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Elated Citizenry: Deception and the Democratic Task of Bearing Witness

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image of Research in Phenomenology

It has become nearly a truism for contemporary theorists of democracy to understand the democratic space as agonistic and contested. The shadow that haunts thinkers of democracy today, and out of which this assumption emerges, is the specter of totalitarianism with its claims to a totalizing knowledge in the form of ideology and a totalizing power of a sovereign will that claims to be the embodiment of the law. Caught up in these totalizing claims, the citizenry becomes elated. The only remedy to totalitarianism is a democratic space wherein no one can claim to know the truth, no one can claim to occupy the space of power, and no one can claim to embody the law. The problem with this remedy is that it fails entirely to take account of what Arendt understands to be the fundamental condition of totalitarianism, namely, the institution of a "lying world order" whereby reality is replaced with a lie. For Arendt therefore the remedy for totalitarianism and its elated citizenry depends first and foremost upon the existence of factual truth. Following Arendt as well as Shoshana Felman's work on testimony, I argue that bearing witness to factual reality is the ground of the democratic public space and the remedy to an elated citizenry caught up in a lying world order.

Affiliations: 1: DePaul University


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