Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (6):691-708 (2011)

Its preoccupation with ontology presents radical democracy with a thorny dilemma: how to combine commitment and affirmation with a distinctive emphasis on contingency and contestability. The article addresses this dilemma by engaging with three different perspectives. Ernesto Laclau’s work shows the intrinsic constraints of ontology and the inadequacy of a simple distinction between ontology and ethico-political decision. Simon Critchley opposes tying radical politics to ontological prefiguration and argues for a particular ethico-political orientation. But ethics and politics come entwined with ontological assumptions, and the ethical direction of politics can be as restrictive as its ontological framing. William Connolly weds ontology and ethics to a sharp awareness of their contestability. But his approach does not reach deep enough. It is not alive to the contestability of the very recognition of contestability. To enhance openness and reflexivity, projects of radical democracy should combine a dimension of substantive, detailed accounts with a reflexive commitment to contestability, which disrupts, questions and renews the thicker descriptions in the name of democracy and truth
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DOI 10.1177/0191453711402941
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