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New Reflections on the "Revolutionary" Politics of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe

Author(s): Benjamin Bertram

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Source: boundary 2, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 81-110
Published by: Duke University Press
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New Reflections on the "Revolutionary"Politics
of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe

Benjamin Bertram

In the course of the "public" debate on the NorthAmericanFree

TradeAgreement(NAFTA) in 1993, the Clintonadministration, as well as
economists, business leaders, and other politicians,repeatedlyused the
worddislocationto describethe "temporary" effects (i.e., unemployment)
many workers would encounter from the trade agreement.Dislocationis
hardlyunique to workersin the United States; the evershiftingglobalflow
of capitalconstitutesand underminesthe survivaland sense of stability(or
location)of vast numbersof peoplearoundthe world.Andunemployment
is only one aspect of dislocation.Formany,dislocationis the disjunction
betweenthe desire formeaningful,life-sustaining workand the maximiza-
tionof profit,the transnationalflowof moneyoftenaccompaniedbyviolent
shiftsof manufacturing space.
Whendislocationwas bandiedaboutduringthe debateon NAFTA, it
meantmorethanthe displacementof workers;it resonatedwithmanypost-

I thankthe followingpeople for offeringcomments and criticismon this paper at vari-

ous stages: EricCazdyn,Leo Ching,CarolynHaynes,FredricJameson, Masao Miyoshi,
LouisMontrose,Greg Sholette, and Don Wayne.
boundary222:3, 1995.Copyright
? 1995byDukeUniversity
82 boundary
2 / Fall1995

moderncelebrationsof the "dislocatedsubject."In 1985, ErnestoLaclau

and ChantalMouffepublishedHegemonyand Socialist Strategy,which
remainsone of the most sophisticatedand importantexplicationsof the
theoreticallinkbetween poststructuralist theoryand postmodernpolitical
practice.The bookemphasizesthe new politicalpossibilitiesthathave be-
come availablesince WorldWarII,when the "'commodification' of social
lifedestroyedprevioussocial relations,replacingthemwithcommodityre-
lationsthroughwhichthe logic of capitalistaccumulationpenetratedinto
increasinglynumerousspheres."1 Thisnewsocial lifeshouldbe viewedwith
optimism,they argue, since, as Laclau puts it in his recentbook,New Re-
flectionson the Revolutionof OurTime(1990),the "dislocatory rhythmof
capitalism"has created new antagonismsin politicallife.2Capitalismand
rapidtechnologicalchange, he argues, are the preconditionsfor modern
pragmatic,anti-essentialist,and historicistpoliticalviews. Radicalpolitics
shouldno longerbe understoodas a collectivestruggleagainsta dominant
system, then, butas a series of disconnectedbutpotentiallylinkablenodes
of resistance,or intertextuality.
This kindof resistance,whichthrivesoff of negation(withoutthe
Hegeliannegationof the negation),creates numerousparadoxical,if not
incoherent,statementsaboutmetaphysicsand identity.Laclauarguesthat
"the location of the subject is that of dislocation. . . . This is only pos-
sible if there is somethingin contemporarycapitalismwhichreallytends
to multiplydislocationsand thus creates a pluralityof new antagonisms"
(New Reflections,41). I wouldliketo arguethatLaclauand Mouffefetish-
ize "dislocation." LikeNAFTA, the anti-essentialistcelebrationof pluralism
and differencethatplaysa prominentroleinthe workof Laclauand Mouffe
(as well as that of manyothertheoristsof postmodernpolitics)has as its
"traumatic kernel"the subjugationof workersandconsumersundercurrent
marketconditions.3The dislocatoryeffects of highlyadvancedmodes of

1. ErnestoLaclauand ChantalMouffe,Hegemonyand SocialistStrategy(London:Verso,

1985), 161.Thisworkis hereaftercited parentheticallyas Hegemony.
2. ErnestoLaclau,New Reflectionson the Revolutionof OurTime(London:Verso,1990),
39. Althoughdislocationis centralto Laclauand Mouffe'sHegemony,Laclaudevelopsthe
idea morefullyin this work.On manyoccasions, Iwillbe referringto the firstpartof New
Reflections,whichwas not jointlywritten.Hereafter,I willcite this workparentheticallyin
my text as New Reflections.
3. Slavoj2iek uses this term to describe the "dimensionof radicalnegativity"in social
and politicallife. The "traumatickernel"is a conditionthat "definesthe radicalcontin-
gency of humanidentity." See The SublimeObjectof Ideology(London:Verso,1989), 5.
This workis hereaftercited parentheticallyas Sublime.
/ NewReflections83

profitmaximization (corporatemobilityinthe post-coldwarglobalization of

capital)havevirtuallydissolvedthe hope,definedinthe greatprojectof the
Left,fora revolutionary intervention designedto change fundamentally the
organization meaning of laborand to generate new public and demo-
craticpowerin economiclife.WhileLaclauand Mouffeare uniquein that
theirMarxisttrainingstillcompelsthemto offera historicalexplanationfor
the economicunderpinnings of anti-essentialismand subjectivity--some-
thing the vast of
majority poststructuralist criticslack--nevertheless,their
appropriation of Derridean and Lacanian notionsof differenceand lack,
whichare crucialto theiridea of fragmentedsocial movementsand identi-
ties, or dislocation,remainstrappedin the notoriousweb of negationthat
characterizesthese discourses.Laclauand Mouffedismiss any notionof
determinatenegationand the dialecticalmotionof historicalchange. As a
result,they are uninterestedin any alternativeto consumerismand repre-
sentative(liberal)democracy.Notionssuch as "publicspiritedness," which
have littlepoliticalbite, providethe basis forfragmentedsocial organiza-
tions.Underthe yokeof thisglobal"system," dislocationis inevitable.Butit
is not inevitablethatwe attributemagicalqualitiesto this new social condi-
tion of postmodernity. By retaininga historicalsense of the traumaof this
conditionand an a prioripessimism-of-strength aboutdemocraticpolitical
powerunderthe conditionsof late capitalism,we can maintaina healthy
desireforan alternative.
Laclauand Mouffe'sargumentfor new social movementsis now
well known,at least in many academic circles. In 1987, NormanGeras
publisheda scathingcritiqueof Hegemonyand SocialistStrategyin New
LeftReview.The article(entitled"Post-Marxism?") comes close to brand-
ing Laclau and Mouffe as heretics.Despite the ad hominem natureof his
attack, Geras makes many astute comments. In he
particular, notes that
Laclau and Mouffereduceall of Marxismto a crudeeconomismand failto
acknowledgethe importanceof notionssuch as "relativeautonomy"that
have enrichedMarxisttheoriesof base and superstructure. Althoughmany
of Geras'scriticismsare powerful,the articleis marredbyhis unwillingness
to grantany validitywhatsoeverto Laclauand Mouffe'sattemptto theorize
new social movementsof a non-Marxist nature.Mycritiqueof dislocation
focuses on particularweaknesses in Laclauand Mouffe'sappropriation of

Inthis particularcase, the traumais not partof "laconditionhumaine";this "antago-

nism"is at the heartof globalcapitalismin the late twentiethcentury.Anti-essentialismis
not new in the philosophicaltradition,but its social and politicalmeaningtodaygenerally
relatesto the economic and ontologicalconditionof rootlessness and markethybridity.
2 / Fall1995
84 boundary

poststructuralism and hermeneutics.The continuityand powerof notions

such as "dislocation" or "multiple subjectpositions"in recentdebates over
postmodernism politicssuggest that furthercriticismmay be useful.
Laclaushows how dislocation,a key element of poststructuralist theory,
has its rootsin the economicdislocationsof the late twentiethcentury.But
these dislocationsare neverpreciselylocatedon the mapof the world;in-
stead, they are the groundsfora grand,universalizing, philosophicalclaim
for fragmentedsubjectivities,or multiplesubject positions.In this essay,
I analyze the importanceof this claim in Laclauand Mouffe'sworkas it
is developedthrougha hermeneutictheory of discursivepractices.The
dangerof this particularpoliticalformof hermeneutics,I argue in the final
section, is that it cannot account for how we achieve what SlavojZiek
calls "a minimumof consistencyto our being-in-the-world" (Sublime,75).
Icompareand contrastZiek's hermeneutical,phenomenological, psycho-
analytictheory to the poststructuralist theoryof Laclauand Mouffe. Inthe
lattertheory,there is little,if any,potentialforwhatGramscicalled "acol-
lectivewill."Inthe absence of any dialecticalconceptionof negation,there
is no possibilityforpositiveidentitiesto emerge.The dislocatedsubjectis
left in a perspectivalposition,one "nodalpoint"that does not allowfor a
largerview of the whole.Thisperspectivaltheory,I argue,is symptomatic
of the reificationof the "democratic consumersociety"describedby Laclau
and Mouffe.4Ziek's hermeneutictheoryof ideologysuggests that there
are possibilitiesforintersubjectivity in contemporary politicsand social life.
The word intersubjectivity is usuallyassociated withJirgen Habermas's
workon communicativereason. Ziek, Laclau,and Mouffeare hostileto
this Enlightenmentmodel of rationalityand transparencyin politicaland
social interactions.UnlikeLaclauand Mouffe,Ziek followsLacan'sefforts
to valuethe positivityof the "we"andthe "I"as the necessarycounterparts
to theirrespectivenegations.
In Hegemonyand Socialist Strategy,Laclauand Mouffereferto
ClaudeLefort'sthesis that
the democraticrevolution,as a new terrainwhichsupposes a pro-
foundmutationat the symboliclevel, impliesa new formof institu-

