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I for one sure as hell didn't know until I got an unsolicited email about two weeks ago from Mohammed ben Jelloun, directing me to an article he had published in Al Ahram, the Egyptian English-language newsweekly.

I assume ben Jelloun had read some of my diaries, probably on my support for a one-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and he wanted to share with me his own perspective on the issue.

His perspective, it turns out, is really quite interesting and it all turns on this notion of "agonism" in politics.  As I had never even heard the term before getting his email, I did a little online research and was able to make better sense of what he was talking about.  The results of that research on the flip.

My research pretty much started at wikipedia, where I found this article on "agonism".  It tells us that:

Agonists are sceptical about the capacity of politics to eliminate, overcome or circumvent deep divisions within our society - of class, culture, gender, ideology and so on. As such, they find liberalism, communitarianism and multiculturalism wanting. These theories - which have been the backbone of political theory for the past thirty years - are essentially optimistic about the possibility of finding a harmonious and peaceful pattern of political and social cooperation. Agonists, then, both claim that this optimism is unjustified and, hence, re-orientate political theory to another question: how should we deal with irreducible difference? In the view of agonists, proponents of the aforementioned traditions, in keeping their eyes fixed on forms of utopian cooperation, have failed to respond usefully to the messiness of contemporary political practice.

Already the relevance of the concept to the I/P conflict should be obvious.  But wikipedia continues, quoting from Samuel Chambers:

Agonism implies a deep respect and concern for the other; indeed, the Greek agon refers most directly to an athletic contest oriented not merely toward victory or defeat, but emphasizing the importance of the struggle itself-a struggle that cannot exist without the opponent. Victory through forfeit or default, or over an unworthy opponent, comes up short compared to a defeat at the hands of a worthy opponent-a defeat that still brings honor. An agonistic discourse will therefore be one marked not merely by conflict but just as importantly, by mutual admiration

At the current time, it certainly is difficult to conceive of Israelis and Palestinians attaining a status of not just "conflict but ... mutual admiration."

The wikipedia page links to an article(.pdf file) by French political theorist Chantal Mouffe.  I got interested when I saw that, because I had read Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy when I was in grad school and, while it was certainly a tough book to get through, found it to be intellectually stimulating and provocative.  So I ran on over and took a read through her short essay on agonistic pluralism.  In her abstract, Mouffe writes:

The main thesis that I put forward in this article is that democratic theory needs to acknowledge the ineradicability of antagonism and the impossibility of achieving a fully inclusive rational consensus. I argue that a model of democracy in terms of ‘agonistic pluralism’ can help us to better envisage the main challenge facing democratic politics today: how to create democratic forms of identifications that will contribute to mobilize passions towards democratic designs.

In the body of the essay, she argues that antagonism is ineradicable because the nature of politics is to institutionalize asymmetrical power relations in society, a reality traditional liberal theory is unable to address because it:

sees the individuals as prior to society, as bearers of natural rights, and either as utility maximizing agents or as rational subjects. In all cases they are abstracted from social and power relations, language, culture and the whole set of practices that make the individuality possible. What is precluded in these rationalistic approaches is the very question of what are the conditions of existence of the democratic subject.

She goes on to argue that relations of power themselves constitute social identity -- we are who we are, that is, at least in part because of who exercises power over us and who we exercise power over ourselves.  This, however, leads to serious problems for democratic theory:

if we accept that relations of power are constitutive of the social, then the main question for democratic politics is not how to eliminate power but how to constitute forms of power more compatible with democratic values.

Coming to terms with the constitutive nature of power implies relinquishing the ideal of a democratic society as the realization of a perfect harmony or transparency. The democratic character of a society can only be based on the fact that no limited social actor can attribute to herself the representation of the totality and claim to have the "mastery" of the foundation.

