatively easy for political demagogues to deploy the term as a justification for a wide array of policies. That
is not to suggest that the term is vacuous or bankrupt. Naming is an incredibly important symbolic act in the constitution of subjects (see McKerrow,
1989). Rather, the debate over democracy is a robust one and the importance
of democracy as a signifier is such that people from widely diverse ranges of
the political spectrum claim conceptual ownership.
The study of argumentation and dissent has a great deal to contribute to
the ongoing interpretive disagreements about the meanings of democracy.
We contend that such an approach should transcend a purely proceduralist
approach. Proceduralism broadly divides moral claims into first order claims
and second order claims (Chambers, 1996, 17). First order moral claims
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assert a specific moral principle such as “killing is wrong.” Second order moral
claims, according to Chambers, are removed from specific contexts and instead
provide a sequence of guidelines for deciding first order moral claims. The
procedures represent a “testing mechanism” that renders a first order claim
valid or invalid. One deficiency in this model for understanding democracy
and democratic deliberation is that it does not require or seek to understand
the constitutive logic of subject formation. Hicks and Langsdorf set out the
stakes of this question by noting, “No procedural design will work if the parties do not have a discussion minded attitude” (1999, 147). That is, if there is
an absence of commitment to a democratic praxis, procedural efforts to attain
justice will fall short of their goals. So while proceduralist approaches may be
aligned with mechanisms aimed at fostering disagreement and dissent, they
do not necessarily cultivate a democratic ethos among the citizenry.
Because mechanisms or procedures for the promotion of deliberation are
necessary, but rarely seem to be sufficient conditions for democratic interactions, there is a need to return to the question of subject formation and
more specifically to the ways transgressive identities are regulated. Bruner
(2005; 2002), following the work of Jon Simons, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe, understands transgression in terms of how hegemonic structures
respond to transgressive challenges. Specifically, he argues that transgression
is important in order for individuals and groups to contest the ways limits
are set on the national identities that can be assumed by individuals. Hegemonic structures limit code identities considered appropriate and acceptable.
This is especially pertinent in times of conflict and crisis. Bruner utilizes the
examples of how the television show Politically Incorrect, hosted by Bill Maher,
was cancelled and how the Dixie Chicks were “Blackballed” after each had
assumed transgressive identities in the period after 9/11 to reveal how transgression is limited. This leads Bruner to the insight that national identity is
a politically consequential fiction. As we fold this back into the discussion of
democracy, it becomes more and more clear that a democratic society should
allow and actively promote democratic transgressions in political identifications. One potential avenue for staging transgressions might be through a
valorization of dissent. Steven Shiffrin (1999) sets out a basic justification for
dissent as a primary condition for democracy:
The value of dissent, then, in this context is not that it fosters individual development or self-realization, or even that it
exposes injustice and brings about change. The commitment to
dissent and the First Amendment is of national symbolic value;
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it is a form of cultural glue that binds citizens to the political
community. (18)
By understanding democracy through argumentation and dissent it becomes
possible to rhetorically challenge the use of democracy as an alibi for patently
anti-democratic behaviors. That is, the rhetorical justifications for the war on
terror can be put to the question regarding the ways the administration of the
war stifles dissent and cultivates a climate of fear. To the extent that Cloud
is correct in her assessment, it becomes apparent that the current political
administration is not working in the service of democracy, but rather is engaging in activities that move society further from democracy towards a capitalist
oligarchy.
The possibility that democracy will be framed as a justification for antidemocratic measures will always be a source of risk. For some, democracy
must be intimately intertwined with capitalism or with the neo-liberal order.
Others understand democracy primarily as a set of procedures for the protections of the rights of citizens and for the mediation of disputes. Contrary to
both of these interpretations, we perceive democracy as the motion of the
public towards an egalitarian society. This movement towards egalitarianism
is reflected and echoed in agonistic debates over the collective good. There
we see democratic habits marshaled in the form of a praxis, and democracy
itself invoked by the people in argument. While democracy may never be sustained in a concrete manifestation, there are democratic moments and there
should always be a struggle to accomplish democracy. This struggle turns on
the question of how we manage disagreement and what political identities are
available for assumption. When we show respect in our willingness to engage
in disagreements with those who have democratically assumed transgressive
identities, we begin the difficult work of the project of democracy.
Advocating for transgression and dissent against hegemonically coded
identities does not create a double bind where all dissent is celebrated. Antidemocratic behaviors from transgressive groups do not have to be embraced
or promoted. Shiffrin provides an eloquent rejoinder to this concern, noting
that, “Racist speakers seek to persuade people that government (and others)
should not treat all persons with equal concern and respect. If our legal system
has even a prayer of claiming to be legitimate, however, it must start from the
premise that all citizens are worthy of equal concern and respect” (1999, 78).
A starting assumption, then, for democratic thinking is that radical democrats
are not compelled into defending those camps whose members have sexist,
racist, or homophobic belief systems merely because they include a revolu-
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tionary spirit or because they challenge and tests the limits of the apparatus of
the state. To the contrary, we mean to suggest that dissent and transgression
should be cherished only to the extent that they promote disagreement without silencing oppositional interlocutors. If the willingness to debate is diluted
by political groups seeking power or dominance, the democratic force of the
group dissipates.
Although an argumentation based model of democracy could provide a
tactic for challenging injustice and promoting dissent, there are still several
criticisms of democracy as an idea and as an ideology. At the heart of many of
these critiques of democracy is the idea that there are intrinsic problems with
democratic governance and with the constitution of democratic communities.
Among the prominent voices leading these criticisms is Italian philosopher
Giorgio Agamben. His theory of the state of exception and his critique of
humanitarian interventions provides a significant challenge to defenders and
apologists for democracy.
Transitions from Democracy
In Agamben’s political writings the question of how democratic societies
slip into fascism is addressed respectively through analysis informed by his
understanding of the works of two theorists: Carl Schmitt and Primo Levi.
From Schmitt, Agamben addresses how the state uses emergencies in order
to justify the creation of special rules and procedures antithetical to democracy. This grounds an explanation for how the state defines friend and enemy.
From Levi, Agamben offers an explanation for why communication based
models of democracy invariably fail. In each of these respective criticisms,
Agamben proffers a useful description of the dilemmas faced by democracy,
and we aspire to answer these criticisms in order to recover the possibility for
reclaiming democracy as a politically productive signifier.
In The State of Exception Agamben draws from the work of Carl Schmitt
to advance the thesis that the tropes of emergency and exception have become
the paradigm of modern governance. In response to crises, the state arrogates
to itself special provisions and authority. This leads Schmitt to his famous
declaration that “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (2005, 5). The
need to suspend normal rules to deal with a catastrophe has become such a
common occurrence that the exception for emergencies has become the norm
in global liberal governance (Edkins, 2000). Agamben develops his understanding of sovereignty through the identification of a subject immanent in
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the polis and yet simultaneously cast out from the community. This figure is
a person who may be killed but not sacrificed, homo sacer, a life stripped of
all value and meaning. The individual is so worthless that it would be sacrilege to offer their life in a sacrifice to the gods. The Latin term sacer, which
Agamben defines as a juxtaposition of both sacred and damned, establishes
the inner contours of the sovereign logic at the heart of biopolitics (1998, 78).
Agamben derives his term from Foucault, who argued that biopolitics is “a
power that has taken control of both the body and life or that has, if you like,
taken control of life in general—with the body as one pole and the population
as the other” (2003, 253). In order to explain this conceptually, Agamben
returns to the ancient origins of capital punishment as a purification ritual
(81). When a person was legally sentenced to die they were consecrated to
the gods through ceremony and through the manner of their death. Their
punishment was seen to cleanse their soul. The life of homo sacer was so valueless that it was beyond even the afterlife and thus the figure represented the
irredeemably damned soul. Their death was not capital punishment because
the law placed them outside the legal order. To kill sacer was not to commit
homicide (1993/1990, 86). They existed in a state of exception.
In the period after 9/11 this figure is embodied in the persons of the terrorist, the immigrant, and the detainee. The sovereign exerts its authority
over homo sacer by stripping away all rights and prerogatives with the grounding logic aimed at the protection of the rights and security of the citizens of
the polis. To preserve rights and democracy, the state constructs camps in
which those banned from the city can be dealt with. In doing so, Agamben
argues, democracy becomes complicit with its greatest enemy: fascism (1998,
9-10). Homo Sacer represents the key to understanding the descent of democracy and it is within the ban of homines sacri that Agamben’s description of the
problems after 9/11 is most clearly articulated. To reveal the inner contours
of the ban and the figure of homo sacer, Agamben weaves together the history
and mythology of the werewolf.
In Germany and Scandinavia, in ancient times, those individuals who
were banned from the city as outlaws were described as wargus or werewolves
(Agamben, 1998, 104-105). These people lived outside the city and were
known as ‘bandits’ because they were banned from the community. They were
considered already dead and they could be killed without punishment. The
nature of the ban meant that anyone could harm those defined as werewolves
without legal consequence. In addition, werewolves could not be sacrificed
to the gods and so they represented the paradigmatic instance of Agamben’s
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figure of bare life, homo sacer. (107) Werewolves were outside the scope of
the law and no longer fell within the contract between the sovereign and the
people. They existed instead in a space of exception or a zone of indistinction.
The current analog for the werewolf in politics today is the figure of the
refugee often used by contemporary thinkers to describe homo sacer. Homo
sacer represents the simultaneous inclusion and exclusion of individuals
within the body politic. By legal rule, homo sacer is outside the confines of
the city and is thus abandoned by the community. Abandonment, which keys
on the ban, set werewolves juridically as non-citizens and as outsiders while
simultaneously constructing them as unruly bodies who must be managed
with violence. In setting out this relationship Agamben draws heavily from
the work of German jurist and legal scholar Carl Schmitt. A primary contribution Schmitt makes to this discussion is in his distinction between friend
and enemy in his book The Concept of the Political. The argument Schmitt
advances is that even within the new vocabulary of peace that was created
by the League of Nations there remained a construction of enemies that was
implicit within the logic of sovereignty. Schmitt writes,
The adversary is thus no longer called an enemy but a disturber of the peace and is thereby designated to be an outlaw of
humanity. A war waged to protect or expand economic power
must, with the aid of propaganda, turn it into a crusade and
into the last war of humanity. This is implicit in the polarity of
ethics and economics, a polarity astonishingly systematic and
consistent. But this allegedly non-political and apparently even
antipolitical system serves existing or newly emerging friendand-enemy groupings and cannot escape the logic of the political. (1996, 79)
The understanding of how the logic of sovereignty inevitably draws humanity back into the simple friend-and-enemy distinction is clearly evidenced in
Schmitt’s thought. Even as we develop new linguistic choices and new vocabularies, our humanitarian interventions must continue to define an inside
space for rights bearing citizens and an external space for those outside the
city. War and violence in this context are no longer framed as an honorable
disagreement between nation-states. Rather, war becomes, “only a measure
taken against a parasite or trouble maker…” or “social pest control” (Schmitt,
2003, 124).
Agamben uses the figure of the werewolf to provide a descriptive
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device for understanding the relationship between the citizen and the foreigner and, more specifically, to understand the construction of a zone of
indistinction between those who are sacred and those who are banished or
exiled from the community. The ban involves a double meaning or semantic
ambiguity in that the individual who is banned is marked as banned by the
sovereign insignia and is simultaneously outside the rules of religion, law, and
community (Agamben, 1998, 111). This movement between inclusion and
exclusion is the primary relationship that Agamben wants to get inside of.
Agamben argues that this relationship is the originary moment of political
thought and is the nomos that conditions every rule and the principle exercise
of biopolitical power. Sovereign power is legitimized based on the creation of
interiors for communities, and that construction always already entails exteriors for those who exist on the peripheries of the cities. It must register as
no surprise that the werewolf be selected as the mythic beast that represents
bandits and outlaws. The dangers of wolves to the people and especially to
the children of ancient communities made them a creature much feared and
maligned, so much so that religious figures such as Jesus of Nazareth taught
through the metaphor of a shepherd and his flock to highlight the ways to
protect the sheep [people] from the wolves. In Matthew 7 verse 15 there is an
explicit caution against false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but are
in fact wolves. Fear of the wolf has existed for millennia, and it comes as no
surprise that the wolf would represent figuratively and literally a danger to the
community.
The werewolf is a clear example of homo sacer or more broadly homines sacri, the life that can be killed with impunity and yet cannot be sacrificed.
The basis for why a person could have their life ended without need to show
cause, but could not be part of a religious ceremony to give them access to
the afterlife, also elides religion and sovereign power. The normal exercise of
sovereign power is suspended in the case of the werewolf because the figure of
the werewolf is outside the legal regime. However, the sovereign suspension
of normal legal protocols to protect humanity from the threat of the werewolf
also places the werewolf within the sovereign order. This space of exception
that is both inside and outside the law is presented by Agamben as the normal
exercise of biopolitical power by the sovereign. Agamben refers to this as the
inclusive exclusion. (78) The sovereign has the power to identify those who
are members of the community and those who are homines sacri. Homo sacer,
the werewolf, is the one for whom all others then become sovereigns with
the power of life and death. For Agamben, this is more than just a unique
instance of sovereign logic. Rather, the inclusive exclusion is the center of the
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very paradigm of sovereign thought in the realm of politics. It is where the
political itself is rendered visible.
To protect the city and its dwellers from werewolves, the sovereign acts as
a shepherd protecting his flock of sheep. This move echoes Foucault’s discussion of pastoral power in his essay “The Subject and Power” (1982, 214-215).
