Düşünce ve Kuram Dergisi

Contingency, Contestation and Hegemony

Eduard Grebe

The possibility of a non-essentialist politics for the left


Abstract Two major developments of the last two decades have radically undermined traditional justifications of leftist politics: the failure of[1] th-century ‘socialist’ experiments, and what might be termed the de- essentializing movement in contemporary philosophy. However, the social injustices that animated revolutionary thinkers in many respects remain, and some have arguably worsened in the era of globalized capitalism. This article investigates whether it is possible to articulate a new theoretical underpinning for progressive politics that nevertheless avoids the essential- ist moves of Marxism. Ethico-political readings of Derrida – one of the most influential anti-essentialist thinkers – are compared to Ernesto Laclau’s attempts at formulating a post-Marxist progressive politics built around the notions of ‘hegemony’ and ‘radical democracy’. Laclau’s intervention in the Marxist tradition is to deconstruct its traditional categories so as to take account of contingency; his intervention in deconstruction is to introduce what in this article is described as ‘contestation’, so as to provide a more coherent account of the political. The article concludes that neither deconstruction nor radical democracy provides an adequate basis for poltical action, but that the latter’s account of the political is a meaning- ful development of the theoretical schema articulated by the former and does point to the possibility of a non-essentialist progressive politics.

Key words aporia · contestation · contingency · deconstruction · Jacques Derrida · hegemony · justice · Ernesto Laclau · Emmanuel Levinas · responsibility


1. Introduction

It is approaching two decades since the rapid dissolution of socialist systems in almost all formerly ‘socialist’ countries, and it seemed that a socialist alternative had finally lost all credibility. Ever since, the global left has been on the defensive, seemingly unable to articulate a compelling political vision based on social justice. However, in many countries, and globally, we are still faced with endemic poverty and underdevelopment as well as hugely unequal and inequitable distributions of wealth. Could it be that the emergent (but possibly transient) voice of global civil society and the turn away from the right in many areas of the world[2] signals a new opportunity to place justice at the centre of political debate?

The need to articulate a new vision for the left is evident on two levels: the actual socio-political changes in the world of the last two decades – i.e. the failure of 20th-century socialist economic and politi- cal experiments with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the radical reform of the Chinese economy and the proliferation of democratic political forms and market-oriented economies – and what might be termed the de-essentializing movement in contemporary philosophy and intellectual life.[3] It is clear that the latter seriously undermines classical Marxist theories, which traditionally provided the intellectual under- pinning of leftist politics. A central contention of this article (following Chantal Mouffe) will be that foundationalist (and rationalist) accounts of politics such as Marxism or even that of Habermas – who wants to ground ethical and political decisions in supra-cultural, ahistorical (tran- scendental) rational reflection – have not come to terms with contin- gency and that they require a deconstructive intervention.

What has become of Marxist social goals and do they still have relevance? Is it possible to articulate non-essentialist political positions that nevertheless retain the critical (even revolutionary) power necessary to pursue progressive social goals? Should such positions situate them- selves as a continuation of the Marxist tradition (i.e. become post- Marxist) or is there nothing of the Marxist tradition worth retaining?

I will argue that deconstruction in the end offers no coherent account of the political and no real basis (how difficult to avoid foun- dationalist terminology!) for a political project. Two approaches that attempt to employ deconstruction as a basis for political decisions are (1) the extension of Derrida’s thought by employing Levinas’ conception of the ethical relationship with the Other (as articulated in slightly different ways by Drucilla Cornell and Simon Critchley) and (2) the introduction of the notion of hegemony by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. It will be my argument that while neither the Levinasian reading of deconstruc- tion nor Laclau’s post-Marxism are directly useful in political decision- making, the latter is more successful at elaborating a non-essentialist politics. I will further attempt to show that the notion of contestation is central to any such attempt at theorizing ‘the political’.

Note: in the texts that served as sources for this article, the terms ‘ethical’ and ‘political’ are often used interchangeably. I will generally use ethical to refer to the general processes of responsibility and sensitivity to suffering (i.e. close to the Levinasian sense) and political to refer to the actual political decision-making which, I will argue, is to be informed by an ethical ‘grounding’.


2. The ethical and political relevance of deconstruction

It has often been argued by critics of Derrida’s work that it has no ethical and political relevance (Beardsworth, 1996: xi). Typically these critics view deconstruction as a politically disinterested, ‘postmodernist’ style of textual interpretation. I would argue that this view results from a fundamental misreading of Derrida. In his later years, Derrida’s work became more explicitly political – think of his texts on apartheid[4] (1986) and the legacy of Marx (1994) – but a deeply ethical impulse had always been evident.[5] Even his more ‘literary’ and linguistically-oriented works have clear ethico-political relevance. The central question here is there- fore whether Derrida offers a viable politics, as opposed to merely an ethics (provided, of course, that we accept the validity of that distinction). Beardsworth (1996: xiii) points to a distinction evident in most contemporary continental philosophy: that between political organiz- ation on the one hand and the ‘remainder’ of any attempt to organize politically, on the other. This distinction is analogous to the distinctions between ‘the law’ and ‘justice’, ‘the deconstructible’ and ‘the undecon- structible’, ‘the system’ and ‘the outside’, and between ‘the immanent’ and ‘the transcendental’, that pervade the work of Derrida, Critchley, Cornell and others who write in the deconstructive tradition. Following Beardsworth, I would argue that the political power of Derrida’s thought flows precisely from its thinking of this distinction as an aporetic relation. Beardsworth (1996: xiii) argues that all political organization depends upon a stability of conceptual determination and that this stabilization implies a certain violence. Derrida’s deconstruction of metaphysics, which is a deconstruction of the present,[6] identity, etc., disrupts this conceptual stability and thereby undermines any totalitarian politics. The political relevance of Derrida’s philosophy is therefore beyond doubt. The ques- tion that remains is whether it provides us with (1) a coherent account of the political and (2) a viable strategy for actual political decision-making. But before we try to evaluate its ultimate success, let us look a little more closely at the nature of this ethico-political moment in Derrida’s thought. Says Caputo (1997: 128), ‘[E]very deconstructive analysis is undertaken in the name of something, something affirmatively undecon- structible’ – justice. He is attempting to show that deconstruction is not merely a ‘nihilistic textual free play’, but an explicitly ethical and politi- cal activity performed in the name of justice. Caputo is concerned with the distinction between the law and justice – a manifestation of the broader distinction described earlier: ‘Deconstruction situates itself in the structural, necessary space between the law and justice, watching for the flowers of justice that grow up in the cracks of the law.’ This struc- tural dislocation or spacing is necessary on the one hand if law is to be deconstructible and therefore capable of improvement (otherwise justice would always already be instantiated in the law and no improvement would be possible or necessary); but it is also necessary to traverse that space – i.e. for deconstruction not merely to watch and wait for the, but to cultivate them by actively transforming the law in the name of justice. But how is this limit to be understood? Derrida makes sense of it as aporia. That is: justice is only encountered by running up against the limits of the law. The limit is impenetrable, but at the same time must be crossed if justice is to flower.

