Decision, Deliberation, and Democratic Ethos

By Mouffe, Chantal | Philosophy Today, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Decision, Deliberation, and Democratic Ethos


Mouffe, Chantal, Philosophy Today


According with the trend in democratic theory currently in vogue, in order to defend democracy it is necessary to give it rational foundations. Indeed, many theorists following this approach believe that it is by providing such foundations that allegiance to liberal democratic institutions will be secured. To criticize rationalism is, according to such a view, to undermine the very basis of democratic citizenship. Hence their rejection of the so-called "post-modem" critique which is presented as a threat to the democratic project.

In this essay I will take a very different position. I will argue that it is only by drawing all the implications of the critique of essentialism -which in my view constitutes the more important insight of what is often referred to as the "post-modem approach"that it is possible to grasp the nature of the political and acknowledge the challenge to which the democratic project is today confronted. I submit that the universalist and rationalist framework in which that project was formulated during the Enlightenment has today become as obstacle to an adequate understanding of the present stage of democratic politics. Such a framework should be discarded and this can be done without having to abandon the political aspect of the Enlightenment that is represented by the democratic revolution.

On this point I propose to follow the lead of Hans Blumenberg who in his book The Legitimacy of the Modern Age' distinguishes two different logics in the Enlightenment, one of "selfassertion" (we could call it "political"), and one of "self-grounding" (we could call it "epistemological").' According to him, these two logics have been articulated historically but there is no necessary relation between them and they can perfectly be separated. It is therefore possible to discriminate between was is truly modern-the idea of "self-assertion"-and what is merely what he calls a "reoccupation" of a medieval position, i.e., an attempt to give a modem answer to a premodern question. In Blumenberg's view, rationalism is not something essential to the idea of self-assertion but a residue from the absolutist medieval problematic. This illusion of providing itself with its own foundations which accompanied the labor of liberation from theology should now be abandoned and modern reason should acknowledge its limits. Indeed, it is only when it comes to terms with pluralism and accepts the impossibility of total control and final harmony that modem reason frees itself from its premoden heritage.

This approach also reveals the inadequacy of the term "postmodernity" when it is used to refer to a completely different historical period that would signify a break with modernity. When we realize that rationalism, far from being constitutive of modem reason, was in fact a reoccupation of a premodern position, it becomes clear that to put rationalism into question does not imply a rejection of modernity but a coming to terms with the potentialities that were inscribed in it since the beginning. It also help us to understand why the critique of the epistemological aspect of the Enlightenment does not jeopardize its political aspect of self-assertion but, on the contrary, can help to strengthen the democratic project.

Anti-Essentialism and Politics

In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy we attempted to draw the consequences of the critique of essentialism for a radical conception of democracy by articulating some of its insights with the Gramscian conception of hegemony. This led us to put the question of power and antagonism and their ineradicable character at the center of our approach. One of the main theses of the book is that social objectivity is constituted through acts of power. This means that any social objectivity is ultimately political and that it has to show the traces of exclusion that governs its constitution; what following Derrida, we have called its "constitutive outside." The idea is that if an object has inscribed in its very being something other than itself; if as a result, everything is constructed as difference, its being cannot be conceived as pure "presence" or "objectivity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Decision, Deliberation, and Democratic Ethos
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.