FORMALITY

 

illustrations-political-space-18

Political space safeguards political equality.

Debates are formal events. They take place in public and not in the living room or at the regulars´ table. They usually begin with an introduction of the participants and the topic that will be discussed. If decisions need to be taken, a debate culminates with an official agreement. It can be expected that the participants – perhaps also the audience – wear “better” clothes etc.

The formalisation of debates – which can differ tremendously from case to case – reminds us that political action, due to its inherent qualities, has to be treated with great care. Further, it highlights the importance and dignity of political affairs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it indicates that when we act politically, we do not act as private individuals but as citizens, that is, as members of the political community that we belong to. By acting politically, we put citizenship into practice. Political action, when it interrupts our every-day life, demands not only special focus and attention, but also an environment in which it is “not the natural Ego” that appears but “a right-and-duty-bearing person” (OR: 107). To be sure, this does not mean that we are not ourselves anymore when we act politically. We simply distance and liberate ourselves, as it were, from the private individual with private interests, private wants and private needs who each of us is, and turn into the member of our community who each of us also is.

“The profound meaningfulness inherent in the many political metaphors derived from the theatre is perhaps best illustrated by the history of the Latin word persona. In its original meaning, it signified the mask ancient actors used to wear in a play. […] The mask as such obviously had two functions: it had to hide, or rather replace, the actor’s own face and countenance, but in a way that would make it possible for the voice to sound through.” (OR: 106)

The most fundamental of all formal aspects of debate in particular and political action in general is political equality (Ebenbürtigkeit) which simply means that in the political realm nobody has the right (or the obligation) to give orders or commands. In turn, nobody who is politically active has to obey, and nobody can point the finger at superiors when looking for excuses or alibis. It is important to be aware that political equality is not a natural factum but, on the contrary, an artificial creation that has to be protected in and by political space.

“The equality attending the public realm is necessarily an equality of unequals who stand in need of being ‘equalized’ in certain respects and for specific purposes. As such, the equalizing factor arises not from human ‘nature’ but from outside […] Political equality, therefore, is the very opposite of our equality before death […] or of equality before God” (HC: 215)

Political action is formalised in different ways and for various reasons. Political space is concrete expression and area of application of these formalities. Above all, political space safeguards the political equality of all its users.

 

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