- The Deconstructivist Laclau
Ernesto Laclau (1935–2014) became famous within the academic field when he published, together with Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics in 1985. This text brought fresh air into the field of radical politics not only because it challenged the overwhelming number of conservatives who were currently delighted in celebrating the failure of the socialist project, and thus the unsuccessfulness of Marxist theory, but also because this theoretical intervention made a difference: it reoriented the political leftist debates that, up until then, had been at an impasse.
This theoretical intervention was later designated as the starting point of post-Marxism. Laclau was therefore characterized as a post-Marxist thinker, or as the creator of a new kind of theory of hegemony. However, he was never introduced as a “decontructivist” author. This is quite peculiar if we consider that in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, in an enormous gesture—which could be interpreted as a work about their Marxist heritage—the authors deconstructed Marxist theory in such a vast way that they ended up disintegrating its foundations. Once they recognized that antagonism inhabits the heart of the subject and any objectivity, the assertion that there could be a final, coherent resolution without any remainder proved absurd. Thus they affirmed that enigmatic phrase “society is impossible”—a metaphor to say that society lacks the ultimate foundations from [End Page 1] which the totality of a partial process could be established. The inevitable conclusion was that it is no longer possible to hold on to a view that the subject of history could be determined a priori (the proletariat) and that it has a preestablished destiny (the reconciled society of communism).
Yet the authors persisted with the idea of social change and antagonism, but this time without any possibility of reaching a dialectical resolution. Moreover, they insisted on the idea of emancipation, which would become a plural term—emancipations—leaving aside any possibility of an eschatological ending. From then onward, and taking into account these elements of perseverance, Laclau’s theoretical and political target became to make politics thinkable again. Politics—or, better said, hegemony—as the form of the political, antagonism, dislocation, and his last response to think of politics, that is, populism, became a key concept of his theoretical development. We could say that Laclau had a “political thought,” in order to contrast with the idea that his work was a “political philosophy,” in the sense that Laclau would have never accepted that politics was a mere sub-system of philosophy, that is to say, that politics would just refer to the institutionalized forms of interchange. For Laclau, politics went far beyond that; there was also “the political,” which had an entirely decisive dimension. In this sense, Laclau’s perspective is close to Derridean deconstruction inasmuch as Derrida always questioned the limits established by political philosophy and political theory regarding what has to be examined and what not as politics. As Ana Penchaszadeh and Emmanuel Biset have written: “Deconstruction questions the disciplinary boundaries that make political philosophy a defined area within philosophy, with a clear object to be examined and also a clear and distinct concept of politics” (2013, 10).
In any case, the deconstructivist Laclau did not finish his task once he had deconstructed Marxist theory. We can say, in a way, that he continued with a deconstructivist gesture over his entire work, even when he presented his notion of populism. It is worth mentioning that in Laclau’s work the deconstructive face is [End Page 2] characterized by a critical or destructive aspect, while when constructing his theoretical and political proposal the deconstructive face is supplemented by psychoanalysis (in its Freudian-Lacanian version). In this article we will only focus on his deconstructivist gesture, which can be divided into two key moments: first, the deconstruction of classical Marxist theory and the radicalization of Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony; and second, the deconstruction of the idea of populism and its radicalization.
The Deconstruction of Classical Marxism
Deconstruction, at least as developed by Derrida, is closely linked to the work of revisiting the Western philosophical tradition...