Friday, 26 June 2009

On Political “Leadership” – and Support Instead of “Followership”

In democracy there is no one voice that leads the nation – the voice of a leader, or a unanimous will of the people, or even a majority’s consent that has its chosen representatives – but a polyphony, polylogy of voices. There is even a silence to be listened to, the reverse side of the essential freedom of expression, namely the freedom not to “express”, a freedom to say nothing: an artistic freedom that is not just another form of communication, not another way of making statements and performative speech acts.

Quoting Al Jazeera: “While the broad-based protests have focused on the legitimacy of the entire presidential election, most of the demonstrators are supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's main challenger in the poll” (Wednesday, June 24, 2009). I wonder if that is completely accurate, if it is as simple as that. The green colour was originally Mousavi's campaign colour, but I am convinced it has become more than that. Or at least, the accuracy of the formulation depends on how we understand “support”.

When it is a question of democracy, the mandate – or whatever it should be called – is not handed down by some leader but handed upwards, with all the weight of responsibility that comes with the “symbolic” role. This is why Mousavi can be called – without pejorative or belittling intentions – a “symbol” or a “leader” in spite of himself (héros malgré lui – cf. Le Figaro, June 22, 2009).

Support can be a token of solidarity for those who will not tolerate undemocratic repression, giving the mandate but not yielding, not abandoning themselves to a “ruler”, I believe. Not being the “followers” of a “leader” but perhaps “supporters” in a totally other sense. The distinction is delicate and in constant danger of being effaced, but it should be kept clear.

The difference is, as far as I can see, that in democracy – a democracy to come, always a democracy to come – we are not following a “chosen leader”, but as voters and as citizens, we can be supporters of our representatives, supporters handing “up” something loaded with responsibility. A mandate to be constantly evaluated. Democracy as a constant “crisis”, in the sense of critical evaluation of the mandate, freedom to criticize and a freedom to re-evaluate, without the fear of repression and violence.

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