Agonistic Critiques of Liberalism: Perfection and Emancipation

Contemporary Political Theory 7 (4):376–394 (2008)
Abstract
Agonism is a political theory that places contestation at the heart of politics. Agonistic theorists charge liberal theory with a depoliticization of pluralism through an excessive focus on consensus. This paper examines the agonistic critiques of liberalism from a normative perspective. I argue that by itself the argument from pluralism is not sufficient to support an agonistic account of politics, but points to further normative commitments. Analyzing the work of Mouffe, Honig, Connolly, and Owen, I identify two normative currents of agonistic theory: emancipatory agonism, aimed at challenging violence and exclusion, and perfectionist agonism, aimed at the cultivation of nobility. From a normative perspective the former presents an internal challenge to liberalism, while the latter constitutes an external challenge to liberalism by providing a competing account of the ends of politics. Recognition of the distinction between emancipatory and perfectionist agonism is crucial in assessing the purchase of agonistic critiques of liberalism. Furthermore, this analysis draws us beyond the simple opposition between contestation and consensus. It is not simply a question of valuing genuine pluralism and therefore criticizing consensus; rather the question comes to be: what are the ends of politics?
Keywords agonism  liberalism  emancipation  perfectionism  pluralism  contestation
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DOI doi:10.1057/cpt.2008.15
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References found in this work BETA
Political Philosophy As a Critical Activity.J. Tully - 2002 - Political Theory 30 (4):533-555.
Deliberative Democracy in Divided Societies.J. S. Dryzek - 2005 - Political Theory 33 (2):218-242.
Law and Disagreement.Arthur Ripstein & Jeremy Waldron - 2001 - Philosophical Review 110 (4):611.
Agonism in Divided Societies.Andrew Schaap - 2006 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 32 (2):255-277.
Debate: Agonism as Deliberation – on Mouffe's Theory of Democracy.Andrew Knops - 2007 - Journal of Political Philosophy 15 (1):115–126.

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Citations of this work BETA
Restoring Society to Post-Structuralist Politics.W. Leggett - 2013 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 39 (3):299-315.

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