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Stout and individual XI

April 18, 2016

4.) Democratic individual as expression and resistance

As suggested in the Introduction, Stout shows great interest in the kinds of people we both have become and are becoming in contemporary society. If both tenses have the advantage of suggesting process, the process in which individual reveals itself in Democracy and Tradition is that of tradition. Yet we may wonder whether this constitutes an advance rather than merely another gloss in our understanding of the position of the individual. Are we not merely circling the same problem of justification as seen in The Flight from Authority and Ethics after Babel?

Naturally, the answer proves both positive and negative. In a word, Democracy and Tradition distinguishes itself from the farther-reaching earlier works insofar as it seeks to isolate a particular strain of justification and ethical-political discourse, namely that of democratic public deliberation, in its relation with contractarian and traditionalist modes of deliberation. For, in the latter, justification in the form of democratic public deliberation must tangle with another specter which occupies a vivid place in public consciousness: democratic anomie resulting from incommensurable spheres of discourse. More simply, the everyday person has reason to wonder what hope there can be for democracy if the latter proceeds in light of public deliberation: a.) in which neither vocabularies nor the reasons given for action are shared; b.) which, therefore, can come to no decisions of import. Without common terms, how might justification proceed?

Stout’s answer thereto, like that in Ethics after Babel, consists in careful retrieval of a specific mode of discourse and justification so as to show that, within the narrower realm of democratic public deliberation, nothing should be further from our minds than casting aside the former in favor of deliberation constrained either by a.) discursive norms constraining all participants (contractarianism) or by b.) discursive norms self-imposed by a distinct community (traditionalism). More specifically, this specific mode of discourse and justification builds on the groundwork laid in the earlier works. For, as per The Flight from Authority, justification necessarily proceeds through the position of the individual and, following Ethics after Babel, the position of the individual becomes knowable in the form of language and a person’s vocabulary. Democracy and Tradition adds on by sketching how a certain form of democratic public deliberation prompts the individual to formulate that language as authentic self-expression and to nurture vocabulary as resistance to type.

Yet such conclusions cannot be reached in one argumentative move alone. So it will first prove necessary to retrace the intermediate conceptual linkage which enables Stout to distill his previous findings in the foregoing conclusion on expression and resistance. At a glance, we can isolate these as follows: 1.) the position of the individual focuses the social critic’s attention on the kinds of people we have become and are becoming; 2.) the processual nature of this becoming forces us to reconceptualize democracy as tradition rather than immutable essence; 3.) the combination of new focus and reconceptualization in turn directs attention to the means by which we come to know those people; 4.) we grasp people under the means of self-expression in which they give voice to their deepest reasons and personal histories; 5.) this self-expression itself gives voice to that which individuates people from one another as well as social types writ large. We shall later see that the the foregoing presumes an object to which individual corresponds, but further explanation is required before then. For the moment, it suffices to pursue the conceptual refinement sketched here in abbreviated form.

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