4. ErnestoLaclaurefersto Gramsci's"collectivewills"as "unstablesocial agencies, with

impreciseand constantlyredefinedboundaries,and constitutedthroughthe contingent
articulationof a pluralityof social identitiesand relations."Iwilllatercommenton this odd
transformation of Gramsciinto a postmodernpluralist.See ErnestoLaclau,"Powerand
Representation,"in Politics, Theory,and ContemporaryCulture,ed. MarkPoster (New
York:ColumbiaUniversityPress, 1993), 283.
/ NewReflections85

tionof the social. Inearliersocieties, organizedin accordancewith

a theological-political
logic, powerwas incorporatedin the person
of the prince,who was a representativeof God-that is to say, of
sovereignjusticeand sovereignreason. Society was thoughtas a
body,the hierarchyof whose membersrested uponthe principleof
unconditional order.(Hegemony,186)
DrawingfromLefort'sL'invention Democratique, theyarguethatin modern
democraticsocieties,thereis no longerany"transcendental guarantor" with
the powerto establisha totallyunifiedsociety.Thisend of unityis the onto-
logicaland politicalbasis for Laclauand Mouffe'sdefinitionof the social.
The breakdownof unconditional orderallowshumansocial relationsto be
regardedas unfixedandcontingent.LaclauandMouffesuggest thatanyat-
temptto definitively suturethe socialspace resultsintotalitarianism.Yet,we
mustwonderwhetherLefort'scelebrationof the end of unconditional order
in the modernera, to whichLaclauand Mouffesubscribe,is premature.
Dislocationhas been importantto Marxistsas a means of understanding
the shift in Europefromfeudalismto capitalism.The emergenceof wage
laborin early marketsocieties createda new formof oppressionthrough
enclosuresandthe generationof "free"laborersbutsimultaneously opened
up new, long-termpossibilitiesforan alternativeto boththe oppressionof
agrarianworkers(locatedon the land)andthatof wage laborers(dislocated
and broughtintofactories).ForLaclauand Mouffe,there is no alternative
to the dislocatoryeffectsof capitalism.Theirworkattemptsto continuethe
projectof liberalcapitalismwhilealteringsome of its traditionalassump-
tionsaboutthe subject(i.e., the bourgeoisego). Postmoderndislocationis
an intensifiedformof the interpellation of the subjectunderlate capitalism.
The consumermust have multiplesubjectpositionsin orderto maximize
his or her accumulationof economicgoods and social services. The new
antagonisms,as Laclauand Mouffemake clear, are best suited for the
postindustrial society inwhichthereis no oppositionto a dominantsystem.
One of the most radicalaspects of Laclauand Mouffe'sconception
of the social is its deconstructionof the public/private dualityand of the
notionof "citizenship," whichhas been one of the centraltenets of modern
"democratic" societies. The deconstructionof this binaryoppositionallows
Laclauand Mouffeto "politicize social relations"(Hegemony,181).Thecon-
cept of citizenship,they tell us, was based on a modelof the subjectas a
unifiedand unifyingessence. Theirconceptionof hegemony,then, allows
formultiplesubjectpositionsthatcan forman axis of equivalenceinorderto
furthera plethoraof democraticpoliticalambitions.The logicof equivalence
86 boundary2 / Fall1995

relieson the forceof negativity:"certaindiscursiveforms,throughequiva-

lence, annulallpositivityof the objectandgivea realexistenceto negativity
as such. This impossibility of the real--negativity--hasattaineda formof
presence"(Hegemony,128)."Presence," forthem,existsonlyparadoxically
at the juncturesof antagonisms difference.Therecan be no positivity
of being,and no polarityof beingandnot-being,butonlythe continualdisin-
tegrationof all objectiveidentitiesas fullyarticulatedpositions.Articulation
is radicalonly insofaras it is radicallyunstable.There can be no under-
lyingessence that mightlend it the status of Truth.This destabilization of
the subjectunderminesthe basis of the classic Aristotelianseparationof
the bios politikosand oikia,since there is no longerany privilegedrealm
of the social occurs
of politicalactivity(as in the polis).The politicization
when we no longerview consumer"lifestyles" as privatematters(house-
keeping).The Left, then, can no longer believe it is battlingagainst a
few dominantideologicalformations,since ideologyis implicitin all social
practices,fromshoppingto sexuality.This strategyhas the advantageof
foregrounding struggleshithertorepressedbythe public/private dichotomy,
such as feminism,gay/lesbianrights,and environmentalism. However,it
often has the disadvantageof levelingmajorpoliticaldisputesto a matter
in the age of late capitalism.5
of "lifestyles"
ForLaclauand Mouffe,the decenteringof the subjectis a key mo-
mentinthe greatmodernexpansionof pluralism. Thedeathof "Man" (which
accompanies the death of the centered subject),however, does not entail
the end of humanistvalues. fact, Laclau and Mouffe want to envision
a "realhumanism"(i.e., a historicizedhumanism)(New Reflections,245).
The numerouswritingsby Laclauand Mouffeprovidesome of the most
sustainedand comprehensivephilosophicaland politicalargumentsof the
academicLeftinthe lasttwodecades. Yet,since theyappropriate so much
froma widearrayof disparatethinkers,theirworkhas been linkedto agen-
das radicallydifferentfromtheirown. Unlikemany hermeneuticthinkers
of the post-1968variety,Laclauand Mouffedo not have a separatist,anti-
humanist,or postliberalagenda.Theybelievethatonce we historicizeand
localizethe great emancipatorymovementsforequalityand the "rightsof
Man,"these movementswillbecome moremeaningful.
Since the publication of Hegemonyin 1985,Laclauand Mouffehave
5. Ina dialoguewith Laclau,RobinBlackburnasks, "Ifthis historicaland socially rooted
perspective[Marxism]is abandoned,is there not a riskof openingthe way to validating
constructed,and even quite fancifulidentitiessuch as mightbe proposed by
See Laclau,New Reflections,242.
/ NewReflections87

establisheda new series forVersoBookscalled Phronesis,whichcomes

thatreads,in part:
witha mini-manifesto
There are those for whom the currentcritiqueof rationalismand
universalismputs into jeopardythe very basis of the democratic
project.Othersargue that the critiqueof essentialism-a pointof
convergenceof the most importanttrendsin contemporarytheory:
post-structuralism, philosophyof languageafterthe laterWittgen-
stein, post-Heideggerian hermeneutics--isthe necessarycondition
forunderstanding the wideningof the fieldof socialstrugglescharac-
teristicof the presentstage of democraticpolitics.Phronesisclearly
locates itselfamongthe latter.6
Theshiftfromrationalism andmoretraditional epistemologicalassumptions
to hermeneuticshas important politicalconsequences.By "hermeneutics,"
I willbe referringgenerallyto a numberof theoreticalviews that utilizea
process Derridasays was firstimplementedby Nietzsche:"Radicalizing the
conceptsof interpretation, perspective, evaluation, and
difference," the "lib-
erationof the signifierfromits dependenceof derivationwithrespectto the
logos and the relatedconceptof truthor the primarysignified,in whatever
sense that is understood."7 Derridais certainlyone of the most important
post-Heideggerian hermeneuticthinkers.The "post"here cannotbe over-
emphasized.Oneof Heidegger'smotivesincritiquing Westernmetaphysics
(especiallythe Cartesian ego) was to finda new home,a new location,for
Heidegger,the "conservativerevolutionary," mournfullydeclaredthat "the
essence of the modernage can be seen in the fact thatmanfrees himself
fromthe middleages infreeinghimselfto himself."8 ForHeidegger,modern
individualismandthe ideaof "man"(manas the measureof allthings)have
few redeemingqualities.Laclauis moreinthe progressivespiritof Marxism
6. Phronesisis a termborrowedfromAristotle'stripartitedivisionof science intotheoreti-
cal, practical,and productiveforms of knowledge.Phronesismeans "practicalreason."
ForAristotle,theoriais the highest formof knowledge,but it, nevertheless, is only pos-
sible with the use of practicalknowledge. Laclau and Mouffeuse phronesis in strict
oppositionto theoria,however.Phronesis, in theirpoliticalphilosophy,is antitheoretical
and pragmatic,in that it resists any larger,metaphysicalclaims for its own conditionsof
7. Jacques Derrida,Of Grammatology, trans. GayatriSpivak(Baltimore:Johns Hopkins
UniversityPress, 1976), 19.
8. MartinHeidegger, The Question ConcerningTechnologyand Other Essays, trans.
WilliamLovitt(New York:HarperTorchbooks,1977), 127.
88 boundary2 / Fall1995

