Raphaëlle Besse Desmoulières' profile of Chantal Mouffe first appeared in Le Monde. Translated by David Broder.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Chantal Mouffe. via YouTube.
Looking through Chantal Mouffe’s desk diary is like leafing through an atlas of Europe. Madrid, Athens, Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris: here the cities line up as her travels demand. In late October, upon the invitation of the Mémoire des luttes association, the Belgian philosopher was in the French capital for a "dialogue" with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, La France insoumise’s ["Rebellious France’s"] candidate for the 2017 presidential elections. "Mélenchon’s project is a left-populist one, even if I am not sure that he will present it like that," explains the political theory professor from London’s Westminster University. "But he constructs what we would call the 'populist' political boundary: the people against the establishment."
Sam Kriss is a UK writer who blogs at Idiot Joy Showland and has previously written about the post-Brexit Labour coup on the Verso blog. Here he unpicks ‘immigration’ as an empty signifier in which the totality of modern life's general miserableness is encapsulated and given false explanation — yet one that now threatens the end of freedom of movement, which argues the left must defend, without illusions.
“Our policy is to end free movement: people were unhappy about the drudgery and uselessness of social life, and the ruling classes encouraged them to call that miserable situation ‘immigration’; now, to fix the situation, the same ruling class is proposing to actually end immigration. The politicians have decided that Europe means immigration, but immigration only means itself. It’d be hard to imagine a more ridiculous outcome; it’s as if someone in a restaurant was unhappy with the food, and the manager tried to fix things by tearing up the menu.”
Britain is obsessed with immigration; nastily obsessed. The vote to leave the European Union was, it’s now solemnly agreed, really a vote on open borders and freedom of movement. Apocryphal tales of people voting Leave because they thought it meant that all the migrants would be made to leave; more concrete, more harrowing instances of bigotry that have nothing to do with European migration law: assaults and attacks on black Americans and British Muslims, people who weren’t covered by any of the referendum’s overt content, but who carried the physical marks that signal migration. What does it actually mean when people talk about free movement, about unrestricted mass migration, about all these foreigners coming in?
This essay first appeared in Public Seminar.
Watching the American Presidential Primaries and now the "Brexit" vote in the UK on leaving the European Union, I am struck by how apt the political theory of Chantal Mouffe is to both situations. Both in the US and the UK, there was a contest as to whether liberal democracy would be liberal or "democratic." And if it is to be democratic, it was a contest as to what kind of demos — people — democracy is supposedly about. Or so it appeared to me, given that I was reading Chantal Mouffe at the time. Her two most recent books Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically (Verso, 2013) and The Democratic Paradox (Verso, 2005) provide a useful perspective, although perhaps a limited one.