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L’autonomie en pratique(s)

 | 
Philippe Caumières
, 
Sophie Klimis

That Which Depends on Us: Responsibility, Democratic Courage and Shame

Ingerid S. Straume

Texte intégral

  • 1 Castoriadis (C.) “Quelle démocratie?”, in Figures des pensables. Les carrefours du labyrinthe VI, S (...)

Nous sommes responsables de ce qui dépend de nous.
Cornelius Castoriadis1

Introduction

  • 2 See Castoriadis (C.), “La démocratie comme procédure et comme régime” in La montée de l’insignifia (...)
  • 3 Arendt (H.), The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1989 [1958].

1The chosen theme for this essay is education in a democracy, where democracy is understood as the effective embodiment of the project of autonomy2. I will focus upon a particular aspect of education in a democracy that is rarely discussed in contemporary literature; an aspect that encapsulates the essence of democratic politics thus understood, namely what it means to be responsible for the social institution; that which in antiquity was represented by the polis, or that which Hannah Arendt calls our common world3. As I will argue, the scope and implications of such a responsibility in the world of today is necessary, but also rather problematic. Before proceeding however, a few words about the tradition of educational thought and the approach developed in this essay in terms of its practical-political import.

  • 4 Dewey (J.), Democracy and Education. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Simon and Schu (...)
  • 5 This discussion is developed in Straume (I.), Politikken og det imaginaere – Cornelius Castoriadis (...)

2In the philosophy of education, education is traditionally seen as essential for a functioning democracy, bringing “life” into the constitutional shell of democratic institutions4. When the relationship is examined more closely in educational literature and policy the analysis is surprisingly uniform: Education (hopefully) provides citizens with the knowledge, skills and values necessary to make informed and responsible choices. Thus, through education, the principle of representation becomes legitimate. Some examples of such knowledge, skills and values are: knowledge about the political system, argumentative skills, rationality, commitment to the common good and toleration of differences. While the examples vary, the categories remain remarkably stable. The resulting analyses are both too narrow and too harmonious5. In turn, education in a democracy is conceptualized as a practice freed of politics.

3What can we expect from an informed discussion about education in a democracy in terms of commitment to praxis? In short, what makes education a political matter? Traditionally, again, it might be expected that discussions about education in a democracy should bring forth some practical recommendations for educational policy, for curricula, classroom practices and so forth. A political-practical approach does not, however, need to be “concrete” in deducing instructions or procedures to meet the needs of practical application. A much more important question for praxis is whether the educational discussion sets in motion reflections about the most important issues of its time. Education or pedagogy always operates within a specific social-historical domain, in a context saturated with significations and meaning that could have been otherwise. Pedagogical ideas are thus connected to specific political and historical problems, contested issues, power constellations and so forth. To write about education in a meaningful way therefore means to engage with the problems of the time. This claim activates a further requirement, namely that pedagogical-practical reflections should be focused upon institutions and never on individuals alone. Thus, the notion of political agency is properly identified as a property of the community or the collective, for which we are all responsible.

  • 6 See Castoriadis (C.), L’Institution imaginaire de la société. Seuil, Paris, 1975.

4In this respect, Cornelius Castoriadis was a model intellectual. With almost every theme he was discussing, from ontology to linguistics, he hardly ever wrote a philosophical or theoretical text without pointing out its political import, thus connecting to what he saw as the most important developments and problems of his time. Even so, he did not present any prescriptions for education, or policy procedures for individual and collective autonomy. This, of course, is consistent with his views on the status of theory and praxis6. Based upon these considerations, I shall propose that the central question for democratic education is not how to educate certain types of subjects, such as the critical, democratically competent citizen, the social entrepreneur, the socialist, etc., but rather to ask: What kinds of institutions will facilitate, encourage, and make possible certain kinds of activities? In short the question is whether our institutions are “embodiments” of democratic significations and their virtues, rather than how to foster these virtues in others.

  • 7 Op. cit. English version, “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, trans. David Ames Curt (...)
  • 8 Cf. the opening quotation.

5In the following, I will not take up everything Castoriadis had to say about education. The essay starts out rather broadly (part I) with some of Castoriadis’s ideas on the role of education in a democracy, as presented in the text “La démocratie comme procédure et comme régime7” and elsewhere. From there, I reduce the discussion quite drastically in order to discuss some of the challenges for a democratic education in our time, focussing on a topic of great importance for the autonomy of individuals and collectives, namely what it means to be responsible for the social institution. When we look at today’s most important political issues, this question posits itself urgently, since “that which depends on us8” is not only our local communities (the poleis), but the global ecosystem. In part II the notion of political responsibility is elucidated by the twin notions of democratic courage and democratic shame. Democratic courage is the courage to speak against the majority or authorities. Ancient Greek and Roman assemblies had institutionalised a place for the exercise of such courage, namely the democratic and rhetorical institution of parrhesia, a position from which one could speak freely and frankly. From the perspective of autonomy (which for Castoriadis is always both individual and collective), however, free speech is worthless unless it is accompanied by a sense of shame for human undertakings, their dangers and their limitations. Thus, in addition to courage political responsibility also entails self-limitation – the failure of which is only too well illustrated by the impending climatic crisis and a global economy that recognizes no limits. Democracy, as the effective embodiment of the project of autonomy, cannot work without these (and other) virtues.