when he announcesthe importanceof contingency,in this case the exis-

tentialrecognitionthatall meaningis a humanconstruct.He has nothing
in commonwithHeidegger'sdespairover the disappearanceof the gods,
whichHeideggerbelievedhad led humanitytowardtotalnihilism.Herme-
neutics,in the Derrideandefinitiongivenabove, moves entirelyawayfrom
its older religiouscontext;it emphasizesthe radicalinstabilityof all inter-
pretation.The logos, or primarysignified,disappearswithoutany beliefin
a transcendentalauthorityor in fixedessences.
Inadditionto Derrida'swork,Laclauand Moufferecruita largenum-
ber of twentieth-century thinkersunderthe bannerof anti-essentialism.
Freud,Heidegger,Lacan,and othershave shownhowthe subjectlacksa
transparentconsciousness (as inthe Cartesiancogito).Itis alwaysformed
bywhatHeideggercalls"pre-understanding"; Gadamer,the "fore-structures
of knowledge"; Freud,the unconscious.Thesubject,in Laclauand Mouffe's
account,thus cannotconceive of society as transparent,either.Boththe
subjectand society lackany a prioristatus;they are constructeddiscur-
In Hermeneuticsas Politics(1987),StanleyRosen argues thather-
meneutics(inits postmodernform)amountsto a bourgeoisquietism.Her-
meneutics, which he understandsas a move towardhistoricity,always
stresses the private,artisticaffairsof the individual
(as exemplifiedbyNietz-
sche and Heidegger).Hermeneutics,the glorification of interpretation
perspectivism, is botha continuation of the Enlightenment project(the lib-
eral defense of humanrightsand the rightsof the individual) and the de-
structionof the Enlightenment concernforreasonand truth.Thus, Rosen
argues that"postmodernism is the Enlightenment gone mad,"informing us
that postmodernismhas not surpassed the Enlightenment, it is merelya
"decadent"formof it.9Forhim,the postmoderncritiqueof totalizingdis-
courses is a symptomof politicalfatigue.This argumentis not unfamiliar.
Butjustas Laclauremindsus thatthere is no inherentpoliticalor apolitical
agendaof poststructuralism, we mightaddthatthereis no politicsof herme-
neutics,either.Nevertheless,Rosen'spolemicalstance is preferableto the
conclusionsof StanleyFish,who is the embodimentof politicalfatiguepar
excellence.These twothinkers,Fishand Rosen, makea similarargument
about the politicalpossibilitiesof "negative"theory (deconstruction): the
Leftis seriouslydeludedin its beliefthat hermeneutictheory(Heidegger,

9. See Stanley Rosen, Hermeneuticsas Politics (New York:OxfordUniversityPress,

1987), especiallychap. 4.
/ NewReflections89

Wittgenstein,Derrida,Gadamer,etc.) has consequences outside of par-

ticularinterpretive communities.Thisbeliefis whatFishcalls "theory-hope,"
the misguidedpracticeof academicswho believethatafterdismantlingall
truthdiscourses (anythingwiththe suspect pretense of objectivity,ratio-
nality,etc.), they can then makepoliticalor ethicalclaimsof theirownthat
have importancebeyondthe institutionsfromwhichthey originated.Left-
ists, then,createa kindof badfaithby undermining the possibilityof making
informedor enlightenedclaims about the worldoutside theirinterpretive
These argumentsare vitalto myreadingof Laclauand Mouffe,since
theirworkwouldseem to providethe greatestdefense of the politicalpos-
sibilitiesof hermeneutics.They reach the opposite conclusionsof these
critics,namely,thatthe resultof thisshiftto hermeneuticsallowsus to open
upa vast newterrainof politicalpossibilities.Thisnew,supposedexpansion
of politicallifethriveson negationand, unlikethe traditional Left,abandons
the desire fora transparentsociety.Trueto theirpost-1968nature,Laclau
and Mouffelinkutopianismto Stalinism.
Farfromofferinga critiqueof liberal,bourgeoisvalues, Laclauand
Mouffeoften celebratethem. The new social movements,as they make
clear,are productsof the "commodification of social life,"which"destroyed
previoussocial relations,replacingthemwithcommodityrelations"(Hege-
mony,161).Theirentirephilosophyis predicatedon an optimisticview of
an emerging"democratic consumerculture,"in whichsubjectsare "inter-
pellated equals intheircapacitiesas consumers"(Hegemony,164).Still,
Laclauand Mouffeinsist they are not economic liberalsbut ratherpoliti-
cal liberals.They oppose the traditionalliberalfaithin the "freemarket"
and believethat the proliferation of antagonismsin the era of late indus-
trialcapitalismincludesthe possibilityof certainsocialiststruggles.Laclau
writes,"Itis withoutdoubttruethatthe phenomenonof commodification is
at the heartof the multipledislocationsof traditional social relations.But
this does not mean thatthe only prospectthrownup by such dislocations
is the growingpassive conformityof all aspects of lifeto the laws of the
market"(New Reflections, 51). The "deep pessimism" (New Reflections, 51)
of the Frankfurt school (and it wouldseem all those who resist this faith
in the politicalpossibilitiesof consumerorganizations)relies on a Marxist
view of capitalismas a total system, a notionLaclauand Mouffebelieve
they have underminedthroughtheiranti-essentialist,hermeneutictheory.
This newfaithin "theliberatingeffect"(New Reflections,53) of bureaucra-
tizationand commodification, they suggest, is not completelyantithetical
2 / Fall1995
90 boundary

to Marxism,since it sees capitalismas the importantbasis of otherpoliti-

cal opportunities. The difference,of course, is thatthey are notthinkingin
terms of "totalizing" notionssuch as the dialecticof historicalmaterialism
(the imminence of socialism).
Whateverthe allureof thissophisticatedhermeneutictheoryof social
and politicallife,its poweris dependenton its conversioneffect-that is, its
abilityto convinceus notonlythatthe rationalism anduniversalism of Marx-
ism is invalidbutalso thatolderhumanistconcernsaboutalienationneed
to be discardedalongwiththe deeplyantibourgeois,antimodernviewsvital
to other postmoderntheorists,such as Foucaultor Lyotard.As we shall
see, the conflationof the politicalwiththe social, inspiredby the move to
hermeneutics,runsthe dangerof becominganotherversionof pragmatism:
politicsbecomes simplyanothercultural"conversation." The glorification
pluralism and the particular creates a startlingaporiain the hermeneuti-
cal appropriation of liberalism.One can onlyadvocatedifferencefromone
perspective,one nodalpoint.Yet,by advocatinga universalperspectivism,
the pluralisticthinkertakes a nonperspectival view.Thisaporiais appropri-
ate forthe post-cold warera, when the universalizing and homogenizing
trendsof capitalismbecame increasinglymaskedbythe insistenceon free-
marketpluralism,or the end of ideology.Inmanyrespects,Hegemonyand
Reflectionssharethe complacencyand bons sens of RichardRorty'swork,
whereopenness andcontingencyamountto a greatcosmopolitancelebra-
tion of the free market.10 Laclautries to justifythe dismissalof the "deep
pessimism" of Adorno by utilizingLaschand Urry'sworkon "disorganized
capitalism"(New Reflections,58). The declineof the nation-stateand the
increasingpowerof multinational and transnationalcorporationsin global
affairsshouldnotbe viewedwithgreatanxiety:the powerof the nation-state
has not been "transferred in toto"to these corporations(New Reflections,
59). Laclau triesto dispelboth the older"myth" of unregulatedliberalcapi-
talism (there never was any "pure"capitalism)and that of the "limitless
capacityfor decision-making" of corporationsundermonopolycapitalism
today (New Reflections,59). Whetheror not this assessment is accurate

10. Inher recentbook, TheReturnof the Political,ChantalMouffesupportsRorty'sprag-

matismwhilecriticizinghis failureto distinguishbetween economic liberalismand politi-
cal liberalism.She recognizes the failureof moderncapitalistsocieties to generate the
conditionforsome kindof "civicrepublicanism" butalso wants to rejectany kindof com-
munitarian or Marxisttheoryof a "truedemocracy." Thus,she insistswe need to maintain
a tension between a "democraticlogic of equivalence"and a "liberallogic of difference."
See ChantalMouffe,The Returnof the Political(London:Verso,1993).
/ NewReflections91

cannotbe discussed here. Itis clear,however,thatthese "dislocated" con-

sumers,whose desires are at the heartof new social movements,need to
be locatedon the globalmap.The decline of the nation-state,as Masao
Miyoshihas recentlyargued,has not putan end to colonialism.The com-
plexityof multi-and transnational corporateeconomicand politicalactivity
shouldnotdeterus fromtryingto understandwhobenefitsfromthe newmo-
Who,precisely,lives in a "democratic
bilityof capital."1 consumersociety";
who benefitsfrombeing"interpellated as consumers"(Hegemony,164)?It
wouldappearthatLaclauhas no problemusingthe wordsociety,whichhe
has declared"impossible," when it fits his own assessment of contempo-
Withthese questionsinmind,we mightaddanothermythto Laclau's
list:the mythof the democraticpossibilitiesforthe dislocatedsubjectsof
late capitalism.Inthe absence of a totalizingviewof capitalism,Laclauand
Mouffefailto offerany historicalor politicalexplanationas to whatexactly
is democraticaboutthe experienceof the "dislocatingrhythmof capitalist
transformation" (New Reflections,119).In fact, theirvision of the expan-
sion of pluralismundertransnationalcapitalismrelies on the fetishismof
the dislocationandfragmentation of the subject.Theyseem to be suggest-
ingthatthe essence of modernitylies inthe death of "unconditional order"
and the birthof a new pluralisticuniverse(Hegemony,186).12They have
not traveledbeyondthe romanticdesire for wholeness or plenitude-the
nostalgiafor a premodernsense of Being. Instead,they have merelyin-
vertedthis nostalgiaby dismemberingthe social. Whyshouldwe attribute
the historyof the dislocatedsubjectto the FrenchRevolution?Whatare
the systems of power/knowledge behindthe formationof multiplesubject
positions?Jean-FrangoisLyotardhas madethe compellingsuggestionthat
the Frenchnotionof 6criture(whichis crucialto Laclauand Mouffe'swork

