The Archipolitics of Jacques Rancière – Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy – article

The Archipolitics of Jacques Rancière

Ivana Perica | Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy


The formation of the philosophical and political thought of Jacques Rancière was decisively marked by the experience of his initiation into political theory as Louis Althusser’s student and by his participation in the writing of Reading Capital (1965). Rancière’s subsequent political theory, the “student’s” criticism of his “teacher,” marked the radical departure of an entire generation from Marxism of the Althusserian type (cf. Rancière 1974; 1975). At the same time as he advanced his criticism of Althusser’s scholarly pedagogy and the politics of knowledge in general (e.g. Bourdieu’s sociology), Rancière extensively discussed what he called “rejuvenated political philosophy” (Rancière 2002, viii). The term refers to a rather heterogeneous group of French nouveaux philosophes who in the 1970s and 1980s were strongly oriented towards Plato and Aristotle: André Glucksmann, Alain Finkielkraut, Pascal Bruckner, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Jean-Marie Benoist, Christian Jambet, Guy Lardreau, and Jean-Paul Dollé (cf. Negt 1983, 57). For Rancière, the new political philosophy is not a “subgenre” or an “area” of philosophy, not a “reflection of immanent rationality of political activity” (Rancière 2010c, 96); it is, in fact, “the name of an encounter – and a polemical encounter at that – in which the paradox or scandal of politics is exposed: its lack of any proper foundation” (Rancière 2002, 61). Here, Rancière demonstrates his disagreement with the foundational idea that politics proceeds as an enactment or materialization of some external or eternal “grounds” (truth, nature, etc.). Regarding the invisible “grounds” or foundations of political philosophy, in what follows I examine his critique of Hannah Arendt, whom he considers a proponent of political philosophy in general and a forerunner of French new political philosophers in particular (similarly, Badiou calls them “Hannah Arendt’s disciples,” Badiou 2003, 8). Contrary to general assumptions and contrary to Rancière’s own insistence on the irreconcilable differences between them, Hannah Arendt’s name represents for his political thinking a theoretical forerunner that precedes his own work and even anticipates its critique. Following on the heels of this claim, I suggest reading Hannah Arendt and Jacques Rancière as representative of two different anarchisms. They meet on opposite sides of a common rotational axis, which has the arché as its anarchist core notion: on one side is the pathos of the an-archic as the new and unforeseen element of event or even revolution; on the other is the anarchist rejection of any genealogy, tradition, and authority as the leading principles of the political. Here, if Rancière’s ambivalent relation to Arendt is characterized by strategic positioning and attacks that are carried out in disguise, in footnotes and allusions, then reading these subtexts makes it necessary to unpack his references for the sake of positioning him in the direction of a different theoretical context and a different understanding of an-archic politics.


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