Hegemony, populism and democracy: Laclau and Mouffe today
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This review article takes the publication of four new volumes by, and on, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe as an opportunity to revisit their work and consider its contemporary relevance. After introducing the four volumes, I explain how Laclau and Mouffe’s work has developed since Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, highlighting three key developments: the incorporation of psychoanalysis, rhetoric and passions. Having done so, I turn to consider Laclau’s and Mouffe’s respective works on populism, connecting these to the emergence of left-wing populism in Europe today, with particular attention to the case of Podemos. Given the relevance of Laclau’s and Mouffe’s works for contemporary left populism, I show how the key elements from their theory on hegemony inform their argument that populist discourse is a fruitful strategy for the left today. It is because identities are contingent that a progressive collective will does not need to be articulated around class, but can be articulated around the figure of “the people”. Moreover, since rhetoric, antagonism and passions are inherent to politics, populism is not necessarily opposed to democracy, but can be articulated in a way so as to reinvigorate democratic politics.