11.See Masao Miyoshi,"ABorderlessWorld?FromColonialismto Transnationalism and

the Declineof the Nation-State,"CriticalInquiry19, no. 4 (summer1993):726-51.
12. This view of the liberatoryqualityof modernand postmodernpluralismseems naive
when comparedto less optimisticgenealogies of the modernsubject. Foucault'stheory
of localized resistance, for example, has no interestin democracyand socialism. The
confusionof Laclauand Mouffe'snodal pointsand Foucault'stheory of subjugateddis-
courses is common. Foucaultargues that the giant machineryof powerin the modern
age (i.e., panopticism)can only be resisted in small pockets on the micro-level.In Sur-
veilleretpunir,the authorityof the Kingis directlycontrastedto the panopticmachineryof
modernity.ForLaclauand Mouffe,however,we oughtto celebratethe end of monarchical
forms of governmentand what Lefortcalls the "dissolutionof the markersof certainty."
See Mouffe,The Returnof the Political,122.
92 boundary2 / Fall1995

on differenceand indeterminacy) has to be understoodintermsof French

history,especially the violence of the Revolution.The connectionof writ-
ing, "literature," and politicshas a tragicand dangerouspositionin a
place such as France,where,"thequestionof legitimacymaybe posed at
each instant"; Americans,English,and Germanshavetroubleunderstand-
ing dcriture because it is inextricablylinkedto "thismemoryof crime."13In
the Derrideanlexicon,dcritureis contrastedto phonocentrismand logo-
centrism(thoughnot set in strictopposition).Inhis earlyworkon Husserl,
Speech andPhenomena,andthroughouthiscareer,Derridahas attempted
to combatthe idea thatspeech has any primacyor special presence that
is more authenticor closer to the Being or essence of the speakerthan
writing.Allspeech is a formof writing.Derrida'sworkattemptsto erase the
"phonocentric" qualitiesof writing,the littlevoice thatthe readerbelieves
creates unifiedor determinatemeanings.Thisemphasison the plurality of
meanings language and culture has a vitalconnectionto the "tragic"and
ongoingpoliticalargumentswithinFrenchsociety.ForLyotard, andformany
contemporaryFrenchintellectuals,the emphasison writing(as in Roland
Barthes)has an importantculturaland politicalcontextin a nationwhere
these philosophical disputesare granteda socialand historicalimportance
generally denied intellectuals in the UnitedStates. It is importantto note
thatClaudeLefort'sworkon liberalpoliticaltheoryhas been influential in a
nation with of
powerfultraditions politicaldiversity and activism. Why,then,
shouldwe tryto politicizenotionssuch as 6critureand diffdrance inthe con-
text of the UnitedStates, whichlacksthe politicalcultureand historythat
made such theoriescompellingto Frenchintellectualsin the firstplace?
Thetheoryof dislocationis itselfdislocated.The hostilitytowardorganized
labor,and anythingthat smacks of socialism,in the UnitedStates makes
the transcultural,
universalizing natureof Hegemonyand SocialistStrategy
appearodd indeed.

The Dislocated Subject

ForLaclauand Mouffe,poststructuralist theoryplaysa crucialrole
in undermining Marxism.The beliefin a unifiedworkingclass, intheirview,
an essentialistnotion
suggests thatthereis such a thingas a "classidentity,"
theyoppose withtheir own version of differenceor negation.Intheirsurvey

13. Jean-FrangoisLyotard,"Discussionentre Jean-FrangoisLyotardet RichardRorty,"

Critique41 (1985):582-83.
/ NewReflections93

of the Second International, theyshowthe dangersof believingthatcertain

subjects can be a
given positiverepresentation, thattheycan be locatedin
one position.Theyreplacerepresentation withthe morefluid"articulation."
The advantageof thistermis thatit revealshowclass identityis merelyone
discursiveconstructamong others;it has no a prioristatus. "Class,"as a
politicalcategory,does notdisintegratebutratheris seen as one pointin a
series of democraticstruggles.By eliminating this principleof representa-
tion,the authoritarian impulseof vanguardismdisappearsas well.
The fact that "identityis never positive"is the basis fortheirview
of "antagonisms." There may be a Hegelianargumenthere, but they at-
tempt to move quicklybeyondit:"Forhim[Hegel],identityis neverpositive
and closed in itself, but is constitutedas transition,relation,difference"
(Hegemony,95). They object, of course, to Hegel's move beyondnega-
tionto a higherformof rationality. Nevertheless,Hegel is vitalto the post-
Enlightenment project of hermeneutics because he opened up the explo-
rationof the historicity of being.
Antagonism,however,does not operatein terms of any particular
HegelianorMarxistlogicof contradiction. Boththeories,theyinsist,depend
on a rationalisticunderstandingof the endogenousmovementof history.
Therefore,havingabandoneda teleologicalviewof history,they no longer
see the historicalinevitability of class antagonisms.Theirprincipleof an-
tagonismgoes further than that,however,in thatit reveals"thelimitsof all
objectivity"(Hegemony,125).Antagonismis based neitheron conceptual
contradictions (as in Hegel)noron concrete,physicalstruggles.Instead,it
functionsthroughthe subject'slackof a fullidentity:"Thepresence of the
'Other'preventsme frombeingtotallymyself.The relationarises notfrom
fulltotalities,but fromthe impossibility of theirconstitution" (Hegemony,
125).As we willsee withLacanianpsychoanalysis(as proposedby Slavoj
Ziwek),the impossibility of society resemblesthe impossibility of the Real.
Antagonisms always externalto the subject without havinganypositive
existence "outthere."Thatis, they are neithersubjectivenorobjectivebut
are ratherdiscursiveconstructs.
Hermeneuticsas politicsrelies uponthe Heideggeriandestruktion
of traditional
Westernontology.ButHeidegger,accordingto Derrida,is still
too concernedwiththe "primordial homeland" of languageand Being.14 The
Derrideancritiqueof the "metaphysicsof presence"is important to Laclau

14. Jacques Derrida,Speech and Phenomena,trans.DavidB. Allison(Evanston:North-

western UniversityPress, 1973), 159.
94 boundary2 / Fall1995

and Mouffeforthe followingreason:it enables themto arguethat society

and the subjectexist only withinthe infiniteplayof diffdrance;
that is, to
use theirquotationfromL'dcriture et la diffdrence,"inthe absence of a
centre or origin, everything became discourse. ... The absence of the
transcendentalsignifiedextendsthe domainandthe playof significationin-
finitely"(Hegemony,112).Thisso-calledNietzscheandance is the basis of
the indeterminacy of the social- hegemonicformationsare discursivecon-
structs.Intermsof (inter)subjectivity, the resultis thatthe activistshouldnot
expect to find any kind of complete self-actualizationin politicsbutrathera
continualdeferralof meaning,partiallystabilizedby "nodalpoints,"15 in the
vortexof differance.
This theoryof the subjectadds an intriguingtwistto theircritique
of traditional(especiallyeconomic)liberalism.Freedom,for Laclau,is not
self-determination; there is no subjectlocatedinthe absence of structural
identity.Instead, freedom is the resultof what he calls a "failedstructural
identity" (NewReflections,44). Thesubjectis free notbecause itexists out-
side of institutional control,or externals;it is free because it is dislocated.
The moreopaquethe social is, the morepossibilitiesthereare forthe sub-
jectto be interpellated byhegemonicpractices:"Everyidentityis dislocated
insofaras itdependson an outsidewhichbothdeniesthatidentityand pro-
vides its conditionsof possibilityat the same time"(NewReflections,39).16
The categoryof the subject,whichthey insistis actuallythatof mul-
tiple subject positions,is only understoodthroughits historicityor contin-
gency and its (dis)locationina worldof textualdiffdrance. As Derridapoints
out, the word difference has its Latinroot in which
differre, has the two-
foldmeaningof "todefer"or "todelay"and "toscatter."Thus,the subject
can only be understoodin terms of its lackof presence and its inabilityto
use languageto obtainfullidentityor self-consciousness.This is the key
to the anti-utopianidea that any totalizingview of the social is, in effect,
the desireto create a transparentand, hence, totalitarian society.Ina har-
monioussociety,we would,in fact, be radicallyunfree,since we could no

15. Pointsde capiton,or nodal points,are, in Lacanianterms, definedas "privilegedsig-

nifiersthat fix the meaning of a signifyingchain."Laclauand Mouffeuse this term to
describethe way in whicheverydiscourse"isan attemptto arrestthe flowof differences."
This is necessary forany hegemonicformation.See Hegemony,112.
16. The discussion of the advantagesof the dislocationsof capitalismoften sounds sus-
piciouslylike anotherrehearsalof the joys of the mobile,bourgeois,cosmopolitanaca-
demic. AijazAhmad'srecent book, In Theory,offers a scathing critiqueof a numberof
contemporarypost-Marxisttheoristson these grounds.
/ NewReflections95

longerthriveoff of negation.Thisview is oftensaid to have a Nietzschean

quality,since it values an agonisticsociety.Since there is no finalclosure,
or "suture,"of the social,there is a perpetual"trenchwarinwhichdifferent
politicalprojectsstriveto articulatea greaternumberof social signifiers"

