The war on terror throws into sharp relief the problem of developing a political philosophy of communication, as we witness the rise of the security regime and its ultimately totalitarian project of making pluralism safe for what it styles as democratic values. Despite the goal of building a polity of deliberative inclusion, be it through a veil of ignorance or mechanisms of institutional translation, the understanding of communication in much of democratic theory has neutered the potential of social pluralism and entrenched sovereign power as something more cohesive, more trustworthy, and more just than any notional power of a diverse citizenry. The result is, following Maritain’s use of Tocqueville, “a rare and brief exercise of free choice with regard to the great things of the State, and enslavement in the minor affairs of everyday life”, the camp presenting itself as the polis. The problem lies in the meta-doctrine of pluralism and its insistence that we are permanently alien to each other, at sea in a post-metaphysical politics. I argue for a conception of democratic communication based on the fact of our common humanity. By democratic communication I mean our ongoing discernment as human persons of the nature, dignity and meaning of human existence, and the critical ordering of our social and political life to suit our best iterations of what it means to be human. On this view, different perspectives on the big questions of human identity should not be sequestered from public deliberation, neither should we seal worldviews off against reciprocal scrutiny. Democratic communication examines competing assertions of the good, driving the process of continually bridging the gap between what is and what ought to be. In this sense, I believe Aristotle is correct to affirm that we are “born for citizenship”, because the work of politics is entwined with our ongoing emancipation, together groping for the happiness that comes with becoming human. My purpose is to examine the impact of the war on terror on democratic communication, mapping the persistence of human personality against sovereign power’s attempt to reduce us to bare life.
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