In The Public and Its Problems, John Dewey writes that democracy is “the idea of community life itself” (Dewey 1980, 148). At first glance, to equate democracy with community seems to skirt the problem of democracy in a pluralist society: how a heterogeneous and diverse society can come to any kind of agreement about matters of common concern. The “idea of community life itself” seems to be an ideal of transcendence, that we transcend our individuality and take part in a unity that is greater than our finite selves. Yet we need not take community to be such an ideal; we can think about community in a way that addresses the democratic problem.
What if, following Kristeva, we conceived of selves as subjects-inrelation, indebted to and open to others? And likewise, if we were to move beyond Kristeva, we thought of communities as spaces of relation, open to change, mclining to the never-assimilated other? In his essay “The Inoperative Community,” Jean-Luc Nancy describes community as being-in-common as opposed to common being. Community is not an entity, he argues, warning us away from essentializing community, away from the path toward totalitarianism. Where totalitarianism closes off politics, being-in-common makes politics possible.
Most discourses on community betray a longing for some lost era:
The lost, or broken, community can be exemplified in all kinds of
ways, by all kinds of paradigms: the natural family, the Athenian city,