It accepts a permanent place for such conflict, but seeks to show how people might accept and channel this positively. For this reason, agonists are especially concerned with debates about democracy. The tradition is also referred to as agonistic pluralism. Agonism is opposed to a strand in the Marxist conception of politics known as " materialism ". Marx would have agreed with the agonists that society had always been full of conflict, when he wrote: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". But, in his view, history would develop in such a way as to eventually destroy capitalism, and replace it with a harmonious society—which was his conception of communism.
|Published (Last):||3 August 2017|
|PDF File Size:||19.80 Mb|
|ePub File Size:||14.38 Mb|
|Price:||Free* [*Free Regsitration Required]|
Permissions : This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3. Please contact mpub-help umich. For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy. How should democratic politics deal with conflict?
I will begin by delineating the general framework of my approach, whose theoretical bases have been elaborated in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy , co-written with Ernesto Laclau. On one side it is necessary to acknowledge the dimension of radical negativity that impedes the full totalization of society and brings to light the ever-present possibility of antagonism. This requires relinquishing the idea of a society beyond division and power, and coming to terms with the lack of a final ground and with the undecidability that pervades every order.
This means recognizing the hegemonic nature of every kind of social order and envisaging society as the product of a series of practices whose aim is to establish order in a context of contingency. Every order is the temporary and precarious articulation of contingent practices. Things could always have been otherwise and every order is predicated on the exclusion of other possibilities. It is always the expression of a particular configuration of power relations. Every order is therefore susceptible of being challenged by counter-hegemonic practices that attempt to disarticulate it in order to install another form of hegemony.
Indeed the political in its antagonistic dimension cannot be made to disappear by simply denying it and wishing it away, which is the typical liberal gesture; such negation only leads to impotence, an impotence that characterizes liberal thought when confronted with the emergence of antagonisms and forms of violence that, according to its theory, belong to a bygone age when reason had not yet managed to control supposedly archaic passions.
This is why it cannot apprehend the process of construction of political identities. It cannot recognize that there can only be an identity when it is constructed as difference and that any social objectivity is constituted through acts of power. What it refuses to admit is that any form of social objectivity is ultimately political, and that it must bear the traces of the acts of exclusion that governs its constitution. Its aim is to highlight the fact that the creation of an identity implies the establishment of a difference, a difference that is often constructed on the basis of a hierarchy: for example, between black and white, man and women, etc.
Once we have understood that every identity is relational and that the affirmation of a difference—i. This does not mean of course that such a relation is by necessity an antagonistic one. This happens when the others, who up to now had been considered as simply different, start to be perceived as putting into question our identity and threatening our existence.
What is important here is to acknowledge that the very condition of possibility for the formation of political identities is at the same time the condition of impossibility of a society from which antagonism would have been eliminated. Antagonism is therefore an ever-present possibility. When the shortcomings of liberal theory are taken into account we can understand why, in order to understand the nature of democratic politics and the challenge to which it is confronted, we need an alternative to the two main approaches in democratic political theory—the aggregative and the deliberative ones—because neither of them acknowledges the antagonistic dimension of the political.
The aggregative model sees political actors as being moved by the pursuit of their interests; the deliberative one stresses the role of reason and moral considerations.
Both approaches, albeit in a different way, posit the availability of a consensus reached through rational procedures: instrumental rationality in the first case, communicative rationality in the second one. My claim is that it is not possible to envisage democratic politics without acknowledging affects as the moving force in the field of politics.
In a nutshell, my argument goes as follows. Conflict in democratic societies cannot and should not be eradicated since the specificity of modern democracy is precisely the recognition and the legitimation of conflict. What democratic politics requires is that the others are not seen as enemies to be destroyed, but as adversaries whose ideas would be fought, even fiercely, but whose right to defend those ideas will never be put into question.
We could say that the aim of democratic politics is to transform potential antagonism into an agonism. Adversaries fight against each other because they want their interpretation to become hegemonic, but they do not put into question the right of their opponents to fight for the victory of their position. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, let me stress that this notion of the adversary needs to be distinguished sharply from the understanding of that term that we find in liberal discourse.
In fact, what liberals call an adversary is simply a competitor. They envisage the field of politics as a neutral terrain in which different groups compete to occupy positions of power; their objective is simply to dislodge others in order to occupy their place without putting into question the dominant hegemony and profoundly transforming the relations of power.
