Abensour: Democracy Against the State

I am just embarking on a journey I have great hope for, a trip through Miguel Abensour’s Democracy Against the State. Abensour engages closely with the young Marx, and so he has already had the benefit of sending me back to (re-)read lots of Marx’s early work. So even if Abensour sucks, I still win. But I suspect he won’t, as suggested by this nugget from the introduction:

Marx was able to show as clearly as possible that the struggle against the State, as a form, is inscribed in the heart of democratic logic. Democracy is anti-statist or else it is not [democracy] (p. xxxiii).”

Abensour goes on to say that “contemporary thought…wrongly identifies democracy with representative government or the rule of law” (p. xxxiv), and so we must expose “the contradiction in terms that is the ‘democratic State’ ” (p. xxxiii).

The struggle against the State as a form. I like that part. Not the struggle against the bourgeois State, which implies that the State is a neutral container of power and is only a problem because the bourgeoisie currently controls it and uses it to maintain their class power. No. The State as a form creates political relations of oppression, of domination, of alienation, of hierarchy. Democracy must stand opposed to the State because it is opposed to those relations, or, better, because democracy relentlessly contructs political relations that are not oppressive, not dominating, not alienating, not hierarchical. Democratic politics are necessarily a struggle against the bourgeois State, sure, but they are also, equally necessarily, a struggle against the State as a form.

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