6Courage and shame in political affairs cannot, of course, mean the same today as in the Greek polis. The question to be considered (in part III) is whether contemporary democracies offer adequate institutions for these virtues – adequate for our time – and how our responsibility should be conceptualised. To elucidate these questions, I turn to the contemporary Western phenomenon of whistleblowing. Whistleblowers are knowledgeable persons who speak out against wrong, criminal and unethical actions performed by private or public organizations. Even though whistleblowing is not an educational matter per sé, the problems connected to it clearly illustrate some of the political difficulties connected to the exercise of democratic courage and shame today, and by way of extension, point out challenges for education in contemporary democracies. One of my conclusions (part IV) is that virtues such as courage and shame are not primarily the responsibility of each and every one of us. They are political matters which, as such, should be addressed by creation on a collective and institutional level. With this in mind, further elaborations can be made concerning the crafting of institutions to secure the exercise of collective responsibility thus understood; but such considerations are beyond this essay, which should rather be read as a first attempt to widen the philosophical framework of democracy education in the direction of what could be termed a political phenomenology.

I. Castoriadis on education in a democracy

  • 9 See “Psychanalyse et politique”, in Le monde morcelé. Les carrefours du labyrinthe, Seuil, Paris, (...)
  • 10 Ibidem.
  • 11 Castoriadis (C.), “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, in Philosophy, Politics, Autonom (...)

7Castoriadis was interested in education in a specific, emphatic sense, much the same way as he was interested in politics, autonomy, psychoanalysis and praxis9. He made a distinction between what he called “schooling”, which refers to education in an impoverished sense, and education in the “true” or profound sense. “Schooling” represents a society’s need for uncritical reproduction of the instituted society, in other words, socialisation to heteronomy. Needless to say, Castoriadis is deeply critical of this kind of education. Education in the profound sense is, in short, an education that aims towards a reflective subjectivity10. This kind of education, which is of the greatest importance for the project of autonomy, depends on the personal commitment of citizens, that is, persons who are capable of governing and being governed. The project of autonomy is upheld by subjects who regard public matters – the life of the polis – as their own responsibility. To denote this kind of deliberate and explicit socialisation, Castoriadis also talks about paideia in the “deep”, “true” or “profound” sense11.

  • 12 Pateman (C.), Participation and Democratic Theory, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

8Western education has, at least since the enlightenment, had as its goal the dual purpose of teaching certain things and encouraging the critical attitude of autonomous subjectivity. This double purpose is mirrored in Castoriadis’ writings on education, while he devotes most attention to the latter. His view on the connection between education and democracy are not very different from classical contributions in the philosophy of democracy of education, such as the great pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, or the theorist of participatory democracy, Carole Pateman12. All three thinkers agree that democratic education cannot be a theoretical preparation for democracy, but rather, that the only way to become a democratically minded citizen is to practice and “do” democracy. In other words, participation and democratic activities are forms of education: and they are the proper forms.

9Before we can explore the implications of this view, however, we need an understanding of the term “democracy” – a domain where a whole array of definitions exists. Let us start out with some standard assumptions, shared by political liberals such as John Rawls and the great theorist of proceduralism, Jürgen Habermas. In this framework, democracy first of all consists in the following:

  1. The rule of law (Rechtsstaat), where no freedom is possible without laws.
  2. Fair and just principles for society’s organisation, such as equal rights, protection of minorities, freedom of speech, freedom of congregation and other liberties.
  3. Open procedures for decision making, voting, representation, deliberation and so forth.
  • 13 Wolin (S.), Politics and Vision. Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (expanded v (...)
  • 14 Habermas (J.), “Reconciliation Through the Public use of Reason: Remarks on John Rawls’s Political (...)
  • 15 See e.g. Mouffe (C.), On the Political, Routledge, London, 2005, The Return of the Political, Vers (...)

10These principles are non-substantial. But do they circumscribe democracy? The answer depends, of course, on the definition of democracy, and especially its degree of politicization. According to John Rawls, the aim of political liberalism is to secure common, neutral, value-free institutions and arrangements that are able to manage cultural and religious divisions between citizens. His underlying assumption is that the existence of differences in life views, values and beliefs represent a threat to post-traditional communities. A driving factor of political liberalism, from Cold War liberalism to Rawls, is the fear of instability and disintegration on grounds of culture, life views and beliefs13. The proceduralist position of Jürgen Habermas represents a somewhat different approach. Critical of Rawls, Habermas holds a more complex view on values in political life, especially in his later works. Whereas Habermas does not fear the existence of different values, or in Rawls’s terms, “substantial doctrines”, he still discusses democracy in purely non-substantial terms, referring especially to procedures for realising the effective participation by all concerned parties (a dimension ignored by Rawls, according to Habermas14). Both thinkers have been criticized for their tendencies to downplay the amount of, and desirability of conflict and antagonism in a political society15.

11In “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, Castoriadis engages in the discussion between political liberalists and proceduralists on the one hand and communitarians on the other, with particular address to Habermas. While Castoriadis is certainly no communitarian, he rejects the presumption that formalities such as procedures for decision making is all that defines a democracy. He says:

  • 16 “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit., p. 11.