It is merely a competition among elites. In an agonistic politics, however, the antagonistic dimension is always present since what is at stake is the struggle between opposing hegemonic projects that can never be reconciled rationally, for one of them needs to be defeated.
It is a real confrontation, but one that is played out under conditions regulated by a set of democratic procedures accepted by the adversaries. Liberal theorists are unable to acknowledge not only the primary reality of strife in social life and the impossibility of finding rational, impartial solutions to political issues, but also the integrative role that conflict can play in modern democracy.
A well-functioning democracy calls for a confrontation of democratic political positions. If this is missing, there is always the danger that this democratic confrontation will be replaced by a confrontation between non-negotiable moral values or essentialist forms of identification.
Too much emphasis on consensus, together with aversion toward confrontation, leads to apathy and to disaffection with political participation. This is why a democratic society requires a debate about possible alternatives. While some form of consensus is no doubt necessary, it must be accompanied by dissent. Consensus is needed in the institutions that are constitutive of democracy and the ethico-political values that should inform political association, but there will always be disagreement concerning the meaning of those values and the way they should be implemented.
In a pluralist democracy, such disagreements are not only legitimate but also necessary. They allow for different forms of citizenship identification and are the stuff of democratic politics.
When the agonistic dynamics of pluralism is hindered because of a lack of democratic forms of identifications, passions cannot be given a democratic outlet and the ground is laid for various forms of politics articulated around essentialist identities of a nationalist, religious or ethnic type, and for the multiplication of confrontations over non-negotiable moral values, with all the manifestations of violence that such confrontations entail. A well functioning democracy calls for a vibrant clash of democratic political positions.
Antagonisms can take many forms and it is illusory to believe that they could be eradicated. In order to allow for the possibility of transforming them into agonistic relations it is necessary to provide a political outlet for the expression of conflict within a pluralistic democratic system offering possibilities of identification around democratic political alternatives. It is in this context that we can grasp the very pernicious consequences of the fashionable thesis put forward by Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens , who both argue that the adversarial model of politics has become obsolete.
Indeed, Beck proposes that the generalized skepticism and centrality of doubt that are prevalent today preclude the emergence of antagonistic relations.
We have entered an era of ambivalence in which nobody can believe any more that they possess the truth a belief that was precisely where antagonisms stem from. Therefore, there is no more reason for their emergence.
Politics in its conflictual dimension is deemed to be something of the past and the type of democracy that is commended is a consensual, completely depoliticized democracy.
In my view, it is the incapacity of democratic parties to provide distinctive forms of identifications around possible alternatives that has created the terrain for the current flourishing of right-wing populism. Indeed right-wing populist parties are often the only ones that attempt to mobilize passions and to create collective forms of identifications.
In a context where the dominant discourse proclaims that there is no alternative to the current neo-liberal form of globalization and that we have to accept its diktats, small wonder that more and more people are keen to listen to those who claim that alternatives do exist and that they will give back to the people the power to decide.
When democratic politics has lost its capacity to shape the discussion about how we should organize our common life, and when it is limited to securing the necessary conditions for the smooth working of the market, the conditions are ripe for talented demagogues to articulate popular frustration.
It is important to realize that, to a great extent, the success of right-wing populist parties comes from the fact that they provide people with some form of hope, with the belief that things could be different. Of course this is an illusory hope founded on false premises and on unacceptable mechanisms of exclusion in which xenophobia usually plays a central role. But when they are the only ones to offer an outlet for political passions, their pretense to offer an alternative is seductive and their appeal is likely to grow.
To be able to envisage an adequate response it is necessary to grasp the economic, social and political conditions that explain their emergence.
And this supposes a theoretical approach that does not deny the antagonistic dimension of the political. Without a profound transformation in the way democratic politics is envisaged, and without a serious attempt to address the lack of forms of identifications that would allow for a democratic mobilization of passions, the challenge posed by right wing populist parties will remain and even increase.
It is therefore urgent to abandon the illusions of the consensual model of politics and to create the bases of an agonistic public sphere. By limiting themselves to calls for reason, moderation, and consensus, democratic parties are showing their lack of understanding of the workings of political logics. Alongside allowing us to grasp the reasons for the growing success of right-wing populism, the agonistic approach can also shed light on recent protest movements in liberal-democratic societies.
This consensus, which is the result of the unchallenged hegemony of neo-liberalism, deprives democratic citizens of an agonistic debate where they can make their voices heard and choose between real alternatives. Until recently, it was mainly through right-wing populist parties that people were able to vent their anger against such a post-political situation. But in both cases, what is at stake is a profound dissatisfaction with the current order.
