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  • Rethinking the Political:A Genealogy of the "Antagonism" in Carl Schmitt through the Lens of Laclau-Mouffe-Žižek
  • Ricardo Camargo (bio)

The distinction between the notion of "the political" and "politics" has recently acquired a great relevance in continental and Anglo-Saxon philosophy. According to Oliver Marchart, it is a distinction that, despite originating in the canonical work of Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1927), has only recently reached a disciplinarian status (2007, 4). As a reference, it is worth mentioning the recently inaugurated course of the "Modern and Contemporary History of the Political" in the Collège of France in 2001, which was launched by Pierre Rosanvallon (2003). Another example of this institutional settlement of the notion of the political, this time in Germany, is the admission into current historical dictionaries of the distinction between Politik and das Politische (Sellin 1978; Vollrath 1990). In turn, in the Anglo-Saxon academic environment, such a distinction has been abundantly used, as it is possible to observe in the works of Beardsworth (1996), Dillon (1996), [End Page 161] Stavrakakis (1999), Arditi and Valentine (1999), Williams (2000), and Marchart (2007). Finally, in Chile, it is worth mentioning the works compiled in the journal Actuel Marx no. 3: First Semester (2005), as an example of this tendency.

Politics has traditionally been understood as "the activity of attending to the general arrangement of a collection of people who, in respect of their common recognition of a manner of attending to its arrangements, compose a single community . . . " as it has been summarized by Chantal Mouffe referring to Michael Oakeshott's traditional notion of politics (Mouffe 1993, 16). By contrast, the meaning of "the political" is far from being unequivocally established. Furthermore, since the time in which the definition of the political was for the first time famously used by Schmitt as "the specific political distinction to which the motives and political actions can be reduced," which for Schmitt is just "the relationship between friends and enemies" (1996, 26), the notion of the political has presented a wide range of different meanings. For instance, if we consider the works of Paul Ricoeur (1965), Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy (1997), Claude Lefort (1988), Alain Badiou (1985, 1998, 2002) and Jacques Rancière (1995), to mention only members of the so-called post-Heideggerians left in France, the political has alternatively meant logical rationality, public sphere, the event or the shore of the abyss.

But, if the political presents a wide range of different meanings, how can it be possible that such a notion of the political has emerged as a valid conceptual category? Furthermore, would it explain that the emergence of the political has taken place, despite the diverse and sometime contradictory meanings linked to its name?

The central purpose of this paper is to extend the routes that have, until now, been explored by contemporary political theory as a response to such questions. This is done with the explicit intention of exploring a new avenue that, I will argue, would silently lie in the recent debate on the political, developed by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, on the one hand, and Slavoj Žižek, on the other. Furthermore, what I will propose in this paper is a revitalization of the notion of antagonism to expand the limits of both the notion of the political and, subsequently, of a radical democratic project. [End Page 162]

For this purpose, it is first necessary to take into account that the revival of the political in contemporary political theory has only been possible because of the emergence of a so-called postfoundational paradigm, which has insisted on asserting a radical opposition to any totally closed conception of politics. As Marchart has pointed out, the spring of the new grammar of "the political" is explained more by the limitations of a traditional notion of politics, assumed as a conceptual category that cannot satisfactorily explain the foundation of a radically new social order, rather than on the pretension of an internal conceptual coherence associated with this new category of the political (2007, 4-9). Instead, the emergence of the political would be the symptom of the incapacity (and...


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