Shantal Mouffe and the Logic of The Political

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Associate Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 A Ph.D. Candidate in Political Though, Allameh Tabataba'i University, Tehran, Iran


The discussion of ‘the political’ is a new topic in the field of political philosophy, which flourished in the second half of the twentieth century under the influence of thinkers such as Schmitt and Arendt, and continued with the intellectual work of Foucault, Derrida, Badiou, Žižek and Rancière. Chantal Mouffe is one of the notable contemporary political thinkers, who has discussed the political. Mouffe  has tried to provide a postmodern and post-Marxist reading of the political, and to present a critique of the intellectual implications of the dominant traditions in the discussion of the political revolving around key concepts such as antagonism, power and hegemony.
The research questions to be addressed by the authors are: 1. How is Chantal Mouffe's approach to the analysis of the political related to the postmodern turn? 2. How has Mouffe concurrently integrated consensus versus dissent,  friendship versus antagonism in relation to ‘the other’ in her articulation of the political as a central theme in her work?   One of her key propositions is that disagreement is both legitimate and necessary in a pluralist democracy. By reformulating Schmitt's account of the ‘friend/enemy’ relation, and Derrida's philosophical concepts such as supplement and difference, Mouffe is able to present a logic of the political that places this phenomenon between the acceptance of the other and antagonism. Thus, Mouffe explains a kind of agonistic politics that is consistent with the postmodern turn, because Mouffe's reading of the political is based on elements such as anti-essentialism and anti-foundationalism.
Mouffe has placed the concepts of rivalry and antagonism at the heart of her understanding of the political. She has tried to distinguish between the political and politics by drawing attention to the antagonistic dimension of the political inherent in human societies, which  leads to conflict and forms of violence. She criticizes the Habermasian vision of deliberative democracy for its deficiencies of ignoring the central role of the conflictual dimension of power and antagonism in politics. In other words, she contends that there is a persistent and all-too-real likelihood to see the transformation of a us/them relation into a friend/enemy one. Accordingly, she put forward an alternative model of agonistic pluralism, and makes a distinction between two types of relations in political sphere: a) antagonism between enemies, and b)  agonism between adversaries.  She asserts that the objective of  democratic politics is to establish the we/they relation in such a way that an antagonism is transformed into an agonism, and suggest that agonism is a mode of political interaction. By studying the post-political trend, she takes issue with the argument that politics in its conflictual dimension is a phenomenon of the past, and the belief that the best type of democracy is  a consensual, and depoliticized one.
The article proceeds as follows: In the first section, the main points in Mouffe’s political theory as related to her argument about the political, and what she wants the readers to consider in her writing about the distinction between politics and the political are introduced. The focus of the second section is on a discussion of her concepts of agonistic pluralism, friend/enemy distinction and characterization of self and the other, struggle for hegemony, and the relations of oppression and subordination in modern societies. The latter sections are devoted to the debate that politics is a public space, in which the rules, actors, and configurations of power relations are never easily and fully discernible. Thus, we must proceed with caution when we discuss the flawed notion that we can create a situation in which we can reach a universal rational consensus on the basis of liberal democratic values and guard against hegemonic tendencies. In the final section, the authors  conclude with a brief analysis of Mouffe's idea of radical democracy as a  form of political community against the backdrop of her notion of the political, and adversarial, agonistic politics.


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Volume 51, Issue 2
September 2021
Pages 485-461
  • Receive Date: 04 October 2018
  • Revise Date: 24 August 2021
  • Accept Date: 12 September 2021
  • First Publish Date: 12 September 2021