If so many people across the whole population, not only the youth, are now taking to the street it is because they have lost faith in traditional parties and they feel that their voice cannot be heard through traditional political channels.
Understood as the refusal of the post-political order, current protests can be read as a call for a radicalization of existing democratic institutions, not for their rejection. What they demand are better, more inclusive forms of representation. Such a confrontation requires the emergence of a genuine left capable of offering an alternative to the social liberal consensus dominant in center-left parties.
The case of Greece can, I think, serve as an illustration of such an approach. In Greece popular mobilizations were led by a coalition of several left-parties Syriza whose objective was to come to power through elections and implement a set of radical reforms. Their aim was clearly not the demise of liberal democratic institutions, but their transformation in order to make them a vehicle for the expression of popular demands.
The French situation can also provide interesting elements for reflection. It has often been noted that, in contrast with many other European countries, the Occupy movement was almost insignificant in France.
Some people have tried to explain this supposed anomaly by the fact that the austerity measures had not been as drastic there as in other countries and that the level of unemployment was not so high. But, then, why did we see several Occupy camps in Germany where the economic conditions are better? To look for an economic explanation is to miss the deep causes that are of a political nature.
I am of course not suggesting that the French do not have serious grounds for protest, but among the youth many people seem to believe that significant political channels are still available to express their demands. No doubt, a consensus at the center between center-right and center-left has also been installed in France, but the belief in the power of politics to change things has not been waning as in other European countries.
This is due to the existence, on the left of the Socialist party, of several groups with a more radical agenda. The capacity, for instance, of Jean-Luc Melenchon—the candidate of the Front de gauche , a coalition of several left parties—to mobilize the youth in the presidential elections was really remarkable.
The problem, of course, is not limited to the youth, for there are also important popular sectors whose interests are being ignored by the traditional democratic parties. In previous writings scrutinizing the growth of right-wing populist parties, I argued that their success was in great part due to the fact that they were often the only ones addressing the concerns of working-class people. This is, of course, what explains the success of Marine Le Pen in France and the fact that many French workers now vote for the Front National.
It all depends on how the adversary is defined. Whereas for right-wing populism the adversary is identified with the immigrants or the Muslims, the adversary for a left-wing populist movement should be constituted by the configuration of forces that sustain neo-liberal hegemony. At the center of the dispute about how to interpret the recent protests, lies a very old discussion about the nature of democracy and the role of representation. This is an issue that I have examined in previous works, and it might be useful to revisit some of the arguments of this discussion to clarify what is at stake in the current dispute.
In The Democratic Paradox I argue that Western liberal democracy is the articulation of two traditions: liberalism with its emphasis on liberty and pluralism and democracy postulating equality and popular sovereignty. While both of them have important strengths, they are ultimately irreconcilable and the history of liberal democracy has been driven by the tension between the claims for liberty and those for equality. What has happened under neo-liberal hegemony is that the liberal component has become so dominant that the democratic values have been eviscerated.
Without underestimating the democratic shortcomings of social democracy, it is clear that the situation has drastically worsened under neo-liberal hegemony.
There are alternatives, however, and we should not accept the current situation as the final way of articulating liberalism and democracy.
‘Agonistic Pluralism’ and Three Archetypal Forms of Politics
Permissions : This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3. Please contact mpub-help umich. For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy. How should democratic politics deal with conflict? I will begin by delineating the general framework of my approach, whose theoretical bases have been elaborated in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy , co-written with Ernesto Laclau.
We'd like to understand how you use our websites in order to improve them. Register your interest. In this paper, I delineate one tradition of contemporary political thought that has emerged within the more general climate of difference and diversity. The paper evaluates the recent work of three authors, who exemplify this strand of political thinking; William Connolly, Chantal Mouffe, and James Tully. Over the past decade, each of these three has developed the notion of agonistic pluralism.
It accepts a permanent place for such conflict, but seeks to show how people might accept and channel this positively. For this reason, agonists are especially concerned with debates about democracy. The tradition is also referred to as agonistic pluralism. Agonism is opposed to a strand in the Marxist conception of politics known as " materialism ". Marx would have agreed with the agonists that society had always been full of conflict, when he wrote: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". But, in his view, history would develop in such a way as to eventually destroy capitalism, and replace it with a harmonious society—which was his conception of communism. Especially during the s and s, many people, academics included, subscribed to a roughly Marxist analysis.