158 | CCN: 77938

Advanced Problems in the Rhetoric of Political Theory

Instructor: Felipe Gutterriez,

TuTh 1230-2P, 109 DWINELLE

4 Units

1999 saw the publication of “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism”, an article by Chantal Mouffe. In this article Mouffe “examines the most recent paradigm of liberal democratic theory: ‘deliberative democracy,’ in order to bring to the fore its shortcomings.” She then proposes an alternative model of democracy that she calls “agonistic pluralism.”
Mouffe finds the common aim of the different versions of deliberative democracy to be commendable:

Against the interest-based conception of democracy, inspired by economics and skeptical about the virtues of political participation, they want to introduce questions of morality and justice into politics. They are looking for new meanings of traditional democratic notions like autonomy, popular sovereignty, and equality.

However commendable the aim of theorists of deliberative democracy, Mouffe faults them for their efforts to achieve this aim through a reformulation of “the classical idea of the public sphere, giving it a central place in the democratic project.”

However, by proposing to view reason and rational argumentation, instead of interest and aggregation of preferences as the central issue of politics, they simply move from an economic model to a moral one. Their move consists in replacing the market-inspired view of the public sphere by another conception that conceives political questions as being of a moral nature and therefore susceptible of being decided rationally.

Mouffe provides several grounds for objecting to deliberative democracy’s procedurally based and rule-governed approach to deliberation, an approach which Jürgen Habermas’s “ideal speech situation” exemplifies . One objection is the failure of this approach to take into account Wittgenstein’s insight that “agreement is established not on significations. . . but on a form of life . . . . It is, as has been pointed out, a . . . fusion of voices made possible by a common form of life, not . . . product of reason.” Taking into account Wittgenstein’s insight “requires reintroducing into the process of deliberation the whole rhetorical dimension that the Habermasian discourse perspective is precisely at pains to eliminate.”
What is ultimately at stake for Mouffe in insisting on the rhetorical dimension of politics is the ineradicable dimension of power and antagonism in politics and its crucial role in the formation of collective identities. For deliberative democracy “the more democratic a society is, the less power would be constitutive of social relation.” Accepting that relations of power are constitutive of the social Mouffe claims that the

question . . . is not how to arrive at a rational consensus reached without exclusion, that is, indeed, an impossibility. Politics aims at the creation of unity in a context of conflict and diversity; it is always concerned with the creation of an "us" by the determination of a "them." The novelty of democratic politics is not the overcoming of this us/ them distinction - which is what a consensus without exclusion pretends to achieve - but the different way in which is established. What is at stake is how to establish the us/them discrimination in a way that is compatible with pluralist democracy.

This is the question that Mouffe’s model of agonistic democracy seeks to answer, and much has been written on this question since the publication of her article. In this course we will be interested in the rhetorical dimension of agonistic democracy. The two major texts that we will read in this regard are Thomas B. Farrell’s Norms of Rhetorical Culture and Aletta J. Norval’s Aversive Democracy: Inheritance and Originality in the Democratic Tradition. It is possible that reading these texts will cause us to rethink the relationship between deliberative democracy and agonistic democracy in less polemical and antithetical terms than those of Mouffe.

Attendance is required

There will be weekly short (~ 1 page) assignments, possible short in-class or on-line quizzes (no more than 3), one 5-7 page essay and one 10-11 page essay.