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The Democratic Paradox

A new understanding of democracy that acknowledges the inescapable and essential antagonism in its workings.
From the theory of ‘deliberative democracy’ to the politics of the ‘third way’, the present Zeitgeist is characterized by attempts to deny what Chantal Mouffe contends is the inherently conflictual nature of democratic politics. Far from being signs of progress, such ideas constitute a serious threat to democratic institutions. Taking issue with John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas on one side, and the political tenets of Blair, Clinton and Schröder on the other, Mouffe brings to the fore the paradoxical nature of modern liberal democracy in which the category of the ‘adversary’ plays a central role. She draws on the work of Wittgenstein, Derrida, and the provocative theses of Carl Schmitt, to propose a new understanding of democracy which acknowledges the ineradicability of antagonism in its workings.

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  • “Important and timely.”

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  • Chantal Mouffe, the philosopher who inspires Jean-Luc Mélenchon

    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."

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  • Shockingly Familiar: Crisis, Reform, and Nationalism in 2016



    After the Brexit vote, a friend of mine said 2016 feels like the right-wing 1960s. Today, right-wing social movements across much of Europe have found their way to Britain, in nationalist campaigns dressed up as anti-establishment crusades. The election of Donald Trump has seen this populism explode across the Atlantic in a manner few predicted, showing once again that this global shift can translate nationalistic rhetoric and sentiment into viable candidates and winnable elections. But rather than seeing these often proto-fascistic movements as a break from the Thatchers, Reagans, Bushes, and Blairs that proceeded them, it may be more useful to see them as a continuation. 

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  • Chantal Mouffe and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy

    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.

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