Majority rule can be justified only if one grants equal value, in the domain of the contingent and the probable, to the doxai of free individuals. But if this equality of value among opinions is not to remain a “counterfactual principle”, some sort of pseudotranscendental gadget, then the permanent labor of the institution of society must be to render individuals such that one might reasonably postulate that their opinions all have the same weight in the political domain. Once again, the question of paideia proves ineliminable16.

  • 17 Castoriadis (C.), “Fait et à faire”, in Fait et à faire. Les carrefours du labyrinthe V, Seuil, Par (...)

12This is a very important passage for understanding the connection between education and democracy for Castoriadis. Not only does he claim that “the permanent labor of the institution of society”, education or paideia, is necessary to make democracy work – the instrumental connection – he also posits education as a justification for democracy, thus setting off an important difference between his own radical notion of democracy and more populist versions. For Castoriadis, people’s opinions are not equally valid per sé: rather, they need to be qualified. Democracy is a quest for truth, which operates by the distinction between validity de facto and validity de jure17. With respect to the instrumental dimension of education or paideia, Castoriadis maintains that without a democratic paideia, democratic institutions, principles and procedures would cease to work almost immediately:

  • 18 “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit., p. 10.

Let us [imagine] that a democracy, as complete, perfect, etc. as one might wish, might fall upon us from the heavens: this sort of democracy will not endure for more than a few years if it does not engender individuals that correspond to it, ones that, first and foremost, are capable of making it function and reproducing it. There can be no democratic society without democratic paideia18.

13Democracy for Castoriadis is a regime that cannot be reduced to procedures or principles. In order that the rule of law shall be a state of right – Rechtsstaat, and not just a Gesetzstaat – it is necessary that the social subjects who apply the procedures and interpret the laws possess certain attitudes, virtues and commitments:

  • 19 Ibidem.

[F]or individuals to be capable of making democratic procedures function in accordance with their “spirit”, a large part of the labor of society and of its institutions must be directed toward engendering individuals that correspond to this definition...19

14Democratic attitudes are developed through a democratic, political paideia where a major component is critical thought. But since this kind of education cannot be imposed dogmatically, it must be exercised in a critical, self-reflective manner. Democratic paideia is not, for Castoriadis, a set of procedures; it is instead a form of life, where:

  • 20 “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit.

[...] the institution of society must endow critical thinking as such with a positive value – and then the Pandora’s box of putting existing institutions into question is opened up and democracy again becomes society’s movement of self-institution – that is to say, a new type of regime in the full sense of the term20.

  • 21 Castoriadis (C.), “L’industrie du vide”, in Domaines de l’homme. Les carrefours du labyrinthe II, S (...)
  • 22 Ibidem. p 35.
  • 23 Castoriadis (C.), “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit.

15Without resorting to communitarian arguments, he clearly argues that democracy is a regime with a certain ethos consisting of certain values. He also – here and elsewhere–describes the kind of virtues that characterise the subjects of such a regime: a commitment to common interests (enjeux publics), truthfulness, responsibility, intellectual and democratic courage (parrhesia), as well as a certain kind of shame (aidôs)21. Democratic shame is described as a “social and political virtue22”, the necessary accompaniment to the always present temptations in a democracy; its lack of external foundations, its hubris. These virtues, of course, correspond to the imaginary significations of autonomy: freedom and self-limitation, reflection and self-questioning. A democracy is therefore the regime consisting of institutions where these virtues are practiced, mirroring Castoriadis’s conception that the character of citizens (or more generally, the being-thus of individuals) in a certain sense are the institutions of society23.

II. The importance of parrhesia

  • 24 The Apology, quoted from Wikipedia.

16The virtue of democratic courage – which Castoriadis refers to as parrhesia – is particularly interesting. The term indicates a critical and interrogative attitude that also characterizes, and to a large degree defines the project of autonomy. It also signifies a commitment to speaking the truth. When this virtue is discussed in the following, a premise to start from is that it can be socially risky, and often uncomfortable, to raise a problematic topic in a public (or semi-public) setting. Questioning is always troublesome when it interrupts the flow of ordinary affairs. If we assume that the public opinion normally tends toward closure –preservation of the status quo; collective psychological resistance against change – then to be a dissident means to deviate from the comfortable and easier path of familiarity. It is usually not popular when someone – maybe again and again – sticks their head out to criticize commonly held opinions or powerful social positions. Socrates is of course the paradigmatic historical example. He saw himself in the role of a gadfly [Fr. taon], that is, his role was “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth24”. To be a politically active person in a mainly heteronomous society generally means to be a nuisance to the majority. This is so because the normal, harmonious state of society is not autonomy, but heteronomy.

  • 25 Franêk “Philosophical parrhesia as aesthetics of existence”, Continental Philosophy Review, 2006 (3 (...)
  • 26 Ibidem, p. 120.
  • 27 There are indeed important differences between Castoriadis’s, Foucault’s and Goodnight’s use of th (...)
  • 28 Goodnight (T.) “Parrhesia: The Aesthetics of Arguing Truth to Power”, in H.V. Hansen et. al. (eds.) (...)
  • 29 Ibidem., p. 1.

