(Adapted from: http://www.knowtv.com/primetime/conflicting/mouffe.html)

Conflicting Publics Home Page, Simon Fraser University

An Interview with CHANTAL MOUFFE and ERNESTO LACLAU

Transcript

Angus:

My name is Ian Angus from Simon Fraser University and the
Institute of the Humanities at Simon Fraser University. I am
very pleased to say that, today, we have the opportunity to
talk with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, whose work on
contemporary social and political theory is well known, not
only in the English speaking world, but in the world in general.
Chantal Mouffe's early work was on Gramsci, and Ernesto
Laclau's early work was on populism, underdevelopment, and
the theory of the state. In the early to middle eighties, they
co-authored a book called, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy,
which has been translated into many languages and become
influential in the theory of new social movements and their
influence on contemporary societies. So, I'd like to introduce
Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, and to ask as a way of
beginning, what were your formative political experiences,
and how did you first come to start to think about social and
political theory. Chantal.

Mouffe:

Well, my formative political experiences were as a student in
the 1960's, and it was very much the time of the imperialist
struggle. I studied both in the University of Fluvain and in
Paris; it was the time of the Algerian War in Paris. It was the
time of the Cuban Revolution; it was the time of imperialist
struggle. That's what really was important for me and I was
very involved in that. And in fact, that's the reason why, at the
end of the sixties, I went to Columbia, in Latin America,
because all my generation, we went away to the so-called
Third World - some people went to Algeria, some people took
Africa, and I went to Latin America. Intellectually, I should
say, that the main influence at that time was that I was a
student of Althusser. And that, obviously, there was a very
important link between my political commitment and my
intellectual interest at that moment.

Angus:

Was feminism important for you at that time? I know that
later, you've written quite widely on feminist theory.

Mouffe:

Well, feminism did not exist, really, at that time, because
feminism, as you know, was something that was a
consequence of the student movement at the end of the
sixties. But, in the beginning of the sixties, in fact, there was
no feminist movement. Obviously, I know that there was a
very important feminist movement at the beginning of the
century. But I became a feminist later. I first went through
socialism, Marxism, and at the beginning of the seventies,
that's when I began to know about feminism because that's
the moment when feminism began to be organized, really.

Angus:

Ernesto, what were your first political experiences?

Laclau:

Well, my first political experiences were in Argentina. In fact, I
only went to Europe in 1969. So, my first approach to
Marxism, to socialism, took place both in the student
movements and in the political struggles of the 1960's in
Argentina. At that moment, these were the years immediately
after the Cuban Revolution, when there was a radicalization
of the student movement all over Latin America, and I was
very active in it. I was a student representative to the Central
Council of the University of Buenos Aires, president of the
Center of the Student Union of Philosophy. And later on, I
joined various left-wing movements in Argentina. Especially, I
was part of the leadership of the Socialist Party of the
National Left which was very active in Argentina in the 1960's.
In terms of intellectual influences, I must say that I was never
a dogmatic Marxist. I always tried to, even in those early
days, to mix Marxism with something else. And a major
influence at some point became Gramsci and Althusser, who,
each of them in a different way, tried to recast Marxism in
terms which approached more, the central issues of
contemporary politics.

Angus:

One of the themes of your early work that's been quite
influential, perhaps, primarily in Latin America, but also more
widely, is your analysis of populism. How does that entail a
revision of Marxist theory of the time?

Laclau:

Well, let me say in the first place, that my interest in populism
arose out of the experience of the Peronist movement in
Argentina. The 1960's have been a period in Argentina of
rapid radicalization and disintegration of the state
apparatuses controlled by an oligarchy which had run the
country since 1955. Now, it was perfectly clear, in that
context, that when more and more popular demands
coalesce around certain political poles, that this process of
mass mobilization and mass ideological formation could not
be conceived simply in class terms. So, the question of what
we call the popular democratic, or national popular
interpolation, became central in my preoccupation. Now, in
terms of what you were asking me, about in what way this put
into question some of the categories of Marxism, I would say
that it did so in the sense that popular identities were never
conceived as being organized around a class core, but on the
contrary, were widely open. Tthey could move in different
ideological directions, and they could give a place to
movements whose ideological characteristics were not
determined from the beginning. So, it put into question in that
sense, some of the tenets of classical Marxism.

Angus:

So, both of you have actually mentioned the influence of
Louis Althusser, the French structuralist-Marxist, and Antonio
Gramsci, the founder of the thinking about hegemony in
contemporary society as a reformation of common sense.
These are really quite distinct influences, at least it seems to
me that they are quite distinct currents of Marxist theory. And
they seem to imply a very different attitude towards liberal
democracy. Would you agree that an Althusserian position
tends to regard liberal democracy in not a very positive light,
whereas a Gramscian line of thought would, perhaps, see
Marxism or socialism as more in continuity, or as an
extension of liberal democracy? How did you work with these
two influences?

Mouffe:

Well, I must say, that the influences were not, for me at least,
at the same time. I became a Gramscian when I ceased to be
an Althusserian. And, in fact, Gramsci was for me, a way to
find a different approach, because I became very dissatisfied
with the Althusserian kind of dogmatism which, I say of
people that had been influenced by Althusser at that time,
were putting into practice. And I must say, that the most
important influence there was when I was in Columbia. I
began to realize there, that all those categories that I had
learned from Althusser, did not really quite fit with the
Columbian situation. And there I began to look for something
different. That's where I re-encountered Gramsci, because I
had encountered Gramsci before, but it was a moment when I
was not ready to accept it, because I was too much an
Althusserian. So, it is something I agree with you, that make
me change very much my outlook, with respect to liberal
democracy. And that was also important in the context of the
new conjuncture that was - we were meeting in the 1970's.
Because you were asking before about the question of
feminism. I say feminism is something that I encountered
when I came back from Columbia, in Europe at the beginning
of the seventies, and then I found that the panorama had
changed very much and there was all those important new
social movements. And that, of course, was something which
by then I was already interested in Gramsci, and I was able to
begin to understand and look at that in a very different way.
And that's when we began, well I began, at that time, to work
about the question of the conception of hegemony in
Gramsci. And my first work that you mentioned was
concerned with trying to show that we find in Gramsci a form
of Marxism that was non-reductionist and that will give us
theoretical tools to understand precisely the novelty of those
movements which were beginning to develop in the seventies.
But I think that at that moment, I already was very dissatisfied
with the Althusserian model.

Angus:

Ernesto, you mentioned before that you were very early
dissatisfied with the emphasis on class in Marxist theory.
Does that dissatisfaction for you, connect to the appropriation
of Gramsci in your own work, and the category, particularly, of
common sense in Gramsci? There's an attempt in Gramsci to
not to dismiss the ordinary understandings of people in an
everyday sense.

