Democratic Politics and Radical Citizenship Model: A Theory of Chantal Mouffe

Document Type : Research Paper


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

2 A PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran



The vacuum of an appropriate theory for the outcasts, blacks, refugees, and women has always been evident in the history of thought. After the student movements of the 1960s, measures were taken to overcome this shortcoming, but no suitable theory was proposed in the field of politics. Using the ideas of her predecessors, Mouffe took steps to fill the gap. This article seeks to answer the following two research questions: 1. What new perception does radical citizenship in Chantal Mouffe’s anti-essentialist approach create in the field of politics? 2. What steps should be taken towards radical citizenship in the political community?
Using a qualitative approach, and the method of conceptual content analysis, first citizenship and the principle of compromise in democracy in liberal tradition, and then Mouffe’s concept of citizenship in radical tradition are discussed. By rethinking politics, hegemony, and antagonism, Mouffe has sought to provide new political alternatives to transform antagonism into agonism in a way based on democratic tolerance. Within the framework of the logic of equivalence, she considers immigrants and blacks as citizens who can be called citizens through the democratic process. In the context of non-discrimination, she believes that citizens, regardless of gender, religion, skin color or transgender issues, can enjoy citizenship rights within the framework of radical democracy, but ethnic-religious groups and fundamentalists are suppressed. Mouffe maintains that we need a populist left front which achieve consensus on the revival of the idea of citizenship in order to radicalize (and strengthen) democracy. Influenced by postmodernism, she has considered the existence of various types of idealism in the field of citizenship in human beings in the West.
In addition to Moufee’s distinct understanding of the meaning of the political, her argument on citizenship —which has centered around how to see and define citizens— has been among her ideas which have influenced other thinkers. In her works, Mouffe tries to criticize and deconstruct the politics of liberal democratic discourse, and present new political alternatives based on a constructive approach. Mouffe discusses the idea that liberal thought contemplates about politics in an economic way, and is never able to understand the specificity of the political. In contrast, radical democracy emphasizes the particularity, the existence of different forms of rationality, and the role of tradition (i.e., behavioral traditions). Citizenship in liberal theory should be called monocultural citizenship, which neglects distinct cultures in the society and its cultural pluralist nature. This type of thought has caused antagonistic radical citizenship to be proposed as an alternative to compromise-based liberal citizenship.
Using an anti-essentialist, poststructuralist approach and combining these perspectives with the views of Antonio Gramsci, Mouffe has presented an alternative anti-essentialist approach, which can create a "chain of equivalence" by paying attention to the demands of the working class together with the demands of new movements with the aim of achieving "common will" in order to "radicalize democracy" by understanding the plurality of struggles against different forms of domination. In accordance with Schmidt’s arguments, Moffee considers the political as conflict and does not consider this conflict to be separate from politics. Mouffe believes that the acceptance of conflict as an intrinsic part of politics is the origin and background of radical democratic politics. It is on this basis that she establishes a close link between the political and antagonism, and then tries to present a different definition of the political by proposing the concept of agonism versus antagonism. Moffee believes that the desired political identity in radical democracy requires the creation of radical democratic citizens. This belief is based on a certain understanding of pluralism and the fundamental role of power and conflict. Mouffe's conceptualization of democratic citizenship suggests that politics is not about radical transformation at all, but instead it is a constructive response to social frustration. Moffee's citizenship is equal to feeling and logic, and there is a possibility of political mobilization through passion and feeling, which have indeed led to the formation of new social movements such as Al-Qaeda. She  argues that fundamentalist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS cannot be included in the domain of citizens due to their violent nature.   


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