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."
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.
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.
April 11, 2017