>Laclau and Mouffe, the Czech right and a wood pigeon

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Spent a peaceful morning at the local public library reading parts of Laucau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy disturbed only by a wood pigeon cooing loudly somewhere up on the roof. Much of the book is a long wearisome intellectual retreat from Marxism peppered with passages of frustrating abstraction and opacity. Despite this, its intellectual punch is clear enough and its analysis throws into sharp and interesting relief what I was writing about the Czech right’s ideology.

I wondered in passing just how strongly its Radical Democracy project really flows – could one (hypothetically) be a discourse theorist of the pro-market liberal right? I guess the closest approximation might be someone like Václav Bělohradský in the first flush of his post-modern pro-market enthusiasm during the early nineties

Empirically, the book’s analysis of Anglo-American New Right discourses of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism as disarticulating discourses of liberalism from democracy thus redefining and reducing the scope of politics – hence diminishing democratic contestation and choice – seems accurate enough. It ties up with Gil Eyal’s (not totally convincing) arguments about Czech neo-liberal anti-politics – and indeed Mouffe’s own arguments in Return of the Political, that the liberal centre is (discusrively speaking) emptying politics of content by denying social antagonisms, which I also found unconvincing.

None of this really holds true for Czech New Right after 1989, of course, despite its technocratic bent, as it sought to link democracy (albeit of a strictly non-participatory kind) and capitalism, in a context where rolling back the scope of politics was widely accepted as part of the transition from totalitarianism to liberal democracy. Indeed, part of the intellectual underpinning of the Czech right – provided by Bělohradský – which distinguished it from consensus-oriented civic politics of Havel et al of the time was that there were social antagonisms and opposed interests within democracy. That said, the anti-communism of Czech right branding its electoral competitors proponents of illegitimate Third Ways rather twisted Bělohradský’s original critique of sentimental, moralistic anti-politics (which he saw a facet of reform communism, dissent and Czech political culture generally).

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