Laclau:

Yes. Definitely with Gramsci. And let me also say something,
in this connection about Althusser. Because in fact, I think,
there are two sides in Althusser who work. On the one hand,
there is the notion of over-determination, which is very central
in his book for Marx, which in fact allows, to a certain extent,
one to break with classical reductionism because the class
contradiction is an ultimate contradiction which never arrives.
So, this idea of an over-determined contradiction was
something which allows us, very much, to start moving in a
non-reductionist direction. But, Althusser later on closed his
system, starting with reading Capital into a much more
structuralist framework and some of the base intuitions of his
initial work, I think, were lost. But, this is precisely what we
found in Gramsci, because, through the category of
hegemony - not only common sense - we could see that the
process of political re-aggregation is conceived as the
process of linking around a certain core, which for Gramsci,
still remains a class core, but should not be necessarily so, a
plurality of element we do not have any kind of straight class
connotation. 'Teguro Position' is conceived by him as a type
of antagonistic struggle in which different forces try to
articulate into their project a set of social elements whose
class belonging is not determined from the beginning. This
meant, on the one hand, a privileging of the political moment
over the moment of structural determinism, which is
something which helped to move away from the reductionism
of classical Marxism. And, on the other hand, permitted to
arrive to a theory of common sense as something which is
constantly shaped and reshaped by the operation of these
forces whose class belonging is not determined from the
beginning.

Angus:

So there was an emphasis on the political moment, which
started to come together with the influence of Gramsci. And in
the early 1980's, I suppose, you started to write Hegemony
and Socialist Strategy, which, I believe, appeared for the first
time in 1985. How would you look back, from the standpoint
you have today, on this project of writing Hegemony and
Socialist Strategy, what you wanted to achieve, and what you
think you have achieved with it?

Mouffe:

Well, it was a moment when, I don't know if you remember,
there was a lot a talk about the crisis of Marxism. Of course,
there has been a lot of talk about that since the beginning of
the century really, but it was a particularly important moment,
precisely because of the development of the new social
movement, there was a feeling on the left, that there was a
problem with Marxist theory. Marxist theory was not able to
allow us to understand those movements. Also, it was
politically, a moment when the critique of the Soviet model,
and what was called totalitarianism began to emerge. So
there was a very specific conjuncture, I will say, in which
people felt that there was a need to reformulate the project of
the left. That it was not only Marxism, but the project of the
left, which was in crisis. It is in very much in that context that
we began to think about this new project of the left, how it
could be reformulated. We can take from Marxism, what was
still valid and, in fact, we felt very much that a Gramscian
approach to Marxism needed to be saved because there was
a tendency to reject all of Marxism because of this
dissatisfaction. So we wanted to take what was important in
Gramsci and try to see how we could, on that basis,
reformulate the left-wing project. I think there was two sides to
that. There was, certainly, a theoretical aspect, which was
concerning with the critique of economism, the critique of
essentialism because, we felt that, obviously, the main
impediment in Marxism was it was an economistic or, mainly
an economistic view. And in fact, the interest in Gramsci that
we found, was that Gramsci was allowing us to elaborate a
non-economistic Marxism. And in fact, much of my first work
on Gramsci was concerned with that. And there was also the
other, more political aspect, which was to offer a left wing
project, not only the theory, but to reformulate the left-wing
project that would allow to articulate, to link together, the
struggle of the working class with the struggle of the new
social movement. And that, of course, is the part of the book
which is concerned with radical and plural democracy,
because there is the two aspects in the book, which is both
reformulation, in terms of theory, and also reformulation in
terms of the political project.

Angus:

The shift from a more classical Marxist theory, perhaps we
can call it, towards a Gramscian influence then, allowed you
to develop a theory of the new social movements that would
be both in continuity with Marxism but also involved a critique
of Marxism. One of the things that came to be a central idea
in this critique, is the concept of identity. I wonder if you could
explain the importance that the concept of identity had in the
theory of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy?

Laclau:

Yes. Concerning the question of the new social movement, I
would question the assertion that we were simply moving
from class analysis to new social movements. Because that
would have been simply to change the privileged agent of
history, which was conceived originally, in class terms, from
one group to another group. So, what we did, and this is
central for your point concerning identity, is to put into
question the notion of an identifiable agency. That is to say,
what we conceived is that the subject is constructed through a
plurality of subject position, that there is an essential
unevenness between this position and, that there are
constant practices of re-articulation. So, the social
movements were simply a symptom; a symptom of a
dispersion of the position from which politics started and a
transition to a situation in which a variety of issues were
organized around relatively homogenous social agencies, to a
moment in which there was some kind of dispersion of
identities and the process of political articulation became
more and more important. For instance, the social
movements of which people spoke so much about in the
1980's have become comparatively less important in the
1990's. But this does not change the validity of our approach,
because our approach was not concerned with finding a new
privileged agent of historical change. It was concerned with
how to conceive politics when you start from fragmented
social identities. Now, in this is connected with the question of
identity. Political identities, for us, are never immediately
given. Political identities are always constructed on the basis
of complex discursive practices. That is a reason why the
psychoanalytic category of identification is central for us. Let's
suppose if you have something like there was in America
some years ago, the Rainbow Coalition of Jesse Jackson,
there you see an attempt to put together a dispersion of
social positions, an issue politics, around some kind of unified
historical-political intervention. It didn't work. But, it gives
some picture of what we have, into account. So, to
summarize the point, I think what we are dealing with is a
retreat from agency as a homogeneous identity to conceive
agency as a result of a pragmatic articulation of a plurality of
issue politics and political intervention, and as a result of this
required, political identification, which profoundly changed the
notion of agency and identity.

Angus:

So while identity appears as a kind of a solution, perhaps
initially, it's actually a name for a whole series of problems.

Laclau:

I think so. No simple notion of identity can be accepted today
in any, more or less, sophisticated analysis of contemporary
politics.

Angus:

Well, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy attempted to
deconstruct the received political categories, on the one
hand, of Marxism, but also of liberal democratic thought, and
to allow a reinterpretation of these categories in a way that
could allow you to comprehend contemporary politics
somewhat better, and also to understand the different kinds
of interventions that seem to be going on through the 1980's
and also the 1990's. I notice that one way in which this
reconceptualization takes place, is that you tend to speak of
what you call 'political space.' And I wonder, it seems to me
that the traditional political category would be the public
sphere, or something like that - 'the public.' Do you see your
concept of political space as a reformulation of the traditional
concept of the public sphere?

