Care as Democratic Ethos…

My general approach to political theory, and my approach to democratic theory and the problem of colonialism more specifically, identifies care as the chief structuring or motivating dynamic of political life. Political philosopher, Fred Dallmayr, grounds such a vision in the work of, among others, Martin Heidegger:

Opposing the modern construal of action as the instrumental production of effects, Heidegger portrays the core of action as “fulfilling” (vollbringen). What is fulfilled or accomplished in action is not so much the goal or effect but rather the human quality or humanity of the agent. What in particular discloses this quality is the degree of the agent’s openness or receptivity to the claims of others, an openness that transforms action into the midpoint between doing and suffering – something Heidegger calls “letting-be” (Seinlassen) and that is far removed from both indifference and manipulative control. As can readily be seen, this kind of “letting-be” – Heidegger also calls it “primordial praxis” – is of crucial relevance for democracy provided the latter is seen as a relational practice and not a form of unilateral domination or subjugation. Inspired by “care” (Sorge), as  indicate, this primordial praxis also can be seen as the cornerstone of a democratic ethos.

Fred Dallmayr, The Promise of Democracy, p. 9.

After Heidegger, a host of existential phenomenologists, feminists, and social theorists undertook to explore the deeply embodied and affective nature of care. I suggest that recognizing care as the soul of democratic agency – the cornerstone of praxis – permits us to see that the host of practices commonly idealized by democratic theory (e.g., deliberation, representation, performance, contestation, etc) are predicated on the more basic form of life which is attending to the needs of self and other. The next step, I argue, is coming to terms with the issues of domination and exclusion that emerge when we fetishize a single instantiation or practice of care, such as deliberation or representation.