Caputo’s account of justice and the law raises two questions, however. First, does the appeal to justice show that deconstruction is a politics, as opposed to merely being political in its orientation (i.e. does it provide us with a convincing account of the passage from the ethical to the political)?[7] Second, does ‘justice’ in this sense not risk becoming a new foundation or even a Kantian transcendentalism? In other words, could one not charge that, to the extent that the deconstructive appeal to justice provides a guide to navigate ethical waters by, it becomes a new foundationalism; but to the extent that it avoids this trap, it is direc- tionless and unhelpful?

Caputo (1997: 128–9) addresses the second question by arguing that ‘deconstruction is affirmative of something undeconstructible, but it is affirmative without being “positive”’ and ‘the undeconstructible is beyond both foundationalism and anti-foundationalism . . . beyond anti- foundationalism because the undeconstructible is what gives deconstruc- tion impulse, momentum . . . [and] beyond foundationalism, because the undeconstructible is not knowable or foreseeable or forehaveable but hangs on by a prayer, “Come”.’ But is this not merely (re)stating the paradox? Yes, justice gives deconstruction impetus from the other side, so to speak, but is it not required to re-enter the system, i.e. to not merely ‘hang on by a prayer’, in order to facilitate actual political decision- making? (I grant that my argument here becomes somewhat simplistic and facile. For Derrida to ‘solve’ the paradox outlined above would be to disfigure his philosophy beyond recognition. I wish merely to show that we need to elaborate a mechanism beyond what Derrida gives us – sophisticated and subtle though it is – to help us make political decisions. Otherwise we are left, painfully aware of our responsibility, in a desert of undecidability.)

Let us have a look at the notion of aporia in Derrida’s own words, used in relation to Paul de Man, but according to Cornell (1992: 71), equally applicable to his own work:

I believe we would misunderstand [the word ‘aporia’] if we tried to hold it to its most literal meaning: an absence of path, a paralysis before road- blocks, the immobilization of thinking, the impossibility of advancing, a barrier blocking the future. On the contrary, it seems to me that the experi- ence of the aporia, such as de Man deciphers it, gives or promises the thinking of the path, provokes the thinking of the very possibility of what still remains unthinkable or unthought, indeed, impossible. The figures of rationality are profiled and outlined in the madness of the aporetic. (Derrida, 1986: 132)

In other words, it is precisely the aporia which opens up the possi- bility of the impossible,[8] that is: it is only in the aporia that there is any chance for ‘the beyond’ to re-enter the system, for ‘the remainder’ to influence political organization. In order to explore this logic (if one can call it that), it will help to explore the related notion of undecidability. Says Derrida, in response to a question relating to Searle’s accusation that he ‘[sets] up a kind of “all or nothing” choice between pure real- ization or self-presence and complete freeplay or undecidability’:

[Undecidability] calls for decision in the order of ethical-political responsi- bility. It is even its necessary condition. A decision can only come into being in a space that exceeds the calculable program that would destroy all responsibility by transforming it into a programmable effect of determinate causes. There can be no moral or political responsibility without this trial and this passage by way of the undecidable. Even if a decision seems to take only a second and not to be preceded by any deliberation, it is struc- tured by this experience and experiment of the undecidable. If I insist on this point from now on, it is, I repeat, because the discussion is, will be, and ought to be at bottom an ethical-political one. (Derrida, 1988: 116)

The ‘experience of the undecidable’ is therefore a structural condition of possibility of decision qua judgement. Undecidability means that calcu- lation is insufficient – if it were, no judgement would be necessary and the correct decision would be self-evident. However, it does not mean complete paralysis either: a decision has to be taken: ‘justice does not wait’ (Caputo, 1997, 138). Undecidability in this sense is what opens up the impossible – i.e. what is beyond the possible (that which is in any event given or implied in the immanent situation). Only by reaching beyond the limit of the actual (the law, political organization, etc.) can a trace of the other (the beyond, the remainder) re-enter the system and a ‘fresh judgement’ be made.

Derrida says ‘there can be no moral or political responsibility without this trial and this passage by way of the undecidable’. It is precisely by requiring fresh judgement (i.e. more than calculation), that responsi- bility is introduced. This is the ethical moment – deeply Levinasian, as we shall see – in Derrida. The aporetic, then, is what, on the one hand, (through undecidability) opens up the possibility of the new and there- fore of the just, and on the other, (through responsibility) requires it, compels us to push against the limit.

Put differently, the political relevance of Derrida’s thought lies in its articulation of the relation between the undecidable and judgement. Undecidability has often been misinterpreted by commentators as com- plete or final, resulting in a pessimistic and demoralizing Derrida. An affirmative reading, however, would emphasize how the aporia makes possible judgement as opposed to calculation and so allows ‘the new’. The ‘promise of the future’ therefore emerges as a direct result of the paradoxical process by which undecidability becomes the condition of possibility of judgement.

We can see that these (political) notions of aporia, undecidability, responsibility are closely tied up with the (more theoretical) notions of the limit, the quasi-transcendental, trace, etc. They are all descriptions of the same intellectual configuration which calls forth the central paradox of deconstructive ethics: how the trace of the remainder can re-enter the system, how justice (the Other, the beyond) can penetrate the limit that is its structural condition of possibility. While deconstruction gives us a nuanced and responsible account of this aporia, it does not tell us how it can be overcome. Critchley and Cornell (and to some extent even Derrida himself) attempt to solve this problem by employing the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas’ account of the encounter with the Other – they contend – provides us with the theoretical tool needed to think this re-entry of the tout autre, this transcendence which somehow breaks into the immanence of the actual and shows us the possibility of justice.


3. The Levinasian reading of deconstruction: an ethical injunction of responsibility

I argued earlier that Derrida’s ethics is deeply Levinasian in tone and substance. Let us look more closely at Levinasian ethics and its relevance for the development of a deconstructive ethics.

