The way to break the spell of power is thus not to succumb to the fantasy of a transparent power; one should
rather hollow out the edifice of power from within by separating the edifice from its agent (the bearer of power). As
developed decades ago by Claude Lefort, therein resides the core of ‘democratic invention’, in the empty place of
power, the gap between the place of power and the contingent agents who, for a limited period, can occupy that
place. Paradoxically, the underlying premise of democracy is thus not only that there is no political agent that has a
‘natural’ right to power, but, much more radically, that ‘the people’ itself, the ultimate source of the sovereign power
in democracy, doesn’t exist as a substantial entity. In the Kantian sense, the democratic notion of ‘people’ is a
negative one, a concept whose function is merely to designate a certain limit: it prohibits any determinate agent from
ruling with full sovereignty. (The only moment when ‘the people’ exists is at democratic elections, which is
precisely that of the disintegration of the entire social edifice – in elections, ‘people’ are reduced to a mechanical
collection of individuals.) The claim that the people does exist is the basic axiom of ‘totalitarianism’, and the
mistake of ‘totalitarianism’ is strictly homologous to the Kantian misuse (‘paralogism’) of political reason: ‘the
people exists’ through a determinate political agent which acts as if it embodies (not only re-presents) the people, its
true will (the totalitarian party and its leader) – i.e. in terms of a transcendental critique, as a phenomenal
embodiment of the noumenal people.
Critics of representative democracy endlessly vary the motif of how, for a priori formal reasons and not just on
account of accidental distortions, multi-party elections betray true democracy – but, while accepting this critical
point as the price to be paid for any functioning democracy, one should add that it is because of such minimal
‘alienation’ signalled by the term ‘representative’ that a democracy functions. That is to say, what this ‘alienation’
points towards is the ‘performative’ character of democratic choice: people do not vote for what they want (they
know that in advance) – it is through such choice that they discover what they want. A true leader does not just
follow the wishes of the majority; she or he makes the people aware of what they want.

L I K E   A   T H I E F   I N     B R O A D    D AY L I G H T, Slavoj Žižek

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