Antagonism, then, is an irreducible element of political society.  How do we manage it, in the context of promoting the most just and fair society possible?  Mouffe offers her notion of "agonistic pluralism":

Envisaged from the point of view of "agonistic pluralism", the aim of democratic politics is to construct the "them" in such a way that it is no longer perceived as an enemy to be destroyed, but an "adversary", i.e. somebody whose ideas we combat but whose right to defend those ideas we do not put into question. This is the real meaning of liberal democratic tolerance, which does not entail condoning ideas that we oppose or being indifferent to standpoints that we disagree with, but treating those who defend them as legitimate opponents. This category of the "adversary" does not eliminate antagonism, though, and it should be distinguished from the liberal notion of the competitor with which it is sometimes identified. An adversary is an enemy, but a legitimate enemy, one with whom we have some common ground because we have a shared adhesion to the ethico-political principles of liberal democracy: liberty and equality. But we disagree on the meaning and implementation of those principles and such a disagreement is not one that could be resolved through deliberation and rational discussion. Indeed, given the ineradicable pluralism of value, there is not rational resolution of the conflict, hence its antagonistic dimension.

Readers who have followed me to this point might be noticing an affinity between Mouffe and Carl Schmitt, and they'd be right.  The difference however -- and it is a critical one -- is that Schmitt believed that coexistence between enemies is impossible, that politics inevitably devolved into a war to the death.  Mouffe insists in the agon, which she identifies with the Greek ideal of the worthy adversary.  In her view, we become who are in part by conflicting with our worthy adversary, and without our adversary we could not be ourselves.  Destroying our enemy is a meaningless and ineffective goal, for it would imply our own destruction.

Going back to the wikipedia page on agonism, it turns out there's another link there, this one to an online article by none other than Mohammed ben Jelloun!  Before going on to a discussion of ben Jelloun's quite different notion of "agonistic consociationalism," it's probably time to introduce him a little better to our audience.

Now, you probably thought, as I initially did, that a guy with an Arabic name writing in an Egyptian weekly about Lebanese politics is probably some partisan Middle Easterner with an axe to grind.  In fact, he's a Swedish-trained post-structuralist political theorist and sociologist, who has been employed at the École de Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales -- generally considered France's most prestigious institution in the social sciences.  He's been developing his theory of agonistic politics since roughly the turn of the century, near as I can figure, and he told me in an email that his principal inspiration was David Owen's work on Friedrich Nietzsche.

The paper  (.pdf file) linked to at wikipedia is a 2005 conference paper he wrote called "The Agonistic Consociation."  He agrees with Mouffe on the basic definition of agonistic politics, but

contrarily to Mouffe (or what I take to be her point of view), the agonistic state need neither be liberal nor secular (and neither conservative nor theocratic). It could be instead communitarian or a non-aggressive ‘decent hierarchy’ in Rawlsian meaning, provided only it insures for its citizens or members specifically agonistic rights and duties.

Rawls, it turns out, is critically important to ben Jelloun's conception of agonistic consociation.  Much of the essay analyzes Rawls's concept of a "decent hierarchical society" as outlined in his 1999 Law of Peoples.  While I haven't read Rawls's book, what I discern from ben Jelloun's reading of it is that Rawls is interested in constructing a stable international order composed of states with very different internal social orders.  The only requirement to join this stable order is that the society be composed of decent people who

honor the laws of peace [and that] its system of law must be such as to respect human rights and to impose duties and obligations on all persons in its territory. Its system of law must follow a common good idea of justice that takes into account what it sees as the fundamental interests of everyone in society. And, finally, there must be a sincere and not unreasonable belief on the part of judges and other officials that the law is indeed guided by a common good idea of justice.

A decent society does not have to treat its citizens equally.

Rather it views persons as responsible and cooperating members of their respective groups. Hence: persons can recognize, understand, and act in accordance with their moral duties and obligations as members of these groups.