Emmanuel Levinas was a student of, and his work is in the phenomen- ological tradition of Husserl and Heidegger. While one should not neces- sarily read a philosopher in terms of his personal experiences, Levinas’ thought seems profoundly marked by his Jewishness (his Talmudic writings, while carefully kept separate from his formal philosophy, betray a deep concern with Judaic spirituality) and by his experience of the Nazi horror.[9] It may be argued that his articulation of ethics as first philosophy (in contradistinction to Heidegger’s ontology as first philo- sophy[10]) is inspired by Judaic ethics and by an attempt to prevent what lies at the heart of the Nazi genocide: the denial of another’s humanity. The most fundamental question addressed by Levinas’ phenomeno- logical inquiry can be formulated as ‘How is a transcendence (of the totality of Being) possible that would not utterly destroy subjectivity’[11] Viewed from a slightly different angle, his entire intellectual project seems to be an attempt to overcome the totalizing tendency of logocentric western philosophy.[12] This he attempts by articulating the meeting with the Other as a moment of ethical transcendence in which the Other’s absolute and irreducible alterity confronts (and in a sense disrupts) my subjectivity.

In the foreword to Existence and Existents, Levinas (2001: iii) says that he takes his cue from the Platonic formula which places the Good beyond being. In this sense, then, his analysis is unapologetically meta- physical. However, ‘excendence and the Good necessarily have a foothold in being’ (ibid.: iv) and therefore the phenomenological inquiry into the being of beings can serve as basis for the discovery of the transcending moment in which the Good (or alterity – that which is beyond Being) breaks into our existence and in that sense offers the possibility of tran- scendence, hope and even redemption.[13]

In my meeting with the Other, literally in the Face of the Other, I am confronted by her or his subjectivity (and therefore absolute alterity). This meeting is not comfortable, in it I am called to account with an injunction: ‘Thou shalt not kill me’ and even ‘Thou shalt grant me a place in the sun’. For Levinas there inheres an infinite responsibility in my relation with the Other – one I am inescapably reminded of in this primordial meeting. Levinas describes, then, what is now commonly termed in poststructuralist discourse ‘an ethical relation to the Other’. This radical alterity is an absolute transcendence (I can never pene- trate or appropriate the Other’s subjectivity, her or his alterity is unknow- able); but I am nevertheless confronted with it, aware of it. In that sense, then, a trace of the Other has always already re-entered. The moment of transcendence – described by Derrida in terms of aporia and the ordeal of undecidability – which is required for the possibility of justice, is precisely this moment in which the alterity of the Other somehow traverses the limit between subjects (Levinas) or the system and the beyond (Derrida) and calls me to responsibility.

The meaning of ethics for Levinas is therefore found in the relation that I have with the Other and in the unique demand that is placed upon me by him or her. Simon Critchley’s central thesis in The Ethics of Deconstruction is that by reading deconstruction in terms of the Levinasian ethical problematic, its ethical and political significance be- comes clear.

Critchley (1999: 18) speaks of the ‘irreducible particularity of my obligation to the singular other, prior to procedures of universalisation and legalisation.’ It is clear that deconstruction is sensitive to this irre- ducible particularity. Caputo (1997: 135) says ‘the heart of justice aches over these singularities with a kind of biblical justice’ – deconstruction is what rescues the particular from the totalizing violence of the uni- versal. Just as Levinas helps me recognize in the face of the Other my particular responsibility to her or him, deconstruction allows justice to rescue the singular judgement from the universality of the law.

The responsibility that inheres for Derrida in the call of justice (the mere existence of ‘the remainder’ or ‘the beyond’ already implies an injunction: thou shalt be just) is the same responsibility that for Levinas inheres in the alterity of the other (which is his or her very subjectivity or beyondness). Levinas’ ethics helps us, then, to see the urgency and the inescapability of ‘that prayer, “Come”’. But does this Levinasian reading of Derrida really extend his analysis? To my mind, not by very much. In fact, it seems to me that Derrida’s ethics is already explicitly Levinasian (at least as explicit as Derrida ever is) and that the Levinasian reading is helpful chiefly in anthropomorphizing the theoretical schema, and therefore highlights rather than reveals the ethical impulse.

Rorty (1996b: 41) criticizes the Levinasian reading of Derrida (in direct response to Critchley), as follows:

I don’t find Levinas’ Other any more useful than Heidegger’s Being – both strike me as gawky, awkward, and unenlightening. I see ethics as what we have to start creating when we face a choice between two irreconcilable actions, each of which would, in other circumstances, have been equally natural and proper. Neither my child nor my country is very much like a Levinasian Other, but when I face a choice between incriminating my child or breaking my country’s laws by committing perjury, I start looking for some ethical principles. I may not find any help, but that is another ques- tion. My failure to do so is not satisfactorily explained by reference to an Abyss that separates me from an Other.

Rorty’s neat disposal of Levinas’ ethics (seemingly with a mere flick of the wrist) is, it may be argued, based on a fundamental misreading of Levinas. Levinas is not attempting to provide us with a set of principles with which to resolve ethical dilemmas; his is a phenomenological analysis aimed at articulating the ethical relation at its most fundamental. It may be that it gains relevance for practical problems only when one formu- lates ‘ethical principles’, but with the proviso that those principles are always provisional and can only be justified by reference to an originary responsibility to the Other. Levinas’ ethical relation therefore constitutes a safeguard against the hypostatization of provisional principles and does not purport to be such a principle itself (nor does it claim that such principles will follow directly or clearly from it). It can therefore be called a foundation upon which an ethics is built, but ‘foundation’ in a very specific sense. It is less like the foundation upon which a building is built than like the safety net a trapeze artist entrusts her or his life to in the last instance.[14]

Nevertheless, Rorty’s criticism does point to my central contention: that the Levinasian reading of Derrida’s ethics does not (however much Critchley would like it to) constitute a ‘coherent account of the path from ethics to politics’. But that does not mean it is not useful.

Deconstruction is ethical in a profoundly Levinasian sense. Also, Levinas’ ethical injunction provides an impetus for ethical decision-making without which the limit between undecidability and decision would be truly impenetrable. This means that Levinas is indispensable, but not necessarily sufficient for the elaboration of the ethico-political implica- tions of deconstruction. But we are still no closer to a coherent account of the passage from the ethical to the political. This is an account I believe Laclau can help us formulate.


