Axiom of equality

Am I being churlish — especially on this beautiful Thanksgiving morning where the temperature is holding fast at a perfect 40 degrees and the sun is mostly hidden — to be kind of annoyed by the following, the first paragraph from Mark Devenney’s “Thinking the Postcolonial as Political,” in the most recent issue of Borderlands?

To conceptualise politics is to presuppose an axiom of equality. This is simply stated: no account of the political makes sense if it requires that those deemed free and equal members of the polity participate on unequal terms. This entails that politics is collective and relational. The demand for equality is made by a collective of others presumed equal, but in conditions where these relations are unequally structured. However, while such an axiom is presupposed it is rarely, if ever, effected in practice. Indeed the continual violation of the claim in deed, if not in word, is one of the prime means of delimiting political community, of determining who belongs and who is excluded. If democracy is founded on the presumption of equality, it is also marked by the naturalisation of inequality whilst defending a principle of equality. Inequality is naturalised through the invocation of nature, race, intelligence, class — or whichever contingent factor is best suited to maintaining a dominant constellation. If monarchical power is characterised by the strict delimitation of politics premised upon a natural inequality which is loudly proclaimed and practiced, democracy reverses this premise (presuming an axiomatic equality) without practicing what is proclaimed.

Besides the somewhat tiresome insistence on the difference between democracy’s promise and its practice, and besides seeming to think of race, class, etc., as justifications for inequality, rather than real processes in themselves — other than those, what bothers me about this paragraph is the assumption that equality is the foundation of all politics, or, put more strongly, that if inequality exists then an event is not political. I can’t get my head around this. Certainly, moving toward equality, or something very much like it, should and does animate good political movements, but it’s much different to say that politics “presuppose[s] an axiom of equality.” Perhaps I’m misreading, but I take this as a normative claim about what movements must achieve — a level of recognition, a regime of rights, a share in the state? — before they become political. This seems similar to Badiou’s claims about “the egalitarian maxim proper to every politics of emancipation.” But more about this later, as I work through the essay and some related Badiou notes. I just wanted to register this initial complaint.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to you U.S. readers.


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