Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Ernesto LaClau studied both in Buenos Aires and at Oxford University. Since 1973, he has taught government at the University of Essex. LaClau has lectured in the United States, Canada, and Latin America, as well as in Europe. He is also the author of Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory ( 1977). Chantal Mouffe studied in Belgium, France, and England. She has taught at the National University of Colombia and the University of London. She is editor of and contributor to Gramsci and Marxist Theory ( 1979) and Dimensions of Radical Democracy ( 1992), as well as an author and lecturer on numerous subjects in political and feminist theory.


Radical Democracy: Alternative for a New Left

Ernesto LaClau and Chantal Mouffe( 1985)

The conservative reaction thus has a clearly hegemonic character. It seeks a profound transformation of the terms of political discourse and the creation of a new 'definition of reality', which under the cover of the defence of 'individual liberty' would legitimize inequalities and restore the hierarchical relations which the struggles of previous decades had destroyed. What is at stake here is in fact the creation of a new historic bloc. Converted into organic ideology, liberal-conservatism would construct a new hegemonic articulation through a system of equivalences which would unify multiple subject positions around an individualist definition of rights and a negative conception of liberty. We are once again faced, then, with the displacement of the frontier of the social. A series of subject positions which were accepted as legitimate differences in the hegemonic formation corresponding to the Welfare State are expelled from the field of social positivity and construed as negativity--the parasites on social security (Mrs Thatcher's 'scroungers'), the inefficiency associated with union privileges, and state subsidies, and so on.

It is dear, therefore, that a left alternative can only consist of the construction of a different system of equivalents, which establishes social division on a new basis. In the face of the project for the reconstruction of a hierarchic society, the alternative of the Left should consist of locating itself fully in the field of the democratic revolution and expanding the chains of equivalents between the different struggles against oppression. The task of the Left therefore cannot be to renounce liberal-democratic ideology, but on the contrary, to deepen and expand it in the direction of a radical and plural democracy. We shall explain the dimensions of this task in the following pages, but the very fact that it is possible arises out of the fact that the meaning of liberal discourse on individual rights is not definitively fixed; and just as this unfixity permits their articulation with elements of conservative discourse, it also permits different forms of articulation and redefinition which accentuate the democratic movement. That is to say, as with any other social element, the elements making up the liberal discourse never appear as crystallized, and may be the field of hegemonic struggle. It is not in the abandonment of the democratic terrain but, on the contrary, in the extension of the field of democratic struggles to the whole of civil society and the state, that the possibility resides for a hegemonic strategy of the Left. It is nevertheless important to understand the radical extent of the changes which are necessary in the political imaginary of the Left, if it

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Excerpt from Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics ( London: Verso, 1985), pp. 176-180.

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