4. Contingency and contestation: Laclau’s anti-essentialist post-Marxism

Laclau’s and Mouffe’s[15] work represents primarily a critique not of poststructuralist or deconstructive ethics, but of traditional leftist politics (i.e. classical Marxism and its derivatives).[16] It is a response to the strategic and theoretical crisis mentioned in the introduction to this article. Says Laclau (1990: xii), ‘[t]he post-Marxist perspective . . . is therefore much more than a theoretical choice: it is an inevitable decision for anyone aiming to reformulate a political programme for the left in the historical circumstances prevailing in the last decade of the twentieth century’. It is an approach, therefore, that is deeply engaged with the actual political problems of our time (poverty, sexual rights, xenophobia, etc.) and is, in my view, less likely to fall into the trap of theoreticism of which Derrida’s, Critchley’s and Cornell’s approaches are sometimes guilty.

The strategic and theoretical crisis of the left is visible, for Laclau and Mouffe, in two new forms of social conflict: identity-based antag- onisms and the so-called new social movements (e.g. new feminisim, protest movements from ethnic, national and sexual minorities, anti- institutional ecology struggles, the anti-nuclear movement and, more recently, struggles around HIV/Aids). Both of these represent ‘a “surplus” vis-à-vis the rational and organized structure[17] of society – i.e. of the social “order”’ (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 1). The structural similarity between this formulation and that of Beardsworth quoted earlier, which refers to a distinction between political organization and ‘the remainder of any attempt to organize politically’, points to the close theoretical allegiance between Laclau’s and Mouffe’s analysis and that of Derrida. This is an allegiance (and debt) that Laclau (1996: 48) acknowledges explicitly in a paper entitled ‘Deconstruction, Pragmatism, Hegemony’. Unlike Derrida, however, Laclau attempts to theorize this ‘surplus’ politically with direct reference to actual political struggles.

Smith (1998: 2–3) argues that these new social movements not only ‘[politicize] new areas of the social . . . [but] also establish a somewhat new form of political contestation’. It will be my contention that this notion of contestation[18] is central to any truly political analysis and that by thematizing it in an anti-essentialist framework, Laclau’s analysis allows us to articulate a deconstructive and non-essentialist politics. Put differently, by (deconstructively) injecting contingency into Marxist analysis, Laclau rescues it from its essentialism; by introducing contes- tation, Laclau rescues deconstruction (and deconstructive ethics) from abstract ethicism and political irrelevancy.

The essentialism of classical Marxism is betrayed in various notions dear to that tradition, such as the ‘ontological centrality of the working class’, ‘Revolution with a capital “r”’ as mode of social change, and, most fundamentally, what Laclau and Mouffe describe as the ‘illusory prospect of a perfectly unitary and homogeneous collective [communist society] that will render pointless the moment of politics’ (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 2). Laclau’s and Mouffe’s intervention revolves around the concept of hegemony,[19] considered as ‘a discursive surface and funda- mental nodal point of Marxist political theorization’ and purports to discover behind this concept a logic of the social, which is incompatible with the basic categories of Marxist theory. They continue:

Faced with the rationalism of classical Marxism, which presented history and society as intelligible totalities constituted around conceptually explic- able laws, the logic of hegemony presented itself from the outset as a comple- mentary and contingent operation, required for conjunctoral imbalances within an evolutionary paradigm whose essential or ‘morphological’ validity was not for a moment placed in question. (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 3)

It is clear, then, that the moment of contingency is what undermines the rationalism and essentialism of Marxism and that they trace this moment through a concept (hegemony) introduced early in the history of Marxism and central throughout the tradition.[20] We will discuss hegemony and contingency in greater detail, but for the moment I would like to return to this ‘logic of the social’.

Laclau (1990: 160–1) argues that an understanding of present-day struggles requires an inversion of the priority established in the last century and a half’s political thought between the social and the political. He goes so far as to characterize this priority as ‘the systematic absorp- tion of the political by the social’. In the work of Marx (in what Laclau calls ‘the moment of the greatest “forgetting of origins”’) the political becomes a superstructure, a mere adjunct phenomenon or sector of the social, which can be fully explained in terms of the objective laws of the latter (which historical materialism claims to have discovered). This is why orthodox Marxism could insist on the inevitability of a socialist revolution led by the working class. What Laclau sees in recent theor- etical movements (presumably especially in deconstruction) is a growing understanding of the ‘eminently political character of any social identity’. The social is ‘established through the sedimentation of the political’. The ‘reactivation of the original meaning of the social consists in showing its political essence’. Laclau (1990: 161) continues:

Marxism, just as the greater part of the sociological tradition, is grounded on the affirmation of the objective character of the social. In this sense, Marxism is perfectly rooted in the intellectual tradition of the ‘metaphysics of presence.’ The central point of our ‘post-Marxism’ consists, by contrast, in opposing the ‘objectivity’ of any kind of ultimate suturing or closure, due to the negativity inherent in the ‘constitutive outside’ . . .20

By deconstructing the traditional categories of Marxism (and thus introducing radical contingency) and by reversing the absorption of the political in the social, then, Laclau undermines the essentialism that ‘render[s] pointless the moment of politics’. But how is one to think this political moment at the root of the social? This will become clearer if we look more closely at the deconstructive roots of Laclau’s approach.

That Laclau’s strategy is deconstructive becomes clear from his use of phrases like ‘metaphysics of presence’ and ‘constitutive outside’ appro- priated from Derrida, as well the general anti-essentialist thrust of his work. Laclau (1996: 47–8) argues that a deconstructive approach is highly relevant to two dimensions of the political: (1) ‘the political as the instituting moment of society’ and (2) ‘the incompletion of all acts of political institution’. This contingency of the acts of institution at once makes the political possible – just as the incompleteness of the law is a prerequisite for justice – and impossible: ‘no instituting act is fully achievable’ (ibid.: 48), just as justice is never fully instantiated in any system of law. Contingency is therefore both the condition of possibility and condition of impossibility of the political – a classic Derridian ‘double gesture’.

The logic of différance implies that every structural determination is radically contingent, since every structural element is perpetually deferred.

Laclau (1996: 54) employs the notion of dislocation to point to this con- tingency inherent in structural determination (‘dislocation is the trace of contingency within the structure’; ‘identities within the system will be constitutively dislocated’). Any attempt at political organization carries within itself, then, the seeds of its own instability and its own trans- formation: a trace of the remainder has always already (re-)entered the system. So far Laclau has not gone theoretically beyond Derrida. How- ever, his thematization of this inherent contingency of political structure by means of the notion of hegemony does relate it more explicitly to the traditional categories of political thought.