Pastoral power is described by Foucault as a special form of power that was
initially ecclesiastical in nature. The state was concerned with the care of the
souls of citizen subjects and thus the sovereign was called on to be prepared
to lay down his life for the health and protection of the citizens. Protecting
the health and well being of the population thus became a primary function
of the state. The role of the werewolf becomes even more significant with the
advent of pastoral power. The relationship of a people to the state binds the
sovereign to protecting the people from threats and maintaining security. In
the ancient city-states, homines sacri were cast into the wilderness and banned
from the city. However, the werewolves always threatened to return to the
polis because they were neither man nor beast and thus could not dwell in
either the city or the forest. In modern times, population flows and mobility
have altered such that now we have not just individual bandits but ‘Rogue
States.’ Entire communities and populations are outlawed. Foucault captures
the essence of how this implicates the function of sovereignty in his work on
The History of Sexuality:
Law cannot help but be armed, and its arm, par excellence, is
death; to those who transgress it, it replies, at least as a last
resort, with that absolute menace. The law always refers to the
sword. But a power whose task is to take charge of life needs
continuous regulatory and corrective mechanisms. It is no
longer a matter of bringing death into play in the field of sovereignty, but of distributing the living in the domain of value and
utility. (1978, 144 emphasis in the original)
The matrix of sovereignty, which Agamben calls the nomos of the camp, is
expressly biopolitical not just because of the power to kill, but because of the
power to set value on life. That power always entails privileging some life
as intrinsically valuable. The act of defining the political subjectivity of the
rights-bearing citizen creates a new space within the matrix of sovereignty for
outsiders who have no rights and no value to their life.
The werewolves or homines sacri identified after 9/11 are the terrorists,
the detainees at Guantanamo, and the immigrants who threaten the safety
of all within the polis. The logic of the camp put into play to neutralize the
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perceived threats employs a deeply spatial logic that exists at a nexus with the
ban. Claudio Minca explains this constellation with a special emphasis on
how the nomos of the camp implicates and imbricates the citizens of the polis
within the order of homines sacri:
This indefinite, somehow indistinct, structure of the ban transforms all of us, in fact, into potential dehumanized human
beings, into potential homines sacri. It is this mobile threshold
of the ban that is constitutive of the war on terror that pervades
some of our societies today. That is why the tacit acceptance of
the return of the camp into the political vocabulary of western
democracies marks the beginning of a new chapter in the production and deployment of horror. A production and deployment that are, always and inescapably, spatial. (2005, 407-408)
The production of atrocity becomes possible in large measure through the
circulation of a rhetoric that mobilizes and coalesces around human rights.
A state of emergency is evoked because of the threats individuals pose to the
security of the democratic state. The enemy is seen to have no redeeming
qualities and has become the epitome of evil. It is within this space that citizens are confronted with paradoxical claims that freedom is not free and that
we must give up our rights to protect them. Humanitarian interventions and
the promotion of human rights are used as a pretext for the creation of a permanent state of exception. For Agamben, the only way out of this dilemma is
to understand that human rights and democracy are bankrupt concepts that
are ineluctably connected to the logic of the camp.
The second major criticism Agamben levels at democracy is drawn from
his reading of Primo Levi about his experiences in Auschwitz. Levi’s recollections of his time in Auschwitz become a major contribution to Agamben’s
thought and work. Levi’s narratives include the inhuman atrocities committed along with descriptions of what came from those acts. In one story, he
tells of an act of resistance that happened at Birkenau. Jews broke free and
destroyed a crematorium before being captured. One of the captured rebels
was brought to Auschwitz and Levi describes him as the last one. The last one
with the capacity left to fight. That capacity had been stripped from Levi and
the other observers. Levi writes,
To destroy a man is difficult, almost as difficult as to create
one: it has not been easy nor quick, but you Germans have succeeded. Here we are, docile under your gaze; from our side you
have nothing more to fear; no acts of violence, no words of defi-
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ance, not even a look of judgment. (1993, 150)
This transformation saw completion in the figure of the drowned or those
who touched bottom. Levi describes the drowned as true witnesses because
they have seen the eyes of The Gorgon (1989, 83). The name in the Lager
for these individuals was Muselmann or “Muslim.” Levi thinks that this was
perhaps because the head bandages looked like turbans or maybe because they
were so irreversibly exhausted that they appeared hunched over as if in prayer
(98). Agamben uses the muselmann to discuss his criticism of a communication based model of ethics. In Auschwitz, the muselmann was incapable of
communication. A walking corpse, the muselmann was the “radical refutation of every possible refutation” because it lacked the ability to speak or hear
(2002, 66).
What we find most compelling in the work of Agamben is his description
of the problem. Democracies are fragile and often shift rapidly and violently
into fascist regimes. Our point of departure with Agamben is in his overly
pessimistic and dark account of democracy itself. As Andreas Kalyvas eloquently puts it, “By disregarding the distinct aspects of political power, politics
is relegated to a single, pejorative version of sovereign power and state authority” (2005, 115). What is missing is the productive side of power, where rights
and democracy prefigure a struggle for justice and respect. It may be true
that democracy and rights can be twisted into perverse fascist systems. The
converse is also true, and the notions of rights can be used to promote selfdetermination, equality, and liberty. In the next section we explore the work
of Jacques Rancière who has much to contribute to this specific question and
who also provides a preliminary starting point for considering a theory of
communication for those who cannot speak.
Reclaiming Rights
Despite Agamben’s dire predictions about the threat of human rights rhetoric, we maintain that human rights rhetoric can be a fundamental tool for
dissent, and as such is a key element of democratic subject formation. Agamben is concerned with understanding how people come to be counted in such
ways that they are transformed into homo sacer. The French philosopher
Jacques Rancière is concerned with a more basic question: “Who counts?”.
This poses two additional questions: both “Who gets to count?” and “Who
does the counting?”. If you are not counted, you do not count. Those who
are uncounted become the discardable, the disposable in society. This is how
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genocides happen, this is how homelessness happens, this is how gay bashing
happens, this is how torturing prisoners happen, this is how slaughtering of
animals happen, etc. We do not know how many people were killed in the
Holocaust, and the reason we do not know is because they were already the
uncounted. The Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, communists, disabled, etc.,
most importantly the et cetera.
Certainly Agamben’s and Rancière’s questions are not mutually exclusive,
but the differences of methodological questions prefigure their differences on
understanding how human rights operate. Agamben’s objection to human
rights is multifaceted, but depends heavily upon Hannah Arendt’s objections
to human rights. Arendt argues that, “[t]he Rights of Man, supposedly inalienable, proved to be unenforceable—even in countries whose constitutions were
based upon them—whenever people appeared who were no longer citizens of
any sovereign” (1951, 290). In short, either you have the rights granted to you
as a citizen and human rights are not needed, or they are the rights of those
that can never use them. We seek to engage with Rancière’s work in order to
articulate a third way out. This third way sees rights not as a something given
and guaranteed by a state, but rather as a resource to be rhetorically claimed
for exactly those who do not have rights. This third way radically disrupts the
counting process itself.
The key to understanding the question of “Who counts?” is in what Rancière frequently calls “the distribution of the sensible.” The distribution of
the sensible is the usually implicit law that determines what gets to count
as speech and what counts as noise. An example that Rancière gives is the
story found in Livy of the secession of the Roman plebeians on Aventine Hill.
The Roman patricians cannot imagine discussion with the plebeians because
they firmly believe the plebeians do not speak; they simply make anguished
noises (1999, 23-28). The patrician refusal to even hear the plebeians is not
democratic. Quite the opposite, it is a firmly undemocratic move that refuses
any political contestation and polices the boundaries of what counts as sense.
Democracy does not occur when voices are not heard. Democracy is the form
in which the excluded find ways to make themselves heard. Rancière makes a
distinction between politics and a policing of the sensible explicit:
Politics is generally seen as the set of procedures whereby the
aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved, the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and
the systems for legitimizing this distribution. I propose to this
system of distribution and legitimization another name. I pro-
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pose to call it the police. (1999, 28, emphasis in the original)
However, “politics exists wherever the count of parts and parties of society is
disturbed by the inscription of a part of those who have no part” (1999, 123).
Rancière’s figure of a part that has no part refers to segments of society that
exist outside of the hegemonic spaces of articulation. He distinguishes the
interests of the part that has no part from that of the police. This is not simply
the petty police, but clearly Rancière’s understanding of the police is indebted
to Foucault’s analysis of Polizeiwissenschaft. In Foucault’s analysis the police
are those whom “develop those elements constitutive of individuals’ lives in
such a way that their development also fosters the strength of the state” (2000,
322). Rancière refines Foucault’s understanding of the police, by arguing that
the manner of regulation is to control what counts as sensible. While the tension between what Rancière terms politics and police is a useful one to analyze, we believe that there needs to be a broader understanding of democratic
habits than just this tension. However, Rancière’s redemption of human rights
is the first place to begin exploring these democratic habits. In the hands of a
part that has no part, human rights rhetoric can stage a dissensus and reveal a
miscount at the heart of society. As Rancière puts it:
This is also why today the citizens of states ruled by a religious
law or by the mere arbitrariness of their governments, and even
the clandestine immigrants in the zones of transit of our countries or the populations in the camps of refugees, can invoke
[human rights]. These rights are theirs when they can do something with them to construct a dissensus against the denial of
rights they suffer. And there are always people among them who
do it. (2004, 305-306)
This suggests the question of how human rights are to be rhetorically deployed
as a form of dissensus. Dissensus is what occurs whenever the agreed upon
distribution of the sensible is called into question. By questioning the count,
democracy is staged.
Democracy is a process. It is vital that democracy not become confused
solely with institutional forms of society. While institutional forms are necessary, they are not in themselves sufficient enough to be seen as the entire
democratic process. The only forms of democracy are those mechanisms by
which the part that has no part is able to contest the distribution of the sensible. Dissent and disagreement are, therefore, the definitional characteristics
of democracy. It is not just that democracy allows dissent, rather, it is that
only where there is dissent is there democracy. The forms of democracy “are in no
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way oblivious to the existence of elected assemblies, institutional guarantees
of freedom of speech and expression, state control mechanisms” (Rancière,
1999, 100-101). The institutional safeguards can be activated in the service
of democracy. However, procedures are always incomplete, and crises often
generate exceptions. Therefore democracy must always be understood as
something more than just documents and assemblies. Here we can see a parallel between Agamben’s and Rancière’s thought. For both of them liberalism’s
tendency to confuse democracy solely with institutional structures is problematic. For Agamben these institutional structures always trap us within a
sovereign state of exception, while institutions qua institutions are not a problem for Rancière. For Rancière the problem lies with the belief that politics
is about making sure that people’s roles and resources within the institutional
framework are properly distributed. This is, as we have already pointed out,
not politics but policing. It is not just that policing and democracy are different practices, but also these practices exist in a fundamental tension: What
democracy disrupts is policing, and what policing polices is democracy itself.
What is at stake is not the institutions, but the ability to bring the institutions
into a democratic process. The same is true of human rights, as well as with
the other institutions of liberal democracies.
The contrast between Agamben’s and Rancière’s theoretical methodologies is highlighted nowhere as much as with their views on human rights. For
Agamben analysis begins with trying to understand power and all its vicissitudes (viz. sovereignty, biopolitics, state of exceptions, zones of indeterminations). When we come upon those who are oppressed, the homo sacer, Agamben shows is how power produces a subjectivity of oppression. We do not
find this analysis anywhere in Rancière. Nowhere are we told what produces
a part that has no part. Rather, Rancière begins his analysis at the level of the
part that has no part, and theoretically maps ways that a democratic subjectivity can be produced. When Rancière does explore power, it is only to reveal
the methods the police use to thwart a democratic praxis. Therefore, it makes
sense for Agamben to see only the ways in which power is able to manipulate
human rights, only the ways in which human rights serve the police. However,
Rancière is able to see how human rights are the chief tool used by the part
that has no part in disrupting the count of the police.
What is key about human rights is the importance they play in constructing rhetorical strategies for radical equality. Here, again, we see a theoretical parallel between Agamben and Rancière. For both, oppression is invisible
because there is no perception of a wrong being done. Agamben is concerned
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with how logos becomes phone, how intelligible speech becomes mere noise.
Rancière is concerned with how those who are perceived as only making noise
can produce speech. The rhetorical strategy Rancière advocates follows the
logic of tort. The essential element of the rhetoric of tort is the ability to connect two worlds that are incommensurable with each other. The worlds that
are brought together are, on the one hand, the world that is understood as that
which is sensible, and on the other hand is the world lived and experienced
by the part that has no part. We are provided with an example by Rancière
of Jeanne Deroin (1999, 41). She was a French woman who, in 1849, ran for
a legislative seat. This is worthy of note because women were not allowed
to vote, and certainly were not allowed to hold public office. The purpose of
Deroin’s running for office was to publicize a duality within France. She staged
the conflict that France had a tradition demanding rights and universal suffrage while nevertheless denying women political rights. It was the existence
of the Rights of Man in France that allowed Deroin to connect the world of
French universal suffrage to the world where women were not allowed voting.
Human rights give the part that has no part a powerful rhetorical device for
connecting worlds.