Agonistic states emerge, ben Jelloun suggests, when there are

structures of deeply divided and plural societies. And most of the time the agonistic state must melt in and become some sort of consociation or federation of competing social segments and communities, instead of being a unitary society of competing individuals in the first place.

At about this point, I started to wonder how much agonistic politics is really a new addition to the liberal tradition, versus how much it is a resuscitation of an older, pre-Adam Smith liberal/republican understanding of human behavior?  I mean, look at how James Madison described competing interests in his celebrated Federalist #10:

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

Ok, now we're getting closer to agonistic politics might help us understand the contours of a future stable secular binational state in Israel/Palestine.  Let's look at a couple more elements ben Jelloun identifies as part of his schema:

a consociation may be said to be agonistic when its institutions provide a participation arena for contending patriotic social segments or communities. It is agonistic too when its social segments or communities actually show patriotism and loyalty to the institutions of their arena-like consociation, while respectively promoting distinct national projects and cultural meanings.

Remember, this is all based on the notion of the agon, the worthy adversary who by being in conflict with us makes us who we are.

Let's go back now to ben Jelloun's Al Ahram piece which started this whole investigation, and see what he has to say about what's going on in Lebanon.

He starts by quoting Hezbollah strategist Ali Fayyad that "Lebanese national interests are the essential criterion for the behaviour of the resistance movement."  ben Jelloun goes on to extrapolate:

the resistance as incarnated by Hizbullah would be an advanced form of patriotic participation and republican citizenship. More precisely, Hizbullah would be in the process of subordinating the Islamic nation to the Lebanese state; also, it would be in the process of subordinating cultural and Umma related concerns to territorial and fatherland related ones. In other words, the party would be in the process of including its communitarian-republican like political-philosophical vision within an agonistic-republican one...

He sees Hezbollah as having evolved from "an exclusive (Islamic) communitarianism to an inclusive (multi-confessional) consociationalism" which he links to thinking of both Edward Said and Hannah Arendt.  Arendt's thinking, he feels, is compatible with a consociational ideal despite her "strictly individualistic or citizen-centric" conception of agonism.  According to ben Jelloun, Edward Said cited Arendt as an early supporter of a secular binational state in Israel (along with Buber, Magnes, and others -- see my earlier diary on Leila Farsakh).

Ben Jelloun's subject is really Lebanon, not Israel, and his source for Hezbollah's commitment to Lebanese consociationalism is a single text by a single Hezbollah political strategist.  I don't have the expertise to say whether he is on target or not.

What I can say, though, is that he makes a very interesting case for the possibility of bitter enemies living together.  When I think about the regular crew in I/P diaries (most of whom probably have not made it to the end of this diary...), and the way we kind of flock together on a daily basis to debate, argue, fight, and trollrate, I have to wonder.

Are we not practicing agon?  If we can and do, why can't Palestinians and Israelis as well?

Originally posted to litho on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 05:20 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wonderful essay (6+ / 0-)

    I wouldn't hold out much hope for anything positive of coming from this political path.  It sounds profoundly anti-egalitarian, and systems built on anti-egalitarian principles are always ripe for often violent political upheaval.  Therefore it is rather impossible for such a hierarchical society to "honor the laws of peace' for as the famous demonstrators chant puts it, "No justice, no peace!" and in the mind of modern peoples, equality is an essential component of justice.  

    Nonetheless I appreciate the thought and effort that went into composing this diary, it's one of the few I've read here that leaves me with the sense of being more broadly knowledgable than I was before I read it.

    •  Does anti-egalitarian follow from (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      pro-elitist at this level of discussion?

      Isn't a desire for expert governance automatically by definition elitist?

      I want an expert dentist, surgeon, pilot. Why would I not want an expert politician, a member of the governance elite?


      by ormondotvos on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 06:18:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Interested, bookmarking to read fully and comment (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    later. I'll be back.

