From 1989 to 2011

Happy Day!!!  Today 2011 joins 1989 as a year in which public power has overthrown autocratic power.  In 1989 in Eastern Europe civic groups formed in the space left by crumbling Soviet power.  Those civic organizations stepped up and called the lie that the state socialist governments were the “People’s” governments. The public communicative, rather than coercive, power that these groups created was a force that the top-down autocratic governments could not overcome. Public power that revoked any cloak of legitimacy undid governments in the space of a few weeks.

And now, in 2011, in just 18 days of public uprising in Egypt, a vast de-centered and almost anonymous power formed that even Mubarak couldn’t overcome.

1989 had Vaclav Havel; 2011 has Mohamed ElBaradei. Where Havel was more of a leader of the 1989 uprisings, ElBaradei had no role in creating the movement that emanated from a faceless cadre of young people using the distributed power of new media. ElBaradei lent this faceless cadre a face and credibility that  the world recognized. So while 2011 joins 1989, it represents something altogether different: communicative public power that coalesces virtually and then spills onto the streets en masse.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

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