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The Democratic Paradox (Radical Thinkers 4) Paperback – 15 Jun 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (15 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844673553
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844673551
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 400,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Mouffe represents a position that every serious student of contemporary political thought must acknowledge and come to terms with. --The Philosophers' Magazine

About the Author

Chantal Mouffe is a Professor at the University of Westminster. Her previous books include The Return of the Political, The Dimensions of Radical Democracy and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt.

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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By ldxar1 on 28 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This should be called "The Return of The Return of the Political" because Mouffe's ideas, focus and project have barely changed between her previous book and this one; indeed, most of the ideas found here have been carried through from her work in the mid-eighties. As with her last book, this is a collection of essays, mainly published elsewhere, compiled into a short book, united by the theme of (surprise, surprise) the constitutive character of lack, negativity and antagonism in social life. Again, her basic politics are basically a form of liberal democracy, but again, her main focus seems to be on denouncing other liberals and mainstream theorists (the Rawls types and the deliberative democrats, now joined by New Labour and the "third way") on grounds which often amount to hair-splitting. Her usual accusation is simply that they do not share her uncritical endorsement of the idea of constitutive lack, and she even goes as far as to accuse John Rawls of a fantasmatic utopianism which would lead to totalitarian dangers - even though her only objection to his theory is that he justifies social exclusion through reference to the "reasonable" instead of the "political".
She also continues her theme of appropriating new authors into her project, the main targets being Carl Schmitt and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The newly fashionable Schmitt seems to fit quite nicely, although Mouffe makes the strange assumption that she can derive a radical (left-wing) and democratic politics from the work of a right-wing authoritarian sympathetic to the Nazis. Wittgenstein fits in less well, because it is difficult to derive from his work anything resembling an idea of constitutive antagonism.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Oct. 2005
Format: Paperback
The importance of Mouffe's contribution to the debate on democracy culminates in the idea of "agonistic pluralism".
There are and will always be different "rationales"; we should not try to struggle to overcome these differences by trying to accommodate them within a normative domain(as in some dominant models of democracy), because
this leads to totalitarianism, but build on the agonistic model. This approach(unlike some others) takes seriously issues such as minority discrimination and encourages active participatory democracy.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful By ldxar1 on 28 Jan. 2004
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If you've heard of Chantal Mouffe it is probably from the book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, which she co-authored with Ernesto Laclau. This volume is a collection of essays - mostly pre-published - written after this book's academic success. The core themes remain the same, and Mouffe adds little that a careful reader will not have picked up from the earlier book, except to extend her work into critiques and appropriations of different authors, and to dispel any illusions readers may have that there is a difference between "radical democracy" and actually-existing liberal democracy.
For saying that she is basically advocating the political status quo, she spends a lot of time denouncing others who share this alignment, usually for the sin of "refusing to accept" the primacy of lack and antagonism in social life. Conventional liberals such as John Rawls and "deliberative democrats" such as Jurgen Habermas are equally placed under Mouffe's Lacanian guillotine, although the substance of her critique is often very light and has little bearing on political conclusions. This is disappointing given the title, because the book has very little to say about politics as such. Most of it is given over to considerations of the ontological "conditions of possibility" for political life.
The reasons why a reader should accept the idea of constitutive lack have never been well set out in Mouffe's work, and this book adds very little to her reasoning. On the whole I would say that this is a kind of "collected papers" for Mouffe fans.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Powerful And Important 13 Oct. 2009
By Nin Chan - Published on
Format: Paperback
Chantal Mouffe- The Democratic Paradox

¡§Consensus in a liberal-democratic society is- and will always be- the expression of a hegemony and the crystallization of power relations. The frontier that it establishes between what is and is not legitimate is a political one, and for that reason it should remain contestable.¡¨ - Chantal Mouffe