17Parrhesia in the classical understanding can mean several things: e. g. saying everything, and speaking the truth. In the original sense, parrhesia is an institution of democratic politics, highly valued by the Athenians as the very basis of political freedom. It was a privilege enjoyed by citizens of the polis giving them the right to participate in political life and decision making25. However, critics of democracy (Plato, Aristotle and Pseudo-Xenophon) also blamed parrhesia as corruptive of the good rule, in so far as it is not restricted to good or beneficial speech (parrhesia as “saying everything”, or even anything)26. In his last lectures at Collège de France, Michel Foucault took up parrhesia as part of his philosophical (self-) reflections, drawing a distinction between political and philosophical parrhesia, while acknowledging that these are not unconnected. Foucault uses parrhesia (both philosophical and political) in the sense of speaking the truth, which is also the understanding of Castoriadis and the one followed here27. Parrhesia is also a rhetorical figure connected with disagreement, criticism and dissent, much discussed in Athenian and Roman philosophy and rethorics28. In politics, it is “a figure of thought associated with speaking truth to power”, as described by Thomas Goodnight29. According to Goodnight, parrhesia was set forth when someone wanted to create a communicative space in which one would be able to speak freely against the commonly held opinion:

  • 30 Ibid.
  • 31 Ibid., p. 2.

Parrhesia emerges from a communication predicament where, at one and the same time, an arguer is obligated to raise unwelcome claims while preserving a communication space that gives the interlocutor reasons to listen, rather than an excuse to react30.
[It] always signals the uttering of a communicative argument that opposes the settled views of the demos or of the powerful. Thus, parrhesia is the rhetorical figure of dissent par excellence31.

  • 32 Castoriadis (C.), “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, op. cit., p. 81-123.

18In “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, Castoriadis describes parrhesia as one of three principles of democratic participation in the Assembly thus: “All citizens have the right to speak (isegoria), their votes carry the same weight (isophephia), and they are under moral obligation to speak their minds (parrhesia)32”. The positive obligation to participate in the government and administration of the polis clearly distinguishes ancient and modern politics – in Athens, the refusal to participate in politics was sanctioned and considered as something shameful. However, parrhesia also involves a personal risk for the one who speaks. As pointed out by Goodnight:

  • 33 Goodnight (T.), “Parrhesia: The Aesthetics of Arguing Truth to Power”, op. cit., p. 1.

Whether parrhesiastic claims are raised before the authority of a single, powerful authority or within a forum before the demos, speaking truth to power always puts an interlocutor in jeopardy. The risk involved in offering critical claims to others, who are not likely to receive them well, is a defining predicament of advocacy33.

  • 34 Foucault quoted in Franêk (J.), “Philosophical parrhesia as aesthetics of existence”, op. cit., p. (...)
  • 35 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrhesia

19Foucault, who reframes parrhesia as a philosophical activity, describes Socrates as the founder of “philosophical parrhesia34”. According to him, parrhesia is only active when there is something at stake for the person speaking, “only if there is a risk or danger for him in telling the truth”. The person exercising parrhesia speaks because he or she sees it as a duty to speak the truth. In the classical understanding, one who uses parrhesia is only recognized as doing so if he holds a credible relationship to the truth, if he serves as a critic to either himself or popular opinion, if the revelation of this truth places him in a position of danger and he nevertheless persists in speaking the truth, as he feels it is his moral, social, and/or political obligation35. According to Foucault,

  • 36 Foucault (M.), Fearless Speech, 1983, p. 19-20. Quoted from Wikipedia.

... parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy36.

  • 37 Castoriadis (C.), “L’industrie du vide”, op. cit. p. 35.
  • 38 Castoriadis (C.), “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, op. cit., p. 115.

20From these somewhat scattered considerations, it becomes clear to me that parrhesia, or more generally, democratic courage, is of particular importance for the project of autonomy. Without it, heteronomy will certainly prevail. The importance of democratic courage is supported by fact that democracy is not institutionalised one time for all; it is something that is extremely fragile and full of risk, something which needs to be kept open and active and hold our attention. This is also where democratic shame enters the stage. For even though the institution of parrhesia can ensure that no secrets are hidden from the demos, it also means that there are no limits to the freedom of speech. Parrhesia can therefore also signify excess, transgression for the sake of transgression. Contemporary debates about whether a society should limit the freedom of speech for, e.g. extreme right wing parties, hate groups on the internet, etc., clearly illustrate the dilemmas raised by unrestrained speech. For Castoriadis, the lack of shame in the public sphere means contempt for the public37, or more generally put, for the common world. A sense of public shame can motivate the need to speak frankly while also urging us to care for the institutions that bind us together and constitute our world. In Castoriadis words, “[i]n a democracy, people can do anything – and must know that they ought not to do just anything38”. But there is also another side to parrhesia as democratic courage: for the person who speaks up against the community is also a tragic figure; one who often does not fare very well. Again, we can remember Socrates, or the literary figure Antigone, but the point is also well illustrated by a phenomenon in our own time, namely the figure of the whistleblower, to which we now turn.

III. Parrhesia and narcissism moralized

  • 39 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, Cornell University Press, New (...)