Mouffe:

Well, I should point out that, at the moment when we began
to develop that, we were not thinking. so much, in terms of
the relation with the liberal view. When we are speaking of the
need to multiply the political space, I think it is very much
linked to what is the central approach in hegemony, to which
Ernesto has already referred, the need to understand that
there are different sides of antagonism; that one cannot just
think that class antagonism is the only one. In fact, the older
struggle, around the new social movement, indicate that there
are many other forms of domination or forms of oppression
and that those need to be put into a question too, and
because they are also a sight in which specific forms of
identities are constructed in subordination. And in fact, the
way in which we were imagining this project of radical and
plural democracy, which was to extend the democratic
struggle to all those areas in which the relation of domination
existed, was why, by multiplying what we call the political
space, and thinking that it was not, for instance, strictly limited
to either the traditional public sphere or, as Marxists will have
it, around the question of class, but that there was, in fact, a
multiplicity of locus of power in society that needed to be put
into question. And I must say that, at least as far as I am
concerned, its only later on that I began to think about what
the liberals were saying about that and try to see what was
the relation between our view and the one of the liberal. And I
began, probably at that time, to valorize more this liberal 'art
of separation' - the distinction between the public and the
private - because, I think probably there, the most important
aspect has been the way in which, at least in France, the
critique of totalitarianism, by people on the left, has showed
that it was very important to maintain this distinction between
the public and the private, because any attempt to blur the
distinction was, in fact, opening the way to some kind of
complete control of society by, for instance, the state, and the
liberal tradition provided us with a possibility to, at least,
establish barriers in order to impede that. Of course, once I
say that, the question is, what are the limitations of this liberal
conception? I think that the limitations, for instance, has been
very well put to the fore by the feminist critique. I think that the
feminist critique has shown that the way the public/private
distinction was created by the liberals had been by relegating
sayers of issues to the sphere of the private, and impeding,
precisely by that move, that many forms of domination would
be put into question. So, then, of course, one can see why
the idea of a multiplicity of political space is important to
correct this liberal way in which the public/private have been
constructed. So, I think that probably, we'll need to insist that,
contrary to some feminism who believe that because it has
been constructed in that way, by relegating for instance, all
the questions which have got to do with women
subordination, to the private, this distinction need to be
abandoned. I don't think so. I think that it is a very important
distinction, but it needs to be redrawn. It needs to be
problematized, in the sense that we need to think of a
multiplicity of public sphere or political space, and a
multiplicity that will allow precisely not to have all
particularities kept in the private, and then the creation of
some kind of public sphere in which consensus or a more
rational agent or more homogeneous agent could be created.

Angus:

So, you see contemporary politics as involving a multiplicity of
struggles and a multiplicity of political identities. On the other
hand, the traditional concept of the citizen has tended to be a
rather unified, or unifying conception. So, what rethinking of
the concept of the citizen and citizenship is implied in this new
conception of politics?

Mouffe:

Well, I will say two things with respect to the concept of the
citizen. First, the way in which I began to think about that,
because once we had finished writing Hegemony and
Socialist Strategy and we had put into question the idea of
the class subject as the unifying subject. Nevertheless, we
began to insist on the fact that this critique of the class did not
mean that we were going to ask some kind of extreme
postmodern diversified position in which we were putting into
question any need for some kind of common identity. And of
course, I will say the very project of hegemony, the project of
articulation, implied that there was some kind of collective
subject that was needed or collective form of identity that was
needed. And then I began to wonder, where could we find
this? I became interested in examining how the concept of the
citizen could be reformulated in a way in which it could
provide this common identity. And part of my work, in fact,
has been concerned with that. For instance, what I've tried to
do is propose the idea of what I call a 'radical democratic
conception' of citizenship. Because the point I think I want to
emphasize here is that there are many problems with
liberalism. One, obviously, is the fact that it's not a citizen
which is going to act to participate; it¹s very much a citizen
which has got rights which it's going to use against the state.
So, there is something there basically lacking. But from the
point of view that we are discussing here, probably the main
problem is that the citizen is seen as being abstracted from all
its other determinations, and then it¹s the way we act in the
public but without taking account at all of our other insertion.
And also, the idea that once we act as 'citizen' , we should act
all in the same way. And I think that this is the main problem. I
think that we should accept that the category of citizenship is
a very disputed one and there are many different ways in
which the relationship is going to be conceived: there is a
neo-liberal, a neo-conservative, a social democratic way. And
I was proposing to think, also, about the possibility of a radical
democratic citizenship, which means that, if it is a relationship
in which we are going to try to articulate in a common identity
this multiplicity of political space, and, for instance, when we
are acting as a radical democratic citizen, we will
automatically be concerned about the struggle of feminism,
the struggle against racism, and so on, not just a citizen which
is not concerned about all the other struggles.

Angus:

Yes. Through the conception of hegemony then, you try to
rethink the political as a realm of antagonism, a realm of a
plurality of struggles. And this seems to imply, on a more
philosophical level, a rethinking of the relationship between
particularity and universality, which, Ernesto, the recent
essays you've been writing, a lot of them have focused on this
problem. How do you suggest that a new conception or a new
relationship between particularity and human universality
might be involved with a conception of the public?

Laclau:

Ok. Two things. Firstly, I think the notion of universality is
linked, basically, to the expansion of logic of equality within
society, through the logic of equivalence - what we have
called logic of equivalence - which presupposes the extension
of the principle of equality to a larger variety of social relations
that the certain relative, pragmatic universality is created in
society. For instance, the notion of human equality started
with Christianity in religious discourses: all men are equal
before God. The achievement of the Enlightenment was the
extension of this logic of equivalence of equality, to the public
sphere. And there is where the public space of citizenship
was created. Now, I see, since that point, the art of the
democratic revolution as the progressive extension of the
principle of equality to a larger area. For instance, in socialist
discourses in the 19 century, this pure equality in the public
space of citizenship is extended to economic relations, and
we can see the social movements of our present age as the
extension of this principle to the areas of racial relations,
sexual relations, institutional relations, and so on. So, I see in
the first movement, this hegemonic process of extension of
the logic of equality as the very condition for creating new
forms of universality. Now, in the second movement, I would
say that this always depends on the extension of democratic
power in society. I think this is not simply the recognition of
something which was always there, but is a process of actual
creation. If we are breaking with the essentialist conception of
the subject, we are not saying that the social movements are
discovering an idea ­ an inequality - which was always there,
they are actually creating the terrain of that equality, and the
equality as such. In this sense, I think that we have to break
with purely representational theories of human equality and
we have to insist much more in this performative dimension,
which is the very condition of equality.