Discursive Practices
Hegemonyand SocialistStrategyis one of the most coherentat-
tempts to use what has been referredto (usuallypejoratively)as "the
linguisticturn"fora radical,democraticpolitics.The interestinstructuralist/
poststructuralist and Lacanianpsychoanalyticcriticismis supposed to
supersede the mandarinqualityoftenattributedto these discourses.The
end of fixedmeanings,the critiqueof onto-theo-phallogocentrism is notan
act of politicalcastration.The phallus(the symbolicformof the fullnessof
the transcendentalsignified)is, throughits very absence, the conditionof
possibilityfora morefree (dislocated)social space.
Butitwouldbe a mistake,Laclauand Mouffetellus, to readabsence
or negativityas the new groundreplacingthe metaphysicsof presence,
since such a movetakes place onlywithinthe very bipolarity they are at-
to The
tempting disrupt. choice,they suggest, is not between the absolute
unityof the social (as intotalitariansystems) and absolutedifference.The
lattercarriesthe dangerofcausingthe "implosion ofthe social,"the impossi-
bilityof politicalintersubjectivity
(Hegemony,188).ButLaclauand Mouffe's
appropriation of Lacan'spoints de capitonneversucceeds as a move to
avoidthispresence/absencedualism.As PeterDewshas shown,poststruc-
turalism"remainsnegativelyboundto the philosophyof consciousness,
andthereforelacksany idealof communicative Yet,unlikethe
notoriously depoliticizedwork of early American deconstructionists (e.g.,
Paul de Man),Laclauand Mouffeattemptto do more than builda new
groundof negativity. Thecritiqueof self-consciousnessandthe stableiden-
tityof the subjectparallelsthe critiqueof anytheoryof "society." As we will
see, the possibilityforanykindof politicalintersubjectivity
ina dismembered
social space relieson the (Lacanian)theoryof nodalpoints.
Gramsci'sworkis crucialto LaclauandMouffe'sthinkingon thismat-
ter, since his notionof "historicalblocs"moves fromthe rationalismand
universalismof Marxtowarda theoryof a less unifiedsocial space. The

17. PeterDews, Logicsof Disintegration(London:Verso,1987),236.

2 / Fall1995
96 boundary

workof Gramsciand Althusser,they believe,is a step in the rightdirec-

tion, since we need to begin to look at the multiplesites of contestation
in any social space. But unlikethese so-called essentialistthinkers,they
see Marx,to a great extent, as the Other.Both Gramsciand Althusser
help us to see ideologyas operativein manydifferentpractices,butthey
do not go farenoughin termsof theirbreakwiththe essentialisttheoryof
base/superstructure. ForLaclauand Mouffe,there is only superstructure,
since therecan be no underlyingrealityortruthto ourpoliticalor economic
life.Further,"superstructure" is replacedby "discursivepractices."
Althoughtheirneologisticterm nodalpointshas much in common
withGramsci'snotionof "historical blocs"and the "warof positions,"it in-
volvesa muchgreaterdispersionof subjectpositionsas a meansof avoiding
the twoproblemstheyassociate withGramsci:first,itdoes notacceptclass
as the privilegedsignifierforthe "hegemonicsubject";and,second, itdoes
not envisiona "singlehegemoniccenter"(Hegemony,138). Theirtheory
of hegemonicformationsis crucialto our discussion,since it is as close
as they come to describinganythinglikeintersubjectivity. UnlikeGramsci,
they do not believethat a hegemonicforce necessarilydividesthe social
space intotwocamps.Theycallthese "popular struggles"andsuggest that
in certainsituations,particularly in the ThirdWorld,such strugglesmight
be constructedtendentially(Hegemony,137).Thistheoreticalmove is an
attemptto counterthe obviouscriticismthat theirworkis useful only in
advancedcapitalistcountriesand is consistentwiththeirgeneralbeliefin
the liberatorypossibilitiesinherentin social systems thatallowforgreater
effects of dislocation.We mightsay that they have their own theory of
unevenand combineddevelopment:advancedindustrialnationshave the
greatercapacityformanufacturing dislocatedsubjects.
Hegemonicformationsare forgedthroughthe interplaybetweenthe
logicsof equivalenceand difference:
Every historicalbloc-or hegemonic formation-is constructed
throughregularity indispersion,andthisdispersionincludesa prolif-
erationof verydiverseelements:systems of differenceswhichpar-
tiallydefine relationalidentities:chains of equivalenceswhichsub-
vertthe latterbutwhichcan be transformistically recoveredinsofar
as the place of oppositionitself.(Hegemony,142)
The nodalpoints(privilegedsocial signifiers),essential forpreventingthe
implosionof the social, replacethe Gramscianformationof historicalblocs
and allowforgreaterdispersionin politicalformations.Hegemonicforma-
/ NewReflections97

tions thus can exist only when the social space is characterizedby its
indeterminacyor openness. (Inter)subjectivity, then, is not formedon the
basis of a sharedvisionof a positivelogicof the idealsociety;the condition
of whatused to be called"community" is markedby contingency.
Laclauand Mouffehavetriedto give a defense of this use of discur-
sive practicesagainstcharges (particularly by Marxists)of idealism.This
problemis important since, inthe absence ofthe determination of objective,
materialconditions(i.e., class interests),thereappearsto be no basis for
any unifiedpoliticalstruggle.The alternativethey supplyis thathegemonic
formationsexist on a metonymicchain withoutany ultimatelyprivileged
signifier;there is no unifiedstrugglefor"democracy" in any transcenden-
tal sense ("justice"and "the rightsof Man"are now offeredsecundum
quid).They insistthatthey do not accept the dichotomybetween realism
and idealismthat is the basis of such a criticismof discourseas having
purely"mental" characteristics.Theydo not makethe mistake,we might
say, that Marxsaid of the "youngHegelians,"who "hadthe idea that men
were drownedin wateronlybecause theywere possessed withthe idea of
gravity."18Discourse,as theydefineit,has a materialcharacter.Touse their
examples,one cannotdisputean earthquakeor the fallingof a brick.But
this does not mean thatwe can understandthese occurrencesobjectively
(i.e.,withoutthe mediationof language).Wittgenstein's theoryof language-
games serves ourpurposes,then, because it allowsus to see howdiverse
institutionalarrangementsare sociallyconstructed.Relationsof power,in
Laclauand Mouffe'slanguage,are contingentbutnot necessary.
Gramsci'sessentialisttheoryof historicalblocs has the advantage
of salvagingat least some sense of what Marxcalled objectivematerial
conditions.19InHegemony,Laclauand Mouffedo not historicizeGramsci's
"ambivalent" positionwith regardto the workingclass. The fact that he
actuallyhelpedstartthe ItalianCommunistPartyshouldexplainhis essen-
tialistviewof class. Whiletheyappropriate a greatdeal of Gramsci'swork,
they wantto give hegemonya deconstructivelogic.The subjectcannotbe
locatedinanystableposition;itmustbe dispersedthroughout the "unfixity"
of any social space. They never make it clear how any socialist project
couldbe actualizedas merelyone nodalpointamongothers.Thisdecon-
structivelogicshiftsourattentionalmostentirelyoverto culturalproblems.
18. KarlMarx,Selected Writings,ed. DavidMcLellan(Oxford:OxfordUniversityPress,
1977), 160.
19. Fora strong Marxistargumentagainst Laclauand Mouffe,see TerryEagleton'sIde-
ology:An Introduction
98 boundary2 / Fall1995

ChantalMouffe'sessay "Hegemonyand IdeologyinGramsci" (1979)claims

Gramscias the herowho brokefromthe economismof earlyMarxistthink-
ing. Heressay representsthe importantpolitical,exegeticalworkthat has
used Gramscito revitalizethe term ideologyby linkingit to the notionof
"hegemony." Gramsci'suse of ideologydoes notdescribefalse conscious-
ness or merelyclass positionsbutthe complexweb of social activitiesor
apparatusesthat define power relationsin any given politicalformation.
Mouffesuggests thatthis theoryof ideologywas takenup by Althusserbut
provedless fertilefor him,since, likevirtuallyall Marxists,he fell intothe
trap of a reductiveeconomism.The finalsentence of the essay, though
unproveninthe essay itself,wouldbe the basis of Mouffe'sworkwithLaclau
in the eighties:"Itis in factquiteremarkable to see the extraordinary
in whichsome contemporaryresearch-such as that of Foucaultor Der-
ridawhichbringsout a completelynew conceptionof politics--converges
withGramsci'sthought."20Intheirlater,collaborativeworks,however,it is
nevermadeclearwhatthe distinctionmightbe betweenGramsci'ssocialist
thinkingand the vehementlyanti-Marxist ideas of MichelFoucaultand the
hermeneuticworkof Derrida.These lattertwotheoristsare used to create
the effectof the dispersionof all subjectpositionsand the dismissalof the
essentialist(Gramscian)notionof class. Mouffeand Laclauwoke up one
day and foundthat,as Derridaputit inthe late sixties,"inthe absence of a
centeror origin,everythingbecame discourse."21
The blendof Foucaultian and Derrideantheoriesof discourserevital-
izes the possibilitiesofwagingculturalbattlesina wholearrayof institutional
structures,since it allowsthe study of the sociallyconstructednatureof
all power/knowledge But it is also used by Laclauand Mouffe
to exaggerateand dehistoricizethe dislocatednatureof the subject.The
departurefromGramsci'sview of hegemonyseems to providethe pretext
forabandoningany sense of a collectivesocialistprojectwhatsoever.They
move fromone extreme,the theoryof a collectivewill,to the other,the
virtuallytotal dispersionof subjects intodiscursivelyconstructedmultiple

