Giovanni Campailla: 

'Democracy as the Enemy: A Rancièrian Reading of The Crisis of Democracy (1975)'

Friday 31.5. 2019, 6pm – 8pm,

in MayDay Rooms,

88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH 


In this workshop Giovanni Campailla presents a reading of ‘The Crisis of Democracy: On the Governability of Democracies’, a report published by the Trilateral Commission. Campailla’s reading highlights the ideological resonances of this report for the politics of today. He argues that instead of dealing with genuinely democratic experiences, the report should be seen as a manifesto of ‘post-democracy’. That is to say, the report attempts to efface democratic practices in the very name of democracy. For his argument Campailla uses Rancière’s analyses, asking what the critical theory of post-democracy could be like.


Respondent: Steve Howard. Free admission.



Trilateral Commission is a think tank that strives to guide decision-makers on contemporary challenges of geopolitical, economic and social nature. In 1975 it published ‘The Crisis of Democracy’, a report ostensibly about the ‘governability of democracies’. The authors of the report were Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington and Joji Watanuki – representatives of the major geopolitical areas (Europe, USA, and Japan) of the capitalist world. According to them, for countries to be governable (in the conjuncture of the mid-70s) a political elite has to manage the democratic claims of the population.


From then on, many scholars have deemed the report to be highly influential for the formation of the so-called ‘new world order’. However, this statement is too hasty. It does not take into account the specificity of the report, that is, the identification of an enemy, the democratic social life, while claiming to speak in its very name. The ‘crisis’ invoked in the title is in fact an ‘excess of democracy’, referring to a period of 60s and the beginning of the 70s when many new participatory political practices were invented.


As such, in this workshop I argue that the report should be seen as a manifesto of ‘post-democracy’, that is, as Jacques Rancière maintains, the ‘paradox that, in the name of democracy, emphasizes the consensual practice of effacing the forms of democratic action’ (Rancière 1995, 101-102). During the recent years, we have been witnessing the effects of post-democracy: the rise of the populist right-wing politics, which effaces the voice of the people by utilising and absolutising it. As a result, it can be said that we are still living in post-democratic times.


Positioning ourselves as the enemy of post-democracy, what could be the role of a critical theory? My presentation suggests that an epistemological shift is required. A critical theory of postdemocracy should not define the criteria for democracy: it should not legislate what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ democracy. Rather, it should be concerned with the ‘perceptibility’ of the conflictual democratic experiences – the experiences of the enemies of post-democracy.





Giovanni Campailla obtained his PhD in philosophy and political sciences from the Universities Paris Nanterre and Roma Tre (French-Italian joint supervision). He is a researcher at the Laboratoire Sophiapol, University Paris Nanterre, and a fellow at Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Naples. His areas of research interest are, among others, social and political philosophy, and history of political thought. His book L’intervento critico di Rancière [The Critical Intervention of Rancière] is being published by Meltemi (Milan: 2019).