Ernesto Laclau on Democracy - Dictionary of Arguments
Gaus I 272
Democracy/culture/Laclau/Mouffe/West: Laclau and Mouffe (1985)(1), in their (...)
account of contemporary society and culture, offer [an] (...) abstract vision of 'radical and plural
democracy'. Cf. >Capitalism/Lash/Urry, >Culture/Lash/Urry.
Radical and plural democracy is said to imply radicalization of the liberal tradition to include a deeper commitment to 'autonomy' and 'pluralism' as well as an ongoing commitment to socialism, albeit only as 'one of the components' (...). The abstraction of these postmodernist recommendations is, however, not so much coincidence as unavoidable consequence of
Gaus I 273
‚This point is decisive: there is no radical and plural democracy without renouncing the discourse of the universal and its implicit assumption of a privileged point of access to 'the truth', which can be reached only by a limited number of subjects.‘ (1985(1): 191—2)
There is no predetermined logic of revolutionary transformation such as to place either the working class or even new social movements at the heart of political struggle: 'There is no unique privileged position from which a uniform continuity of effects will follow, concluding with the transformation of society as a whole' (1985(1): 169). Neither particular social interests nor possible alliances between them are given in advance, in the way Marxist and other 'essentialist' theories have assumed. Laclau and Mouffe reject any notion of 'representation' that posits pre-existing interests. Rather, both the unity that constitutes a particular social interest (or 'subject position and any possible alliance between interests are the contingent and unpredictable results of 'articulation', which refers to 'any practice establishing a relation among elements such that their
identity is modified as a result of the articulatory practice' (1985(1): 105). Unity is never 'the expression of a common underlying essence but the result of political construction and struggle' (1985(1): 65).
1. Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategv: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.
West, David 2004. „New Social Movements“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Gerald F. Gaus
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004