Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 50, 2008

Social and Political Philosophy

Raf Geenens
Pages 185-194

An Anti-foundationalist Foundationalism
The “French” justification of democracy and human rights

In this paper I investigate a class of theories that attempt to justify democracy and human rights on the basis of a specific political anthropology. These theories belong to what could be called contemporary French liberalism, as exemplified by Claude Lefort, Marcel Gauchet, and Pierre Rosanvallon. These thinkers share the important intuition that human coexistence is rooted in a fundamental “political” and “historical” condition. Although this condition can be illustrated by means of empirical examples, I will argue that their argument should be taken to mean that societies are necessarily caught up in this condition. In a second step I will consider the normative consequences of this thesis. The key idea is that ignoring this fundamental condition inevitably leads to pathological consequences, as can be illustrated in reference to both predemocratic societies (e.g. non-Western premodern societies) and postdemocratic societies (e.g. totalitarian regimes). It is only democracies, so they contend, that are able to deal with this condition in a “correct” way, for here this condition is not overlooked or repressed but is openly recognized and even institutionally protected. In the final part of my paper I will argue that this line of reasoning offers a promising alternative for the many strands of foundationalism that dominate contemporary political theory, even if it remains beset by a number of weaknesses.