Laclau (1996: 54–60) also elaborates contingency in terms of the problem of the subject. He defines the latter as ‘the distance between the undecidability of the structure and the decision’. This is an important theoretical move, as it allows him to assert that the condition for the emergence of the subject (the decision) is that it cannot be subsumed under any structural determinism because structural undecidability has always already undermined, or, in his terminology, ‘dislocated’, this determination. (It is here that his post-Marxism is most apparent: he is employing deconstruction in order to reintroduce a sophisticated notion of agency against the historical and economic determinism of Marxism.) This implies a ‘logic of supplementarity’ which shows that ‘something different from structural determination’ is required in order to explain the actual. This occurs in the moment of decision (and undecidability is at the same time what necessitates supplementation): ‘The madness of the decision is this blind spot in the structure, in which something totally heterogeneous with it – and, as a result, totally inadequate – has, however, to supplement it’ (Laclau, 1996: 55).[21] Elsewhere, he makes the point differently: if one accepts the structuralist argument that the subject is fully determined by structures (e.g. the discourses that constitute it), the question arises as to what happens to the subject if the structure does not manage to constitute itself, if a radical outside dislocates it? ‘The structure will obviously not be able to determine me, not because I have an essence independent from the structure, but because the structure has failed to constitute itself fully and thus to constitute me fully as a subject’ (Laclau, 1990: 44). This failed structural subjectivity is explained in terms of identification, a psychoanalytic term which points to the subject as being partly self-determined, ‘not the expression of what the subject already is, but the result of its lack of being instead’ (Laclau, 1996: 55). Laclau (1996: 56) retains the notion of subject, then, ‘[b]ecause the impossibility of a free, substantial subject, of a consciousness identical to itself which is causa sui, does not eliminate its need, but just relocates the chooser in the aporetic situation of having to act as if he were a subject, without being endowed with any of the means of a fully fledged subjectivity’. If we see that the analogous moments of decision, self-determination and therefore subject-formation is also the moment of structural dislocation, we begin to understand the political moment at the founding of the social. The political is precisely the moment of consti- tutive contingency at which the trace of the ‘remainder’ enters the social, the moment of undecidability at which the social is supplemented.

But Laclau offers an account of the subject also in order to develop his account of the passage from undecidability to the decision. He iden- tifies two ways in which deconstruction makes possible a crucial turn in political theory: (1) by ‘widening the field of structural undecidability’ and (2) by ‘clearing the field for a theory of decision as taken in an unde- cidable terrain’ (Laclau, 1996: 48). But what does this theory of decision look like?

At this point Laclau (1996: 58) distances himself from the Levinasian account:

. . . it is clear that for me [the passage between structural undecidability and decision] cannot have an ethical grounding. This is not the result of any ethical insensitivity on my part, but of the conviction that nothing ethical can be derived from the general structure of experience.

Earlier in the same paper he says:

One possible line of mediation between universality of the rule and singu- larity of the decision would be through some kind of openness to the other- ness of the other, to a primordial ethical experience, in the Levinasian sense.

. . . [But] I do not see in what sense an ethical injunction, even if it only consists of opening oneself to the otherness of the other, can be anything else than a universal principle that precedes and governs any decision. (Laclau, 1996: 53)

Rather, what makes the passage possible for Laclau is (1) ‘the split of the decision between its actual content and that content’s function of embodying the absent fullness of the subject’ – with this I think he means to say that a plurality of contents will embody equally well the universal (justice, say) and that this indeterminacy of the content (e.g. law) logically results from the necessity of identification as the consti- tuting moment in the subject; and (2) contexts that factually limit struc- tural undecidability. His assertion that nothing ethical can be derived from the general structure of experience is not elaborated upon, but I do not find it a convincing rebuttal of Critchley (to whom he was responding here) in his reliance on Levinas for an ethical ‘grounding’ of the decision.[22] Nevertheless, I do find his anchoring of the passage to the decision in the concrete contexts that limit undecidability and his linking of the contingency of the decision to his account of the subject productive. This, as we shall shortly see, allows him to develop the theme of the political.

Laclau is preferable, therefore, not because he refutes the Levinasian account, but because he goes beyond it. As Mouffe (1996: 4) puts it:

For Laclau, on the contrary [i.e. as opposed to Critchley’s ethical ground- ing], this moment of quasi-grounding (the decision) is something akin to a self-grounding which is, however, radically contingent – it points in that sense to a primacy of politics rather than ethics and to a theory of ‘hegemony’ as the bridge between undecidability and decision.

For Laclau (1996: 58), deconstruction now becomes primarily a political logic, in that, ‘by showing the structural undecidability of increasingly larger areas of the social, it also expands the area of oper- ation of the various moments of political institution’. In other words, the deconstructive intervention in the Marxist tradition allows for an opening-up of social possibilities and therefore, on the one hand, offers a convincing account of the various new social movements and forms of protest and, on the other hand, provides new possibilities for politi- cal action. This, of course, still does not provide us with the means for actual political decisions in particular situations. But more importantly, before hegemony (and with it an element of contestation) is introduced, we still have no coherent account of the passage from the ethical to the political.

Laclau applies the notion of undecidability (and specifically the paradox of undecidability being at once the condition of possibility and condition of impossibility of decision or judgement) very concretely. For example, in his discussion of representation[23] Laclau (1996: 50) says: ‘these internal ambiguities of the relation of representation, the un- decidability between the various movements that are possible within it, transform it into the hegemonic battlefield between a plurality of possible decisions’ (emphasis added). Thus, by positing the notion of hegemony, Laclau introduces contestation into the ‘logic’ of undecidability and deci- sion. This is precisely my thesis: that a notion of contestation is theor- etically necessary in order to traverse the path from undecidability to decision, and consequently from the ethical to the political. This implies, of course, a conception of ‘decision’ that is political through and through. Before we continue, however, we must conduct the long overdue examination of Laclau’s and Mouffe’s central concept of hegemony. It is important to note that Laclau and Mouffe employed the concept of hegemony extensively in their Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. This work was written before Laclau’s Derridian inclinations became clear (one could say the work was post-Marxist whereas his later work is post-Marxist). Before we investigate how the notion of hegemony can help us theorize the contingency of the structure as political contestation we shall have to briefly trace its Marxian roots.

