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Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics Paperback – May 17, 2001
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“A brilliant tour de force of scholarship and argument.”—Marxism Today
About the Author
Ernesto Laclau is Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Government, University of Essex, and Distinguished Professor for Humanities and Rhetorical Studies at Northwestern University. He is the author of, amongst other works, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (with Chantal Mouffe), New Reflections of the Revolution of Our Time, The Populist Reason, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality (with Judith Butler and Slavoj Zizek), and Emancipation(s).
Chantal Mouffe is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster. Her books include The Return of the Political; Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (with Ernesto Laclau); The Dimensions of Radical Democracy; Gramsci and Marxist Theory; Deconstruction and Pragmatism; The Democratic Paradox; and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, all from Verso.
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They begin by positing that there are countless groups within a society, each with a series of perspectives and views. Because of this plurality of groups, it is not possible to know which groups will coalesce into a bloc and be able, through their agreed upon ideas also coming together, to exercise hegemony. Different groups have many possible bloc allies. In the United States, there have been times when Jews and African-Americans have united and worked together, for example, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964; there have been other times when these groups have not been able to work together politically in an harmonious fashion, as with the anti-Jewish slogans of some members of the Nation of Islam (Louis Farrakhan, for instance).
What blocs form and produce a new hegemony depends upon a number of factors: the particular issues which become most salient and lead to groups "choosing up sides" on which position to take with respect to the emergent agenda, pre-existing interests and views characteristic of the group, and the extent to which segments of different groups' views can be articulated together in alliance with other groups to become a bloc.
To use the language of post-structuralism, each potential antagonism of one group with another is a "floating signifier,". . .a 'wild' antagonism which does not predetermine the form in which it can be articulated [linked up] to other elements in a social system." Furthermore, rapid change is possible in a current hegemony. The groups bound together as a bloc may find their articulation coming apart at the seams; latent antagonisms may come to the fore and lead to a rearticulation of interests into a new bloc. Thus, hegemonies are unstable for Laclau and Mouffe--whereas they tend to be much more stable from Gramsci's perspective. The end result is that dominant views can change swiftly, and the ideas that have led to one set of leaders may disintegrate, precipitating new leaders and new political agendas.
Most dramatically, consider the Soviet Union. Who can forget the rapid collapse of the old Bolshevik apparatus, after seventy years of hegemony. Seemingly, overnight the forces of openness put into motion by Mikhail Gorbachev tore apart the previous grand hegemony. However, there is plenty of potential for a new hegemony developing that will be much less supportive of democratic impulses. Witness events occurring in recent years under the presidency of Vladimir Putin.
This is a difficult work to plow through. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating book and worth the effort to make sense of it.
Gramsci is heavily represented, as the concept of hegemony is used to ground the theoretical elements of Laclau and Mouffe's poststructuralist analysis.
Whether you hail from the left or the right, this book is worth a read.
The authors assume a great deal of knowledge on the part of the reader. You will find this book very difficult if you do not have prior knowledge of Marx (certainly), as well as Gramsci and Lenin (who are both very useful for their own writings on figures that appear in this text e.g. Kautsky, Plekhanov, Bernstein). That will help you get through the first half of the book (Althusser also appears but they deal with him in a pretty easy manner). With the second half, knowledge of Saussure and Derrida is most useful, such as the role of signifiers and the concept of differance (if you're saying "what?" at this, then the second half of the book won't make much sense). Laclau and Mouffe are basically taking Derrida's understanding of the "missing center" filled in by discourse and applying it to Gramsci's understanding of hegemony.
So, at the least, you should be comfortable with Marx (Capital), and have reading Lenin (get the excellent Dover text of "What is to Be Done? And Other Essays") and Gramsci (Prison Notebooks). Then, get familiar with Saussure (perhaps not necessary to read his original text on linguistics, I haven't anyway) and Derrida (in particular the essay "Structure, Sign and Play", find it online).
Once you've done this, Laclau and Mouffe will make much more sense and be much more rewarding.
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