21The philosopher C. Fred Alford has studied many so-called whistleblowers: persons who have spoken out in public about organizations and corporations that have committed criminal or unethical acts39. Typically, to call out and “blow the whistle” has great personal consequences for these persons. More than half of them lose their jobs, and very often also their house, their careers, their health and their family. Rarely does the organization change as a consequence of the whistleblower’s acts. Alford has interviewed many whistleblowers in the USA, asking about their motives. He also participated in their self-help groups for several years, where he listened closely to their accounts, focusing upon how they view their “worlds” and the world of the organization. In addition to the stories recounted, Alford takes interest in the ethical and political theory he finds embedded in the narratives he has witnessed.

22In Alford’s account the typical whistleblower is one who is more than usually uncomfortable with not telling the truth; someone who is unable not to reflect; or in Hannah Arendt’s empathic meaning of the term, to think. The term Alford uses for this condition is narcissism moralized. A person who is a moralized narcissist is unable to live with herself if (s) he cannot tell the truth. This is clearly something more than moral-cognitive dissonance, it seems to be connected with a certain sense of shame; a term that Alford also uses. The whistleblower does not act – blow the whistle – on behalf of himself/herself, but on behalf of what she regards as the right thing to do. Their motives vary: Sometimes they refer to a principle, often the public interest, a public mandate, and sometimes with specific others in mind, such as innocent people who are affected by the wrong-doing. According to Alford, concerns for specific others are less typical of accounts, but here is one example:

  • 40 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, op. cit., p. 66-67.

“I am afflicted by my imagination for consequences” is how Tom Delaney put it. Tom blew the whistle on the Department of Energy’s failure to clean up properly an abandoned research site. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. My boss said to keep my mind on the job. He meant, don’t think about what you’re doing. I did, and I lost my job.” Tom is currently working as a courier, delivering [...] papers around town. He sounds ashamed, as if he has failed in some way. If he could just have kept his mind on his job, he would have done fine. He seems to feel he is a prisoner of his almost visceral connection to the long-term consequences of his act40.

  • 41 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, op. cit., p. 20.
  • 42 Ibidem 21.

23Whistleblowers very often do not think of their acts as blowing the whistle, they just think of themselves as doing their job. They are often inspectors – who come across irregularities or hazards – or people in management who are expected to cover irregularities, even crimes. They are expected to lie in public investigations, or at least, not tell the truth. More often than not, they are given a chance to discontinue their investigation or their reporting, but choose not to. This is the point where the whistleblower becomes recognisable in terms of specific personality characteristics. Nobody wants to hire such a person, for, as one whistleblower put it: “They are all afraid of what we would do if we were asked to tell the truth about some problem41”. The problem of the whistleblower is therefore not just a question about speaking up: It is a specific relationship to the truth, resembling especially Foucault’s understanding of parrhesia. The whistleblower experiences that no one wants to listen to their story, and moreover, no one wants to talk about not listening: “I said I’d do anything [the boss] wanted – keep silent, resign, ask for a transfer. But he wouldn’t do it, and he wouldn’t talk about not doing it. My insubordination was the only issue42”.

  • 43 Ibid., p. 76.
  • 44 Ibid., p. 76.
  • 45 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, op. cit., p. 78.
  • 46 Ibidem, p. 79.

24According to Alford, “[t]he whistleblower feels empathy for others, is ashamed of being associated with unethical acts, and acts himself so as not to feel the greater shame of failing to fulfill his own ethical obligations43”. Alford proposes that in order to understand whistleblowers, one must try to understand how they experience their worlds and the kinds of roles that they perceive as available. Whistleblowing is very much about the self’s relationship to itself, i.e. the relationship between the self and the ego ideal. The term “narcissism moralized” builds on the assertion that narcissism can also have an ethical side to it. Narcissism, to Alford, is “by no means necessarily negative. It all depends on whether the narcissist raises himself to become one with high ideals, what [Alford] calls narcissism moralized, or whether the narcissist lowers his ideals to become one with the frustrated self44”. “Narcissism moralized requires that the content of the ego ideal – that is, one’s ideals – become moral45”. The narcissism of the whistleblower is distinguished from that of the ordinary narcissist by the fact that the whistleblower’s narcissism is “wounded by the right thing: that he was cast into a world of lies and deception and was expected to become just like everyone else46”. The main problem is that the ego ideals are set to an unrealistically high standard – when, compared to the surrounding environment, and especially the world of the organization. Moreover, the whistleblower – at least at some point – really believes that truth will eventually prevail, if only he or she is able to present it in a better way.

  • 47 Ibid., p. 73

25A further problem for the moralized narcissist is that he or she is not very good at what Alford calls “doubling”, that is, to live with one set of standards at work and another at home. The moralized narcissist asks himself what kind of world we want to live in, and feels shame by association with the acts of others, such as in the company in which they work. One of Alford’s informers put it this way: “I’m ashamed of what my company did, and I’m ashamed that I had to blow the whistle. I’m ashamed for the people I worked with, and I’m ashamed for the people who were hurt by what my company did47”.

  • 48 Ibid., p. 63.
  • 49 In many Western countries, safe channels for whistleblowers are currently being created, largely d (...)

