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Globalization and politics

Will Kherbek
art critic
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piqer: Will Kherbek
Tuesday, 05 February 2019

The P-Word: Who's Afraid Of Populism, With Chantal Mouffe

Chantal Mouffe has been a leading voice in political philosophy for nearly 40 years. In this extended interview with Novara FM presenter, James Butler, Mouffe explores the meaning of the term “populism”. Mouffe is quick to attempt to break open the increasingly ossified discourse that treats all forms of appeal to popular needs the same: left populism is not right populism, and populism in Europe is not populism in Latin America or elsewhere. Mouffe’s understanding of the term is connected to the notion of what might be called the “neoliberal consensus”. This led, in Mouffe’s argument, to a kind of “post-politics” in which simmering conflicts were marginalised in favour of a bland managerialism that attempted to take the politics out of politics. Familiar figures like the Clintons and Tony Blair come in for critique, but also the French Socialist party which, in a telling anecdote Mouffe recounts, once hired a think tank to help formulate a political strategy for upcoming elections. The conclusion? The working class is lost for the Socialists, better to concentrate on those better off.

Populism for Mouffe is about establishing a "frontier" for politics, foregrounding the notion of struggle, incorporating “agonistic” politics which she argues creates a bulwark not only against delusional politics-as-management, but also the potential totalitarianism of majoritarian democracy. Pluralism, she notes, requires agonism. The discussion is heady, taking in thinkers from Marx through C.B. Macpherson, from her roots in the work of Antonio Gramsci to contemporaries like Hardt & Negri. Through all the intellectual gymnastics, Butler continues to prod: isn’t her ideal outcome too reliant on the nation-state for its delivery? Can such a vision be truly a “left” view? Mouffe makes clear she isn’t afraid of political institutions, but makes clear that institutions themselves are subject to the same agonisms as citizens. The struggle can, and must, continue.

The P-Word: Who's Afraid Of Populism, With Chantal Mouffe
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