20. ChantalMouffe,"Hegemonyand IdeologyinGramsci,"in GramsciandMarxistTheory,

ed. ChantalMouffe(London:Routledgeand KeganPaul,1979), 201.
21. Jacques Derrida,Writingand Difference,trans. Alan Bass (Chicago:Universityof
ChicagoPress, 1978), 280.
22. ChantalMouffe'sarticle,"TheSex/GenderSystem andthe DiscursiveConstructionof
Women'sSubordination," is one exampleof the importanceof this theoreticaltraditionin
feministwork.See RethinkingIdeology:A MarxistDebate, ed. S. Hininen and L. Paldan
(Berlin:Argument-Verlag;New York:International General,1983).
/ NewReflections99

subject positions.Whetheror not we choose to abandonan essentialist

understanding of a unifiedworkingclass, it is unclearthatthis "newplural-
ism"is the basis of our"liberation."
The Gramsciannotionof "ideology," in
this context,is merelya justification
forthe levelingof all politicalprojects
and the failureto accountforwhyor howa collectivewillis formed.Laclau
and Mouffe,likeGramsci,believein a "pessimismof the intellect," butthey
seem to have forgottenthe latterpart of Gramsci'swell-knownline, the
"optimism of the will."

Points de capiton
The vast and complexhistoryof the term ideologywillnot be ex-
ploredin anygreatdetailinthisessay. Nevertheless,Iwantto suggest that
this concept is the Achilles' heel of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Since
the termis virtuallyabsent (conspicuously)fromthis text,we need to look
at Laclau's more recent work, New Reflections on the Revolution of Our
Time,whichoffersgreaterclarityto Hegemony.The battlewaged against
ferociousin a section entitled"TheImpossi-
essentialismgets particularly
bility Society."Likethe search forsociety and the Real, ideologyis the
searchforthe impossible."Ideology,"
wouldnot consist of the misrecognitionof a positiveessence, but
exactlythe opposite:it wouldconsist of the non-recognition of the
precariouscharacterof any positivity,of the impossibility
of any ulti-
matesuture.The ideologicalwouldconsistof those discursiveforms
throughwhicha societytriesto instituteitselfas such on the basis of
closure,of the fixationof meaning,of the non-recognitionof the infi-
niteplayof differences.The ideologicalwouldbe the willto "totality"
of any totalizingdiscourse.And insofaras the social is impossible
withoutsome fixationof meaning,withoutthe discourseof closure,
the ideologicalmustbe seen as constitutiveof the social.The social
only exists as the vain attemptto institutethat impossibleobject:
society.Utopiais the essence of anycommunication andsocialprac-
tice. (New Reflections, 92)
This passage presents a Gordianknot for the would-bepoliticalactiv-
ist/theorist.Whatwe have here is not exactlythe "endof ideology,"butit
does fallintoa similartrapthroughitsownperformative contradiction. As we
saw earlier,the implosionof the social,the destructionof all politicalinter-
subjectivity,is supposedly avoided through the possibility of nodal points,
100 boundary2 / Fall1995

whichpartiallyfix meaningin the metonymicchain.The social remainsa

sphereof overdetermination, then,whileallowingforcertainlimitedformsof
politicalresistance.Whatremainsenigmatic,however,is the assertionthat
ideology,the willto totality,is characterizedas bothnon-recognition and as
constitutiveof the social.Thisis a subtle,if notcasuistic,argument.Onthe
one hand,the ideologueis someone who has not enteredintothe proper
academicdiscourse,or interestingconversation,as Rortyputs it. Thatis,
he or she has not been properlytrainedin the historyof poststructuralist
linguistics.Onthe otherhand,the ideologueprovidesthe necessarycondi-
tionforanytypeof hegemonicpractice.Theproblemhereis thatthe activist
has no choice otherthanto essentialize;thatis, he or she mustaccept the
metaphysicalpossibilityof a bettersocial orderand the will-to-power that
is implicitin any ideologicalfantasy.Ineithercase, the desireforutopia,as
Laclauasserts, is the "essence of any communication or social practice."
Is this an ironicassertion?We mightcall it a performative contradictionfor
the followingreason:it suggests thatwe mustessentializein orderto com-
municate,whilemaintaining an ironicsense aboutthisverycommunicative
act. Laclauis beingideologicalat the same timethathe is undermining the
basis of ideology.The theorist,then, recognizesthat he or she is merely
essentializingwheneverhe or she engages in politics.Thisseems remark-
ablyclose to whatPeterSloterdijk calls "enlightened false consciousness,"
whichdescribesthe state of those whose "consciousnessno longerfeels
affectedby any critiqueof ideology;its falseness is alreadyreflexivelybuf-
fered."23 Inthis case, it is not someone who, throughcynicism,continues
to damagethe livesof otherswithoutany self-deception.Instead,it can be
the hermeneutictheoristwho continuallydeconstructsall truthclaimsfor
the sheer jouissanceof actingas the UniversalRefuter,or skeptic.Laclau
has not escaped the perpetualprocess of unmaskingthatSloterdijklabels
"cynicalreason."His formof ideologiekritik insists that those who do not
recognizethe infiniteplayof differencesare unenlightened. As SlajovZifek
tells us, however,"evenif we keep an ironicaldistance[fromouractions],
we are stilldoingthem"(Sublime,33). The questionremains,once we've
become ironicaboutideology,Whyshouldn'twe triumphantly declarethe
end of ideology?Are Laclauand Mouffeironicwhen they say thatsociety
is "impossible" and then proceedto use the wordsocietywhen it fits their
own ideologicalinterests?Welivein a "democratic society";we are "inter-
pellatedas consumers";we cannotimaginean alternativeto capitalism.
23. PeterSloterdijk,Critiqueof CynicalReason, trans.MichaelEldred(Minneapolis:Uni-
versityof MinnesotaPress, 1987), 5.
Bertram/ NewReflections 101

Slavoj Ziek offers a compelling use of meconnaissance and points

de capiton and provides an extension of Laclau and Mouffe's move into
psychoanalysis, which is where they directed us for this mystery of ideol-
ogy (or is the mystery itself ideological?). Ziek's Hegelian/psychoanalytic
understandingof ideology reveals the possibilities and limitsof hermeneu-
tics as politics. Since he resuscitates ideology from its death throes in
Hegemony and New Reflections, the project of Phronesis seems to have
new life.
Ziwek places a different emphasis on antagonism, a concept he
shares with Laclau and Mouffe:
Man is-Hegel dixit-"an animalsick unto death,"an animal extorted
by an insatiable parasite (reason, logos, language). In this perspec-
tive, the "deathdrive,"this dimension of radicalnegativity,cannot be
reduced to an expression of alienated social conditions, it defines la
condition humaine as such: there is no solution, no escape from it;
the thing to do is not to "overcome,"to "abolish"it, but to come to
terms with it, to learn to recognize it in its terrifyingdimension and
then, on the basis of this fundamental recognition,to try to articulate
a modus vivendiwithit. (Sublime,5)
Once again, we are told to view utopianism as the dangerous attempt to
"suture"the social sphere. The difficultywith this view is that it suggests we
have the capacity to be ironic about ideology (the will-to-totality)while we
are being ideological. How does the activist set limitson her or his destruc-
tive will-to-powerwithout falling into complacency, or the end of ideology
(History-Hegel said-is a slaughterbench)? The decentering of the sub-
ject for Stanley Fish or Richard Rorty is the grounds for skepticism, which
runs ad infinitum.The openness of the social and the dislocation of the
subject creates irony,not the trench warfareof differentpoliticalprojects.
As with Laclau and Mouffe,we are trapped in the paradoxicalsitua-
tion of thinking in utopian terms about the end of utopia. But that should
not stop us fromcontinuing.Just as we cannot abolish antagonism (without
being totalitarian),we cannot abolish ideology or the attempt to fix mean-
ing in the social. The idea of a post-ideological society is misguided, Ziek
shows, for the followingreason:
If our concept of ideology remains the classic one in which the illu-
sion is located in knowledge, then today's society must appear post-
ideological: the prevailing ideology is that of cynicism; people no
longer believe in ideological truth;they do not take ideological propo-
102 boundary2 / Fall1995