We advocate that human rights can be used as a major premise in rhetorical syllogisms. However, we are not advocating any sort of traditional syllogisms, but something new, which Rancière terms a “syllogism of emancipation”
(1995, 45). There exists two ways of formulating a syllogism. The construction of the major and minor premises is the same. For example, article 13 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out the rights for freedom
of movement. Refugees are denied exactly this right. So, major premise: all
people are equally free to return to their home countries. Minor premise: refugees are not free to return. The differences of syllogisms occur in resolving the
contradiction between the major and minor premise. The traditional solution
is to declare the major premise invalid, and thus useless. However, a syllogism
of emancipation affirms that something must change. Either article 13 must
be changed to say that we are not all equal in freedom of movement, or the
conditions of the minor premise must be changed. To say “we are all equal” is
never nothing. It provides a space for equality, a rhetorical place where equality is real. The syllogistic practice is conceived as a constant testing of this real
equality. It allows the demands and needs of a part that has no part to be seen
not just as noise, but as speech. Therefore, this speech allows the part that
has no part to emerge as a recognizable political subjectivity. If we assume
inequality and simply propose ways to reduce it, or we automatically refuse
the possibility of radical equality and democracy, we succeed only in setting
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up further hierarchies. Rather, we must start “from the point of view of equality, asserting equality, assuming equality as a given, working out from equality,
trying to see how productive it can be and thus maximizing all possible liberty
and equality” (1995, 51-52).
Democratic Transformations
As democratic societies rise and fall, the spaces for argumentation and dissent
wax and wane. This basic thesis offered by Karl Wallace provides an interesting end point for the broader consideration of the study of transitions in
democracy. It is not solely within procedures or institutions that democracy
is made manifest. Rather, it is always a combination of structures in tandem
with the dispositions and convictions of the polis. The forms and relationships that the people can occupy become a defining feature of democratic life.
The apparatus and structures of society alone do not define the terrain of
democracy. Instead, democracy is staged by argument and can be acknowledged in the capacity of individuals from the margins of society to stage a
dissensus in response to injustice.
Robert Ivie (2005) situates the discussion of democracy in the context of
the War on Terror. Following Kenneth Burke, Ivie argues that the demonization of adversaries as ineffable evil only serves to escalate conflict until one
side in a dispute is utterly annihilated. The alternative is to address our rivals
within a democratic idiom where we hold perspectives accountable as rival
interpretations of the collective good rather than setting out the opposition as
insane or unredeemable evil (170). In the contemporary War on Terror, this
requires a return to agonistic pluralism instead of viewing the opposition as
enemies. It is admittedly unlikely that this type of behavior and respect will
emerge from the current political constellation. Few people are willing to relinquish the tactical advantage of bashing their opposition. In his 2004 speech
to the Republican National Convention, Vice President Cheney compared
terrorists to Nazis and chastised Senator Kerry for thinking that Al Qaeda
would be impressed with our “softer side.” While Cheney got high marks
for his rhetorical flourish, his argument was not in any sense a democratic
response to terrorism. Instead, it seemed to justify a suspension of democracy so that democracy could be preserved by the use of brute force against a
vicious enemy. Ivie explains the flaw in this mode of reasoning, noting,
So long as the rhetoric of evildoers preempts speaking in the
democratic idiom of agonistic pluralism, however, the roots of
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terrorism will continue to be fertilized by the blood of a selfsustaining war. Terrorism haunts human history and cannot
be eradicated by force. Counterterror breeds more terror. It
can be reduced only be engaging conflicting worldviews – not
by ignoring or suppressing them – only by identifying common
ground and by addressing the sources of alienation and despair.
A daily dose of democratic humility would go a long way toward
preventing a tragic fall into the abyss of escalating death and
destruction. (181)
The promises of democracy should not be limited to those times when the
world is tranquil and at peace. To the contrary, it is during periods of turmoil
and violence that democracy has the most to offer the polis. This is perhaps
foremost among the lessons we can teach our students.
Terrorism is a pejorative term for politically motivated violence. It is
through the rhetorical construction of terrorism that open spaces for democratic exchanges between people with rival conceptions of the good are foreclosed. Crelinsten (2002) writes that violence is “the language of the inarticulate.” (77) When the first and only response to terrorism is made through
the inarticulate language of violence it becomes clear that we have begun the
descent from a democratic polis to a public governed by fear.
In 1967, Karl Wallace identified four characteristics or habits for public
speakers in a free society: “the duty of search and inquiry, allegiance to accuracy, fairness, and justice in the selection and treatment of ideas and arguments, the willingness to submit private motivations to public scrutiny, and the
toleration of dissent” (55). The four dispositions Wallace identified are especially relevant to understanding the transitional moves in a democratic society
because it is through the activation of these habits of democracy that speakers
constitute the rhetorical spaces that define a democratic society. Democratic
subjects emerge discursively through the staging of dissensus. In this sense,
the value of the work of Wallace is that he has set out some of the habits that
can be traced to map a dissensus. Arguments and the capacity to argue set the
boundaries for the constitution of democratic subjects and democratic spaces.
When democratic dissent is stifled, when the outcasts of society have no claim
to speech, it is then that the problems of liberalism become clear. It may be
necessary to oppose those outcasts who seek to destroy democracy. That does
not in any way diminish the value that democratic transgressions can foster
in society, nor does it serve to repudiate the thesis that a democratic society
has as its pre-requisite a combination of institutional protections aligned with
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a citizenry that actively promotes democracy in the face of oppression. The
machinery of democracy requires both institutional safeguards and a citizenry
that values democratic thinking and action. With that in mind it is insufficient
to apotheosize or enshrine rules and regulations for democracy. Instead, it is
the constitution of a multiplicity of subjects staging a dissensus that can reveal
when fascism masquerades as democracy.
The explication of the relationship between argument and democracy by
scholars of deliberative democracy has focused prominently on the procedures necessary to protect the speech rights of the exploited. On the one
hand, this gesture is an attempt to defend a space for democratic deliberations
that would cultivate the characteristics of democracy. This move to create
rules for democracy is well intentioned, but in isolation risks democracy being
claimed by anti-democratic groups for their own ends. Democracy is simply
too messy to be defended exclusively through the policing strategies of the
structures of government. The nature of power relations is such that rules to
protect dissent will always be necessary but insufficient. This is clear in the
ways that the spaces for dissent have been eroded since 9/11. While rules are
necessary to mediate rival interests in society, those rules do not guarantee
democracy. It is from this basis that Hicks and Langsdorf (1999) offer an
alternative account of democratic disagreement grounded in the belief that the
habits and dispositions of democracy are a precursor to any effective forms of
regulation of disagreement. To connect democracy and argumentation, they
advocate for a pedagogy aimed at the constitution of democratic subjects: “We
want to advocate the importance of recognizing what we do in educating for
argumentation competence is nothing less than constitute – which is to say,
provide, nurture, and discipline for – the reflexive, self-correcting agents who
are able to create and sustain deliberative democracy” (154). Democracy, in
this frame, always exists beneath a surface of policing rules and norms; when
members of the polis stage a dissensus they invoke equality and democracy
emerges. By anchoring democracy within equality and inclusion, the set of
exploited beings in the world can articulate inequality and stage democracy.
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Community, Minneapolis, Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
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Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
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--- (2000) Mezzi Senza Fine translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino as Means
Without Ends, Minneapolis, Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press.
--- (2002) Quel Che Resta di Auschwitz translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen as Remnants of
Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
--- (2005) Stato di Eccezione translated by Kevin Attell as The State of Exception, Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press.
Arendt, H (1951) The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company.
Bruner, M.L. (2002) Strategies of Remembrance: The Rhetorical Dimensions of National Identity
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--- (2005) “Rhetorical Theory and the Critique of National Identity Construction” in National
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Chambers, S. (1996) Reasonable Democracy: Jurgen Habermas and the Politics of Discourse,
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Cloud, D. (2004) “The Triumph of Consolatory Ritual Over Deliberation Since 9/11” in
Rhetorical Democracy: Discursive Practices of Civic Engagement, ed. Gerard Hauser and
Amy Grim, Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Crelinsten, R. (2002) “Analyzing Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: A Communication
Model” Terrorism and Political Violence, vol.14.
Edkins, J. (2000) “Sovereign Power, Zones of Indistinction, and the Camp” in Alternatives:
Social Transformation and Humane Governance, January-March.
Foucault, M (1978) La Volente de Savoir, Editions Gallimard, Paris, English translation by
Robert Hurley as The History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction, New York: Vintage
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--- (1982) “The Subject and Power” in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, by Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Hicks, D. and Langsdorf, L. (1999) “Regulating Disagreement, Constituting Participants: A
Critique of Proceduralist Theories of Democracy.” Argumentation vol 13.
Ivie, R. (2005) Democracy and America’s War on Terror. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.
Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. New York: Verso.
Levi, P. (1996) Se Questo e un Uomo, translated by Stuart Woolf as Survival in Auschwitz: The
Nazi Assault on Humanity, New York: Touchstone.
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Saved, New York: Vintage.
Minca, C. (2005) “The Return of the Camp” in Progress in Human Geography.
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McKerrow, R. (1989) “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis” in Communication Monographs,
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Rancière, J. (1995) Aux Bords du Politique translated by Liz Heron as On the Shores of Politics,
New York: Verso.
--- (1999) La Mesentente: Politique et Philosophie translated by Julie Rose as Disagreement:
Politics and Philosophy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
--- (2004) “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” South Atlantic Quarterly 103.2/3.
“Remarks by Vice President Cheney to the Republican National Convention”, September 1,
2004, The Washington Post.
Schmitt, C. (2005) Politische Theologie: Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveranitat, translation by George Schwab as Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty,
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
--- (1996) Der Begriff des Politschen, Duncker and Humblot, English translation by George
Schwab as The Concept of the Political, Chicago: The University of Chicago.
--- (2003) Der Nomos der Erde im Volkerrecht des Jus Publicum Europaeum translated by G.L.
Ulmen as The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum,
New York: Telos Press.
Shiffrin, S. (1999) Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America, Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press.
Simons, J. (1995) Foucault and the Political. New York: Routledge.
Trend, D. (1995) “Democracy’s Crisis of Meaning” Radical Democracy: Identity, Citizenship,
and the State, ed. David Trend, London: Routledge.
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The Banality of Nationhood: Visual Rhetoric
and Ethnic Nationalism in Post-Communist
Romania
Ioana A. Cionea
Located in the midst of Transylvania, the city of Cluj-Napoca is one of the
largest cities in Romania. The medieval buildings, the college atmosphere,
and the architecture enchant the visitor who stops here. In the past decade,
however, another visual element captured the attention of visitors: the chromatic palette of the city was universally red, yellow and blue. The trash cans
were red, yellow and blue, as were benches in the park, street pillars, the bus
tickets, street lights and flowers planted in public squares. The fact that red,
yellow and blue are primary colors may explain the city’s artistic image, but
they also represent the Romanian national colors. Upon closer inspection, the
city of Cluj-Napoca is not an artist’s work with primary colors, but an oasis of
nationalism. All is due to one man: the mayor of the city, Gheorghe Funar.
This essay will examine the national symbols infused in the city’s infrastructure as an instantiation of the political discourse of the mayor of ClujNapoca, a discourse characterized by an incendiary nationalistic tone towards
the Hungarian minority. The framing of interethnic relations in Cluj-Napoca
is important due to the social and political context in which it occurs. According to O’Grady, Kántor, and Tarnovschi (2003), 98.7 percent of Hungarians
in Romania live in Transylvania. The Census Report for 2002 indicated the
Hungarian population in Cluj-Napoca reached approximately 60,287 people,
18.96 percent of the total population of the city (Ethnocultural Diversity
Resource Center, 2002). Cluj-Napoca is located in the heart of Transylvania
and is the largest city in the area. The political and social decisions made in
Cluj-Napoca have often affected other parts of the region because the city has
been regarded as Transylvania’s capital. Therefore, the relationship between
Romanians and Hungarians in the city can affect the way minorities are
treated in other parts of Transylvania.
In addition, the political context of Funar’s term in office was dominated
by a period of transition from a communist regime to democracy. Gheor The author wishes to thank Dr. Kelly E. Happe for her invaluable support in the writing of
this manuscript and the editors for their comments on a previous version of the essay.
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ghe Funar was the mayor of Cluj-Napoca between 1992 and 2004, a time
when Romania prepared for entering the European Union and was pressured
to improve the situation of its minorities. During his twelve years in office,
however, Funar constantly demonized and sought to alienate the Hungarian
minority. His nationalistic discourse calls into question whether Romania was
making progress in complying with the conditions set forth by the European
Union regarding the protection and respect of minority rights. In a 1995 essay,
Romanian analysts Weber and Andreescu expressed their concern regarding
the pressure exerted by nationalistic forces upon Romania’s feeble democratic
institutions. The authors argued that, unlike Western Europe, Romania’s
democracy had not been sufficiently consolidated and nationalism could
undermine the country’s chances of integration in the European Union.
In January 2007, Romania was accepted in the European Union. Nevertheless, Romania’s struggle for integration and the perils of nationalistic figures
such as the mayor of Cluj-Napoca deserve further investigation. The present
analysis will therefore examine the nationalistic symbols of Cluj-Napoca and
explain their rhetorical function. I will argue that visual rhetoric offered the
mayor of the city an alternative to verbal messages and escaped the European
Union’s scrutiny. Capitalizing on the fear vis-à-vis the Hungarian minority
in Transylvania, the mayor’s rhetoric alienated the minority and constructed
Romanian identity following the fall of the communist regime. In developing my argument, I will first describe the historical background of the region,
focusing on major events that followed the collapse of communism in 1989. I
will then focus on Funar’s transformations in the city of Cluj-Napoca during
his term in office as well as analyze the effects of these transformations in
light of theoretical concepts advanced by Kenneth Burke, Anthony Smith and
Michael Billig. Finally, I will discuss some of the implications of nationalist
discourse in a newly formed democracy in Eastern Europe.