Angus:

So, the history of human universality is a logic of extension, or
the moving the of idea of to whom this universality applies, to
larger and larger spheres. But each time it expands, this is a
creative movement, its not something that is given
beforehand.

Laclau:

That's it. Even more. I would say that this creation starts from
an increasing plurality. Let's compare the notion of equality
that you can find in Marxism with the one we can find in
radical democracy. In Marxism, human equality had as a
precondition the obliteration of all differences. That is to say,
the historical process of capitalism was leading towards the
proletarization of the middle classes and the peasantry, so
that there was an increasing unification in the sense of
homogenization of the vast mass of the exploited who would
carry out, finally, the social revolution. So, the precondition of
human equality for Marxism was the increasing simplification
of social structure under capitalism. In the sense that we are
advocating, what happens is the opposite. That is to say,
equalization starts from an increasing diversity, recognition of
plurality, difference, and so on and so forth. But in that case,
the logic of equality cannot be a logic of homogenization. It
has to be a logic of what we call 'equivalence,' because in a
relation of equivalence, you are not simply discovering
identity, you are discovering something which is identical
within the realm of differences. This alludes to a much more
subtle form of political logic.

Angus:

So, there's a rethinking of the relationship between the
particular and the universal, and we've really placed the
emphasis on the expansion of the notion of universality. Is
there an implication for the other side of this relationship, for
how we conceive of the particular, which was probably
traditionally conceived of simply that which was left out, and
perhaps personal, or idiosyncratic? Do you conceive of the
particular in a different way also?

Laclau:

Well, let me differentiate in the first place, the particular from
the private, because you can have many identities which are
particular and they are very public in their type of intervention.
For instance, many movements created around ethnicity are
extremely particularistic, but on the other hand, they are
definitely not private. What I would say, and this is something
which I think Chantal can develop some of the dimensions -
she has worked on that more than I did - is the following. We
have, as against universalism today, an ideology of extreme
particularism. Now, I think extreme particularism is something
which is self defeating because let's suppose, you have a
particularity within society - an ethnic group, a national
minority, a sexual minority, et cetera, et cetera - that is
defending its right within global society. If they say, for
instance, the right of nation to self determination, what are
they doing but enunciating a universal principle? The very
discourse of rights on which the defense of particularity is
based, presupposes some kind of universal difference. Now,
when you say the right of national minorities to self
determination, there you are presenting a principle in which
the logic of equivalence is operating, because you have the
particularities of all these demands, and on the other hand,
you have a right which has to be formulated in universal
terms. Now, how this universality can be conceived, which is
no longer the universality of an instance, of an underlying
ground, as in classical philosophy, is one of the main
problems of contemporary political theory.

Angus:

So, Ernesto has suggested, Chantal, that you regard the
particularisms that have traditionally been left out of the public
as potentially capable of influencing the public in the
contemporary sphere, or as involving some kind of new
relationship between the public right and a particular position.
How have you worked on this problem recently?

Mouffe:

Well, the question, I will pose it in a slightly different way.
Because, it is true the I have been interested in this, what I
call this new articulation between the universal and the
particular, but it has come in the context of my reflection
about citizenship. My reflection about how can we think of a
form of commonality that does not erase differences. But I
feel today, we are faced with a false dilemma. On one side,
there are those who, because they realize that something is
basically wrong and missing in the liberal conception - which
is the idea of a common bond and, of course, that's a
reflection of the communitarians - one to reintroduce this
commonality, but they introduce it in a way which tends to not
leave space for differences for particularities. On the other
side, there are those who, because they want to make room
for differences for particularity, believe they cannot accept
any form of commonality because any form of commonality is,
in fact, a different form of violence. I think that what we should
really try to find is a way of conceiving commonality that
leaves space for differences and for particularities. Because
that's the way in which we could, today, take account and
reformulate, in a way which is compatible with the radical
democratic project, what I take to be the most important
contribution of liberalism to modern democracy, which is the
idea of pluralism. But of course, the problem is that the
liberals insist on pluralism, but they are very bad about
thinking about community. The communitarians are good
about thinking about community, but they are bad at thinking
about pluralism. In a sense, my position will be to try to take
the best of the communitarians and the liberals and try to
imagine a way in which we can have a form of commonality
that does not erase differences. That's very much what the
idea of radical and plural citizenship is concerned, because,
of course, the idea of citizenship basically implies
commonality - we are in it together as members of a political
community. But, of course, we are in it together, but we are
different. You know, and this togetherness cannot be just
limited to what we have in common. There must be a way in
which our particularities also are going to be taken into
account in that common bond. But I think it's really not an
easy thing to imagine. I'm not certainly able to give you the
solution already, but that's the way in which we need to be
thinking about those questions. And I think that's very
important, in fact, for the problems that are posed today in
contemporary societies - the whole question of
multi-culturalism or political identity, and all that - that is the
question that they really pose.

Laclau:

If I can add something to that. Also, we have to be very
sensitive to the way in which the emphasis on universality and
on particularity is present in different political cultures. For
instance, in America today, many democratic struggles have
taken the from of a struggle against the cannon, in the
characteristic of multiculturalist struggle, in which the
emphasis on particularism has been very much at the
forefront. If we move to a country like South Africa, which I
have visited recently, you find there a completely different
type of discourse, because discourse of ethnicity are
immediately suspicious. For instance, are the discourses of
Quazulu, the Brutalesi discourse and so. And the official
ideology of Apartheid was the notion of separate
development and respect for cultural identities, while the
demand of the resistance movement was a demand for
equalization of conditions, and the idea of non-racialism took
a universalist dimension which was much more present. So, I
would take universalism and particularism as the two
extremes in a relation of tension which allows many different
political projects to take place within it.

Angus:

That's a very good point. One of the things I've noticed is that
quite often with foreign visitors coming to Canada and talking
about multiculturalism, there is a tendency to assume that any
talk about ethnicity necessarily leads in the direction of ethnic
particularism, or ethnic cleansing, something of that sort. Of
course it depends very much on the way in which these things
have come together in a particular history. This reworking of
the relationship between the particular and the universal can
take many different forms. You've mentioned Chantal, in your
working through these problems, with regards to a critical
appropriation of the liberal tradition, you've tried to avoid the
liberal individualism on the one side, and liberal
communitarianism on the other side, and are in the process
of developing a theory of your own which you call radical
democracy. What does the term 'radical' mean when applied
to democracy in this way? What is it, particularly, about this
theory that distinguishes it from liberalism of the normal
variety.