sitions seriously. The fundamental level of ideology, however, is not

of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (uncon-
scious) fantasy structuringour social reality itself. And at this level,
we are of course far from being a post-ideological society. Cynical
distance is just one way-one of many ways-to blind ourselves to
the structuringpower of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take
things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still
doing them. (Sublime, 33)
Ziek uses the Lacanian meconnaissance to help redefine ideology. We are
always distanced (with language as the mediation) from the objects of the
Real (understood as the Lack). What Ziek shows is that ideology exists
even if we don't grasp exactly what it is. It is embedded in our daily prac-
tices. The belief that ideology is an illusion, however, does not necessarily
implythat there is any nonideological ground to stand on (i.e., there is no
"true"consciousness). Ideology is dialectical. He reworks a line by Sloter-
dijkto read: "They know very well how things really are, but they still are
doing it as if they did not know"(Sublime, 32). The ideologies of daily prac-
tices are not transparent and can never be made transparent (the desire
for transparence is "totalitarian").An individual'sself-deception, indeed the
self-deception of an entire society, is an inescapable datum. Ziek's theory
works on the importance of formin all interpretation.Marx,he argues (fol-
lowing Lacan), was the first to invent the symptom in his analysis of the
commodity form. Marx set up a vital method of political hermeneutics by
showing how the commodity form conceals the materialityof objects of ex-
change and the labor that is built into the inherent nature of the object.
In Ziek's idiosyncraticreading, there is no "hiddenkernel,"no real object
that is latent under commodity exchange. The process of understandinglife
under capitalism is like that of analyzing a dream. The dream itself cannot
be uncovered, but its manifest content, which is itself the form of the dream
(displacement, condensation, etc.) can be made accessible through inter-
pretation.The meaning of the symptom is generated through fantasy. It is
the dialectical means we have of arrivingat some form of psychic identity.
For example, Marxmade feudalism the Other and thus enabled us to rec-
ognize our relationto the exchange-value of objects in contradistinctionto
the use-value of objects.
Ziek's hermeneutic theory is useful because it recuperates a notion
of ideology. The fantasy of subjects under capitalist economies is that of
commodityfetishism-the misrecognitionof social relationsforthe relations
Bertram/ New Reflections 103

between things. For Ziek, there is no space outside ideological fantasy

(as in Althusser's distinction between ideology and science): "Ideologyis
a social realitywhose very existence implies the non-knowledge of its par-
ticipants as to its essence" (Sublime, 21). Nevertheless, there are always
ways of interrogatingour ideological thoughts (as there are ways of ana-
lyzing dreams). Ideology is not only in the "knowing"(as in the rationalor
reflective model) but in the "doing."One example he gives is that we may
know that money has "nothingmagical about it,"but we continue to use it
as if it did (Sublime, 31).
Although Laclau tries to borrow from this part of Ziek's work (in
the passage cited earlier on ideology), the difference between these two
theories is important.For Ziek, ideology is indeed misrecognition, but not
merely of the infiniteplay of differences. Misrecognitionis part of the very
structure of human (un)consciousness, and ideology has very real conse-
quences in terms of human relations. Fantasy is the path toward a greater
understandingof the Real (which has no independent existence), as Freud
recognized when he placed so much importance on the dream-workrather
than on the dream itself.
Ziek's answer to the question "Whyis there something ratherthan
nothing at all?" is useful here: "the Symptom."This Lacanian answer may
offer a partial solution to the problem I have identified with Laclau and
Mouffe. In Ziek's reading, psychoanalysis offers the "necessary counter-
point"to the deconstruction of "substantialidentity"(Sublime, 72). Laclau
and Mouffedo not offerthis possibility.Laclau'stheory of the freedom of the
subject as "failedstructuralidentity"fails to give an adequate account of
what gives us "a minimumof consistency to our being-in-the-world"(Sub-
lime, 75). The formulationof a Symptom does not involve a determination
of the essence of the subject, but it is a construction that enables us to
avoid madness:
If the symptom in this radical dimension is unbound, it means liter-
ally "the end of the world"-the only alternative to the symptom is
nothing:pure autism, a psychic suicide, surrenderto the death drive
even to the total destructionof the symbolic universe. That is why the
final Lacanian definitionof the end of the psychoanalytic process is
identificationwith the symptom. The analysis achieves its end when
the patient is able to recognize, in the Real of his symptom, the only
support of his being. That is how we must read Freud's wo es war,
soil ich werden:you, the subject, must identifyyourself withthe place
104 boundary2 / Fall1995

where your symptom already was; in its "pathological"particularity

you must recognize the element which gives consistency to your
being. (Sublime, 75)

What was lackingin Laclauand Mouffewas a developed theory of the Lack.

Althoughthey preventtheirtheory fromcollapsing into total negativity(con-
tingency only subverts necessity; we cannot have the opposite of necessity,
which would be an empty totality), it still fails to answer the question that
is crucial to the formationof a theory of ideology: Why is there something
ratherthan nothing? Nodal points can only functionas an "ideologicalquilt,"
a partialstabilizationof the social (the requirementfor any politicalactivity),
if we have at least some explanation of the desire for politicalintersubjec-
tivity.24Ziek sees the intersubjectivityof antagonism in Hegelian terms-
an "insatiable parasite (reason, logos, language)"--as well as Lacanian
terms- enjoyment or jouissance (Sublime, 5). These latter terms exist as
the surplus in the subject after interpellation.Ziek adds to Althusser'sver-
sion of interpellation,or the internalization,of ideologies by insisting on
the importance of "a residue or leftover"after the process of interpella-
tion. The Lacanian and Hegelian aspect to the formationof subjectivityin
this book is evident in Ziek's idea of reflexive determination.The subject,
as for Lacan, is an S. This is not a vacuous negation but ratherthe path
towardthe negation of negation (the symptom), the support for being itself.
Intersubjectivityis generated through the "positivecontent,"or "whatI am
for others" (Sublime, 46). Positive consistency also arrives throughfantasy.
Illusion,fantasy, meconnaissance, misrecognition,and the symptom are all
tied to our immediate need for gaining self-definitiondialectically through
Ziek refers to the poststructuralistarguments of Hegemony as, "to
use the good old Stalinist expression-'a dizziness from too much suc-
cess.' "25 Laclau's notion of the "failedstructuralidentity"of the subject is
a reference to the Lacanian objet petit a, but it lacks the more complete,

24. Mypointhere is notthat Lacaniantheory(e.g., d6sir)does providean adequatesolu-

tionto this problem.ForLaclauand Mouffe,the subjectof the lack and of indeterminacy
often functionsas a quicksolutionto problemsin politicaltheory.Ziek's Lacaniannotion
of the "symptom"is not the answer, but it seems to offera littlemore than Laclauand
Mouffe'scelebrationof the failureof identificationand the virtuallyendless differentiation
of the metonymicchain.
25. SlavojZiek, "BeyondDiscourse-Analysis," in Laclau,New Reflections,250.
Bertram/ NewReflections 105

phenomenological description offered by Ziek.6 Ziek's work deals with

Hegel's theory of reflexive determination as a means of offering a larger
conception of subjectivation. In addition, his work emphasizes the difficult
formationof the Subject and Intersubjectivity,as opposed to multiplesub-
ject positions.27The conspicuous absence of this makes Hegemony and
SocialistStrategyand Reflectionson the Revolutionof OurTimeappear
to fetishize the dislocation of the subject. In these two works, the Lacanian
"object a" is appropriatedas a crude form of negation or lack. Lacanian
theory reveals the complexity of the subject's attempt to find wholeness in
the symbolic order, the necessary fantasies and identificationsof the sub-
ject with various unconscious objects of desire. Hermeneutictheory, which
suggests that the relationbetween the part and the whole is circular,is im-
portant to Ziek and Lacan's work on identity and subjectivation.Yet, this
circular process forecloses the possibility that negation can ever take on
a real presence. Laclau and Mouffe,as we saw earlier, define the "axis of
equivalence,"the nodal point at which a collective is formed, as the point at
which "certaindiscursive forms, through equivalence, annul all positivityof
the object and give a real existence to negativityas such. This impossibility
of the real-negativity -has attained a formof presence" (Hegemony, 128).
This form of Lacanian and Derridean theory relies on paradox as a form
of logic. For Lacan and Ziek, however, negation and presence are not the
same; they are dialecticallylinkedas the part to the whole. The whole may
be a fantasy, but it is a very real fantasy. The phallus, for example, offers
an imaginarysense of the whole and positivity,without which the subject
would disappear. There can be no presence as pure negation. The theory
of the nodal point relies on total castration. Laclau and Mouffe'soccasional
use of the word society to describe the condition of postmodernity marks
the returnof the repressed. The desire for an imaginaryphallus, the will-to-
totality,cannot always be rationally(mis)construed as the misrecognitionof
difference and indeterminacy.
We should not overestimate the difference between Ziek and Laclau
and Mouffe, however, since all three of them ultimatelyinvertthe romantic

26. See also ErnestoLaclauand LilianZac, "Minding the Gap:The Subjectof Politics,"
in TheMakingof PoliticalIdentities,ed. ErnestoLaclau(London:Verso,1994).
27. A numberof commentatorsemphasize this differencebetween Lacanand Derrida.
For example, Dews notes, "Unlikethe other post-structuralist
thinkers,Lacan compre-
hends that the understandingof meaningand of the self is necessarily groundedin a
presumptionof integrity."
See Dews, Logicsof Disintegration,236.
106 boundary2 / Fall1995

conception of premodern societies and thereby celebrate "atomized indi-

viduals."Ziek, for example, repeats Claude Lefort'sthesis in L'invention
Democratique: he celebrates elections, the end of the "organic unity"of
society, and "atomizedindividuals"(Sublime, 148). (Is the One-Dimensional
Man the hero of postmodernity?) This celebration of democracy as a sto-
chastic, or formal, process is premised on Lefort's mythical view of pre-
modern societies. There is no theoretical or historicaljustificationfor this
inversionof the romanticvision of the organic natureof these societies. This
is an essentialist and reductionistvision of the complex nature of premod-
ern civilizationthat points to a fundamentalflaw in a great deal of post-1968
thinking:the politicalactivist moves from the search for "truedemocracy"
(the totalitarianor transparentsociety) to the bourgeois glorificationof float-
ing signifiers, pluralism,consumerism, and elections.

