Monday, February 14, 2005

The futility of political discussion

Two days ago swedens largest newspaper published an essay about Jürgen Habermas, on account of two recently published books about him. Focus in the article is Habermas' theories about "deliberative democracy" and the public sphere. Nothing is however said about Carl Schmitt's influence on Habermas.

Habermas' focus on deliberation as the essence in democracy is a loan from, or more correct, a perversion of Schmitt. The essay describes Habermas' view as follows: "In public discussion, the citizens discuss various political questions and arguments alone should be decisive, not who presents them." This can be compared to Schmitt: "To discussion belong shared convictions as premises, the willingness to be persuaded, independency of party ties, freedom of selfish interests." (The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy p. 5) Although Schmitt says that as a critique of the pluralistic parliamentary "democracy", the validity of the statement that discussion demands shared convictions is perhaps never more clearly shown than on the internet. One need only to look to the nearest political forum.

Most internet users has at one time or another witnessed a "debate", be it between marxists and objectivists (randians), tradtionalists and modernists, or others, where it, for all with a minimum of intelligence, was obvious from the start that the discussion would lead nowhere. The question is then, what criteria has to be met for a discussion to be fruitful? The paradox here is that real discussion is only possible between equals, but the greater the identity, the less need, or indeed room, for discussion.

It should also be noted that Schmitt makes a distinction between deliberation and discussion. Discussion does not simply mean conversation or negotiation but "an exchange of opinion that is governed by the purpose of persuading one's opponent through argument of the truth or justice of something, or allowing oneself to be persuaded of something as true and just". (The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy p. 5)

The essay describes the bourgeois public sphere as "a sphere where private persons meet to discuss cultural and political concerns". It remains unclear whether Habermas actually meant that such a sphere really existed, or if it should be taken as an account of a bougeoisis ideal. In conclusion, where Schmitt talks about discussion, Habermas uses deliberation.

The belief in discussion between political antagonists can be traced to the enlightment's spirit of "rationalism". There is no way to combine communism and capitalism, atheism and Christianity, militarism and pacifism and so on. In fact there can't even be any real discussion. If someone does changes his opinions due to a discussion it's rarely a participant, but rather a listener. In fact, he who indulges in debates with antagonists for the sake of argument acts as a liberal, although some people does seem to derive a strange kind of pleasure from fruitless debating.

Similarly, there is no discussion (in the traditional, non-schmittian, sense) more meaningless than the one between an atheist and a believer. The fundamental of faith, be it the faith that God exist or does not exist, is based on a living feeling rather than rational arguments. The same can be said about the belief in capitalism or communism. To say that the conviction is based on self-interest, not morals, does not change anything. The faith in the truth of one's morals are simply replaced with the faith in that one has correctly identified what serves one's interests the best. Fundamental beliefs, axiom or whatever one wishes to call them, are very seldom changed due to "rational" arguments. They rest upon a much deeper part of reality – faith, feelings, conviction, all of which the rationalist can not grasp.