    Our economy sucks up our environment, people, and government. Redesign it at Beyond Political Center

    by Bob Guyer on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 05:57:08 PM PDT

  •  Interesting as hell... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, litho, ormondotvos, galaxy33 immediate answer is that Israel is already a rather agnostic state, so it will mean little.  But it does help me conceive better the notion of a binational, Federal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, particularly regarding Jerusalem.

    Of course, one major issue is that Israel is not a Constitutional state, while Lebanon is.  Of course, that opens the question (which is oft-debated in Israel) of whether Israel in fact should have a Constitution.

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

    by Jay Elias on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 06:11:40 PM PDT

    •  Yep (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corvo, galaxy33

      Israel would be better off drafting a constitution before it lets the Palestinians back in, so that it could have more control over the process of amending it once it becomes a truly democratic society.

      •  Well... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bronte17, litho, ormondotvos, galaxy33

        ...I don't think either of those things are going to happen (Israel drafting a Constitution or the Palestinians returning) anytime within the next decade at least.  And the issues regarding an Israeli Constitution are most fractious regarding the language it would use about Jews, in fact.

        Of course, one thing I forgot to mention in the original diary is how this is actually as interesting or more even just in contemplating Lebanon.  What makes it so interesting is that it offers an entirely new notion of how to solve the issues that are emerging in post-colonial states.  That is almost certainly both a more difficult and more bloody problem throughout the world than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

        by Jay Elias on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 06:16:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Jay, you MUST mean agonistic. Right? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay Elias

      Israel is already a rather agnostic state


      by ormondotvos on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 06:16:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ...yes, although I suppose that when it comes right down to it, that is less true than what I originally mistyped.

        Most of Israeli secular culture is agonistic.  I'm not sure that religious Israeli culture is particularly so at all, much less Israeli Arab culture (of which I can provide remarkably little insight, except to say that the failure to correct the inequities exposed by the Hezbollah rockets last summer is doing continual damage and is a major source of shame for myself and other Israelis).

        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

        by Jay Elias on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 06:21:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Eminently readable, provocative, expert! (5+ / 0-)

    These rare diaries are the main reason I come to DK, when you get right down to it.

    Like the commenter above, I feel like I've made another good step to understanding human governance in general, not just here in America.

    It's nice to work for Dems, doorbelling and donating, but action without thought is foolish, and this sort of diary helps me feel I really AM doing the right thing being a Democractic activist.

    Kudos. No, it ain't that long. It takes a while to work up a good differentiation of ideas. Hard work, good work.

    Thanks. Will distribute to the proper group.


    by ormondotvos on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 06:15:08 PM PDT

  •  yeah (5+ / 0-)

    and the debate is changing.  There had to be a Palestinian side, we had to hear from Palestinians.  Some of us have helped change the debate here, it was going on here before Carter's book came out.  It's impossible to tell what will happen over time, but it wasn't very long ago that Israelis were the ones who spoke about injustice to the Palestinians.  It seems to me that Sharon stirred things up and Bush gave him a pass, and that's when the sides changed. It's possible to be a force for hate, our Bush has proved that over and over.  

  •  FWIW... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    litho, ormondotvos

    ...what I wouldn't give to see more of the I/P regulars in this diary.  Contemplating these issues at the theoretical level like this is perhaps the most useful tool I can conceive for us to build understanding and to test our conclusions.

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

    by Jay Elias on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 06:24:54 PM PDT

    •  well (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay Elias, ormondotvos, Eric S

      just logged on here Jay

      took a look thu and have to admit it's over my head, I don't have the time and patience to wade into it carefully, checking meanings and sources of each point.

      how about a brief summary in plain speak of a few crucial points?

      from you or litho...

      Damn straight ....weasel

      by Keith Moon on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 07:11:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well... (0+ / 0-) summary of the subject would be that of voluntary, sub-national communities with their own shared values and in fact laws, which are permitted by the overseeing government as a system based on the mutual appreciation of varying societal values but whose laws are not imposed upon the general population.

