Abscissas and ordinates of democracy

In line with P. Ricoeur, Olivier Mongin offers an interpretation of politics as a tension between a high power, and down of life in society, whose risk of reciprocal violence would threaten democracy.

In this book O. Mongin, former director of the journal Spiritoffers the reader a reflection on the labyrinth of politicsthat is to say on a power which intersects the vertical axis of state domination and that of horizontality, identified with a desire to live together.

The ambitious project of the work is to present a basic equation of political thought (p. 216). We recognize the centers of interest of O. Mongin, such as the question of the violence of politics, irreducible, but which must not be given in and which must be regulated (Mongin, 1997) as well as his philosophical method in the unfolding of the arguments the choice of a rapprochement between Ricur and philosophers with with which the latter has, or not, dialogue, and an approach turns towards the analysis of the contemporary, oscillating between the tight reading of a text and freer interpretations (Mongin, 1998).

It is in his favorite author, the philosopher Paul Ricur, that the author finds the adequate intellectual tools to reflect on the contradictions of politics.

If his previous synthesis on Ricur (1998) marked the landscape of Ricoeurian criticism, O. Mongin warns the reader: this new essay is not situated on the level of P. Ricoeur's exegesis. The author rather offers a re-figuration (p. 26) of Ricur's thought, that is to say an analysis of politics from a Ricurian perspective.

The aim of the work is to demonstrate that political thinking does not aim to conceptualize an object, but to question the relationship, silently present in the works of Ricur, between a vertical axis of domination and a horizontal axis of wanting to live together. By following Ricoeur's spiral argumentative progression, O. Mongin underlines the relevance of this tension at the heart of politics to understand and clarify the period we are experiencing. According to the author, the current political crisis comes from the dissociation, from the conflict, between the bottom of life in society and the top of the state.

Revisiting the paradoxes of politics

O. Mongin notes that politics in Ricur is inspired by the theory of spheres of Michael Walzer, and the current of economies of grandeur of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot. Politics corresponds to a pluralist representation of society; each sphere corresponds to a common good and conflicts between the spheres are resolved by practices of argumentation and justification by individuals.

For Ricoeur, politics is a sovereign sphere over the other legal and economic spheres. The political relationship is not defined as a legal contract, since we do not negotiate, we do not choose, our belonging to a country. Politics also asks social and moral questions about the aspiration to live together which go beyond just economic concerns.

O. Mongin emphasizes that Ricur prefers paradoxes to dichotomous and systematic oppositions.

Ricoeur has in fact highlighted three paradoxes of politics. Beyond their variations, they revolve, according to Mongin, around the following problem, which is also the fundamental thesis of the work: making a vertical dimension of state power coexist with a horizontal dimension of citizenship.

The first Ricoeurian paradox, presented in his 1957 article on the military invasion of Budapest by the Russian power, deals with the domination of the state, the excesses and the irrationality of an irresolvable violence by the power from above.

The second political paradox formulated by Ricur refers to the rationality of the state. Even if the latter notes, following Weber, that the state is founded on an original archaic violence and has a monopoly on legitimate violence, civil society, institutions and the constitution are safeguards which regulate the use of violence.

The third paradox, the latest, is that of the encompassing encompasses (Ricoeur, 1995). It reflects the complexity of the spheres of belonging of the citizen. If the political sphere encompasses others, it also becomes encompassed, even eclipsed, by the competing action of the economic sphere, under the pressure of neoliberal ideologies which advocate the reduction of public action and claim to govern both the economy and society.

these political paradoxes, Ricur ties the paradox of authority (Ricoeur, 2001, p. 101-123): power from above cannot do without legitimization or recognition from below. According to O. Mongin, the paradox of authority therefore does not cancel verticality or horizontality: it shifts the question of power towards that of multiple recognitions which have the effect of broadening the field of politics.

In the wake of Ricur, O. Mongin emphasizes that democracy does not correspond to a world without authority nor to direct horizontal democracy. Democracy cannot radically establish itself or do without a hierarchical relationship. At the same time, any verticality of power must always relate to the horizontality of the desire to live together and a historical community which legitimizes the vertical authority of political power.