The original use of the term (in Russian social democracy) refers to the process by which the party establishes its ideological legitimacy within the working class (in opposition to the ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie and bourgeois liberalism in capitalist society). In Gramsci, hegemony is used more broadly to refer to the mechanisms of ideologi- cal consensus within a developed political system (Bellamy, 1943: xxvii). According to Laclau and Mouffe (1985: 7), the concept of hegemony, even in its original, strategic sense, alludes to a kind of contingent inter- vention necessitated by the collapse of a ‘normal’ historical develop- ment. Later, in Lenin, it becomes the core of ‘a new form of political calculation’ required by the concrete (and therefore contingent) situ- ations of imperialism. Eventually, in Gramsci – the Marxist thinker with whom the term is most closely associated – the term sheds its narrow strategic sense and becomes ‘the key concept in understanding the very unity existing in a concrete social formation’. Each of these extensions represents for Laclau and Mouffe the deepening of a logic of the contingent – a response to the crisis caused by the steady retreat of categories like ‘historical necessity’, i.e. the essentialist categories of classical Marxism. The use of the term hegemony is therefore primarily an attempt to locate their critique of the Marxist tradition within that tradition itself.

Whereas in Gramsci there is still a stability to hegemonic ideologi- cal formations, for Laclau every ideological formation (like every struc- tural determination) is necessarily incomplete. Judith Butler (1993: 193) points out that this incompletion is central to the political futurity posited by the radical democratic project:

. . . every ideological formation is constituted through and against a consti- tutive antagonism[24] and is, therefore, to be understood as an effort to cover over or ‘suture’ a set of contingent relations. Because this ideological suturing is never complete, that is, because it can never establish itself as a necessary or comprehensive set of connections, it is marked by a failure of complete determination, a constitutive contingency, that emerges within the ideological field as its permanent (and promising) instability.

Against a causal theory of historical events or social relations, the theory of radical democracy insists that political signifiers are contingently related, and that hegemony consists in the perpetual rearticulation of these contingently related political signifiers, the weaving together of a social fabric that has no necessary ground, but that consistently produces the ‘effect’ of its own necessity through the process of rearticulation… the radical democratic reformulation of ideology consists in the demand that these signifiers be perpetually rearticulated in relation to one another. (Butler, 1993: 192)

So, hegemony in Laclau and Mouffe becomes the discursive field within which political signifiers are continually rearticulated. The de- stabilization of ideology performed here (and implied by all that we discussed before) requires on the one hand this rearticulation, but also opens up the space for it. And it is precisely this opening-up of the discursive field (i.e. opening up of the social for and by the political) that allows a radical democratic imaginary to emerge.

Contestation, in my definition, is the process by which these contin- ual rearticulations take place. The new social struggles are exactly that: contests over the articulation of political signifiers. At the risk of being simplistic, let me cite an example from my own experience: the HIV- positive T-shirts worn by members of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa. A response to the murder of Gugu Dlamini for declaring her HIV status publicly, it has become the enduring symbol of the struggle against stigma and discrimination. And that is exactly the point: no one who has worn, or seen someone wear, a T-shirt declaring boldly ‘HIV-positive’ can ever understand by that particular signifier what the killers of Gugu Dlamini did (even if they were to kill the wearer of the T-shirt). Not that a new meaning has been fixed or that rearticulation ends here, but a contestational rearticulation has taken place that serves a progressive social objective.

Perhaps a better example is the contestation of traditional articula- tions of signifiers like ‘family’ and ‘spouse’ in constitutional litigation around equal rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. In the National Coalition v Home Affairs[25] case in the South African Constitutional Court, the meaning of ‘spouse’ was under consideration. The court held that ‘the word “spouse” cannot be read to include a same-sex partner’ but for that very reason ordered that the legislation under consideration (allowing spouses of South Africans to gain the right to reside in South Africa) be amended to include ‘spouses or permanent same-sex life partners’. In Satchwell v President of the RSA,[26] a similar ruling was made, but precisely on the basis of a broader rearticulation of the signi- fier ‘family’. Justice Madala quotes a judgment of the Canadian Supreme Court (in the case of Miron v Trudel[27]):

Family means different things to different people, and the failure to adopt the traditional family form of marriage may stem from a multiplicity of reasons – all of them equally valid and all of them equally worthy of concern, respect, consideration, and protection under the law. and the South African Constitutional Court:[28]

The importance of the family unit for society is recognized in the inter- national human rights instruments referred to above when they state that the family is the ‘natural’ and ‘fundamental’ unit of our society. However, families come in many shapes and sizes. The definition of family also changes as social practices and traditions change. In recognising the import- ance of the family, we must take care not to entrench particular forms of family at the expense of other forms.

It is clear that these cases constitute practical attempts to rearticu- late – in a legally binding fashion – political signifiers. Some of these attempts were more successful and others less (‘family’ and ‘spouse’ respectively), which illustrates the contestatory nature of any attempt at rearticulation.

Having said this, it is important to emphasize that ‘rearticulation’ should not be thought of as simply the substitution of one ‘meaning’ attached to a signifier or concept for another. Within and behind the process of rearticulation a deconstructive dynamic is at work – decon- struction(s) are always already (and anyhow) occurring. Traces of other signifiers have entered and disrupted the fixation of meaning even in an ‘uncontested’ signifier. Perhaps one should conceive of rearticulation as a discernible and, to some extent and in a certain sense, deliberate (and, of course, contested) – but never fully determined – shift in the play of meaning.

Radical democracy is the name given by Laclau and Mouffe to the political project (of contestational rearticulations) that they suggest for the left, although I do not believe it follows – in any necessary sense, at least – from their theoretical analysis. Mouffe (1992: 1–3) argues that radical democracy is the only alternative to the liberal democracies of the West after the Marxist alternative fell away. No longer should one reject liberal democracy in its entirety in favour of its displacement (through revolution) by a completely new political form. Rather, the objective should be the extension and deepening of the democratic revolution achieved through an ‘immanent critique’ – i.e. by employing the symbolic resources of that very tradition. Thus, familiar political signifiers such as ‘liberty’, ‘equality’, etc., become the radical principles around which the current order is contested. By rearticulating these signifiers and working out their implications in day-to-day political struggles (just think how many ‘new’ struggles from gender or sexual rights to access to treatment for HIV, have been fought around the ‘old’ rallying-cry of equality) it is possible to transform democratic societies. The process of continual rearticulation allows ‘new rights, new uses, new applications’ to be claimed for these principles. Mouffe (1992: 2) insists that the association between liberalism (and the institutions of liberal or bourgeois democracy) and the defence of private property, on the one hand, and the capitalist economy, on the other, is not in- escapable. The identification of political and economic liberalism is not a necessary one, it is the result of an articulatory practice, and as such can be undone (through rearticulation). Rearticulation is a strategy, then, which can – within the context of liberal democracy – achieve progress- ive social goals without revolution.