        In other words, essentially the idea is that you grant the equivalent of the American Amish self-governance, dependent on their not attempting to impose their governance upon others.

        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

        by Jay Elias on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 07:43:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  well (0+ / 0-)

          sub national communities sounds very complicated

          ie. how many sub national groups are there within each subnational group that choose to form their own sub national groups based on minor differences.

          who keeps track of all these sub national groups and do they pay taxes to the national gov't? I guess taxes within each subnational group get paid or not paid depending on custom. Me, I would start a sub national group that said there were no taxes, don't ask me how services would be supplied though.

          actually I think I would find myself in a very small sub group, probably with about 20 of us.

          now what if one sub national group had a custom that another sub national group didn't follow and one member ventures into their territory, say without carrying a green and silver frisbee, as that is their main sub group indentification. For not carrying that green and silver frisbee, the penalty is 40 lashes.


          well I'm off on a tangent...

          so you mention Jerusalem as a candidate for this system. So each sub group - Palestinian and Israeli - would control/ govern their own territory. Now given the fractious tendencies of both peoples how would it work?

          Damn straight ....weasel

          by Keith Moon on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 09:12:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for this litho (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          very interesting (I'd never heard of the term before now).


          'voluntary, sub-national communities with their own shared values and in fact laws, which are permitted by the overseeing government as a system based on the mutual appreciation of varying societal values but whose laws are not imposed upon the general population.'

          Isn't this just a federal system?

          •  Not really... (0+ / 0-)

   is a variant on the idea, to be sure.  But it is a much more generous view of the issue of municipal government than a Federalist system could possibly hope to be.

            Put it this way: by this standard, the former confederacy would not only have been correct about the issue of states' rights, but would have been comparatively powerless to these self-governing communities.

            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

            by Jay Elias on Wed Apr 04, 2007 at 11:18:32 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Could it be that the mosaic, (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              c r b

              which describes how the Middle East has normally dealt with different communities, is better than the American melting pot?  Within the mosaic, different languages, dialects, religions, customs coexist, instead of one state being exclusively for one kind of people.

  •  I wish I could understand what you and (0+ / 0-)

    your sources are actually saying.  

    And I used to think I was pretty smart.

    Hopeless typist, poor speller, miserable proofreader, not stupid. Did I neglect to mention, a faulty memory?

    by Eric S on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 08:20:00 PM PDT

  •  what an amazing diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks you so much for this diary.  

    It is a fascinating and something to think about.


    statusquomustgo...and it did...whooooops, not done yet

    by Statusquomustgo on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 08:20:13 PM PDT

  •  Yeah, one state would clearly work (0+ / 0-)

    As was pointed out last week, here's the proof.

  •  Jelloun might consider (0+ / 0-)

    ...that for agonistic practices to work, there needs to nonetheless be a large body of agreed-upon common values. You can't for example, agree to disagree on health policy if you haven't reached agreement prior to that on the mechanisms to resolve the difference of opinion in the process of governance.

    I'd suggest that the only presently realistic course to achieve anything approaching a bi-national entity there would be membership for both Israel and Palestine in the European Union. Under subsidiarity, in a quasi-federal superstate, something like that could be envisioned, but as long as the nation state remains the top-level actor, given the vast values gulf between the two parties, it's hard to imagine that there is enough common ground as regards the resolution of competing interests to make it work.

    •  ben Jelloun does consider (0+ / 0-)

      that a common set of beliefs is essential.  In fact, he says that for agonistic consociationalism to work all parties have to share a sense of patriotism -- a belief in the overriding authority of the nation.

      Absent some common point of agreement, the whole thing devolves into violence.

      For a single binational state in Israel/Palestine to work, Palestinians and Israelis would have to agree that such a state is desirable.  That's the stumbling block.

      What would it take for both sides to agree on that?

