Democratic theorists everywhere should be gushing—to some extent, at least—over the current Chick-fil-a controversy. While it is by no means an isolated instance of disagreement in the United States, it nonetheless displays in a public fashion the dissensus that is so central to the concept of democracy itself.
Democracy is inherently dialectical. That is, it is borne out of a tension that endeavors toward particular ends, such as liberty, equality, and autonomy. As its own kind of regime or regimes, the people (demos) of a democracy are to wield the power (kratos) that ultimately defines and renews the institutions they live under and the laws to which they are subject. This of course requires the organization of regimes within the public sphere to display their dissent or disagreement openly and freely.
Thus what ultimately results is “a clash between two partitions of the sensible”; or rather, what results “is an opposition of logics that count the parties and parts of the community in different ways.” A democracy that acts in such a way thus demonstrates what is central to political dialogue and action altogether.
The logics concerning the Chick-fil-a controversy seem quite clear: one logic opposes same-sex marriage, the other logic supports it. The problem, though, seems to be that while the logics are apparent, the public dialogue that has ensued has not been. Indeed, the controversy has received hours of airtime, and it has not been missing as a hot topic on social media sites. Moreover, both logics organized their dissent in a public fashion: one logic with “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day,” the other with “kiss-ins.” But what rational dialogue has ensued between these two logics directly?
None that I know of, at least within the public sphere. What one sees instead is dialogue within ideological pockets. Whether a segment on Fox News or a blog post written for the Huffington Post, what has been missing is direct engagement between the two logics. In other words, what is missing is the resolution of the “clash.”
While some may regard this as a failure of democracy, I believe that it is more so the failure of a system that is not entirely democratic in the first place. Our combination of liberalism and democracy is, as Alain de Benoist remarks, the combination of “antithetical notions.” Put another way, the political structures underlying our society are clashing themselves.
If it is democracy we want (though some do not want it), then we must have the space and opportunity for rational discussion when logics clash. Our public sphere is indeed in peril when such ideological pockets stay tucked away in the comforts of their own logic. A more proper democracy would bring the bodies of logic together, in a space for discussion to define the future and resolution of the problem(s) at hand.
For example: instead of the Mayors of Chicago and Boston, Rahm Emanuel and Thomas Menino, announcing by fiat that Chick-fil-a would be banned from their cities, public discussions, debate, and due process could have contributed to a genuinely democratic outcome.
Thus we would have an example of a people (demos) using their power (kratos) to directly shape their lives within a polity. Such direct engagement is necessary for our modern democracies to function properly.
1. See Jacques Rancière’s “Ten Theses on Politics.”