Tracing Romanian-Hungarian Relations Throughout History
Romanian-Hungarian relations in Transylvania have been tense throughout
history. Both ethnic groups claim territorial rights to the region and offer completely divergent interpretations of historical events. Chronological preeminence explains the first point of divergence. As Schöpflin and Poulton (1990)
state, chronological preeminence is based on the mythical idea that the first
to occupy a territory is its lawful owner. Romanian historians defend the preeminence of the Romanian people in Transylvania. In 106 AD the Romans
won their second military campaign in the ancient province of Dacia, an event
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that marks the formation of the Romanian people, as the local population
combined with the Romans who colonized the province. Romanian historians
argue that the Roman conquest and colonization of Dacia occurred before the
Hunnish populations migrated to Transylvania, in approximately the ninth
century. Therefore, Transylvania is Romanian, despite occupation by AustroHungarians for long periods of time. Hungarians, however, argue that Transylvania was terra inoccupata when the Hunnish populations migrated there.
Romanian populations were allowed to settle on these lands due to the generosity of Hungarian landlords (O’Grady, Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003). Thus,
Transylvania should belong to Hungary.
A second point of disagreement regarding the historical evolution of the
two ethnic groups concerns the fact that Transylvania was part of the Hungarian Kingdom for a significant period of time. Transylvania was incorporated
into the Hungarian Kingdom around the eleventh century. By the end of the
fifteenth century the Hungarian nobility was the ruling class in Transylvania
(O’Grady, Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003). The Romanian population was the
majority, but they were excluded from the political decision-making process.
The centuries that followed were marked by political transformations in the
area, which affected the status of the Hungarian nobility. The Hungarian
Kingdom entered a period of downfall that allowed the Romanian population
to manifest their discontent. There were rebellions, organized riots and finally,
at the end of the First World War, Romanians in Transylvania proclaimed
their union with the Romanian state (O’Grady, Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003).
Hungarians became the minority in the newly formed state, after having
enjoyed the benefits of being the ruling class for several centuries.
Despite Hungarian political domination, Romanians claim that Transylvania did not cease to be “Romanian.” The territory belonged to Romanians,
who represented the majority of the population occupying it, and the Hungarian domination was an unjust occupation of this territory. Hungarians, on
the other hand, do not recognize Transylvania as an independent province.
Hungarian historian László Makkai (1944) states, “it is not a problem of
Transylvania and Hungary but of Transylvania within Hungary” (quoted in
O’Grady, Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003, p. 11). In other words, Hungarians
may not consider Transylvania a foreign territory that they had occupied, but
a territory over which they wish to regain authority. These competing claims
influence the perception the two ethnic groups have of each other and magnify the tension that characterizes interethnic relations. Romanians believe
Hungarians wish Transylvania were annexed to Hungary and therefore sus-
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pect the Hungarian minority of secret machinations towards accomplishing
this goal.
The third point of disagreement regards the territorial divisions that
occurred at the end of the First World War. Following the treaties of Saint
Germain (1919) and Trianon (1920) Romania took possession of several
provinces that were inhabited mostly by Romanians, but had been part of
the Hungarian Kingdom, Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures. In
response, following the treaties of the 1920s, Hungarians in Romania started
organizing themselves to promote their own interests. In 1921 the Hungarian Union and the Popular Hungarian Party were formed, followed by
the National Hungarian Party in 1922 (Ethnocultural Diversity Resource
Center, 2004). Between World War I and World War II, Hungarian foreign
policy was directed at reintegrating the territories lost in the 1920s (O’Grady,
Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003). Hungarians in Romania demanded repeatedly
that the Romanian state not interfere with schools where all instruction was
in Hungarian and that it expand minority rights (Ethnocultural Diversity
Resource Center, 2005). These demands have increased Romanian suspicion
towards the minority’s intentions in the political and social arena.
After the Second World War, Romania entered the influence of the socalled “Iron Curtain.” The communist ideology portrayed an image of respect
for minorities, when, in fact, the communist regime suppressed, little by
little, all forms of individual liberties and nationalist movements. In 1959 the
Hungarian University in Cluj-Napoca was incorporated into the Romanian
University, and schools using the Hungarian language were incorporated
into schools where all instruction occurred in Romanian. The situation of all
individuals worsened during the four decades of communism in Romania,
but Hungarians were oppressed even more through the gradual elimination
of education in their language, censorship of publications or other forms of
expression, and un-official discrimination in public positions. In 1988, the
Hungarian Consulate in Cluj-Napoca was shut down.
The collapse of communism in 1989 “marked a sharp break in world history” that affected Romania and Hungary too (Bacevich, 2002, p. 35). Embracing democracy after fifty years of communist rule called for a rethinking of
each society’s structures, including the relations between ethnic groups within
each state. In Romania, the collapse of the communist regime opened the possibility for changes in interethnic relations. Hungarians, especially, hoped for
an improvement to their situation (O’Grady, Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003). On
25 December 1989, a few days after the Romanian revolution, the Democratic
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Union of Hungarians in Romania was created. The party’s main mission has
been the recognition of minorities and their rights by the Romanian state,
along with education in the language of minorities and regulations regarding the status of minorities in Romania. The party has been continuously
represented in the Parliament between 1990 and 2004, and was a governing
partner between 1996 and 2000. Its political mission and constant demands
on behalf of the Hungarian minority, however, have been interpreted by the
Romanian majority as an attempt to undermine the political stability of the
country, and this interpretation has contributed to an exacerbation of the fear
that Hungary might attempt to annex Transylvania. For instance, in 1990,
shortly after the Romanian revolution, the city of Targu Mures in Transylvania was the scene of violent clashes between Hungarians and Romanians,
which led to several deaths and numerous injured (Leb, 1998).
In 1992 Gheorghe Funar became the mayor of Cluj-Napoca. He had been
the president of the Romanian National Unity Party, a political formation
with a strong nationalistic orientation. The party was formed in the early 1990
to counter the Democratic Union of the Hungarians in Romania. Its selfproclaimed mission was to guard the fundamental values of the Romanian
nation (Partidul Unitatii Natiunii Romane, n.d.). Funar’s first term in office
was marked by virulent verbal attacks on the Hungarian minority. Despite
the extreme nationalistic message, the central government seemed to tolerate
his discourse and merely characterized him as a controversial character (Stan,
1995). In fact, in the years following the 1989 revolution, the perceived Hungarian threat was utilized for promoting a nationalistic agenda in the political sphere. Capitalizing on the fear of losing Transylvania to the Hungarian
minority, extremist parties such as the Romanian National Unity Party seized
control of the political scene and promoted an aggressive agenda against Hungarians. Andreescu and Weber (1995), authors of an extensive study about
nationalism and the stability of the state, explained that
Romania is the only European country where an extremist party participates in the governance. This status held by
the Romanian National Unity Party (Romanian acronym
PUNR), as member of the ruling coalition, engenders a situation which cannot be compared, in terms of its practical
and symbolic impact, to any other internal factor of instability (n.p.).
The authors argued that despite the government’s claim that Romania was
“an island of stability,” ethnic issues threatened the country’s internal and
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external stability due to nationalist extremism. Similarly, Stan (1995) argued
that inter-ethnic conflict in Eastern Europe represents one of Europe’s major
security threats. The discourse of political parties in Romania and leaders
such as Gheorghe Funar promoted an ideology incompatible with the democratic values of Europe and threatened the country’s chances of Euro-Atlantic
integration. The European Union’s stipulations asked Romania to guarantee
minority rights and enforce regulations against discrimination. Ethnic nationalism, rather than demonstrating progress towards complying with the European Union’s requests, fuelled the already tense ethnic relationships.
The 1996 elections promoted the Democratic Union of Hungarians
in Romania to the Parliament as part of the governing alliance. Gheorghe
Funar won his second term in office as mayor of Cluj-Napoca. Pressured by
European institutions to address ethnic relations, the Romanian government
adopted a new stance regarding the Hungarian minority. In 1996 Hungary
and Romania signed a treaty for cooperation that stipulated the two countries
would support each other’s efforts to enter NATO and the European Union
(O’Grady, Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003). The central administration in Bucharest adopted a new position regarding Funar’s behavior, summarized by the
public functions minister, Octavian Cozmanca: “the problem’s variables have
changed radically since 1992-1996 when we accepted his outbursts” (quoted
in Magradean, 2002). In other words, the government was no longer tolerating explicit anti-Hungarian remarks and officially changed its stance towards
extremist outbursts. As Romania geared up towards integration in the European Union, Funar’s public discourse was a direct threat to the country’s
efforts to fulfill the requirements for integration. Under these circumstances,
Funar’s rhetoric needed to be contained. The mayor had to resort to an alternate, yet just as powerful, means to convey his message. Thus, the incorporation of national symbols into the city’s infrastructure became his rhetorical
strategy and transformed the city of Cluj-Napoca into a symbolic statement
of nationalism.
Despite Romania’s attempts to improve interethnic relations, the 2000
elections were infused with nationalistic messages. Eleven years after the fall
of communism, the country was haunted by primitive forms of ethnic nationalism that undermined its efforts to model Western European democracies.
Representatives of the “Romania Mare” Party, a political party with extremist
views, occupied the second largest number of seats in the Parliament. The party’s leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who made public his desire to eradicate all
ethnic minorities, was one of the two final candidates in the presidential race
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(O’Grady, Kántor, & Tarnovschi, 2003). Gheorghe Funar secured his third
term as mayor of Cluj-Napoca and continued painting the city red, yellow
and blue.
Banal Nationhood Embedded in the City’s Infrastructure
During Funar’s twelve years in office, Cluj-Napoca became an oasis of nationalism. Extremist rhetoric and aggressive verbal messages characterized his first
term in office. After 1996, however, the broader political context in Romania
did not allow Funar to perpetuate this type of rhetoric indefinitely. Romania was under pressure from the European Union to improve the situation
of minorities, and the central administration in Bucharest changed its stance
regarding explicit anti-Hungarian discourse. Under these circumstances,
Funar needed a new strategy for perpetuating his nationalistic agenda regarding minorities. The mayor, in effect, launched a decoration campaign. As a
result, the city’s physical scene was gradually infused with red, yellow and blue,
the colors of the Romanian flag. City officials displayed dozens of flags on
buildings and poles. They painted benches red, yellow and blue, the colors of
the national flag. The city hall replaced street cans with new cans painted red,
yellow and blue. During the holiday season the lights that decorated the boulevards were red, yellow and blue. Hundreds of pillars placed on the sidewalks
to prevent cars from parking were also painted the colors of the national flag.
As Mihaela Frunza (2002), a Romanian literary critic argues, all these material artifacts in the city’s physical scene entrap the individual in an enclosure
in which all possible dimensions are clearly labeled red, yellow and blue. The
flags mark the vertical space. The benches and trash cans mark the horizontal
space. There is no escape, as nationalism is forced upon the individual through
symbols infused in everyday life scenes. Nationhood is codified in the banal
artifacts of everyday reality that are publicly displayed throughout the city.
Kenneth Burke (1969) explains that we respond to symbols due to our
very nature as human beings. Symbols are definitions, means to clarify and
simplify complex situations and provide us with “a terminology of thoughts,
actions, emotions, attitudes, for codifying a pattern of experience” (Burke,
1968, p. 154). The Romanian colors, as a symbol, codify nationalism, and a
particular set of experiences, attitudes, emotions, and so on. We understand
and live the experience by understanding the symbols used to express it.
The decorations in red, yellow and blue present in the city of Cluj-Napoca
carry a powerful symbolic connotation as they represent symbolic instan-
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tiations of the Romanian flag. Burke (1951) states that unconscious factors, such as symbols, can persuade individuals without a need for explicit,
verbal appeals. The process of identification relies on any type of symbol that
exploits shared assumptions or experiences. The Romanian flag is a symbol
that Romanians identify with; therefore, public displays of the flag function as
unconscious appeals to persuade the public of the mayor’s discourse. Funar’s
message regarding Romanian sovereignty and the threat posed by Hungarians
is communicated via visual rhetoric and the use of national symbols. Because
Romanians identify with the colors displayed, they are also receptive to the
ideas that rely on or make use of these colors.
The flag symbolizes and defines a nation. It represents a concrete manifestation of the abstract idea of a people who share the same history, language,
and identity. As Michael Billig (1995) explains, flags serve as “banal reminders of nationhood: they are ‘flagging’ it unflaggingly” (p. 41). The process is
not a conscious one, he argues, but rather an unconscious activity that occurs
at the same time as other daily and routine activities occur. In other words,
the flag’s symbolism becomes embedded in everyday, banal activities. The red,
yellow and blue that mark the city of Cluj-Napoca “flag” Romanian identity as
everyday activities occur. One becomes accustomed to sitting on a red, yellow
and blue bench or throwing leftovers in a red, yellow and blue trash can, but,
unconsciously, these colors constitute and strengthen Romanian identity.
