Sunday, 15 February 2009

From "On the Political"

By Chantal Mouffe.

What an agonistic approach certainly disavows is the possibility of an act of radical refoundation that would institute a new social order from scratch. But a number of very important socio-economic and political transformations, with radical implications, are possible within the context of liberal democratic institutions. What we understand by "liberal democracy" is constituted by sedimented forms of power relations resulting from an ensemble of contingent hegemonic interventions. The fact that their contingent character is not recognized today is due to the absence of counter-hegemonic projects. But we should not fall again into the trap of believing that their transformation requires a total rejection of the liberal-democratic framework.

[...] When we examine the state of democratic politics in all the countries where right-wing populism has made serious inroads, we find a striking similarity. Their growth has always taken place in circumstances where the differences between the traditional democratic parties have become much less significant than before. In some cases, as in Austria, this was due to a long period of coalition government; in others, as in France, to a move towards the centre of parties previously clearly situated at the left of the political spectrum. But in each case a consensus at the centre had to be established, which did not allow voters to make a real choice between significantly different policies. In countries where the electoral system did not discriminate against third parties, right-wing demagogues were therefore able to articulate the desire for an alternative to the stifling consensus.

[...] as a consequence of blurring the frontiers between left and right and the absence of an agonistic debate among democratic parties, a confrontation between different political projects, voters did not have the possibility of identifying with a differentiated range of democratic political identities. This created a void that was likely to be occupied by other forms of identifications which could become problematic for the working of the democratic system.

[...] The pluralism that I advocate requires discriminating between demands which are to be accepted as part of the agonistic debate and those which are to be excluded. A democratic society cannot treat those who put its basic institutions into question as legimitate adversaries. The agonistic approach does not pretend to encompass all differences and to overcome all forms of exclusions. But exclusions are envisaged in political and not in moral terms.

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