Mouffe:

Well, you probably need to reach a distinction between
radical democracy and what I call agonistic pluralism.
Because, in fact, the project of radical democracy is a political
project. In that sense, the term 'radical' means the
radicalization of the democratic revolution by its extension to
more and more areas of social life. Because I stand from the
point of view that, in fact, if we take the ethical political
principal of modern democracy, which for me is pluralist
democracy, liberal democracy, and that those principals are
the assertion of liberty and equality for all, I don't think there is
anything wrong with those principles. I can't imagine how we
could find more radical principles than that. I feel that the
problem with those principles is not their nature, but the fact
that they are not implemented, or they are very little
implemented in societies that claim to put those ideas into
practice. So, in fact, the project of radical democracy consists
of taking those ideals and radicalizing them by giving a more
radical interpretation of liberty, of democracy, of equality, and
of the whole. Because, I think that much of the struggle which
is taking place in politics, in liberal democratic society, is
concerned with what I call the interpretation of those
principles. Because, of course, liberty, equality, and the
whole, can be interpreted in many different ways. And by the
way, I think that the struggle that I envisaged around different
forms of citizenship, I was mentioning before a neo-liberal
one, a neo-conservative, a social democratic, is about
different interpretations of those principles. And I take it that a
really vibrant democratic society needs to have this debate
and confrontation about those interpretations. And that's
where the conception of agonistic pluralism comes in to its full
development. Because what I am trying to oppose to the
liberal conception is a model of agonistic pluralism. It's not
opposing radical democracy to liberalism, because in fact,
radical democracy we could also have called "radical liberal
democracy." In fact, the idea of radical and plural democracy
does not imply to take into question the constitutional principal
of liberal democracy, but radicalizing them by applying them,
really, and to more and more areas. But there is also a more
theoretical problem and that's where, I think, that the liberal
conception of politics has also been very defective. Because
liberals understand politics mainly, either under the model of
economics, or under the model of ethics. That is, when I
speak in terms of economics - and that's the dominant model
of interest group pluralism, for instance - they conceive the
political terrain as if it was a market, a political market, in
which there are people with their different interests and which
compete and we are going to make, you know, kind of deals.
But basically it's in terms of economics. Recently, there have
been a series of liberals, like John Rawls and all the so-called
ontological liberals, who have become very dissatisfied with
this model, which is, obviously, very instrumentalist view of
politics. And they have proposed to develop what is now
called a model of deliberative democracy, which, basically,
tried to reintroduce morality into it. So it's not only about a
question of interest. There are things which are more
important to that.

Angus:

Chantal, you've described your critique of liberalism as
leading towards a theory of agonistic pluralism. How would
you explain that?

Mouffe:

What I have in mind here is a critique of the way in which
politics is conceived in liberalism, either, as I was just saying,
in terms of economy, or in terms of ethics. But in both cases,
the dimension of what I call "the political", that is, a dimension
of antagonism, is erased from liberalism. In fact, I will say that
there is no theory of politics in liberalism, and that even the
recent, so-called political liberalism, there really is nothing
political about that because it's an attempt to apply, to
introduce, morality in the sphere of the public, but the
dimension of conflict and antagonism is, in fact, erased. So,
against that, what I am proposing is to see the struggle which
should take place inside a moral democratic society in terms
of what I call agonistic pluralism. A pluralism that is not like, in
the case of Rawls or Habermas, relegated to the sphere of
the private in order for a rational political consensus to be
possible in the sphere of the public, but recognizing that it is
very important for people to have a possibility to identify in the
public sphere with really different positions. One of the
problems, which has happened recently in Europe, but I
suppose to some extent here in North America too, is that
with the blurring of the left-right distinction, there has been
some kind of consensus model in which there is not really
much difference between the right wing democratic parties
and the socialist parties. So, there is no real agonism, there is
no possibility for people to identify with other positions - there
is no real alternative which is offered to them. And that, I
think, has lead to some kind of lack of interest in politics, or a
passivity, which is not good for vibrant democratic life. And I
think that it's important to realize that it's not by proposing a
model of deliberative democracy and say that people should
sit together and discuss and try to understand an argument
that we are going to put back a real participatory level in
politics. I think that in order to have a vibrant democratic life,
we need to have a real struggle against different positions.
And that's what I call agonistic pluralism. And of course,
radical democracy will be one of the forms in which the
struggle could take place, because this agonistic pluralism, I
see as taking place between different conceptions of
citizenship. The radical democratic project is just one way
which strives to become hegemonic in this agonistic pluralism.
But the difference at that level is not so much in terms of
different political projects, how far we are going to extend the
principal of liberty and equality, but the way in which politics is
conceived in a liberal democratic society and the place that
antagonism occupies in that theoretical project.

Angus:

This concept of antagonism that you've introduced here in the
context of radical democracy is a key concept, both in the
work that you've written together and in the recent work of
both of you. How would you explain the concept of
antagonism?

Laclau:

Well, I would say that antagonism had been considered by
classical sociological theory as something to be explained
within the social, within society. The way we conceive
antagonism is that antagonism is the limit of social objectivity.
What I mean by this, for instance, there is an antagonism
between two social forces, we can find that these none of
these two forces have a discourse which is commensurable
with the other. Now, there are two ways of reacting, visavis,
this antagonism. Either to say, well, the antagonism is a mere
appearance of some kind of objective underlying process
which can be explained in its own terms. Or, we can say
antagonism goes down to the bottom: any kind of social
objectivity is reached simply by limiting antagonism. Now,
what we have to do in our work is to give to antagonism this
fundamental constitutive role in establishing the limits of the
social, while most sociological theories, on the contrary,
present antagonism as something which has to be explained
in terms of something different. To give you an example,
classical Marxism said, well, history is a history of struggle. In
antagonistic societies you have suffering, social process for
the social agents are conceived of as irrational. But, if we see
history from the privileged point of the end of history, the
rationality of all these processes is shown. For instance, we
see that passing through the hell of all the antagonistic
societies was necessary in order to reach a higher form,
which is communism. In this case, the moment of distress,
opposition, and so on, is reduced to a mere superstructure
the way people live this. For example, Hegel used to say,
"Universal history is not the terrain of happiness." Now, on the
contrary, you can say antagonism is actually constitutive:
there is no underlying logic of history which is expressed
through itself, it goes down to the bottom. Now, this second
view, which I think, can in many ways lead to more
democratic outcomes, because it takes more into account the
actual feelings and perceptions of historical actors, is closer to
our view.