Frunza (2002) explains that the hundreds of flags in Cluj-Napoca symbolize
the idea of a nation. Their repetition is meant to convey Romanian ethnicity
and aggressively promote it. Thus, the political décor is by no means neutral,
but fits the political events and the mayor’s message. Billig (1995) further
explains that flags, as symbols of nationhood, serve to position one group
vis-à-vis another group and distance the former from the latter. The strategic
display of flags makes a statement about the state of affairs in a particular territory at a particular time. Funar displayed Romanian flags in all public places
as a statement of Romanian sovereignty, positioning the Romanian majority
in relation to the Hungarian minority. If the flags that mark a territory are
Frunza’s essay analyzes the objects in national colors in Cluj-Napoca, departing from the
political function they serve to explain the philosophical implications of their presence. The
author employs a phenomenology and semiotics of space approach to discuss the symbolism of the objects and explain them as manifestations of a science of religion. The present
essay departs from the same premises, analyzing the national symbols embedded in the city’s
infrastructure, but explains their rhetorical function as part of the nationalist discourse of
post-communist Romania and its implications for the country’s transition to democracy and
integration in the European Union.
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those of the territory’s owners, then Cluj-Napoca was definitely Romanian.
Flags offer a symbolic answer to the historical dispute over the territory of
Transylvania and are used to reinforce Romanian dominance of the territory.
They accomplish, then, a twofold purpose. For Romanians, they blend into
the surroundings and become part of the environment. As symbols of nationhood, they move “from symbolic mindfulness to mindlessness” (Billig, 1995, p.
41). For Hungarians, flags serve as reminders of their status as minorities.
In addition to the national colors, statues erected in the city’s main public
squares contributed to the symbolic transformation of the city. The statue of
Avram Iancu, one of the leaders of the Romanian rebellions against Hungarian nobles in the eighteenth century, was among the first ones to be centrally
placed between the Orthodox Cathedral and the building of the National
Theater. A second monument, shaped like a guillotine, dominates the main
boulevard that unites two central public squares. The monument is dedicated
to the Romanian victims of the 1892 protests against Hungarian domination.
Both monuments carry a powerful symbolic meaning due to their location
and the collective memory they evoke. First, the statues are located in the two
main public squares of the city. As Biesecker (2002) explains, a feeling of pride
accompanies the place of a national monument. In the case of The World War
II memorial that Biesecker discusses, the monument served as rhetorical
means for national reunification and its location was chosen accordingly. In
Cluj-Napoca, statues celebrating Romanian victories over Hungarians mark
the very heart of the town. Second, they activate the memory connected with
their significance. As Smith (2004) explains, battles serve as means to mobilize
and unify an ethnic and a nation. Shared memory brings individuals together
and is constitutive of a nation, as the nation is built on the collective memories
of events, times of joys and sorrows that have strengthened the relationships
between its citizens. The events are part of a nation’s past and are connected
to a particular place, a homeland (Smith, 2004). The statues of Cluj-Napoca
celebrate Romanian victories against Hungarians, against what is believed to
have been unjust Hungarian domination. They remind Romanians of their
past struggles under the Hungarian regime. At the same time, they reaffirm
the Romanian nation and its continuity in the area. By publicly celebrating
Romanian history, however, the majority not only excludes the minority,
but they also remind Hungarians they are a minority, the dominated group.
Therefore, the presence of the statues serves a double rhetorical purpose. On
the one hand, they reaffirm Romanian identity. On the other hand, they alienate the Hungarian minority and help convey the nationalistic message of the
mayor of the city.
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The process of erasing any Hungarian cultural markers was probably the
most aggressive in another main public square of the city. The square hosts a
statue of Matthias Rex (Matthew the King). This historical figure is a controversial one as he was of Romanian descent but one of the greatest kings
of Hungary. Funar gradually took several steps to minimize the effect of this
statue’s presence. First, the square was renamed “Unification Square” from
“Liberation Square” in order to remind onlookers of the 1918 reunification of
Transylvania with the rest of Romania. Second, the statue was garnished with
six high poles, painted red, yellow and blue, on which Romanian flags were
anchored. Furthermore, the word Hungarorum (meaning “of the Hungarians”)
was removed from the initial inscription Matthias Rex. Then, in 1994, the
mayor authorized the excavation of a large hole in the square. The “archeological site” was purportedly designed to investigate Roman vestiges in the
area. The excavations found nothing of importance and the administration
in Bucharest opposed the mayor’s plan. The “site” remains uncovered to the
present day, filled with weeds, scarring the square’s appearance. But, for Funar,
the hole served a broader rhetorical purpose. It “proved” the Roman roots of
the population. In addition, the presence of the Hungarian king’s statue in
the public square of Cluj-Napoca threatened the nationalistic ethos Funar
was trying to inculcate. The statue’s presence could have been interpreted as
an acceptance of Hungarian identity. Therefore, the statue’s rhetorical power
needed to be minimized. Surrounding it by national flags and removing the
word Hungarorum from the inscription made Matthias more “Romanian.”
By minimizing his political career as the king of Hungary, Funar wanted to
stress Matthias’s Romanian descent and thus appropriate this figure as part of
Romanian history. The statue would therefore constitute a reason to identify
with Romanians. But in case that subtle shift was not successful, Funar chose
to counterbalance the statue’s effects by bringing forward the chronological
preeminence argument. The excavation was meant to reinforce the Roman
presence in the area and the idea that the Romanian people were the first to
inhabit the territory. Once this premise was established, the message conveyed
by the statue could serve as support for proclaiming Romanian superiority.
The national symbols infused in the city’s infrastructure contributed
to the formation of Romanian identity. As Burke (1984) explains, identity
is formed by an on-going positioning in relation to our country, our ethnic
group, our family. The abundance of flags, statues or the large excavation site
is an everyday reality that demands the passer-by to position himself or herself in relation to them. They “flag” the idea of a nation in everyday activities
(Billig, 1995). They serve as means for identification because based on the
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position individuals adopt in relation to these symbols they create or reaffirm
their identity. If one recognizes oneself in the national flag further associations
with the larger group of individuals who share the same association and who
define themselves as a nation whose national colors are red, yellow and blue
are triggered. As Anderson (1991) points out, members of a community find
reassurance of their belonging in the everyday acts that others perform. Symbolic reminders of Romanian identity exist wherever one goes: bus tickets in
national colors, benches in the park, flags in each public institution, trash cans
on the street. Billing (1995) notes, however, that banal is by no means benign.
Although nationalistic symbols are part of the quotidian experience, they are
not at all harmless. On the contrary, they reproduce institutions and serve as
means of priming potential actions. The red, yellow and blue burdening ClujNapoca’s scene may become a banal reality, but the visual discourse serves the
mayor’s purpose of ostracizing the Hungarian minority and actively promoting Romanian sovereignty over the territory of Transylvania.
Burke (1969) also observes that identification serves simultaneously to
divide. Those who identify with the symbols form a cohesive group that allows
for the exclusion of those who do not identify with the same symbols. Every
symbol brings together a community while excluding another one, the outsiders, the external group. Everyday reality in Cluj-Napoca excludes Hungarians
as the outsiders, the ones that do not identify with the red, yellow and blue
that marks every available space in the city. The abundance of national symbols
also proclaims Romanians as the dominant group, the “owners” of the territory who have the right to make their ownership visible. The message is clear:
Hungarians are the minority, the dominated group, and everywhere they turn
they should be reminded of that state of affairs. Every available public space is
clearly marked by the Romanian national colors despite the fact that the city
has a significant percent of Hungarian inhabitants. The only collective identity available for individuals to appropriate is the Romanian one. Hungarians
have nothing left to identify with, and thus are divided from the majority. As
Burke (1969) explains, identification and division are in a constant dialectical
tension. By celebrating Romanian identity, the symbols embedded in the city’s
infrastructure automatically exclude Hungarians and Hungarian identity.
Burke (1969) further explains that identification occurs too when rhetors
persuade individuals they need to unite for a common interest. Post 1989,
Funar exploited the need to re-create Romanian identity after the fall of
the communist regime as an opportunity to promote a nationalistic agenda.
Proclaiming and celebrating Romanian identity was the reason the mayor
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offered to his audience in order to persuade them they shared a common
interest. His symbolic appeals exploited the historical tensions between the
two ethnic groups and allowed him to capitalize on the distrust Romanians
have vis-à-vis Hungarians. The sharing of national symbols allowed him to
unite Romanians and isolate the Hungarian minority. Hungarians became
“the others,” an alienated group and therefore an enemy. The situation is
similar to the events in the United States following the terrorist attacks of
9/11. Presidential rhetoric called for Americans to come together, regardless of political views or individual interests. The war on terrorism provided
the common ground that allowed the president to bring the people together
against a savage and evil enemy. The abundance of flags and bumper stickers
with various messages were symbolic manifestations of identifying with the
“American way.” Similarly, Funar’s appeals called for Romanians to unite as
a group. The European Union, however, was closely monitoring the steps
Romania was taking to improve the situation of its minorities. The mayor
was forced to resort to alternative means for alienating the minority. Burke
(1951) explains that identification allows for a wider variety of appeals. It
holds a more powerful persuasive appeal than other available means as it
exploits unconscious factors. The symbols infused in the city’s infrastructure constituted an alternative tactic of persuasion that allowed Funar to
successfully exploit the advantages conferred by identification.
The reasons for the aggressive promulgation of nationalism are multiple.
Nineteen-eighty-nine ended communism, but left the country wondering
what to do with its recently won freedom. Hoping for an overnight miracle,
Romanians discovered that democracy was not as easy as they might have
imagined. The initial hopes for a miraculous improvement in living standards
came crumbling down. The economy suffered as a result of transitioning from
state ownership to private ownership. Individuals lost their jobs and average
citizens faced a period of material insecurity, compared to previous years. In the
political sphere, adopting Western democratic practices happened at a slower
pace than expected. During this period of transition, people began looking for
scapegoats. Something or someone needed to be blamed for what was happening in the country. In this context, extremist figures such as Gheorghe Funar
seized control of influential positions in the political sphere. Capitalizing on
the distrust regarding the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, Funar offered
an agenda of uniting Romanians during a period of time when the nation
seemed to lack a cohesive political orientation. As Smith (2004) explains,
nations need common experiences to mobilize their members. Nationalism
brings a new form of life to a nation’s myths as they become standards and
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models for regenerating a nation. The myth of a nation’s common origin, their
formation as a nation and their evolution throughout history were employed
in the nationalistic message of Cluj-Napoca’s mayor. The form of nationalism
advanced as a solution to a drifting national consciousness, however, was not
a healthier, democratic one, such as civic nationalism. Rather than moving
forward towards democratic values, towards a state where all citizens actively
participate in its governance and respect each other and the rule of law, Romanians were ready to embrace ethnic nationalism as the new direction after the
fall of communism. A young democracy in transition, Romania was heading
in another dangerous direction after having just escaped half of a century of
communist dictatorship.
The larger effect of Funar’s rhetoric concerns the relations between the two
ethnic groups. The inhabitants of the city are likely to become accustomed to
the mayor’s “eccentricities” and continue their lives in relative normality. Being
exposed to national symbols on a daily basis, however, affects the way “others”
are perceived. A 2000 investigation of inter-ethnic relations in Romania analyzed, among other things, the way in which the two ethnic groups, Romanians and Hungarians, perceived themselves and each other. Romanians saw
themselves as hospitable, nice and painstaking. Hungarians, in their turn,
saw themselves as painstaking, civilized and self-reliant. They perceived the
Romanian majority as religious and hypocritical (for not respecting promises to the Hungarian minority) and united in their capacity of acting as a
group, mainly against minorities (Ethnocultural Diversity Resource Center,
2000). Funar’s rhetoric can more than likely account, at least in part, for such
perceptions. His focus on ethnic nationalism dichotomized the two groups.
From the Hungarian perspective, the alienation Funar promoted was highly
effective. The minority saw Romanians as united against them, an effect of the
identification process Funar tried to trigger among the Romanian population
of the city.
Implications and Reflections on Nationalism
The present essay investigated the national symbols infused in the infrastructure of Cluj-Napoca to explain their rhetorical function in cultivating
nationalistic public discourse. I have argued that the transformation of the
city served as means to promote Romanian identity and alienate the Hungarian minority in the political context following the collapse of the communist
regime in 1989. As explained, the transformations in the city’s infrastructure
allowed the mayor to convey his extremist views in a subtler manner but with
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the same effect as verbally demonizing the minority would have had. Constituting and affirming Romanian identity was necessary in the aftermath of the
1989 revolution. The initial backlash after fifty years of communism was visible in the economy, and the political scene was yet unstable. The democratic
institutions did not begin functioning overnight. The country’s state of transition was exploited by extremist figures. Their discourse dwelled on tensions
between ethnic groups, amplifying the problematic relations between Hungarians and Romanians that had a troubled history. At the same time, however, nationalism provided an organized, sustained and constant message in a
context where everything changed rapidly. The form of nationalism adopted
in the Romanian political scene, however, was ethnic nationalism. Romanians
were willing to demonize the Hungarian minority without questioning too
much the aggressive nationalistic message that advocated for this alienation.
The implications of the mayor’s discourse reach beyond the simple chromatic palette of the city. As illustrated in the present essay, visual rhetoric
constitutes a persuasive alternative to traditional rhetorical strategies. The
symbols embedded in the city’s infrastructure offered Funar the same potential for achieving his rhetorical goal as verbal appeals would have. In his case,
visual rhetoric constituted a superior strategy, adaptive to specific political circumstances. The transformation of the city could go undetected by the European Union because it can be labeled as “harmless,” whereas verbal attacks
on the minority would not have. As mayor of the city Funar had complete
control and independence in deciding how to decorate the city. The potential
for including nationalistic appeals was therefore unlimited. The nationalistic
message was conveyed just as powerfully, but reactions to this type of rhetoric
were less vehement. Thus, visual rhetoric can serve as a means for conveying
messages that would otherwise be censored or disagreed with. It constitutes a
type of rhetoric that can be effectively employed to promote extremist nationalistic views.