26Typical examples of moralized narcissists for Alford are Socrates, Augustine and Ghandi. The whistleblowers typically risk “all but their lives so as not to be made less whole48”: their jobs, their personal well-being, their houses and even their families. The whistleblowers seem to be unfit or unable to not tell the truth. They often feel that there was no choice, a “choiceless choice”. Whistleblowers can be seen as examples of democratic courage without the institutional support offered by parrhesia in classical Athens and Rome. The whistleblowers do not have the means to successfully create a space within which their arguments can be given due consideration49. The problem is not limited to “shady” enterprises, however. Due to capitalist logic that increasingly saturates various organizations, many will find it difficult and risky to speak up about the wrongs they see, in universities, in politics, in public or corporate businesses. Through New Public Management, where every piece of work is measured in terms of performance, efficiency and accountability a regime of fear and distrust is inculcated. Inside this framework, ethical-political goals lose much of their meaning, yet they are kept in existence at the symbolic level. Then, when the moralized narcissist blows the whistle inside enterprises that are motivated and driven by one thing, while claiming to be something else, the only possible position open for the whistleblower is that of the victim, the scapegoat, who is chased out in the desert, taking all the pain and dissonance with it. Inside the organization, however, the whistleblower is dysfunctional. Colleagues would rather not listen. The whistleblower becomes the negative role model, someone from whom it is wise to keep a distance. It is therefore often rational to fear the organization. This justified fear is, I think, a very important motive for not speaking up in public affairs.

IV. The responsibility of the demos

27A question to be raised at this point is whether all persons can be expected to take the position of the annoying gadfly, the truth-teller in a world that does not want to listen. And if all people can do this, does it also follow that they have a moral obligation to do so? The example of whistleblowers suggest that this moral obligation brings a great cost with it. Could it rather be said that some of us have a greater responsibility to fill this function in a given society; for example, does the moral obligation to speak one’s mind apply especially to those who are publically funded to exercise their ability to think and write; university teachers, journalists, editors, social movements, teachers of the young? Since people fill different roles in modern societies, does it not follow a particular responsibility with some of these positions? Perhaps Plato had a point, after all, in the Republic, that different positions in society carry different degrees of political responsibility?

  • 50 “L’industrie du vide”, op. cit.
  • 51 Ibidem., p. 34-35.
  • 52 Arendt (H.) “The Crisis in Education”, in Between Past and Future. Eight Exercises in Political Tho (...)
  • 53 Castoriadis (C.) “Psyche and Education”, in Figures of the Thinkable, translated by Helen Arnold, S (...)

28Castoriadis, who strongly disagrees with Plato’s division of functions in society, points out that intellectuals should definitely not deliver ready-made theories for social life as did Plato and in our time, Rawls. Instead, they should act more like Socrates, like citizens or citizen-philosophers if you like50. For Castoriadis there can only be democracy where there is a generally heightened awareness about public affairs, what he calls public stakes (enjeux), and where the public stakes are also the stakes of each and every one51. The ethos of democracy is in this sense described as a kind of general, moral sincerity on behalf of the collective, an acute awareness that our common affairs are important, whether we call it politics, morality, the future or the question of the truth. Still, I want to argue that there are some positions where this common responsibility becomes even more acute than in others. The public awareness described above is, for example, of the greatest importance for the question of education, with which the essay started. It has to do with the sincerity and engagement of the teacher, and her own investment in knowledge, in politics, in the future. Today, more than ever, being a teacher means to be responsible for that which depends on the teacher: as a role model set in a position of power, entrusted with the responsibility for the paideia of future citizens. Hannah Arendt put it very bluntly: “Anyone who refuses to have joint responsibility for the world should not have children and must not be allowed to take part in educating them52”. And if Castoriadis is right in claiming that no child can learn without investing in the concrete person of the teacher, through a platonic eros, the responsibility of the teacher is undeniable53. In addition to her responsibility toward the individual child, the teacher also has a mandate concerning the future of society, since education can be about national competitiveness, but also about social-political change. These questions are much too important to be left for bureaucrats in the OECD and elsewhere: they are the responsibility of all of us as citizens.

29Finally, and most importantly for the conceptualization of the demos in contemporary terms: If there is to be a democratic responsibility to speak, there must also be a corresponding responsibility to listen. Thus, freedom of speech (parrhesia) is accompanied by the responsibility of speaking, where shame plays a regulating part, and by the responsibility to listen – and to act. As demonstrated in the above, these issues are possibly more important than ever – but also in effect, more problematic. One of the conclusions that can be drawn is that democracy – if it is to be an embodiment of the project of autonomy – must ensure the existence of an arena for frank speech within certain regulations.

30What does this mean in practical terms? It means, among other things, to maintain a certain level of caution with regard to the inherent logic of the organization – whether this is a private corporation or a public-bureaucratic institution. There is no reason to believe that a person who is speaking the truth against the interest of the organization will eventually be given credit for doing so. The social type of the hero exists in films, but does not function in any existing Western context (organization) of today. It thus seems more promising to focus on the responsibility to listen and to not turn one’s back. A further lesson is to cherish the sense of politics as something important for all of us, a sense that can translate into the obligation to speak, listen, act and teach.