Mouffe:

Yeah, I want to add something here because I think that it's
more political aspect of antagonism and its link with the
problem of liberalism but also of Marxism. I think that, there is
something, even if, as Ernesto was saying, theoretically,
Marxism was not really adequately grasped by Marxists, but
they at least, recognized the space of antagonism in society,
but they located it exclusively at the level of the classes.
While, of course, for liberalism, there is no antagonism in
society. So, Marxism was a process, with respect to liberalism
on that aspect, they recognized the place of antagonism but,
they limited it to the question of class. So, they believed that
eventually, antagonism could be eradicated once the class
struggle will have finished. In a sense, what we are doing is to
radicalize Marxism, so to speak. To say, well, the question of
antagonism, first, cannot be located exclusively at the level of
class; there are many more antagonisms. And, of course,
that's where the question of social movements is important,
because they are an expression of antagonism. And also, we
are saying, and those antagonisms, well, certain antagonisms
can be eradicated, but Antagonism can never be eradicated
of society. So, while Marxism and liberalism believe the
possibility of society without antagonism, of course, you know,
there are different kinds of societies, but there is this
possibility, we are saying that there is no possibility of society
without antagonism.

Angus:

But isn't there a problem here? The project of socialism is to
relieve the systemic suffering of the working classes, to do
away with hunger and poverty. If you say that antagonism is
systemic and constitutive of human society and it can't be
done away with, does that mean that we can't involve
ourselves in struggles against poverty and suffering and
inhumane working conditions and things of this sort?

Laclau:

I don't think one has to simply reduce antagonism to
economic exploitation. I think you can supersede economic
exploitation in a variety of ways. This does not mean that
antagonism, as some basic ontological condition of society,
will be ultimately eliminated. And I think that it's good that its
not ultimately eliminated. Because if antagonism was
eliminated, if the principal of social division was no longer
there, we would have reached a fully reconciled society. And
in this fully reconciled society there would be no freedom at
all, because everybody would think exactly the same kind of
thing. The very notion of a plurality of point of view requires
the presence of antagonism. Now, this does not mean that
economic exploitation will have always to be there.
Antagonism can take many forms. But, the basic point is that
the supersession of a particular antagonistic form does not,
as Chantal said, involve the supersession of Antagonism, as
such. And in this connection, I would say, Marxism presents
two perfectly contradictory theories. The first one, according
to which, history is the process of development of the
contradiction between forces and relation of production, and
objective processes, which reduce antagonism to
superstructure. The other theory, according to which, the
mortar of history is class struggle. Now, these two theories
are incompatible because, if class struggle is the actual
engine of historical change, in that case, there can not be a
rational positive logic, which is what the first theory presented.
There is where Chantal, I think, has quite rightly characterized
our intellectual project as the radicalization of these
antagonistic moments which, I think, retrieves the best
dimensions within Marxism.

Angus:

Is there a new conception of politics in what you're proposing
here through the notion of antagonism? There seems to be a
sense in which political struggles still have a point and a
purpose, but yet the notion of a goal, the final goal of political
activity, seems to be reconceptualized. Is that close to the
mark?

Mouffe:

Well, probably I will say what we are abandoning is the idea
of a final goal that could ever be realized. Because, the idea
of radical and plural democracy implies that this fully
reconciled society, that was the goal of Marxism and of many
socialist struggles, can never be reached. And as I was
saying, this in fact, is not something that we should see as
negative, and there is no reason to be sad about that. In fact,
it's something to celebrate, because it means that it's the
guarantee that the democratic pluralist process will be kept
alive. Because if we start from the idea that there is a
possibility of realizing an harmonious society - completely
harmonious society - even when that is conceived as a
regulative idea, there is some danger in it. Because it means
that, in fact, the ideal of a democratic society will be a society
in which there will not be any more pluralism, because
pluralism implies the possibility of putting into question the
existing arrangement of contesting, constantly, the relation of
power. But if you accept that there is a possibility of an end
point, of a goal, in which there will not be any more form of
power or of domination, I mean, at that moment people
cannot, of course, put into question the existing institutions,
because those institutions will be the instantiation of justice or
of democracy. I think that is precisely what I have been
criticizing, for instance, in liberals like John Rawls or in the
work of Habermas, showing that, contrary to their goal, which
in fact, is to try to think of the condition of pluralism, they in
fact, are presenting a self-defeating argument, because by
postulating the possibility of a rational consensus, they are
undermining the very conception of the democratic pluralist
process. And of course, they are also, and that's a point
which is theoretically important, imagining a society from
which relation of power will have disappeared, in fact, is
impossible because if we, as we have argued, must accept
that relations of power are constitutive of the social, you
cannot imagine a society in which there will be no relation of
power. And this, in fact, is a very important aspect of our
argument about antagonism and about politics - this
recognition that power is constitutive of the social.

Angus:

Your theory of antagonism, then, is a radicalization of the
focus on conflict in Marxism, and suggests that there is no
final point at which conflict will be eliminated. The question I'd
like to ask you, how do you, you theorize antagonism through
the notion of the limit of the social. Can you give me an
example of how the limit of the social can become an actual
phenomenon within someone's experience?

Laclau:

Ok. Let me pose the problem in the following terms. There
are many social situations in which some kind of decision
about the collective life of the community have to be taken.
Now, these decisions, I would argue, are never decisions
which are entirely rational, because if they were decisions
which are entirely rational, they would be totally obvious, and
no decision, actually, would be needed. If a decision is
needed, this means that one has to determine the course of
events by less than fully rational motives. Now, in that case,
many people would have taken decisions which are different
ones. In that case, when a decision is taken, this decision will
conflict, necessarily, with the decision of other groups. So,
you cannot say that society as a whole, the social process as
a whole, is moving in one direction, which is determined by its
underlying structures. What you have is that an external
intervention is there needed. So, social objectivity there finds
its limits. And I would argue that the limits of the social are the
political. Because we have had a perverted notion of society,
which is the result of almost one century of sociological
approaches to the social. Since the decline of political
philosophy at the end of the 18th century, we have a
tendency which goes in the direction of explaining the political
as a moment within the social - the political would by either a
superstructure, a sub-system, depending on the theoretical
view point, and so on - but society is considered as some kind
of universal explaining principal according to its own laws. If
you are speaking about the limit of the social as being internal
to society, we are creating the basis for a re-emergence of
the political as the institutive moment of the social. And this
requires, as I said before, that the antagonistic moment is
present there - social conflict is there, as a grounding
moment, it's not a result of anything else.