Another important aspect concerns the use of ethnic nationalism in the
political realm of newly formed democracies. Romania’s example may be illustrative of other nations’ internal tensions too. The problematic consequence
following the replacing of one political regime with another, of moving from
communism or totalitarian regimes to western democratic systems is that the
sustainability of such institutions may be endangered in their early stages. In
Romania, ethnic nationalism could have had irreparable effects. In the political context that follows the collapse of a political regime, the danger is higher
than ever for extremist forces to seize control of the political scene. Rather
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than focusing on constructive forms of nationalism such as civic nationalism,
for example, Funar’s discourse exemplifies a primitive form of nationalism that
threatened the country’s political future within European structures (Stan,
1995). Without the outside pressure and interventions from the European
Council, the European Union and other international bodies, Romania could
have followed in former Yugoslavia’s footsteps. The European Union’s pressure on the Romanian government has, no doubt, helped Romania escape the
gloomy prospect the country was facing. Romania’s struggle to find its place as
a young democracy in Eastern Europe may not be unique, but the lesson that
Romania learned is that democracy cannot be attained via ethnic nationalism.
Finally, investigations such as the one I have provided can help recognize the
various manifestations of nationalistic discourse and, as Burke (1967) states,
“know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against” (p.191).
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O’Grady, C., Kántor, Z., & Tarnovschi, D. (2003). Rapoarte despre situatia minoritatilor
nationale din Romania. Raportul despre maghiarii din Romania. [Reports on the situation
of national minorities in Romania. The report on Hungarians in Romania]. Cluj-Napoca:
Center for the Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe-South East
Europe. Retrieved September 20, 2004 from http://www.edrc.ro/docs/docs/ Maghiarii_din_Romania.pdf.
Partidul Unitatii Natiunii Romane (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2007 from http://www.
punr.ro.
Schöpflin, G., & Poulton, H. (1990). Romania’s ethnic Hungarians. London: Minority Rights
Group Report no. 82, p.7-34. Retrieved October 10, 2004 from http://www.minorityrights.org.
Smith, A. D. (2004). The antiquity of nations. Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Stan, V. (1995). Nationalism si securitate europeana: Integrarea Euro-Atlantica a Romaniei.
[Nationalism and European security: Romania’s Euro-Atlantic integration]. Studii
Internationale, 1. Retrieved October 10, 2004 from http://studint.ong.ro/nationalr.htm.
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Arguing War in an Era of Terrorism:
“Democracy to Come” and Critical Pedagogy
Kevin Kuswa and Briann Walsh
The fundamental difficulty at present is that
moral conviction and sentiment have no channels of operation. Almost everyone is opposed
to war in general. John Dewey, 1923
Over five years after 9/11, the resulting war on terrorism has evolved into a
series of global conflicts and an apparatus for distinguishing between friend
and foe, prompting the questions: How is citizenship taught in a time of fear?
How can the concept of democracy best address issues like warfare, violence,
nationalism, and terrorism? Susan Giroux (2002, 57) writes: “There seems
to be a growing interest in the rhetoric—if not the practice—of civic education, or what it means to teach students to participate as citizens in the moral
and political life of a democracy.” Questions surrounding education, citizenship, and democracy are proliferating wildly, but the transitional context of
the world around us is difficult to introduce into the equation in a meaningful way. Transition is the trait of the day as people around the globe wrestle
with national identification and global security. If events such as the spread of
nuclear weaponry, the globalization of capital and finance, or even the hijacking of a commercial airliner can alter the planet we all inhabit, then the unique
effects of these events must also percolate into the classroom and vice-versa. If
democracy, regardless of its form, is ultimately an idea, it can be both fostered
and neglected.
Toward unraveling this idea, we will move through three sections: a contextual assessment of democracy in an era of conflict and terrorism, a detour
through two of John Dewey’s contributions related to politics and pedagogy,
and a quest for a non-mediating rhetoric that can translate “anti-war” politics
into a space for unconditional encounters with the Other.a The first section
dives into the context of terrorism, counter-terrorism, and the formation of
new stereotypes, new geopolitical divisions, and an ever-evolving clash of cultures. What does it mean to live in an era of terrorism? Looking at how
terrorism defines much of our current location in history must remain on the
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agenda, for the methods and practices of democracy are now tied up in the
knots of violence, security, and the false binary between an American citizenship and the meaning of the West’s Other. Terrorism is not simply about
the United States’ conception of stateless violence, despite what policy-makers
will declare, even though the constructed nature of the binary that divides
“with us” from “against us” means that everyone is implicated in the way the
United States draws lines between friends and enemies.
The second section will introduce a little-known passage by John Dewey
that calls for the “abolition of war.” By way of exploring the possibilities of
Dewey’s romantic message, we then turn to the evolution of critical pedagogy
where we find, unfortunately, a number of idealistic and abstract insights,
often appearing as simple appeals to tolerance and understanding. In specific contexts, though, most notably moments when the concept of terrorism
intersects argumentation, the need for a utopian space informed by the tenets
of critical pedagogy is acute. Answering Dewey’s call for an open-ended critical pedagogy that works to isolate and reject the rush to “mediating rhetoric”
(Zulaika & Douglass, 1996), the third and final section will argue that an
effective and radical democracy must carve out spaces free from threat projections and unquestioned representations. When depictions of the Other
are dehumanizing and pre-committed to certain judgments, the consequence
is a democracy of containment that thrives on enemy-creation and acts to
block the possibility of sincere and expressive engagements between selves
and Others.
Confronting War and Terror, Past and Present
We begin with an attempt to contextualize what democracy means, or could
mean, during a time marked by the United States government’s particular
ways of pursuing a war on terrorism. On the other hand, there are very practical limits to any writing about democracy and education, let alone a journal
article written in an academic voice for an academic audience. Despite these
limits (restricted audience, resources, means of organizing direct action),
deliberation regarding theories of education is still an important site for
change. Indeed, education represents an intersection between thinking about
terrorism and policies governing terrorism (Wells, 2003).
An example of a scholar contributing to critical theory as praxis, Henry
Giroux published two articles in 2006 (2006a, 2006b) that stress the need
for critical pedagogy in the face of the global war on terror. His general posi-
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tion is that the way counter-terrorism is practiced threatens to erase all of
our civil liberties and could kill democracy in an attempt to save it. Giroux
heightens his impact by drawing on the increasingly common contention that
state control in the United States is chilling academic freedom and criticism
of official policy. Wiretapping and surveillance are the cusp of unimpeded
police powers and profiling that includes many groups within the academic
community. To be fair, though, Giroux’s work should not be exempt from the
requirement to present an alternative. In other words, what are the specific
theories or reforms available and how can they be applied in direct and meaningful ways?
Even though it is common to hear cries of censorship and notice a repression of critical thinking coming from some quarters, it may be too early to
concede victory to authoritarian tendencies, a place Giroux (2006a) goes with
vigor:
More and more individuals and movements at home and
around the globe including students, workers, feminists, educators, writers, environmentalists, senior citizens, artists, and
a host of others are organizing to challenge the dangerous
slide on the part of the United States into the dark abyss of
an authoritarianism that threatens not just the promise but
the very idea of global democracy in the twenty-first century.
We will return to the “promise” and “idea” of democracy, but must first unpack
the terrorism phenomena and the state’s response, an arrangement that allows
Giroux to place the “global” adjective in front of democracy with such ease.
As during the Cold War and the rise of “proxy” states, implications are global
because every nation and every group can be identified as terrorists or nonterrorists.
Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass, authors of one of the most insightful and prophetic books on terrorism, Terror and Taboo, approach the topic
from rhetorical and anthropological perspectives. Written primarily in the
1980s and updated in 1996, Zulaika and Douglass’ work announced that,
“this merging terrorism ‘reality’ appears to be already a blooming, self-fulfilling
prophecy in the United States” (1996, 233). They knew at the time that the
outlook for the counter-terrorism industry was “bullish” and that the term
terrorism had been “enshrined…into late-twentieth-century global consciousness” (233). Richard Clarke (Feb. 6, 2005) penned that, “today’s loosely affiliated Islamic terrorist groups are part of a trend dating back to at least 1928,
when the Muslim Brotherhood was founded to promote Islam and fight
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colonialism.” The global arena is more than, or conceivably beyond, the New
World Disorder and post Cold-War flux, for we can no longer depict our context without the omnipresent figure of terrorism. Terrorism not only defines
the international arena, it also leaks into the conception and construction of
democracy. Democracies are expected to protect against terrorism while terrorism may or may not occur in the name of democracy and may or may
not target democratic states. Likewise, counter-terrorism is implemented by
both democratic and authoritarian states, and may or may not deploy violence
against a diverse array of “terrorist agents.” Is Paul Gilbert, author of New
Terror, New Wars, accurate when he states: “Old wars, however horrible, are
ethically manageable as new wars are not” (2003, 21)? A more subtle link
between terrorism and democracy, however, circulates through pedagogy and
communication. How is the concept of terrorism communicated in a social
studies course, a history course, a course on American democracy, or a course
on rhetoric and argumentation?
With these issues in mind, we briefly turn back to the Cold War and
Ashton B. Carter’s provocative statement that: “On September 11th, 2001, the
post-Cold War security bubble finally burst” (2001, 5). In one way, the Cold
War and the era of terrorism are inextricably linked in our country’s history
because post-Cold War complacency was one of the reasons that the United
States found itself so surprised by terrorism and the need for homeland security. Engaging the effects of the Global War on Terrorism requires rethinking
previous ideological and global conflict. In his essay entitled “The Politics of
Cold War Culture,” Tony Shaw (2001, 59) claims that “all wars, especially cold
wars, are fought in part through words and images.” The words and images
deployed during the Cold War resulted in unparalleled psychological and cultural conflict.b The pervasiveness of “us” vs. “them” links the Cold War to a
rigid division between East and West as distinct from, yet parallel to, the cultural and religious conflict between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds.
Perhaps during the Cold War there was a clearer sense of us and them because
of the physical separation between the United States and the Soviet Union
(Stein, 2003), and the fact that those divisions were constructed and reinforced by the actions of both sides.c
In the era of terrorism, we are faced with more ambiguity in terms of distinguishing between friend and foe. In many instances, this binary does not
map onto the murky conflicts and interests involved in contemporary controversies. Such ambiguity, partially a consequence of an unclear physical separation, can lead to racial, ethnic, and religious categorizations between groups
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of people in order to distinguish between good and evil. This era—one of
security and terror—was not ushered in by the events of 9/11 as much as it
was marked by them. Authors like Jean Baudrillard (1983, 1994) and Noam
Chomsky (1983, 1993) have been theorizing terrorism for decades, and perspectives on lawlessness, piracy, and organized crime stretch back centuries, if
not further. Within late capitalism and the globalization of state-sponsored
market expansion, geopolitical formations have continued to center themselves on enemy-construction and spheres of influence. American interests,
often standing in for the “West”, have fought against fascism, and then against
communism, and now against terrorism. Allegiances and proxies shift back
and forth over time, but the current war against terror, especially terrorism
associated with radical Islamic groups, has clearly become a defining trait of
the times.
Audrey Kirth Cronin (2003, 32) discusses the difficulties in trying to
define terrorism and responses to it, commenting that terrorism is especially
difficult to pinpoint because the term has “evolved and…because it is associated with an activity that is designed to be subjective.” Cronin asserts that
the targets of terrorism are not only, or even primarily, the victims who are
killed or harmed in the attacks. The secondary and perhaps more significant targets are “the governments, publics, or constituents among whom the
terrorists hope to engender a reaction—such as fear, repulsion, intimidation,
overreaction, or radicalization” (Cronin, 2003, 32).d Terrorism is a matter of
perception and can be interpreted differently, making rigid determinations of
“us” and “them” even more pernicious. Like much of the information about al
Qaeda, overt and omnipresent, Cold War propaganda infused all areas of life,
including school textbooks and literature selected for school readings. Shaw
writes: “Was all culture, on both sides of the Cold War, merely an extension of
politics? If so, how could this alter our perception of the conflict?” (2001, 61)
In other words, how does a national culture portray an enemy or a conflict in
terms of a necessary solution? What solution fits the harm? If the problem
is everywhere, or at least could be anywhere, the appropriate solution is more
likely to be a sweeping purge and less consistent with democratic principles.
This is not a defense of today’s means of implementing democracy—the
practices of so-called democratic nations—but a defense of the possibility
of democracy, the promise of an idea, a Derridean gesture to the need for
the impossible. “I continue to believe that it is faith in the possibility of this
impossible…that must govern all of our decisions” (Derrida, 2003, 115).
In a provocative interview, Derrida speaks about the significance of 9/11
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as a major event, hinting that the horror of the attack itself was also its literal
hijacking of the future, its announcement that there could be an even bigger
event—that the worst has yet to come. Derrida says, “Traumatism is produced by the future, by the to come, by the threat of the worst to come” (2003,
97). Interestingly, the concept of the “possible impossible,” or the future that
is yet to come, is also Derrida’s defense of democracy later in the same interview. To explain further, Derrida is not apologizing for democracy’s failures
and defending the existing array of liberal democratic states in the world; on
the contrary, he is imagining a demo-cracy. This demo-cracy, perhaps a utopia,e
should be for and by the people as well as poised toward a future of furthering
justice through law.
