Monday, May 5, 2008

Chantal Mouffe on pluralism and democracy

Liberal democracy is a regime, a distinct symbolic organisation of social relations. It results from the articulation of political liberalism (rule of law, separation of powers, individual rights) with democratic tradition of popular sovereignty.

Emphasising the fact of pluralism (Rawls) tends to obscure how pluralism constitutes the political dimension in modern democracies. It is an axiological principle we should celebrate and enhance.

Mouffe's postmodern gloss: "difference" must be construed as the condition of possibility of being. Then a radical democratic project informed by pluralism can be formulated.

Main forms of liberal pluralism start with de facto difference and look for procedures to make those differences irrelevant.

Valorizing all differences - anti-democratic, because it doesn't recognise that some (!) differences are constructed as relations of subordination.

Extreme pluralism, by refusing a "we," partakes in the liberal evasion of plurality.

After Derrida: social objectivity has "constitutive outside," traces of the acts of exclusion. Cf. Schmitt. Every identity purely contingent.

No social agent therefore can legitimately claim mastery of the foundation of society. Relations among agents are democratic only inasmuch as they (1) "accept" the particularity of their claims; which is also (2) "recognising" ineradicable power in their mutual relations.

Tacit institutional elaborations of these epistemological interventions? Or to do with subject formation, i.e. these "recognitions" are those of a subject for whom the Friend/Enemy distinction is an ineradicable feature of democracy, & who are reconciled to moderate viciousness as civic virtue?

"To negate the ineradicable character of antagonism and to aim at a universal rational consensus" -- this, supposedly, is the real threat to democracy. Mouffe ascribes it to Habermas. But cf. Habermas's (a) call for the defense of the lifeworld against systems; (b) sophisticated fallibilism (consensus, even were it "universal and rational," would not be incontrovertible); (c) rather impressive collection of rationality concepts (systems vs. lifeworld rationalization), whose qualitative distinctions rule out the kind of dogmatic idealism Mouffe is hinting at. Habermas's concepts for the analysis of rationality encompass greater difference than Mouffe's appeal to difference.

Cf. Hart: assume that each party has the discretion to provide “perfunctory” rather than “consummate” performance – we refer to this as shading – and that such behavior cannot be
observed or penalized by an outsider (e.g., a court).

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