The failure of the radical democratic imaginary: I Ek versus Laclau and Mouffe on vestigial utopia

Philosophy and Social Criticism 29 (2):183-208 (2003)
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Abstract

Starting from the author’s critique of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, this essay offers a comprehensive interpretation of Slavoj Žižek’s political theory. ŽiŽek’s position drives a wedge between two concepts foundational to Laclau and Mouffe’s ‘radical democratic theory’, namely ‘antagonism’ and ‘anti-essentialism’. Anti-essentialism, it is argued, carries with it a residual utopianism - i.e. a view of political theory as offering a vision of a desirable radicalized society or a ‘radical democratic imaginary’ - that the more radical concept of antagonism forbids. Effectively, anti-essentialism is shown to produce a new kind of ideology, an ideology that Žižek, deeply critical, associates with the shortcomings of multi-culturalism and political correctness. The essay ends with a critical consideration of Žižek’s claim that he himself produced a systematic political theory based upon the insight of antagonism. Having constructed (by way of return to Marx and Engels) a version of Žižek’s project that makes sense of his derision for anti-utopianism by positing a utopian theory without any ‘imaginary’ support, the article closes with critical comments about the effectiveness of such a position. Žižek is seen to offer us a powerful political theory, one that unmasks the hypocrisy in much contemporary work, but also a theory whose limits must give us pause.

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References found in this work

The Return of the Political.Chantal Mouffe - 1993 - Science and Society 60 (1):116-119.

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