    •  Exactly (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      That is why I would argue that you first need to stabilize the situation and separate the parties for a moment, so they can have some space and time to cool down. The only way to do this is through a two-state solution that the parties would agree to for lets say 70 years. Only then, when the parties have stoped shooting at each other, can the process of "Agonization" and reconciliation begin so that a secular Bi-national state can be possible eventually. You can't start working for agonistic pluralism between both peoples unless you first have quiet and peace. To move from being at each others throats to being agons is skiping an enormous and necessary step.

      "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people." Howard Zinn

      by Chilean Jew on Wed Apr 04, 2007 at 09:39:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  agonism vs. factionalism, and a rec (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    litho, ybruti

    First of all, nicely done.

    Second, the quick and dirty answer to "Isn't Chantal Mouffe just a sexier James Madison?" is that in the Federalist imagination, factions will more or less cancel out each other's interests; the end goal is roughly "consensus."

    Agonistic pluralism, on the other hand, sees the very generation and continual re-evaluation of problems not as an impediment to good governance, but the very condition of democracy itself. Phrased differently, disagreement doesn't retard democracy, disagreement is democracy. With the problem of living in a democracy framed this way, the goal of political engagement / argumentation is not to convince the other guy that he's wrong and you're right, but rather to continue the argument under conditions where argument itself is a protected activity.

    You might dig Mouffe's more recent The Democratic Paradox. It's a much easier go than Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. If you're really interested -- and if you think Nietzsche is Peachy -- check out Wendy Brown's Politics Out of History.

    Again, well done. If I had been sober when I wrote this, it might have made as much sense as you do.


  •  wahoo an i/p diary worth discussing. (0+ / 0-)

    I doubt that a agon system of government could function, especially with the anotganism between the Israelis and the Palestinians being so high. Disputes would be difficult if not impossible to decide as the courts and the police force not matter how honest they are will always be accused of bias by the other side. I doubt either side would be willing to let the other police them.

    Although, if we could get both sides to agree on dispute resolution protocol then there is the whole national defense and taxes issue. Can a state of independent sub-groups have an army to defend itself? Not to mention does each sub-group have to pay taxes?

    What would prevent Captain America from being a hero "Death, Maybe"

    by Doughnutman on Wed Apr 04, 2007 at 10:04:47 PM PDT

    •  In my mind, the goal of any peace process (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Swill to Power

      should be to establish an agonistic government, one in which each side accepts the other as a worthy adversary.

      That implies a degree of trust, a belief that despite the deep-seated differences the other is not trying to kill you.

      Neither side believes that of the other right now.  Suicide bombing is the complete opposite of agonistic politics -- it accepts the extinction of self in order to inflict damage on the other.  Ethnic cleansing, Israel's preferred tactic towards the Palestinian, also attempts to eliminate the other from one's midst.

      As for what an agonistic consociation would look like in Israel/Palestine, that would be for the parties to work out themselves.  Outsiders shouldn't play any role in it whatsoever.

  •  Minor correction (Mouffe is Belgian) (0+ / 0-)
    I'm too tired right now to do more than issue a minor correction: Chantal Mouffe is Belgian, not French.

    Hope will heal us all.

    "For the serious empire-builder there was no such thing as a final frontier." - Terry Pratchett Jingo

    by notapipe on Thu Apr 05, 2007 at 01:46:10 AM PDT

  •  Very interesting, and (0+ / 0-)

    I'll take a brief hiatus from my I/P hiatus to say so.  

    Curiously, the idea of an agonistic society is not that new, and in microcosm is not terribly far from the ideals of some of Israel's earliest settlers.  That said (and assuming I understood half of what I read), I wonder if it is utopian, particularly given the tremendous religious, cultural, and historical differences of the peoples in the region.  Is it a worthy goal?  Of course, not just in the Middle East, but everywhere.  Is it realistic?  Certainly not until people start identifying themselves, not as "Jews," or "Palestinians," or "Muslims," or "Likudnicks," or "Hamas," etc., but as "people."  