Mouffe:

Yeah, it is in that context, in fact, that I have proposed to
distinguish between "the political" and politics. And that takes
to what you were asking before, I think, if there is a new
theory of politics in our work. Well, in fact, I will argue that, for
the first time in many contexts of liberal theory, there is a
theory of politics - I wouldn't say its a new one, because there
was not an old one, and that has been the problem with
liberalism. This distinction consists in, one thing, to make
room for the recognition of this antagonistic dimension that
we were speaking about before. Because by the political, I
propose that we understand this dimension of antagonism
that is an ever-present possibility in social relations. I'm not
saying that all social relations are always constructed
antagonistically. That's certainly not the case, but it's always
an ever-present possibility. And this is this dimension which is
called "the political." And "politics" consists, then, in trying to
create an order, organize human coexistence, in conditions
which are always potentially conflictual, because there is this
dimension of the antagonism. I think once you begin to pose
the question in that way, of course, it requires to understand
democratic struggle in a very different way, because
democratic struggle will be, as I say sometime, trying to see
how one can transform an antagonism into an agonism. By
that I mean, in fact, how can we tame an antagonism, how
can we make it compatible with a democratic struggle. Or,
another way to say it, will be how can we transform a
friend-enemy relation into an adversarial relation, because
the adversary is the one which is considered, in a certain
respect, equal in the sense that we will not put into question
his right or her right to defend their own position. They are
part of the democratic community and they are part of the
confrontation, while an enemy, of course, is somebody to
which you negate the right to express his differences. That, of
course, is also linked to the idea of agonistic pluralism:
agonistic pluralism being something that takes place among
adversaries.

Angus:

Your own work has been developed partly as a critique of
Marxism, partly as an appropriation and radicalization of
Marxism through the notion of antagonism, yet, in recent
years, the great political success stories are not success
stories of the left, but of the right. I'm wondering if the recent
successes of the right, both in Europe and in America, have
caused you to revise your thinking. How do you understand
the rise of the right? Do you see it as a social movement?

Mouffe:

Well, here I want to, in fact, deconstruct so to speak, this
category of the right, because I'm not sure that we are
meaning the same thing. What I am concerned with today is
not the right, but the extreme right. I think this is really the
danger in Europe today. And I will not see the recent situation
in Europe as a victory for the right. It's true that in many
countries the right is in power - the right has just come to
power in France after a long period of socialism, its in power
in many more countries, in probably it is going to come power
in Spain, it is in power in Italy, fortunately it might get out of
power in Britain. But anyway, the question seems to me is
that, what I call the democratic right, is not, I think, in much
better shape than the left. Because, the model of Thatcher -
those triumphant years of the right - I think they are finished.
Because, in fact, the right, the democratic right, is confronted
with a problem for which they don't have a solution. Their
neo-liberal model is not working. The case of Britain is very
interesting from that point of view, because the Thatcher
experiment has failed. This is absolutely recognized. There is
no alternative on the right for that. In many of the European
countries, right-wing parties are facing the same situation. So,
I find both the left and the right, really, not knowing how to
address the present situation. And that's why the extreme
right is the one which is today occupying the terrain. If you
see the movement which are in expansion, it is extreme right.
In France, in Italy, in Austria, in Belgium, in Denmark, this is
the trend which is being put in place. And that, of course, is
extremely dangerous, because this is something which put
into question the very basis of the liberal democratic model as
we have learned it so far. So, in fact, I find the situation, in a
sense, more worrying that what a simple victory of the right
over the left will have implied.

Angus:

In the terms of your political theory, the right would take the
adversarial relationship of, say, the conservative party and
the labour party in Britain and turn it into a friend-enemy
relationship, in fact, that would threaten the foundation of the
liberal political order. So you would see that as the biggest
danger?

Mouffe:

Yes, because I don't think there is a possibility of an
adversarial relation with the extreme right. Those are
enemies, while the adversarial relation can only take place
between left and democratic right. But, I think that, I've been
trying to interpret that because, for me it is a phenomenon
which is extremely important. There is a real urgency today in
trying to understand the rights of the right in order to be able
to offer an alternative. I think that one of the reasons why
there is such a popular mobilization around extreme right
parties is because the democratic left and right have not been
able to put in place what I call this agonistic pluralism. They've
been, in fact, drawn towards some kind of consensus model
and the idea that politics should take place at the center. This
was very clear in France when the socialists came to power
because they actively abandoned their Jacobean type of
politics which was very much in terms of friend-enemy. And
that was something positive. But they were not able to think in
terms of adversary; they fell completely into the traditional
liberal model of competitors. So it was a question, "well, you
know, we've got our interests, our bureaucratic system, our
elites that we want to put into power," but there was no
attempt at all to transform the hegemony, to transform power
relations. So, it has very much been some kind of struggle
located at the center between different parties which were not
offering any kind of alternative. There was no confrontation.
And I think that explains, to a large extent, on one part, the
disaffection of many people in France with those parties, the
growth of fundamentalist movements, movements in which,
what I call the passions are not mobilized toward democratic
design, and also, the fact that the extreme right is the one
which is mobilizing passion because they are offering an
alternative. And I think that's why it's so important to
recognize that if we want to offer democratic channels,
democratic ways for passion to express themselves, one
needs to abandon this consensus-centric model of politics
and revive the agonistic adversarial relation. I think that this
blurring of the left-right distinction which we have witnessed in
Europe, and which has been celebrated by many people by
saying how we are now coming to maturity, how this is
progress for democracy, I think this is disastrous for
democracy, because this creates the terrain in which the
extreme right is beginning to make in roads.

Laclau:

Yes, because what happens is that whenever you have
unfulfilled demands of people and the need of a discourse of
opposition, and this discourse is not present - is replaced by
some kind of politics of piecemeal engineer, consensus, and
so on - the need for a radical confrontation through the
system is more important than the terms in which this
confrontation is carried out. So, for instance, many social
forces which were the classical constituency of the communist
party in France, have become supporters of Lepen simply
because the old radicalism of the Purple de Gauche, as they
call it, have not been replaced by anything. So, what we have,
I think, in Northern Europe is a whirl-wind phenomenon today.
It is some kind of exhaustion of the ideologies which, during
some period, had represented left-wing or progressive
courses. They have disintegrated because the historical
assumptions are no longer there, and some kind of a new
fundamentalist type of discourse is occupying that place. In
the case of the Middle East, it's perfectly clear. In the years
after the Second World War, the dominant progressive
ideology was Arab nationalism. Now, Arab nationalism was
constructed around the nation state, the new nation states
which were emerging in the Middle East. For instance, when
Pakistan emerged there as an Islamic nation, it was criticized
by the whole because they said an Islamic nation state is a
contradiction in terms. Now, with the stalemate in the Middle
East, Arab nationalism collapses everywhere as a dominant
ideology and this space has to be taken by Islamic
fundamentalism simply because there were many unfulfilled
demands which require some kind of radical answer.