31But a rather different, and in my view, important conclusion also emerges from my discussion of the whistleblower and the classical institution of parrhesia, be namely, that it is not the responsibility of individuals to make amends for the conduct of the organization. If our education were to promote the view that the individual who stands up can, more or less, save the world – and for instance reverse climate changes through dedicated efforts – we would be doing great harm to young minds. The world cannot be saved; the climate balance cannot be saved (any longer). It is my belief that people may suffer greatly if they do not realise the limits of their own personal responsibility and capabilities. The sad fate of almost all whistleblowers clearly illustrates this fact. It is likely that much of the apolitical, general conformism and cynicism of the Western world today is a reaction against some of the Save-The-World-rhetoric of the 1970s and 80s. Such over-burdening of the conscience of individuals can only lead to repression, guilt and depression. The example of the whistleblower, who single-handedly tries to uphold the project of autonomy, shows us that the necessary investment and personal responsibility for public affairs is a precarious condition that needs special, institutional protection. Thus, democratic courage is more a matter of building institutions than of teaching certain skills and values. John Dewey, Carol Pateman, Castoriadis and many others have pointed out that it is through the exercise of democracy that one becomes capable of ruling and being ruled. The Athenians were clear about this, and institutionalised the principles of public administration by rotation and lot. True democracy is not something to defined by the few (e.g. philosophers) and postponed until people are educated and ready.

Closing remarks

  • 54 Arendt (H.), The Origins of Totalitarianism, Shocken, New York, 2004.

32To govern oneself implies a will to do so, a will that cannot be imposed or encouraged from the outside: it can only be created by people who desire to rule themselves. After many years of capitalist conformism, there are some signs that such a will is developing in the world today, notably in the movements Democracia Real Ya!, Occupy Wall Street and the revolts against tyranny in the Arab countries. Many are asking themselves whether these impulses will turn into democracies, or something else. These various initiatives, which have not yet been consolidated into a form, seem to me to be impulses of autonomy where something new can be created. The counter-forces are massive, but so is the potential for change once the people has decided. The best way to support these movements is perhaps by being concerned and attentive. In politics, as in pedagogy, one should not wait for the right consciousness to develop, but rather, act as if this consciousness was already in place. For the only way to awaken and engage the responsibility of another person is probably to entrust responsibility. In education and politics, says Castoriadis, we have to trust each other and act as if we possess and can make use of an autonomy not yet in place. Militants and teachers alike must be careful not to frown upon other people, and thereby diminish their potential. Acting as if means to take risks, that is, to believe in something which is not yet there, without knowing for certain how it will develop. For every child is a new beginning, as Hannah Arendt put it. Each individual has the potential to make us of the opportunity to become someone who personally invests in an autonomous quest for freedom and truth. This is also the nature of a child: a subject and agency of becoming. In Arendt’s words: “... man’s “nature” is only “human” in so far as it opens up to man the possibility of becoming something highly unnatural, that is, a man54”.

Bibliographie

Bibliographie

Alford (C. F), Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, Cornell University Press, New York, 2001.

Arendt (H.), The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1989 [1958].

Arendt (H.) The Origins of Totalitarianism, Shocken, New York, 2004.

Arendt (H.) “The Crisis in Education”, in Between Past and Future. Eight Exercises in Political Thought, Penguin, New York, 2006 [1961].

Castoriadis (C.), L’Institution imaginaire de la société, Seuil, Paris, 1975.

Castoriadis (C.), “L’industrie du vide”, in Domaines de l’homme. Les carrefours du labyrinthe II, Seuil, Paris, 1986.

Castoriadis (C.), “La polis grecque et la création de la démocratie”, in Domaines de l’homme. Les carrefours du labyrinthe II, Seuil, Paris, 1986.

Castoriadis (C.), “Psychanalyse et politique”, in Le monde morcelé. Les carrefours du labyrinthe, Seuil, Paris, 1990.

Castoriadis (C.), “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, trans. David Ames Curtis, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991.

Castoriadis (C.), “La démocratie comme procédure et comme régime”, in La montée de l’insignifiance. Les carrefours du labyrinthe IV, Seuil, Paris, 1996.

Castoriadis (C.), “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, trans. David Ames Curtis, Constellations, Vol. 4 (1), 1997.

Castoriadis (C.), “Psychoanalysis and Politics”, in World in Fragments, trans. David Ames Curtis, Stanford University Press, 1997.

Castoriadis (C.), “Fait et à faire”, in Fait et à faire. Les carrefours du labyrinthe V, Seuil, Paris, 1997.

Castoriadis (C.), “Quelle démocratie?”, in Figures des pensables. Les carrefours du labyrinthe VI, Seuil, Paris, 1999.

Castoriadis (C.), “Psyche and Education”, in Figures of the Thinkable, trans. Helen Arnold, Stanford University Press, 2007.

Dewey (J.), Democracy and Education. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1997 [1916].

Foucault (M.), Fearless Speech, Pearson (J.) (ed.), Semiotext(e), Los Angeles CA., 1983.

Franêk (J.), “Philosophical parrhesia as aesthetics of existence”, Continental Philosophy Review (39), 2006.

Goodnight (T.) “Parrhesia: The Aesthetics of Arguing Truth to Power”, in H. V. Hansen et. al. (eds.), Dissensus and the Search for Common Ground, CD-ROM, Windsor, ON: OSSA. http://jakemachina.com/OSSA/pdf/290_Goodnight.pdf

Gutmann (A), Democratic Education. 2nd edition, Princeton University Press, NJ, 1999.

Habermas (J.), “Reconciliation Through the Public Use of Reason: Remarks on John Rawls’s Political Liberalism”, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 92 (3), 1995.

