It is assumed that democracy is a good thing, based on the premise that it is the best way to prevent dictatorships. However, as recent history has shown, there have been cases where a government elected through a democratic process assumed absolute power, usually through the catalyst of a supposed state of emergency. There is the democracy of small groups and there is the democracy of the nation-state, both seeming to arise from the historical period of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment also was the introduction of reason as the main organizing principle of human action, and there is an implied connection between the exercise of reason and the best possible application of democracy. The positive perspective on reason and democracy that began with the Enlightenment has shaped the current discussion of how to have a just government and society, going to democracy as the default method. But it has ignored the inherent structural characteristics that is needed in order to have any exercise of power, any meaning in reality, or any functioning economic system. It is in fact these structural characteristics that has demonstrated that the Enlightenment was not necessarily a complete reform of the human condition, and that the movement toward transcendence that occurs in structures has at times moved reason and democracy toward a negative and destructive direction against human needs or wishes.
Reason can be a method used for transcendent and immanent purposes. The foundation of reason for human existence implies that reason is a natural trait that orders the reality experienced by humans. But it should be reminded that reason does not exist in the world separate from human existence. Reason can be seen as a human creation and a process that forms structures within consciousness that will in turn shape the meaning of reality. Humans then apply these structures to the world to organize it, and so reason is the human intervention into reality that is also a part of overall reality. It is these subsequent structures that have such an impact on human life and reality as to be an active agent through their use by humans. But the structures would disappear if there were no humans to use them since they form first in the mind and are then externalized into reality. Reason as a historical emergence is therefore a retroactive ordering of reality and an imposition of purpose that appears natural and eternal through the force of human action. This appearance of reason as natural obscures the human attempt to order reality, and the appearance of reason as universal obscures any action based on particular self interest. What is constant despite appearances is that the purpose of reason is as a background to human action that allows the stability of predictability. As a transcendent category, reason can be seen as always positive but due to its origin as a human creation can be a way to explain and excuse specific human interests. Just as reason can be universalized and used for a specific gain, democracy can be universalized in order to enact a certain agenda of control.
Reason embedded in the social is believed to be the basis of democracy. It creates anidentity of the social in order for individuals to experience the whole social body and to understand its meaning. This image of the social body is the sovereign position of authority, and is an empty position in the social. This empty position is usually filled by an individual sovereign, like the kings that preceded the modern era, or a national identity that seems to transcend individual or collective identity. Whatever form it takes, the empty position is used to reflect the social as a whole. It is at this point that one can see the universalization process within the social body that also occurs with reason as a human creation. But just as reason can be used to coordinate obedience to the structures that appear universal, it can be used as a way to discover structural alienation. Individuals and collectives are subsumed under the sovereign position of authority through law which in turn develops into a transcendent truth. Individuals and collectives are also controlled by the sovereign position of authority through the drive that channels authentic desire toward small partial objects of desire or commodities. When reason makes it possible to understand this process, individuals and collectives are then able to be liberated from the sovereign position of authority through desire and its application through desiring-production.
Democracy is a method that can be used for transcendent and immanent purposes as well. With democracy in its government form, one can see the transition from free agency to law. The democratic process brings a varied group of unique individuals together in order to make collective decisions. The finalized decision becomes law that is enforced upon all members of the group. Therefore, there is a contradiction between the difference of opinion and the equivalence of a mandate. This contradiction is obscured by the law that is formed and the transcendent truth that the law implies. The final decision appears to reflect the will of all involved, despite the singular nature of each individual involved in the democratic process. Each individual would have a unique perspective and motivation to vote a certain way. The mandate that results is strengthened by the democratic process, and each unique individual is transformed into a member of the more uniform collective. This inherent contradiction is amplified by acts of free agency and a construction of a more immanent truth. When the contradiction is amplified, the smooth and uniform nature of the mandate and the law is called into question.
Democracy can be positive or negative depending on whether it emphasizes free agency or the law. Democracy is negative when it is a containment of free agency. It is a containment enacted by the sovereign position of authority through the united mandate of a final decision. In this respect, the empty position is a complete reflection of self interest and drive that shapes the identity of the social. Individuals are then redirected toward the satisfaction of drive and their freedom is limited. Overall, there is a movement from a multiplicity of singularities to a universality of uniform particulars. But democracy can be positive when it is a disruption of the sovereign position of authority. It is a disruption enacted by free agency through the internal difference of a majority and minority. The empty position in the social can be a void that stimulates desire and social production in order to fill it, where individuals can actively shape the social identity. It is an incomplete reflection that allows immanent structures for political equilibrium where freedom, justice, and equality can be dealt with.
Reason can be applied to democracy in a positive way when democracy can be an attempt at truth. Democracy in this mode can link knowledge to the political. Democracy can be the foundation for knowledge where there is an intrinsic freedom to think, each individual beginning to practice this freedom in their own unique way. As a process for the political, democracy also maintains the equality of choice where each member of the collective has the common trait of casting a vote or making a decision. With the result of the decision, democracy is the event of knowledge and the political where there is the introduction of novelty that could not be predicted before the collective decision was made. In other words, the democratic process creates something new in reality. There is a significant divergence, however, with democracy in regards to equality and freedom. The goal of knowledge is the one universal truth of equality, while the goal of the political is the many particular actions of freedom. Knowledge and democracy both begin with freedom, but knowledge ends with the unity of truth while a positive use of democracy ends with the diversity of decisions. When humans begin with freedom and engage in the democratic process in order to reach truth, there is the need to make a choice to avoid a universalization that removes freedom from the process. The goal of a non-universal knowledge and the retaining of freedom through democracy can be a movement from the political within past specific structures to a possible future outside structures.
The positive aspect of democracy is a reconnection of desire and empowerment. The structural mediation between individuals and reality obscures the relationship between drive and the small partial objects of desire, while the relationship between drive and the small partial objects of desire obscures desiring-production as a type of free agency. Democracy is the recognition and opportunity for free agency within structures, and the void of reality disrupts these structures and allows immanent social production. In other words, the democratic process can use knowledge to oppose the structures that can turn democracy into a negative instrument of domination. The attempt at truth through democracy can be more important than the final universal foreclosure of truth.
The conclusion that one can draw is that the interaction between reason and democracy demonstrates the relationship between power and meaning. It shows that systems of power and systems of meaning are simultaneous in their occurrence and enactment. Power expresses and enforces meaning, while meaning supports and justifies power. Power and meaning both determine what is included or excluded in structures, while these structures give shape to the direction of reason and democracy. As reason can be an overpowering imposition of a universal truth, it can also be a specific tool to understand reality and the structures that shape it. This is mirrored in the characteristics of democracy. Democracy as a transcendent category is a subsumption under a hierarchy that perpetuates differential relationships of inequality. Power is expressed in constituted power which is the organization and enforcement of political conformity. The transcendent truth as a universal structure of meaning appears natural and eternal, and therefore something that must be obeyed by humans. However, democracy as an immanent totality is an unique expression of free agency that is a common and equal trait among all humans. Power in this form is a constituent power that is the creation of political solutions for cases of inequality. The accompanying immanent truth is a new temporary structure of meaning for particular uses, specifically to facilitate understanding and to assist in dealing with issues of freedom, justice, and equality. Since democracy is a human creation, it can be used for negative purposes and an authentic movement such as the Green Party must take this into consideration in terms of both policy and internal organization. Democracy must not be taken for granted. The result can be a progressive force that offers real choice not just for voters but for those who want a long-term better world.