The themes of citizenship and community are today at the center of a fierce debate as both left and right try to mobilize them for their cause. For the left such notions are crucial in all the current attempts to redefine political struggle through extending and deepening democracy. But, argue the contributors to this volume, these concepts need to be made compatible with the pluralism that marks modern democracy. Rather than reject the liberal tradition, they argue, the aim should be to radicalize it.
These essays set out to examine what types of “citizen” and “community” might be required by such a radical and plural democracy. From a range of disciplines and a fruitful diversity of theoretical perspectives, the contributors help us to address the following challenge: how to defend the greatest possible pluralism without destroying the very framework of the democratic political community.
Despite their differences, a vision emerges from these essays which is sharply at odds both with the universalistic and rationalistic conception to be found in the work of Habermas, and with postmodern celebrations of absolute heterogeneity. For this book is an exploration of politics—of a politics where power, conflict and antagonism will always play a central role.
The Belgian philosopher Chantal Mouffe — a thinker who inspires French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon — defended her project in a column appearing in the 15 April edition of Le Monde. Translated by David Broder.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s breakthrough into third place in the presidential polls has unleashed a campaign by defenders of the status quo trying to pass him off as a "communist revolutionary." After long having dismissed Mélenchon, part of the press is now working to destroy the credibility of his programme, presented as the "cloud-cuckoo-land plans of the French Chávez."
Painted as a dangerous extremist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is attacked by all those who think that there is no alternative to neoliberal globalisation. For them, democracy requires acceptance of the "post-political consensus" established among the centre-left and centre-right parties. Any questioning of this consensus must be the work of populist demagogues.
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."
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.