A "RealHumanism"?
Slavoj Ziek sees the paradox of his anti-essentialism in Hegelian
terms. In the introductionto Tarryingwith the Negative (1994), he argues
that "Lacanaccepts the 'deconstructionist'motifof radicalcontingency but
turns this motif against itself, using it to assert his commitmentto Truthas
contingent."Lacan, Ziek insists, is a "transcendentalphilosopher."28 The
radicalnegativityin Ziek's workcomes froma revamped Hegelian confron-
tation withthe "terrifyingdimension"of the human animal "driven"in various
ways for Recognition (Sublime, 5). The commitment to Truthas contingent
is quite differentfrom an ironic(or postironic) hermeneutics. Hegel opened
the door to our sense that all human understandingis situated withinhistory,
and historicalknowledge is thus a perspective constrained by historicalcon-
ditions. Yet, the vantage point within history itself always requires a larger
view (a theory, as well as an interpretation)that gives it explanatorypower.
For Nietzsche, the will-to-poweris the means of overcoming this chaos of
historicalbecoming. The chaos of becoming inevitablygives way to a "rank
ordering"organized through the special position of an artist-politics.29 As
28. SlavojZiek, Tarryingwiththe Negative (Durham:Duke UniversityPress, 1993), 4.
Ziek makesa vigorousattemptto differentiatehis workfrompostmodernneopragmatism
and deconstruction.
29. AlthoughI rejectthe esoteric (Straussian)Platonismof Stanley Rosen, I believe his
discussion of "Nietzsche'sPlatonism,"likethat of Hermeneuticsas Politics,is a neces-
sary, but insufficient,attack on the complacencies of postmodernhermeneuts. Rosen
emphasizes that Nietzsche often defines the philosopheras a prophetor lawgiver.The
Bertram/ New Reflections 107

I have pointed out, Laclau and Mouffe level politicalstruggles to the point
where there can be no rank ordering and certainly no justificationfor the
greater legitimacyof one projectover any other. This perspectivism is more
endemic to the post-Marxismof Laclau and Mouffethan it is to Ziek, the
postmodern Hegelian. Ziek seems to be indicatingthat theory (in addition
to interpretationand phronesis) still has a place in politicalthinking.Politics,
in other words, is not merely conversation in the pragmatic sense. Or, if
politics has been reduced to this status in academic discourse, then surely
the essential worth of such post-Marxistperspectival chitchat needs to be
called into question. My goal, then, is not to sever Ziek from the project
of Phronesis but to emphasize (withZiek) that our historical position may
call for a reconsiderationof some of the basic tenets of anti-essentialism or
As I have suggested, what we need is a genealogy of difference,
perhaps even one that "accepts the 'deconstructionist'motifof radicalcon-
tingency, but turns this motif against itself."Genealogy, in the Foucaultian
sense, is a hermeneutic historicalpractice. It undermines origins, totalities,
and continuities. It is a playfuldance through history that, if not serious in
any logocentric sense, deals withserious problems (panopticism,madness,
etc.). Nietzsche's "cheerfulness"in the Genealogy of Moralsis only possible
with what he calls a "subterraneanseriousness." A genealogy of difference,
then, would need to consider new "postmodern"politics in a well-nigh rhi-
zomatous fashion. What we need to take seriously, I have been suggesting,
is the mode of dominationthat underlies the postmodern politicalcondition.
The hermeneutic play of genealogy needs to be the object of genealogical
study. Thus, we need to look at anti-essentialism and its metonymic chain
as symptomatic (in Ziek's sense) of particular,contingent social condi-
tions. For our present concerns, this means that we cannot abandon the
analysis of capitalism as a system. Ziek's criticism of postmodernism is
only one way we can begin to take our playfulness seriously and recognize
that anti-essentialism, or liberalpluralism,does not markthe end of history.
Hermeneutics as politics is not the final condition for politicallife.
The term politics has gone through a huge transformationin Laclau
and Mouffe'swork that gives it a pragmatic,as well as hermeneutic, flavor.

philosopherdevelops a perspectiveof all perspectives(a synopticview) and can create

new values based on practico-productive
concerns.The roleof the philosopheris to over-
come chaos (i.e., differance).See The Questionof Being (New Haven:Yale University
Press, 1993).
108 boundary2 / Fall1995

They believe they have developed a "realhumanism,"a humanism that has

been "historicized."The "greatemancipatory goals" are now in the purview
of pragmatism (New Reflections, 242-45). An assortment of recent think-
ers has elements of pragmatism in their work: Foucault, Derrida, Stanley
Fish, JudithButler,and many others share an interest in purgingthe desire
for metaphysics, the absolute, Truth,Being, the transcendental signified,
presence, ontology, identity, concepts, reason, and Man. Many of these
thinkers have been able to carry their suspicion of the above terms into the
productivesphere of politicalthinking.Liketheir radical, philosophical pre-
decessors (particularlyMarx,Nietzsche, Freud, and Heidegger), they work
with what Paul Ricoeur has called a "hermeneutics of suspicion," the un-
masking of particularclaims that have concealed their real motives. A great
deal of postmodern theory suggests that unmasking is an endless process,
since there is ultimatelynothing underneath surface meaning to be exposed
(as in class struggle, sexual desire, etc.). A variety of politicalgains have
been made through this process by activists who have challenged norma-
tive claims for heterosexuality, male dominance, white supremacy, and so
forth. Ricoeur refers to this unmasking as a violent process. This "violence"
is rarelyacknowledged by poststructuralists,who generally argue that the
hermeneutic process always leads toward pleasure or liberaltolerance. It
is not only ideology critique that performs a kind of philosophicalviolence
on others (as in the rationalisticconception of false consciousness) but
all forms of deconstruction. The exposure of metaphysical or logocentric
ideas is itself a means of gaining power.This problemof hermeneuticalvio-
lence is crucial to Ziek's nonbiologicaldiscussion of the "death-drive,"that
"insatiableparasite,"or "radicalnegativity"(Sublime, 4). Ziek's means of
workingout ideology as fantasy (and desire) is not to negate the will (and
the violence of hermeneutics) but to come to terms with it by deploying a
vital form of nontransparentintersubjectivity.
In her recent collection of essays, Mouffe argues that "a radical
democratic interpretation .. . should lead to a common recognition among
differentgroups strugglingfor an extension and radicalizationof democracy
that they have a common concern. .... [I]tshould construct a common politi-
cal identityas radicaldemocratic citizens."30Butcitizenship and a "common
politicalidentity"are precisely what have been dislocated and dismantled in
contemporary life. Amidst the logics of disintegration,such modes of iden-
tity are unlikelyor tenuous at best. As it stands, Laclau and Mouffe'stheory

30. Mouffe,Returnof the Political,70; my emphases.

Bertram/ NewReflections 109

of dislocation cannot account for the positivityof the social, a positivitythey

admit is essential to any political formation. And this predicament is not
surprising, since their method of unmasking all essences could not exist
withoutthe massive development of reificationin the life-worldof consumer
capitalism. Georg Lukacs has suggested that one importantfacet of the
"phenomenon of reification"in modern capitalism was the "destructionof
every image of the whole" through specialization, bureaucracy,and eco-
nomic and social rationalization.31 This phenomenon is not only built into
the condition of labor in capitalism but also into the condition of consumer-
ism, inwhich individualsare simultaneously homogenized (i.e., interpellated
as a particularkind of desiring machine for the same commodities) and
atomized. The hermeneutics of Laclau and Mouffe ultimatelyrelies on this
fragmentationand atomization as the condition of possibilityfor new social
movements. Their brand of pragmatism can only create the vacuous and
paradoxicalnotion of unity in dispersal (a phrase taken from Foucault)that
accentuates the impossibilityof any concepts of society that might create
an alternativeto the technologies of reificationand social division.Anyalter-
native is merely dismissed as "metaphysics"or "utopian," and a complacent
view of the status quo is fixed in place. In a notorious footnote in Conse-
quences of Pragmatism, Rorty admits that the liberal utopia in his vision
is only possible for advanced postindustrialsocieties such as the United
States.32Laclauand Mouffesay the same thing when they reveal that post-
WorldWar IIconsumerism is at the heart of new social movements. Like
Rorty'sversion, this pragmaticview of politics (the end of ideology) univer-
salizes its own perspectivism while debunking those who do not followthe
banner of anti-essentialism.
The core of this problem is that the pragmatic nature of this theory
leaves the private/publicdualism of postmodern liberal theory intact. Al-
though Laclau and Mouffeclaim they have left open more room for antago-
nisms than Rorty or Rawls, they merely repeat what Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri have called "the politics of avoidance."Rorty'sliberalutopia
keeps a strong separation between the smooth operation of the state and
the antagonisms of disparate groups. The "thinstate" does not maintain
the disciplinarycontrol of older regimes but instead operates as an admin-
istered society that avoids the conflicts and politicsof the people. Hardtand
31. See Georg Lukacs,Historyand Class Consciousness (Cambridge:MITPress, 1971),
32. See RichardRorty,Consequences of Pragmatism(Minneapolis:