‘Democracy to come’ does not mean a future democracy that
will one day be ‘present.’ Democracy will never exist in the
present; it is not presentable, and it is not a regulative idea in
the Kantian sense. But there is the impossible, whose promise
democracy inscribes—a promise that risks and must always
risk being perverted into a threat. (130)
Moreover, the promises of democracy, let alone its implementation, are as
diverse as they are contradictory. Here we adopt a view of (radical) democracy
as an unreachable condition of universal human rights with no entry requirement other than being human. Derrida is reluctant to commit to terms like
“citizenship” or “human rights” even though he eventually uses these concepts
to articulate the possibilities for rethinking “the political” and moving beyond
the trappings of national sovereignty.
For our purposes, two significant components emerge here: the demos is
a reference to all people, any person, not just as subjects through the law, but
prior to the law. The –cracy is used to distinguish Derrida’s concept from the
notion of democracy based on sovereignty theorized by Kant and Arendt
among many others. Instead of a ritualized process of “equitable national
citizenship,” Derrida encourages us “to think…of a –cracy allied to, or even
one with, not only law but justice” (130). Democracy in this sense would be
less about sovereignty or regulative norms and more about letting singular
beings live together, “there where they are not yet defined” (130). This state is
virtually impossible to imagine—a democracy that starts from a place where
anyone can live free from initial defining structures. Derrida does not use the term “radical” to describe the form of democracy he advocates, but it is a radical notion given its embrace of perfect justice
through the law yet outside sovereignty, an admission of the impossibility of its
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reach but an unyielding quest for a better future to come. This unique frame
for democracy will help establish an arrangement between critical pedagogy
and a radical stance against war, both sharing a quest for the impossible but
both offering a potential response to some of the repressive dangers brought
about by our era of terrorism. There is still hope coming from the West in the
seeds of a “democracy to come,” despite a cycle where the war on terror replicates that which it struggles against. The group bound together by the name
“bin Laden” does not offer a way to break through the cycle; yet, the threat of
terrorism itself warrants a renewed attention to the promise of democracy:
“Even in its most cynical mode, such as an assertion still lets resonate within it
an invincible promise. I don’t hear any such promise coming from ‘bin Laden,’
at least not one for this world” (Derrida, 2003, 114).
Abolishing War and Other Impossible Hopes for Critical Pedagogy
John Dewey’s uptake in argumentation studies (Greene, 2003),f may provide
a starting point for a renewed critical pedagogy in a time of terrorism, particularly when seen alongside Derrida’s (2003) observations about democracy
and terrorism. For example, Derrida’s contention that all warfare could be
conceived as terrorism would allow John Dewey’s “anti-war” stance to be seen
as both anti-war and anti-terrorism. A challenge to the distinction between
practicing war and practicing terror makes sense when, according to Derrida
(2003, 109), “It was thus already impossible during the ‘two world wars’ to
distinguish rigorously between war and terrorism.” John Dewey will help
join conceptions of war and democracy with the ways education is conceived
and practiced. Few other figures of contemporary education so represent the
tenets of critical pedagogy as does John Dewey, particularly his attempts to
open space for dissent and his concerns for justice and citizenship. Beginning
as early as 1916, Dewey espoused the importance of imagining democracy as
a form of active communication and, in 1923, he published his stance against
war. His stance was a call for legislation to outlaw war, not to think “in terms
of gradual approaches” or to emphasize “educating the moral sentiments of the
people” (April 25, 1923), but to unconditionally and unilaterally abolish the
act of war.
As a demand on and toward the state, re-thinking the very concept of war
may offer a sensitizing solution well-suited to the goals of critical pedagogy
in argument studies. Turning back to Dewey does more than re-introduce
protest as a cornerstone of democracy, it also positions critical thinking as the
vanguard of citizenship. Dewey (April 25, 1923) defends a “plan of outlawing
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war” by emphasizing the potential of cutting different lines along uncharted
angles:
The reasons, however, are psychological rather than practical or logical. We have been thinking for a long time along
other lines. The scheme seems too simple and too thoroughgoing. It seems almost like a trick, a magic wand….The new
plan moves along different lines. It is not opposed to the
others, but it does cut across them. It attacks the problem of
war from a different angle.
Dewey’s virtually utopian claims do not come without their own risks—risks
that threaten to derail the entire project of critical pedagogy. To be effective,
the claim that educational practices must re-think the way in which the Other
is conceived and approached in the classroom must prevent itself from legitimizing the very system of normalization it attempts to critique. The danger
will always exists that a utopian fantasy will breed complacency and bolster
the larger system by distracting attention from more practical reform.
Thus, it is important to note that war itself can be framed in ways that
justify further control. Look no further than the Red Scare and the war on
communist infiltrators after World War II in the United States. In Joseph
McCarthy’s (Feb., 1950, 2) speech “outing” communists in the U.S. State
Department, the Senator questioned: “Can there be anyone here tonight who
is so blind as to say that the war is not on…and will only end when the whole
sorry mess of twisted warped thinkers are swept from the national scene so
that we may have a new birth of national honesty and decency in government?” Paving over fragmentation often means homogenizing difference and
sanitizing dissent. Is a quest for an (impossible) justice beyond war or beyond
sovereignty always at the service of a “democracy to come” or can it also mask
the machinations of an existing oppressive state apparatus? Regardless of the
answer, can we afford to abandon the hope for human rights and citizenship,
even if “human rights are never sufficient” (Derrida, 2003, 133)? Might it
be possible, instead of accepting the totalizing critique of education, to combine the spirit of Dewey’s call to outlaw war with his seasoned reflection on
a democratic education? Again, the process of encountering the Other offers
the best route for assessing the space between abstract views of terrorism and
a more contextualized critical pedagogy. When terrorism is put on the table,
a stance that forces a break with any mediating rhetoric may be one way in
which critical pedagogy can drive a wedge between cultural difference and
cultural opposition.
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Before assessing the risks of a utopian or idealistic pedagogy in argument
studies, the broader critical pedagogy movement, starting with Dewey and
others, warrants closer attention. Critical pedagogy began in opposition to
a “banking education” that assumes knowledge is a possession that teachers
need to give to students, an assumption that displaces the goals of reflection and action that critical pedagogy emphasizes. In the banking model,
both teacher and student remain distant objects through which a formalized
transfer of knowledge takes place (Freire, 1969). In a less rigid environment,
teachers would act as guides alongside students’ subtle interactions with truth
and the ability to make change. Within critical pedagogy’s opposition to topdown learning, a number of alternative strategies have developed to facilitate a
meaningful transition, often utopian, from an educational process dominated
by the logics of globalization and national security to one of understanding
and non-violent change.
While a view of education as simply the exchange of information is becoming arcane in some places, reforms are slow and it is often difficult for a vibrant
critical pedagogy to emerge. The cost in resources, both human and otherwise,
is immense for any type of education, let alone the promotion of critical thinking and discussion in the classroom. In all resource contexts, though, choices
can be made. Paulo Freire, a trailblazer in the field, maintains that education
should move beyond the basic process of schooling. In agreement, Henry
Giroux (1985, 2006a) contends that education is a crucial site of struggle—a
place where power and politics link together with desire and what it means
to be a human. The significance of experiential learning rests on a conception
of education as an on-going process, a place where challenges and scenarios
encourage new ways of thinking. Terrorism and the many manifestations
of war, both stateless and state-sponsored, offer important territory for new
challenges and scenarios. The learning process should be distinct from “organization” and should move beyond problem-solution models, particularly in
the context of violence and warfare. Education depends on dialogue and communication that takes place throughout the process of engagement, not exclusively at the moment a problem is resolved (Freire, 1990).
For these educators, dialogue requires an act of humility because a rhetorical encounter with the surrounding world cannot start from a position
of arrogance or superiority (Faundez, 1989; Faundez & Freire, 1989). Such
a radically open dialogue relies on critical thinking and Paulo Freire (1969,
1970) refers to this pursuit as a more active form of learning. He characterizes critical pedagogy as a practice that depends on the idea of reflection—a
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process of thinking that shapes one’s view of self in an equitable relationship
to the world. Capping off this educational dream, the combination of praxis,
reflection, and action allows students to interpret past experience in critical
ways and therefore construct a more just social reality (Freire, 1970). In a
similar way, Ellsworth (1989) urges educators to teach their students to name
the world as they experience it, hence taking control of their own lives. Even if
just a vision or utopian fantasy, these critical theories are united in their efforts
to empower the powerless and transform pre-existing social inequalities and
injustices (Harris, 1994).g
For the purposes of this argument, we have marked a few tenets or pillars
of critical pedagogy that, when used in conjunction with one another, summarize many of the ideals of this movement: cultural respect, an interdisciplinary nature, resistance to binaries and polarized categories, space for dissent,
and critical thinking as a cornerstone of democratic citizenship. Freire (1990)
conceives of culture as the whole range of human activity and the discovery
of differences and essential characteristics through everyday life. It is through
these differences—these daily essences—that we live and understand. Giroux
and McLaren (H. Giroux, 1994; McLaren, 1994) develop the argument that
critical pedagogy is a form of radical education that involves questioning fundamental categories, such as those dividing academic disciplines from one
another. If education is to help expunge the idea of an essentially violent
Other from learned belief structures, then it must become a more holistic
experience in which community, culture, and individual interpretations are
considered and even challenged.
The goal is critical space—a communicative opening that allows for deliberation and debate. Seeking such space, Susan Giroux (2002, 87) argues that
it is the task of radical educators, whom she calls critical pedagogues, to secure
“not only a space for free inquiry and dissent—especially in times of global
crisis—but also the conditions for their own autonomy within the academy.”
Room for students to call into question long-standing traditions and beliefs,
including societal conventions and global injustices, creates a process of critical education by developing a stronger sense of autonomy and empowerment.
Critical pedagogy contends that education should create and support a space
for students’ questions about, and grievances with, long-standing societal constructs. These goals of critical pedagogy concern citizenship as it is taught and
generated in schools.h An awareness of and respect for diversity, an interdisciplinary nature, the need to challenge a polarized Other, the creation and support of space for dissent, and critical thinking as the cornerstone of respon-
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sible citizenship are not difficult aims to defend. Now we need to determine
how and where these aspirations translate into theories that actually relate to
our understandings of terrorism and democracy.
Warfare and Mediating Rhetoric
The abstract project of outlining the tenets of critical pedagogy, combined
with the general call to implement such practices across the educational spectrum, requires more specificity. All democracies must work through unique
contexts, but in the United States the debates over homeland security and
immigration bring difference (cultural and otherwise) to the center of what
the nation is. Living in a global world exposes us to a plethora of different
peoples, nations, customs, and religious beliefs. These differences are built
into a recurring paradox defining the American identity—the paradox of
having migrated from elsewhere yet still desiring limited entrance for others
who would do the same. In their essay entitled, “We Want Americans Pure
and Simple: Theodore Roosevelt and the Myth of Americanism,” Dorsey and
Harlow (2003) suggest: “The same culture that traced its beginnings from the
colonization of the North American continent by foreign-born settlers also
fights a recurring apprehension—if not outright fear—of immigrants” (55).
Associated with this nativist view of immigrants or people who do not “look
American” is the practice of shunning those who are different. Dorsey and
Harlow (2003) maintain that “public schools aggressively [seek] to acculturate
and to assimilate immigrant children, using varied approaches such as discouraging students from speaking their parents’ native language, to emphasizing
the concepts of democracy and capitalism in school curricula” (56). School
settings can force students to take on a set of beliefs that contradict their own
cultural standards.
This view of school as indoctrination does not tell the entire story, but
it does indicate the extent to which education plays a role in the process of
democracy. Complementing Dorsey & Harlow’s argument that school tends
to solidify oppositional thinking and cultural exclusion, Amy Gutmann (1980,
1987) adds hope through her contention that schools can create a mode of
education capable of promoting better democracy and better lives. She has
a wishful image of collective responsibility shaping educational practices that
reinforce positive social values. Although she posits that we should agree
upon a set of educational aims, Gutmann (1987) does not provide a platform
for this consensus. She hopes that citizens will be committed to “collectively
re-creating the society that we share” (39) and that “a conscious social repro-
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duction” requires “all educable children to be capable of participating in collectively shaping their society” (81). This conscious reproduction of equitable
citizenship through collective education sounds compelling, but Gutmann
does not and cannot foresee the complications surrounding the pursuit of a
Global War on Terrorism by the United States.
Students are currently being exposed to many conflicting forces that challenge them to adopt thinking skills that may clash with certain values, beliefs,
and ideals. Saddam Hussein’s execution is broadcast via cell phone to the
internet, hundreds continue to die each week in Iraq, fighting continues in
Afghanistan, and consumers in the United States still place American Flag
magnets above the fuel tanks on their SUVs. In short, analyzing terrorism
as something disengaged from globalization is misleading because they are
inextricably intertwined forces that characterize international security in the
twenty-first century. Cronin (2003) further asserts that “globalization…represents an onslaught to less privileged people in conservative cultures repelled
by the fundamental changes that these forces are bringing” (45). Currently,
terrorism is being studied at “an uncomfortable intersection between disciplines unaccustomed to working together” including sociology, theology, psychology, economics, political science, international relations, anthropology,
history, and law (Cronin, 2003, 57). By looking at terrorism as an extension
of warfare and globalization (Derrida, 2003), both of which infuse so many
areas of academia and society, we begin to see that terrorism cannot be taught
in a vacuum—it must be conceptualized as a direct and indirect result of the
forces that are occurring in the current economic and political spheres. Independent of the possibilities of critical pedagogy, terrorism warrants the application of interdisciplinary approaches.