    Lebanon, a place where people identify themselves by family, group, and religion before they ever (and sometimes never) say "Lebanese," is an interesting laboratory for the concept, but seems to be getting wherever it is going through waves of agony, not agonism (right word?).  If it can't happen there, can it happen in I/P?  Probably not in our lifetimes.

    But an interesting thought, an interesting concept, and certainly worthy as, if not a goal, an intellectual exercise intended to get people to at least see each other as people.

    There is a conflict resolution exercise used by therapists.  It requires genuine listening, rather than waiting your turn to talk.  Person A says what is bothering her.  Person B's job is not to defend his actions, or apologize, or explain, but to repeat, in his own words, what A said and ask "did I get it?"  B does this until A says "yes, that's what I was upset about."  B's next task is to say "I imagine that made you feel ________.  Did I get it right?"  B keeps trying until A says "yes."  Only when B has completed this task is the exercise over, and B gets a turn to say what is bothering him.

    It's an interesting exercise, and by the time it is done B is GENUINELY empathetic, and the normal tendency to defend his actions is gone, replaced by real listening and a real understanding of A.  I guess this is really an agonistic exercise, as described above, and therefore useful for discussions, even if it does not ultimately lead to one giant kibbutz.

    Interesting diary, and absent the usual BS from both sides.  Well done.

    A cartoon is worth a thousand words.

    by dhonig on Thu Apr 05, 2007 at 04:18:25 AM PDT

    •  The way I read ben Jelloun (0+ / 0-)

      he is saying that Lebanon is in fact developing towards an agonistic system -- at the very least, he says that Hezbollah has accepted the French-imposed consociation and therefore he believes a lasting agonistic consociation is in the realm of possibility.

      That is quite an improvement, certainly, over the recent history of war to the death.

      I think your conflict resolution model would be wonderful to implement in the Middle East.  It might also be useful in the I/P wars here on dkos...

  •  Madison? (0+ / 0-)

    Perhaps I'm greatly oversimplifying, especially as there's a definite difference between an "adversary" and "interest," but this sounds a LOT like Madison in the Federalist papers.

    Balancing interest against interest yields the best outcome. It's about co-opting otherwise unrepresented and unsatisfied groups within the state/society.

    The difference appears to be that this discussion focuses on a binary system (only 2 interests, rather than many) and argues for an outcome (one state), rather than just arguing for the system itself.

    I have to echo the critique of other posters above, that the fundamental assumption that a state or system is desirable is the stumbling block.

    Just MHO though.

    •  Mouffe v. Madison, or, radical, dude (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the fundamental assumption that a state or system is desirable is the stumbling block

      Yes. This is another way in which Mouffe (and other theorists of agonistic "radical democracy" like Wendy Brown or William Connolly) differ from Federalist factionalism (interests cancel each other out, etc.), that the remedies for social ills are not always imagined to be be centered in the state.

      There's a definite strain of anarchism in the notion of agonistic, "radical democracy," which is why if one talks about it too much here one will likely be inundated with angry kossacks shouting "This is a DEMOCRATIC PARTY website, read the FAQ jackass, stop talking about alternative systems of governance."

      •  sorry for the ambiguity (0+ / 0-)

        Just to say that the "fundamental assumption" about the state isn't one that Mouffe shares with Madison.

        •  more i think about this the less sure i am (0+ / 0-)

          back to the library.

          •  I can state with some confidence (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Swill to Power

            though I'm still waiting for his email commenting on the diary that ben Jelloun accepts the state as the locus for agonistic politics.

            While I see the anarchist streak in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy -- which has to come from Mouffe, because there's nothing anarchist in Laclau's earlier work on populism -- I'm not sure I see it in her piece I quoted on agonistic pluralism.

            That piece definitely assumes some kind locus for political contestation, and without having gone back to the source to check it seems likely that a state would be the appropriate place for it.

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