There seems, however, to remain an important problem with my differentiation between Laclau’s interventions in the Marxist and in the deconstructive traditions (by introducing contingency and contestation respectively), namely that there is a certain ambiguity between the two procedures. For example, in the following passage by Butler (1993: 194), we can see that the moment of antagonism[29] and the moment of contin- gency are one and the same:

Here it seems that what assures that any social description or prediction will be non-totalizing and non-predictive are other social relationships that constitute the ‘outside’ to identity: ‘. . . antagonism does not occur within the relations of production, but between the latter and the social agent’s identity outside them’. [Laclau, 1990: 15]

In other words, any attempt [by the Marxist tradition] to circumscribe an identity in terms of relations of production, and solely within those terms, performs an exclusion and, hence, produces a constitutive outside, understood on the model of the Derridean ‘supplement,’ that denies the claim to positivity and comprehensiveness implied by that prior objectiva- tion. In Laclau’s terms, the ‘antagonizing force denies my identity in the strictest sense’. [1990: 18]

It is clear, then, that the notion of contestation, as I use it, must be distinguished from Laclau’s antagonism – which is not the moment of decision, but rather the contingent moment that disrupts social structur- ing (and founding). I could attempt an easy way out by simply asserting that contestation (the process by which rearticulations are performed) is entirely separate from antagonism. But antagonisms arising from the social relations of production are clearly the scene for the sort of contes- tations that I have in mind. The ambiguity remains, then, in that the founding of the social, as we have seen, is precisely the political moment, which is the contingent moment, but also the moment of decision. This points to an ambiguity in the way we use the term ‘politics’ – when I use it in contradistinction to ‘ethics’, I mean its more grounded moment: the decision; when Laclau uses it in contradistinction to social, he means its more contingent moment: undecidability.

However, if we see that agency and political action is possible only as a result of contingency, the ambiguity will no longer bother us as much. In the first of Laclau’s dual interventions (introducing contingency into Marxist analysis) he merely follows Derrida. And while even in the second (introducing contestation) he does not theoretically surpass Derrida, he does describe the process by which political ‘progress’ is possible – contestation as continuous rearticulation of political signifiers – and in that sense provides a plausible account of the political.


5. Concluding remarks

I think I have shown that deconstruction – the foremost anti-essentialist philosophical strategy – has clear ethical and political relevance, but that it does not constitute such a politics insofar as it does not provide a coherent account of the passage from the ethical to the political. However, its concern with justice – which is, says Derrida, what gives deconstruction its impetus – orients it towards progressive social goals. Furthermore, no political theory that does not come to terms with its critique of metaphysics, rationalism and essentialism could be plausible. In this sense, then, it is compatible with, and indispensable for, a non- essentialist progressive politics.

I have also come to the conclusion that Critchley’s and Cornell’s emphasis of the Levinasian ethical moment in deconstruction does not provide an adequate basis for progressive political action. But Levinas’ ethical injunction does provide the impetus – and even a guide – for the passage from the undecidable to the decision. Even if Levinas’ ethical injunction is ultimately guilty of becoming ‘a universal principle that pre- cedes and governs any decision’, it does not, in my view, purport to deter- mine those decisions. But can Laclau do without it? As Critchley (2004) asks in a later paper: ‘If all decisions are political, then in virtue of what is there a difference between democratising and non-democratising deci- sions?’ Without the ethical injunction – which by its nature is a compass, not a route map – we would truly be cast adrift. Levinasian ethics is there- fore necessary but not sufficient for a non-essentialist progressive politics. Laclau’s analysis does go further than both these accounts, and he does – if, I would add, we employ the notion of contestation – provide us with a coherent account of the passage from the ethical to the politi- cal. Radical democracy is not the inevitable outcome of a deconstruc- tive theorization of the political, but it is at least an approach that takes account of the inescapable theoretical current of deconstruction and yet offers a plausible account of the political (as well as some pointers towards a concrete politics). Does Laclau’s analysis provide us with concrete answers to political problems in actual situations (not doing so is a criticism I levelled against the strategies of Derrida and Critchley)?

No, and in that sense my project in this article is probably a failure.

But his approach does allow for the retention of progressive social goals while coming to terms with contingency – in fact, contingency becomes necessary for the very possibility of pursuing those goals. And certain strategies, such as the continuous rearticulation of political signi- fiers, do seem to emerge from his analysis. I believe that these strategies allow us to push against the limits of the actual and if we employ them while remaining sensitive to the ethical demands of the Other, we can make progress in the (admittedly utopian) quest for a just society. Too much is at stake for us not to do so.


Department of Philosophy, University of Stellenbosch and Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town