A narrow focus on “mediating rhetoric” will guide our attempt to combine
the spirit of Dewey’s call to abolish war with the insights of critical pedagogy in
the argument classroom. This call, however, is not without obstacles. Greene
(2003) worries that a pedagogy infused with the conviction that communication can promote democracy will position education, in particular education
involving communication and argumentation studies, “as a transcendental
authority commanding the subject to speak” (198). The authority to speak
might open the door to problems involving excessive individuality and a false
belief in the rationality of communication, but it remains possible to seek out
new “authorities to think” (198) that encourage critical thought as speaking
and listening. Critical pedagogy broadly, then, can partially avoid the state’s
attempt to use education as a way to propagate its own value structure. While
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on one hand the “speaking-subject” is an inevitable outcome of the practices
of critical pedagogy, that subject-position need not be constituted as an agent
of authoritarianism. The speaking-subject can inhabit a space of questioning—a reflective empowerment. Instead of allowing education to become a
tool of repression, it becomes a process of displacement where exclusive and
pre-determined judgments are questioned and rejected.
Zulaika and Douglass (1996) recognize that encounters with the Other
take many forms and that these forms represent significant locations for
change: “whether we turn the encounter into scholarship, inquisition, literature, aesthetics, or expertise, in the final analysis we are all struggling with
truth while describing the Other” (221). Despite the many limitations on academic interventions into the practice of education, let alone state-sponsored
security policy, we remain committed to the possibilities of a contextualized
critical pedagogy. Even if new means of teaching and learning about culture
and difference do not translate into a less violent and more equitable world
in the years to come, local or micro-political challenges to dehumanizing representations are intrinsically worth pursuing. Pedagogy should be informed
by a stance, even if it is only one stance among many, that is “best captured by
the exorbitant and asymmetrical responsibility toward the Other” (Zulaika &
Douglass, 1996, 221). An asymmetrical mandate requires suspicion—even
a refusal—of a mediating term that describes the relations between Self and
Other prior to their interactions. This also necessitates a drive and desire to
accept the Other’s humanity “without mediation of a concept” (221), without
the resistance of “moral indignation” (218), and without “ignoring our own
implication with the violent actors” (218).
What does it mean to reject mediating rhetoric? We know that part of the
defining trait of a given “era” in world politics is the consistency of a mediating term between Self and Other. A consistent mediating term such as the
label “terrorist” to describe Muslims creates a homogenizing binary between
Self and Other. During the Cold War, mediating concepts found ways to
demonize communism and create a sense of fear that became the Red Scare
or the fear of red spread. Red fear has slowly evolved into, and been replaced
by, a different type of fear and new mediating terms—terms that go directly
to today’s core of insecurity, violence, and the interplay between symbolic and
immediate action. The communist Other is now the insurgent, the detainee,
the Islamic militant, or the terrorist suspect. But who is in and who is out? A
struggle over what “we” means and how to best strengthen identification with
an American value structure is surging through the Global War on Terror and
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trickling down into all levels of education as another means to transmit and
instill the “freedom” implied by the imperative for counter-terrorism. Because
terrorism has taken the role of representative Other, a sign of the Other’s
descent into evil and violence, it is terrorism that must receive the next blow.
A blow of expansive justice, living dialogue, and an unmediated embrace of
the Other can help critical pedagogy emancipate our polarized productions of
citizenship. “The relationship between politics and ethics in the present world
is decided, at times emblematically, in the recreation and manipulation of terrorism” (Zulaika & Douglass, 1996, 219). Thus, even in situations where
suspected terrorists are considered sub-human, evil, or otherwise worthy of
extermination, critical pedagogy would still demand a face-to-face encounter
without mediating descriptors. In other words, what is required is an encounter premised on a unconditional hospitality (Derrida, 2003) and a willingness
to feel love for and as the Other (Levinas, 1989). Citizenship cannot collapse
into a product produced by the educational system that serves to strengthen
state control. Terrorism is a crucial concept to think through as an object of
teaching and learning, but so are its roots of unorthodox warfare and the creation of widespread fear. It is only appropriate to return to John Dewey. In a
passage that should humble the view that the present is always moving ahead
of the past, Dewey (1923, April 25) speaks as poignantly to educators and
citizens in the 1920s as he does to us today:
When wars were waged chiefly by governing classes and
hired soldiers it was much easier to salve individual conscience. Under present conditions the moral dilemma is
forced home to every civilian, man or woman. When war is
a crime by the law of nations, conscience is on the side of the
law of one’s community and law is on the side of conscience.
The warlike people will then be the non-patriotic and the
criminals. The pacifist then becomes the active patriot-loyal
citizen, instead of an objector, a nuisance and a menace, or
a passive obstructionist. The appeasement of the world can
never be brought about as long as the public conscience and
public law remains at odds with each other.
We can take Dewey as a utopian messenger with a call to nowhere, but then
we might miss the underlying call to link our political lives with our sense
of justice. The bridge is citizenship, but it cannot hide behind the divisions
enforced by nationalism and state competition. Education is uniquely global
and local if interwined with a critical and cultural sensibility to transverse the
on-going mediation of the Other.
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De-Facing War and Terrorism
Our argument updates the insights of critical pedagogy by re-thinking the
way the Other is conceived during times of conflict. Most importantly, the
emerging era of terrorism and security intensifies the importance of reinvigorating our educational priorities, striving to achieve space for cultural difference and dissent, an interdisciplinary perspective, a critique of a polarized
and pre-existing Other, and citizenship built on critical thinking. As might
be expected, critical pedagogy comes full circle back to Derrida’s defense of
democracy. Education is one place where opportunities are generated, conceivably the most significant place where citizenship, the law, the nation-state,
and even the political are hatched and developed. Derrida, in a rare moment
where he advocates political action, discusses a notion of democracy outside
sovereignty, in a place where subjects are not pre-defined by citizenship, the
law, the nation-state, or even world-citizenship. This move requires rethinking what politics is about, broadening our roles as teachers and students:
This is no small task…What I call ‘democracy to come’ would
go beyond the limits of cosmopolitanism, that is, of a world
citizenship. It would be more in line with what lets singular
beings (anyone) ‘live together.’…That said, and because all of
this will remain for some time out of reach, I believe that
everything must be done to extend the privilege of citizenship in the world. (130)
To continue the necessary resuscitation of democracy in Derrida’s sense, a
critical pedagogy in an era of conflict and terrorism demands another look.
The aim of articulating a non-mediating rhetoric is to resist deployments of
education that would craft an expansive and violent Other under the signs
of security and counter-terrorism. Our argument ends and begins from
the position that practices of critical pedagogy in an argumentation studies
setting (“What is terrorism?”) mark a potential response to violence and a
polarized Other. The stakes are large in that the underlying issue is how to
address local and global strategies of fear, oppression, control, annihilation,
and extermination. An open-ended critical pedagogy informed by Derrida’s
concept of a “democracy to come” and Dewey’s advocacy of a politics “against
war” can work toward expressive engagements between selves and Others.
Our era of fear and war based on terrorism and counter-terrorism requires
a vision of a radical, even if impossible, democracy. More specifically, the
abandonment of war in certain instances becomes a call symbolizing the need
to encounter the Other without judgment or mediating rhetoric, a critical
connection to teaching and learning that argues war to transcend it.
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Greene, R.W. & Kuswa, K.D. (2002). “Governing Balkanization: Liberalism and the Rhetorical Production of Citizenship in the United States.” Controversia, v1n2, Fall,: 16-33.
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Endnotes
a
A non-mediating rhetoric is a phrase motivated by Zulaika & Douglass’ attempt to deconstruct “terrorism” and “terrorist” when those terms are used to justify sweeping characterizations of the Other and violent responses. To say “‘terrorist’ Other” (without first simply
saying “Other”) is to mediate our perceptions of difference through a pre-constructed lens.
Non-mediating rhetoric, then, seeks an encounter with otherness—or at least one perspective—that is unconditional, free of expectation and judgment, and invitational. Abolish war? Abolish mediating rhetoric’s exclusive hold on terror discourse. This is not to
deny to existence of terror or violence or the inevitable turn toward mediating descriptors;
rather, this is a starting point, the positing of a first priority to unconditional preconceptions. Through such a sequence, conditions of violence and otherness can be encountered
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alongside self-reflection, making such a move an important element, particularly in an educational context, in the ability to engage difference without always constituting threats and
fears. The risk of situating oneself as defenseless is more than compensated for by the
imperative to intervene in the cycle of violence enveloping our present transitional era.
b
Shaw observed that “virtually everything from sport to ballet to comic books and space
travel, assumed political significance and hence potentially could be deployed as a weapon
to both shape opinion at home and to subvert societies abroad” (Shaw, 2001, 59).
c
The Cold War did not give birth to the inculcation of an “us vs. them” social dynamic any
more than the openness of the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement gave birth to liberalism in America. For at least the past century, scholars and officials in America have framed
narratives to create a history in the context of “us” that excludes and identifies alternate
perspectives or counter-narratives as acts of delinquency (Said, 2002). Those people and
cultures who are marginalized as a result of American centrality in narratives and thinking
become the unheard, the unrepresented, the comparatively powerless people of our world,
and those who are ultimately ostracized for differences in culture. In reality, these are the
people who comprise “them” (Said, 1988, 532). Talking about terrorism can become an
occasion for something other than the “self-righteous pontification about what makes ‘us’
worth protecting and ‘them’ worth attacking” (Said, 1988, 533). Terrorism needs to be
historically analyzed and reviewed inside and outside of America’s ideological stance.
d
“The term ‘terror’ was first used in 1795, when it was employed to describe a policy systematically used to protect the fledging French republic government against counterrevolutions”
(Cronin, 2003, 34). Terrorism by its very nature has a political component. “It involves the
commission of outrageous acts designed to precipitate political change…at its root, terrorism is about justice, or at least someone’s perception of it” (Cronin, 2003, 33).
e
Derrida resists the use of “utopia” because he believes that this democracy outside sovereignty is real. Aporia, referring to multiple possibilities (including the impossible), indicates
more of the array that Derrida advocates.
f
Ronald Walter Greene addresses Dewey’s appropriation by rhetorical studies for the purpose of generating a productive form of citizenship. Like democracy, citizenship can be
both empowering and repressive, but Greene’s hope is to defend an aesthetic-moral citizenship built on political reasoning, eloquence, and communicative action. Green (2003, 190)
contends that Dewey’s link between communication and democracy rests on a community
that can “overcome the fragmentation of multiple publics.” The risk, however, as Greene
(2003) aptly notes here and elsewhere (Greene and Kuswa, 2001), is apparent in his meaningful warning: “(T)he tendency to translate communication into an aesthetic-moral theory
of eloquent citizenship puts argumentation studies to work for, rather than against, new
forms of bio-political control” (190). In other words, citizenship based on communication
might also lead to new barriers to entry and ways to create status, furthering the way the
state can regulate the population and draw lines between those who “deserve” the privileges
of the state and those who do not.
g
Rochelle Harris asserts that the goal of critical pedagogy is to have students take ownership of their own agency and become active participants in critiquing and transforming
unjust social institutions (Harris, 2004). Critical educators and theorists strive to make
the issues of voice and empowerment available to students, thereby enabling students to
critique and transform themselves and the social institutions surrounding them. Critical
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pedagogy attempts to offer a potential solution to challenges faced in today’s classroom
through opinion-retrieving, citizenship, and social realization and transformation (Harris,
2004). The abundance of romantic aspirations for education and the potential of “teaching
the future” is apparent among the aims of critical pedagogy.
h The idea of responsible citizenship is further discussed by Amy Gutmann (1987, 81) who
highlights “the principle of social reproduction,” which she regards not just as a principle of
liberal educational theory but also as a core commitment of democratic communities.
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Notes on contributors
M. Lane Bruner is Associate Professor of Critical Political Communication
and Graduate Director of the doctoral program in Public Communication at
Georgia State University. He is author of Strategies of Remembrance (University of South Carolina Press, 2002), Market Democracy in Post-Communist
Russia (Wisdom House Academic Publishers, 2005), and numerous scholarly
essays and book chapters on the relationship between rhetoric and politics.
Ioana A. Cionea (M.A., Northern Illinois University, 2006) is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication, University of Maryland. Correspondence should be addressed to: Ioana A. Cionea, Department of Communication, 2130 Skinner Building, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
20742-7635. Email: [email protected]
Kevin Cummings (Ph.D., University of Denver) is Assistant Professor of
Communication and Theatre Arts at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
Kevin Douglas Kuswa teaches rhetoric and cultural studies at the University of Richmond, Virginia, where he also directs the debate program. He
has published on argumentation, security, and transportation, among other
topics.
Noemi Marin is Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Culture at Florida
Atlantic University. She is Executive Editor of the online academic journal,
The Journal of Literacy and Technology, and is author of After the Fall: Rhetoric
in the Aftermath of Dissent in Post-Communist Times (Peter Lang, 2007) as
well as scholarly essays and book chapters on the relationship between rhetoric and culture in Eastern Europe.
James K. Stanescu is a doctoral student in Philosophy, Interpretation, and
Culture at Binghamton University, New York.
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Tomasz Tabako (Ph.D., Northwestern University) is Assistant Professor of
Rhetoric and Communication Studies at Georgia State University. His books
include Strajk’88 [Strike ‘88] and seven volumes of documentary studies of
Solidarity, Poland’s pro-democracy movement. He is the editor of 2B: A Journal of Ideas and has contributed to various other periodicals and magazines,
including Chicago Review and Gazeta Wyborcza.
Briann Walsh received her BA in Rhetoric and Communication Studies from
the University of Richmond and is now teaching high school history in the
D.C. area.
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