If you¡¦ve read Mouffe¡¦s landmark work with Ernesto Laclau, Hegemony And Socialist Strategy, you can probably surmise what this work entails: it further elaborates theses presented in that work and Mouffe¡¦s Return Of The Political. These theses are, coincidentally, central to Zizek¡¦s work on the ¡¥quilting point¡¦ that unifies an ideological field (for more on this, see Zizek¡¦s appraisal of Laclau and Mouffe in the anthology Interrogating The Real).
I shall try to indicate, for newcomers to Chantal Mouffe, the principal coordinates of her theoretical intervention:
³ Society does not exist. This, for Zizek, is the central postulate of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, one which he returns to at various points of The Sublime Object Of Ideology. When we say that ¡¥society does not exist¡¦, we mean that the sociological (ideological) fantasy of a homeostatic social whole is impossible. Society can never achieve a state of consummate closure, because it is divided from within by an irreconcilable schism. In Marxist theory, this rift assumes the form of the class struggle. There can be no rapprochement between classes, and the ¡¥truth¡¦ of society does not lie in a holistic, transcendent judgment that stands above this cleavage (the perspective of an omniscient God) but in this antagonism itself. Antagonism is the Real of every social formation, preventing it from closing in on itself, from forming a consistent totality. Ideology merely displaces this antagonism, assigning it to some object-cause (the Jew in anti-Semitism) instead of confronting it as an inalienable limit.
³ Every critical theory must therefore abandon its dangerous fetishization of the fantasmatic object, the fascinating thing that ostensibly prevents it from fulfilling its desire. In Marxist theory, this object is the state, and Foucault¡¦s extensive analyses of power represent nothing less than an endeavor to traverse the Marxist fantasy and deliver us from the specter of the sovereign. Classical Marxism assumes that revolution is the event upon which desire hinges- once the State is supplanted, antagonism can be done away with through the gradual movement towards communism. This myth of transparency and fullness has been profoundly debilitating in two respects: it simplifies, in an inexcusable fashion, the multiplicity of power relations that constitute the social strata. These ¡¥power games¡¦ form the very tissue of social reality, and, as Althusser and Gramsci have shown prior to Foucault, are ultimately irreducible to a central hub (the State). In accepting this formulation, we abandon the ground of grand, macropolitics in lieu of capillary, molecular ¡¥micropolitics¡¦.
³ Antagonism is, in the conflicts and confrontations it engenders, the political itself. It is here that Mouffe introduces another startling claim. In the introduction to The Democratic Paradox, Mouffe separates ¡¥politics¡¦, which she designates as the administration of the political via the State and its representative parties, and ¡¥politics¡¦, which is the field of irreconcilable, adversarial antagonisms. Politics, then, is the inexorable, pure difference that prevents a State from achieving self-identity. Neither field can be reduced to the other, and the conflation of one with the other (as in Habermas¡¦ regulative ideal of ¡¥pure communication¡¦ and Giddensian notions of the ¡¥Third Way¡¦) amounts to a foreclosure, an evacuation of the political. If we can think of antagonism as the ¡¥constitutive outside¡¦ of every political configuration, the Other that divides the State from itself, then the State¡¦s absorption of this field would lead to the disastrous collapse of democracy as an exercise of constituent, popular power. In other words, its disappearance is commensurate with the disappearance of the political: ¡§To negate the ineradicable character of antagonism is to aim at a universal rational consensus- this is the real threat to democracy.¡¨ (22) Alain Badiou, in his stinging Metapolitics, has made a parallel claim, though his treatment of the word ¡¥politics¡¦ is diametrically opposed to Mouffe¡¦s. In Badiou, every politics is a singular sequence of thought that establishes a real distance between itself and parliamentary democracy. It generates, through a subjective process of truth, a real alternative to parliamentarism. The philosophical interest of this lies in the fact that politics is a mode of thought, while the State, as the regulation/administration of interests, does not think.

Coextensive with this is Mouffe¡¦s statement that ¡¥liberal democracy¡¦ is, in actuality, a precarious synthesis of two polarities. Through an incisive reading of Carl Schmitt, Mouffe reveals that there is no intrinsic compatibility between liberalism and democracy. On the contrary, the two are, at the limit, radically antithetical to one another. This antinomy, this ¡¥democratic paradox¡¦ is crucial, because it reinforces the fact that democracy is a negotiation between totally heterogeneous adversaries. This negotiation is that which prevents representative, constitutive power from subjecting us to the untrammeled, frictionless tyranny of the Law. If the State is that which demarcates a territory, defining who belongs/does not belong to it through the invocation of a ¡¥people¡¦, we can begin to understand why the preservation of this field is central to the question of immigrant rights: ¡§To offer a different¡Kanswer to the compatibility of pluralism and liberal democracy requires, in my view, putting into question any idea of ¡¥the people¡¦ as already given, with a substantive identity¡KOnce we have recognized that the unity of people is the result of a political construction we need to explore all the logical possibilities that a political articulation entails¡KDemocratic politics does not consist in the moment when a fully constituted people exercises its rule. The moment of rule is indissociable from the very struggle about the definition of the people, about the constitution of its identity. Such an identity, however, can never be fully constituted, and it can exist only through multiple and competing forms of identifications.¡¨ (55-56)

This is a brief, lucid and powerful text which, though repetitious in parts, does justice to the acuity of Mouffe¡¦s political thought.
Excellent and provocative 30 Jun. 2014
By E.Paul Colella - Published on
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William James identified the metaphysical problem of the One and the Many as perhaps the most pregnant of all philosophical problems. Transported from abstract metaphysical discussion to politics, and you see that he was right. Mouffe's stimulating text centers upon this problem as the theoretical scaffolding behind contemporary debates about the future of democracy. As such, it makes important contributions to current political discourse as well as demonstrate the perennial relevance of metaphysical questions to human experience.
Five Stars 24 Nov. 2014
By Kyle - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Really interesting book, I ended up using it for an English lit project, definitely worth reading.
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