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[1] This embryonic civil society could be argued to have displayed its emergence in the ‘anti-globalization’ protests since the late 1990s and the anti-war movement that attracted massive public support, particularly in indus- trialized countries, in the run-up to the American-led invasion of Iraq. This movement is clearly immature and has yet to record any significant successes, but arguably constitutes the strongest public expression of progressive sentiments in the West since the 1960s. With the turn away from the right I refer to the ascendancy of centre-left parties, in a number of European countries and the USA, as well as the wave of left-wing victories in Latin American elections (probably most visibly embodied in the embattled but hugely popular figure of Hugo Chavez).
[2] It is difficult to define ‘de-essentialization’. Suffice (for now) to say that it refers to the move away from metaphysicians’ habit of reducing things to their so-called ‘essences’. ‘Metaphysicians reduce things to other things. Pragmatists and deconstructionists are forbidden to reduce’, says Rorty (1996a: 46) in a footnote. This is a movement that to a large extent coincides with, but cannot be reduced to, the historical turn – i.e. the recog- nition of utter contingency – so prevalent in philosophy after
[3] Derrida (1985) ‘Racism’s Last Word’, Critical Inquiry (Fall 1985): 290–9.
[4] This point is argued in some detail by Critchley, Cornell, Caputo and others. I will not attempt to do so
[5] More precisely: a deconstruction of the ‘traditional conception of time which privileges the present’ (Cornell, 1992: 117).
[6] This question is put by Critchley in the context of his elaboration of de- construction in terms of Levinasian ethics: ‘deconstruction fails to offer a coherent account of the passage from ethical responsibility to political questioning and critique’ (1999: xiv).
[7] This notion of the ‘impossible’ is not used by Derrida to refer to that which cannot be done, but rather to that which is beyond the possible. This is discussed later in this article.
[8] Most members of his family, apart from his wife and daughter, died in the Holocaust and he spent several years in a forced labour
[9] According to Critchley (1999: 282), Levinas was deeply disillusioned by Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism in 1933. His phenomenology is a clear attempt to overcome the (still) totalizing tendency in Heideggerian ontology – it may be argued that this intellectual opposition mirrored the personal disillusionment with Heidegger’s politics.
[10] This formulation is derived from personal communication with Professor Willie van der Note also the structural similarity, alluded to earlier, with the notion of the limit and the possibility of its traversal.
[11] Says Derrida (2001: 120) in an early essay on Levinas: ‘Although in fact it is secondary, metaphysics [here used to refer to Levinas’ philosophy] as the critique of ontology is rightfully and philosophically It is is true that “Western philosophy most often has been an ontology” dominated since Socrates by a Reason which receives only what it gives itself, a Reason which does nothing but recall itself to itself, and if ontology is tautology and egology, then it has always neutralized the other, in every sense of the word. Phenomenological neutralisation, one might be tempted to say, gives the most subtle and modern form to this historical, political and authoritar- ian neutralisation. Only metaphysics can free the other from the light of Being or from the phenomenon which “takes away from Being its resistance”.’
[12] The structural similarity of the phenomenological distinction between being and the Good, subjectivity and the Other, with the distinctions between the system and the beyond, the law and justice, political organization and the remainder, , becomes clear. (This distinction, and the problems it raises, is what I understand Cornell to mean by ‘the philosophy of the limit’.) This structural similarity is what allows for the effortless appropriation of Levinas by Critchley and Cornell (and even to some extent by Derrida himself). It provides, then, a way to work out the ethical implications of Derrida’s work while remaining sensitive to its profoundly anti-totalizing impulse.
[13] I recognize a certain tension between my dismissal of Rorty’s critique and my criticism of deconstruction as not helping in actual political decision- making. However, my appropriation of Critchley’s phrase ‘coherent account of the passage from the ethical to the political’ as a criterion attempts to take this into account by accepting abstract analysis but at the same time insisting that it be capable of extension to the domain of practical appli- cation.
[14] The theoretical approach explored in this article primarily in terms of Laclau’s work was in fact first elaborated in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, co-authored by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s more recent work deals with similar themes but is not examined in the same detail here.
[15] Smith (1998: 4) calls it an ‘anti-essentialist intervention in the Marxist tradition’.
[16] The term ‘structure’, usually employed to refer to political structure and organization, is analogous to ‘the law’, ‘the system’, as used earlier.
[17] Laclau and Mouffe do not employ the term ‘contestation’ in the sense given it here. However, I believe it is implied in, and indispensable to, their theor- ization of the
[18] The term ‘hegemony’ as used by Laclau and Mouffe has its origin in the Marxist tradition, where it is used very differently to its normal sense. It refers not to the domination of a certain state or group, but rather to the process by which certain ideas or ideologies become dominant. A more detailed analysis of the notion is conducted later in this
[19] This is not a necessity, but rather a strategic choice; one that I would attribute to their having worked within the Marxist tradition and to a desire to transform that tradition in order to retain the progressive impulse of it. Their project – the articulation of a radical democratic imaginary, as we shall see – could probably have been pursued equally effectively by deconstructing the liberal
[20] This ‘outside’ refers to what may also be called ‘the beyond’ or ‘the remainder’. The addition of ‘constitutive’ indicates the primordial and necessary character of this beyond. The system cannot be constituted without its
[21] This logic of supplementary is analogous to the logic of self-organization in complex systems. Self-organization means that ‘internal structure can evolve without the intervention of an external designer or the presence of some centralized form of internal control. If the capacities of the system satisfy a number of constraints, it can develop a distributed form of internal structure through a process of self-organization. This process is such that structure is neither a passive reflection of the outside, nor a result of active, pre-programmed internal factors, but the result of a complex interaction between the environment, the present state of the system and the history of the system’ (Cilliers, 1998: 89). Just as both the internal structure of the system and a disrupting environment is required for transformation, both the social and its beyond (‘something different from structural determina- tion’) is required. Laclau is, however, still not going significantly beyond Derrida at this
[22] More pertinent than a charge of foundationalism seems to me the charge that Levinasian ethics still suffers in some sense from what Derrida calls the ‘metaphysics of full presence’. Derrida goes to some lengths to illustrate how Rousseau’s romantic notions of pre-social relations in the state of nature presuppose the possibility of full Now, Levinas certainly does not claim that humans can be fully present to one another – in fact he shows precisely how they always absolutely transcend one another – but insofar as his argument is ‘strategically similar to Rousseau’s appeal to pitié in the Second Discourse, which is defined as a pre-social, pre-rational sentient disposition that provokes compassion in the face of the other’s suffering’ (Critchley, 1996: 26) it could be said to be susceptible to the same charge. Is a metaphysics of full absence really more acceptable than a metaphysics of full presence?
[23] Laclau (1996: 48–53) deconstructs the traditional political concepts of representation by showing the privileging of the relationship representa- tive – represented as both the condition of possibility and impossibility of democratic participation, tolerance by showing intolerance as condition of possibility and impossibility of toleration, and power by showing it to be the condition of possibility and impossibility of
[24] I distinguish between the notions of contestation and antagonism. Here antagonism is what embodies the contingent, dislocatory
[25] National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and Others v Minister of Home Affairs and Others 2000 (2) SA 1 (CC); 2000 (1) BCLR 39 (CC).
[26] Satchwell v President of the Republic of South Africa and Another 2002 (9) BCLR 986 (CC).
[27] Miron v Trudel (1995) 124 DLR (4th) 693 at 102.
[28] Dawood and Another v Minister of Home Affairs and Others; Shalabi and Another v Minister of Home Affairs and Others; Thomas and Another v Minister of Home Affairs and Others 2000 (3) SA 936 (CC); 2000 (8) BCLR 837 (CC) at 31.
[29] Laclau (1990: 27) seems to define antagonism as the mediation, and there- fore also the moment of undecidability between the contingent and the One could therefore just as well as antagonism refer to constitu- tive undecidability. However, the close association between antagonism and what I term contestation is also clear.









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