Angus:

So, opposition to the system as a whole has tended to be, in
recent years, from the right rather than from the left. How do
you fit the corporatist agenda, or the neo-liberal fiscal
responsibility agenda into this picture of contemporary
politics?

Laclau:

Well, I would say the corporatist model, or the neo-liberal
model, to a large extent, has failed as an attempt to galvanize
the political system. The years of the 1980's were the years of
a movement, to the right, of the established parties. They
were the years of Reganism, the years of Thacherism, and so
on and so forth. Now, in some sense, these were the last
utopian years because, the idea of an utopian politics not only
belongs to the left, it belongs also to the right. We had some
kind of blueprint of society, created by neo-liberalism, which
had to be applied. Now, today people are much more blasé.
The idea of a blueprint of society and utopian politics along
these lines, either through the right or through the left, are
very much put into question. And they are being replaced by
some kind of issue politics, micro politics, in some respects,
all by emergence of the new fundamentalism that we are
referring to. But the big designs like the Great Society, or the
New Deal, or the neo-liberal model, and so on, are no longer
there.

Mouffe:

But speaking of comparativism, which is the best model,
maybe, of this kind of consensus approach, I think this is
clearly what has also created the terrain in many places for
the extreme right. I'm thinking of Austria, for instance, which
was the corporatist model par excellance, where, for many
years, we had this cohabitation between conservative and
social democrats, and where, of course, the party of Gork
Idor is, today, extremely important precisely because they are
the only one offering a radical alternative. Of course, with the
recent election given to the socialists, it will increase. That
situation might have been worse, but clearly, the party which
is today on the move in Austria, is the Freedom Party of Idor,
and it¹s very much articulating the discontent with the
corporatist model that had been in place in Austria.

Angus:

Underlying your analysis of contemporary political events is
the theory of hegemony that you've been developing for a
number of years. I wonder if you could explain to me, in more
general terms now, the contribution you think political
philosophy and philosophy in general can make to political
issues or political movements.

Laclau:

Yes. Well, a hegemonic model of politics, which I think is,
finally, all politics are hegemonic to some extent, consists in a
process of pragmatically putting together things or
occurrences which do not necessarily have to coalesce in that
way. It involves a contingent intervention. To give you an
example, at the end of the Second World War, there was a
discussion within the Italian Communist Party about how the
party was going to be constructed in the post-war period. And
there were two currents: one which said the party is the party
of the working class. So, it had to be the party representing
an enclave in the industrial north and they had to live totally
outside of the world of the Mizsiogiorno and everything
connected with it. The other position, which was more
Gramscian, and finally adopted through the leadership of
Palmido Atoliati, said no, we are going to build up the party in
the south. How is the working class is weak in the south. They
said the premises of the Party and the premises of the Trade
Union are going to be the center of a plurality of social
initiative: the struggle against the Mafia, the struggle for
school cooperatives, and so on. So, that communism, in the
end, became the coalescing symbol of a plurality of struggles,
which, in themselves, didn't have any need to coincide in that
way - there was no structural law pushing them in that way.
The proof is that in some other areas, there were the
Christian democrat lawyer who produced this role of
articulation. But once this role of articulation has succeed, it
manages to produce for a whole historical period, a certain
configuration of alliance forces and so on. This is an example
of what hegemonic politics is about. Now, this, as you see,
goes very much against the notion of a strict interest
determining what form of politics is going to show. It involves
a strategic movement which is always transient, unstable and
negotiated.

Mouffe:

Here, it is important, I think, to insist on the fact that this
hegemonic politics, of course, can be put into practice by the
right as much as by the left. For instance, the example
Ernesto was giving referring to Italy, is precisely what we are
seeing now about the growth of the Islamic fundamentalist
movement. In many countries, for instance, to take the case
of Turkey, where the rise of the Reza Reform Party has been
very important, is articulating a similar type of hegemony that
the communists did in Italy, you know, offering organizations,
creating in civic society, a series of links. But because they
were offering an alternative to the government, they have
been able to really establish a very serious basis in civic
society following exactly that model. That¹s the same, to a
certain extent, for Algeria. The growth of the [Š] in Algeria
has been following exactly the same model. So, that's why it's
important for the left to really understand that that's the way
they can create some kind of democratic alliance, because if
they don't do that, its the other parties which are doing it.

Laclau:

Traditionally, for instance, the Mas Limbrada became a mass
movement, not simply on the basis of agitation, but on the
basis of organizing a plurality of institutions which were the
basis for social security, cultural participation, recreation, and
so on, for people so that, in the end, they had become a state
within the state. Later on they were destroyed by Nazar, but
whenever a fundamentalism has expanded in the Islamic
countries, it has been on the basis of this model. And I have
seen this model also operating very much in the plurality of
populist movements in Latin America, like in Peru, perronism
in Argetnina in the forties and so on.

Angus:

So, if hegemony is putting together a number of different
political elements which are not necessarily connected
together, but are put together through an articulation. At the
level of philosophy, you've been interested, recently, to
theorize this through the concept of undecidability. What
could you say to us quickly about the concept of
undecidability in philosophy and how it might relate to the
theory of hegemony?

Laclau:

Well, in fact, the concept of undecidability has been
developed from a variety of occurrences with the general
spectrum of what has been called post-structuralism. But let's
suppose we take the deconstructionist alternative. What
deconstruction is doing is to show that many structures, many
categories which present themselves as closed categories
are, in fact, penetrated by internal aporias, so that the actual
configuration that they show is, in fact, concealing many
different alternatives which are repressed. Now, once you
bring this to light, you are also showing a plurality of strategic
development which become thinkable. So, what I would say
deconstruction is doing, is to enlarge the area of
undecidability in social relations, which require political
intervention, but at the same time, this requires a theory of
the decision; how to take a decision within an undecidable
terrain. And that is what the theory of hegemony attempts to
do. For example, Gramsci, we were speaking about before,
Gramsci advanced a great deal, I think, in terms of showing
social elements as having only contingent articulation. In this
sense, he was enlarging the field of structure and
undecidability, and conceived hegemony as the moment of
the decision. But he was limited by a classical ontology by
which this dimension of undecidability could be extended only
so far. But in contemporary society with the phenomenon of
globalization, with the phenomenon of combined and uneven
development, with the phenomenon of social fragmentation,
we need definitely a much radical conception of undecidability
than what was present at the time Gramsci. And I think
deconstruction and post-structuralism are pushing in that
direction.

Angus:

Thank-you very much. It's been a pleasure to talk to you this
afternoon. I could talk much longer with both you, but we'll
have to cut it here. Thank-you very much for answering these
questions.

 

 

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