Ricur and Arendt in dialogue

To better highlight the originality of what a Ricurian conception of politics would be — often neglected in favor of its hermeneutics — O. Mongin draws a comparison between Arendt and Ricur. The author perceives similarities in the two thinkers, for whom politics is an orthogonal structure which is based on a compromise between a hierarchical relationship and a consensual relationship. Both seem preoccupied with the same question (p. 269): how to ensure that the scheme of cooperation, that which corresponds to the horizontal axis, resists the scheme of domination, which corresponds to the vertical axis?.

But O. Mongin considers that Arendt and Ricur conceive differently the articulation and the relationship of these two axes. According to Arendt, resistance to domination resides in the force of the founding event, a unique, extraordinary moment, where the political space opens up to popular participation and rebuilds political legitimacy. Ricur would consider, for his part, that there is an aporia of the revolution. Representation should be established to make the foundation possible and establish the long-term coexistence of a historic community. In short, unlike Arendt, Ricur would argue that the horizontal axis cannot do without a regulatory political power.

According to Mongin, Ricoeur's vision would be deeply impregnated by his vision of the social imagination, according to which imagination can establish society, through utopia and ideology, on the condition that each of these elements corrects the excesses of the other and returns to reality when utopia serves to criticize society. imaginary radicality of ideology, and that ideology brings back the unreality of utopia to the real world (Ricoeur, 1984, p. 53-64).

THE chiaroscuro of living together

Throughout his work, O. Mongin insists on the growing gap between the top and the bottom of politics. Democratic regimes would now be hostage to two unilateral violences, that of power-domination and that of power-living-together, which would have to be resolved. The broken link between the two axes is analyzed through the prism of contemporary events symptomatic of a crisis in representative democracy (rewriting of constitutions, rejection of institutions, abstention), and increased political violence (wars, attacks against elected officials). The author notes that the state is the subject of several denunciations, which come from critiques of domination, or from movements in civil society: the degageist movements, illiberal and populist democracies. Certain moments of political crisis seem to bear witness to a strong return to violence. O. Mongin thus cites the invasion of Ukraine, the civil war in Syria and the influx of refugees towards Europe, as sad examples of a globalization of violence and the illegitimate use of force. At the same time, he recalls that moments of citizen expression remain lively and that there are still movements of hope and resistance against authoritarianism, whether it is the parenthesis of the Arab Spring, but also Charter 77.

But it is through tragic experiences that the chiaroscuro of living together appears to us, in its necessity and fragility. According to the Ricarean conceptualization of identity, self-otherness is constitutive of our intimate identity. Following in the wake of Ricoeur, O. Mongin seeks to demonstrate that through the memory of our foreign condition, it is possible to become aware of our common humanity, based on the experience of sharing and hospitality. The author affirms that Ricur would provide a remedy for the ills of our time, including intolerance of foreigners.

The work is distinguished by the number of references to contemporary political news and by the anthology of authors cited, whether they are Ricares (Jean Greisch, Pierre-Olivier Monteil), or philosophers critical of totalitarianism (Claude Lefort, Pierre Hassner). This abundance makes it sometimes difficult to precisely separate Ricur's arguments from those of O. Mongin, but undeniably contributes to the extraordinary richness of the subject.

The great originality of the essay lies in the non-Manichist reading of politics and the exploration of intermediate paths, so dear to Ricur. Unclassifiable, this approach stands out both from the speeches of the advocates of participatory democracy, and from the defenders of the authority of a Leviathan state, in the face of an alleged dislocation of national values. O. Mongin succeeds in proposing a Ricurian philosophy of politics which ends neither in perfect harmony nor in absolute discord. avoiding the spirit of system, this dense work provides tools for thinking about the political problem, without falling into relativism or catastrophism.

An ambiguity nevertheless remains present throughout the text: does O. Mongin analyze politics, the state or democracy?? Some questions also remain unanswered: what precisely does the expression refer to? power from below? Is it about the desire to live together of a historic community (p. 204), dune will of citizenship (p. 103), as it is said elsewhere, of the sovereign people, or of the social movements of civil society? If tension is the spring of democracy, it is difficult to hope that power will one day achieve a situation of perfect balance which satisfies the aspirations of the participants in the upper and lower axes. Isn't recognition a continual struggle for legitimization by the members of the top axis and those at the bottom who necessarily seek to reduce the orthogonal distance, by flattening one axis on another?? How to avoid democratic erosion and ensure that the legitimization of the state by the power from below does not become stale, or manufactured by the power from above? It is with a bittersweet taste of democratic fragility that we finish reading.