Mouffe (C.), The Return of the Political, London, Verso, 2005 [1993].

Mouffe (C.), On the Political, Routledge, London, 2005.

Pateman (C.), Participation and Democratic Theory, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Straume (I.), Politikken og det imaginaere – Cornelius Castoriadis’bidrag til et politisk danningsbegrep, PhD dissertation submitted for the Faculty of Education, University of Oslo, 2010.

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrhesia

Wolin (S.), Politics and Vision. Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (expanded version), Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2004.

Notes

1 Castoriadis (C.) “Quelle démocratie?”, in Figures des pensables. Les carrefours du labyrinthe VI, Seuil, Paris, 1999, p. 145-180, p. 180.

2 See Castoriadis (C.), “La démocratie comme procédure et comme régime” in La montée de l’insignifiance. Les carrefours du labyrinthe IV, Seuil, Paris, 1996, p. 267-292.

3 Arendt (H.), The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1989 [1958].

4 Dewey (J.), Democracy and Education. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1997 [1916].

5 This discussion is developed in Straume (I.), Politikken og det imaginaere – Cornelius Castoriadis’bidrag til et politisk danningsbegrep, PhD dissertation submitted for the Faculty of Education, University of Oslo, 2010.

6 See Castoriadis (C.), L’Institution imaginaire de la société. Seuil, Paris, 1975.

7 Op. cit. English version, “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, trans. David Ames Curtis, Constellations, Vol. 4 (1), 1997, p. 1-18.

8 Cf. the opening quotation.

9 See “Psychanalyse et politique”, in Le monde morcelé. Les carrefours du labyrinthe, Seuil, Paris, 1990, p. 173-190. In English: “Psychoanalysis and Politics”, in World in Fragments, trans. David Ames Curtis, Stanford University Press, 1997, p. 125-136.

10 Ibidem.

11 Castoriadis (C.), “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, David Ames Curtis (trans.), Oxford University Press, New York, 1991, p. 325-382.

12 Pateman (C.), Participation and Democratic Theory, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

13 Wolin (S.), Politics and Vision. Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (expanded version), Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2004.

14 Habermas (J.), “Reconciliation Through the Public use of Reason: Remarks on John Rawls’s Political Liberalism”, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 92 (3), 1995, p. 109-131.

15 See e.g. Mouffe (C.), On the Political, Routledge, London, 2005, The Return of the Political, Verso, London, 2005 [1993].

16 “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit., p. 11.

17 Castoriadis (C.), “Fait et à faire”, in Fait et à faire. Les carrefours du labyrinthe V, Seuil, Paris, 1997, p. 9-81.

18 “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit., p. 10.

19 Ibidem.

20 “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit.

21 Castoriadis (C.), “L’industrie du vide”, in Domaines de l’homme. Les carrefours du labyrinthe II, Seuil, Paris, 1986, p. 32-40.

22 Ibidem. p 35.

23 Castoriadis (C.), “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime”, op. cit.

24 The Apology, quoted from Wikipedia.

25 Franêk “Philosophical parrhesia as aesthetics of existence”, Continental Philosophy Review, 2006 (39), p. 113-134.

26 Ibidem, p. 120.

27 There are indeed important differences between Castoriadis’s, Foucault’s and Goodnight’s use of the term parrhesia (see below).

28 Goodnight (T.) “Parrhesia: The Aesthetics of Arguing Truth to Power”, in H.V. Hansen et. al. (eds.), Dissensus and the Search for Common Ground, CD-ROM, Windsor, ON: OSSA, p. 1-12.

29 Ibidem., p. 1.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid., p. 2.

32 Castoriadis (C.), “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, op. cit., p. 81-123.

33 Goodnight (T.), “Parrhesia: The Aesthetics of Arguing Truth to Power”, op. cit., p. 1.

34 Foucault quoted in Franêk (J.), “Philosophical parrhesia as aesthetics of existence”, op. cit., p. 123.

35 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrhesia

36 Foucault (M.), Fearless Speech, 1983, p. 19-20. Quoted from Wikipedia.

37 Castoriadis (C.), “L’industrie du vide”, op. cit. p. 35.

38 Castoriadis (C.), “The Greek polis and the creation of democracy”, op. cit., p. 115.

39 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, Cornell University Press, New York, 2001.

40 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, op. cit., p. 66-67.

41 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, op. cit., p. 20.

42 Ibidem 21.

43 Ibid., p. 76.

44 Ibid., p. 76.

45 Alford (C.F.) Whistleblowers. Broken Lives and Organizational Theory, op. cit., p. 78.

46 Ibidem, p. 79.

47 Ibid., p. 73

48 Ibid., p. 63.

49 In many Western countries, safe channels for whistleblowers are currently being created, largely due to demands from the many support groups.

50 “L’industrie du vide”, op. cit.

51 Ibidem., p. 34-35.

52 Arendt (H.) “The Crisis in Education”, in Between Past and Future. Eight Exercises in Political Thought, Penguin, New York, 2006 [1961], p. 170-193, p. 189.

53 Castoriadis (C.) “Psyche and Education”, in Figures of the Thinkable, translated by Helen Arnold, Stanford University Press, 2007, p. 165-187, p. 178.

54 Arendt (H.), The Origins of Totalitarianism, Shocken, New York, 2004.

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