Of citizens and plebeians: Postnational political figures in Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Rancière

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Of citizens and plebeians: Postnational political
figures in Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Rancière
Matthias Flatscher* | Sergej Seitz*
This paper focuses on Habermas's notion of cosmopolitan democracy. Reconfiguring the basic ideas
of democracy in postnational terms is inevitable if social and political integration is to succeed on a
supranational level. In exploring Habermas's ideas, we draw on Rancière, whose thought stands in a
complex relationship to Habermas. On the one hand, Rancière largely shares Habermas's diagnosis
of the present. Both bemoan the erosion of the political caused by post-democracy and censure the
rise of right-wing extremism in Western societies. On the other hand, and in contrast to Habermas,
Rancière holds that these problems should be addressed not primarily by strengthening political
institutions and reaching a consensus between conflicting parties, but by rethinking conflict and
resistance. We show that Habermas's and Rancière's propositions can be productively brought in
dialogue by focusing on the paradigmatic types of political subjectivity involved in their accounts:
the citizen (Habermas) and the plebeian (Rancière).
Even more than twenty years after its first publication, Jürgen Habermas's The Postnational Constellation
deepen our understanding of the contemporary political situation. His diagnosis of the ramifications of globalisation
at the end of the 1990s helps us grasp today's many challenges: the rule of neoliberalism not only involves a danger-
ous rejection of political creative power, but also gives rise to processes of social de-solidarisation and a resurgence
of nationalistic policies; right-wing populism, xenophobia, and antisemitism corrode democratic institutions and do
their part to increase the wealth gap between the Global North and South. Crucially, however, Habermas's reflec-
tions offer more than a thorough analysis of problems that have only become more prominent over the last two
decades. They also indicate how we might tackle them. It is necessary, so Habermas argues, that we sever the tenets
of democracyliberty, equality, solidarity and popular sovereigntyfrom the nation-state and rethink them in post-
national terms. Thus, rather than just defensively preserving social and liberal achievements, critical theory needs to
view these threats to democracy as challenges that force us to rethink it.
University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
J. Habermas, The Postnational Constellation (MIT Press, 2001).
Received: 11 September 2019 Accepted: 14 September 2019
DOI: 10.1111/eulj.12344
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which
permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no
modifications or adaptations are made.
© 2019 The Authors. European Law Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
502 Eur Law J. 2019;25:502507.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/eulj

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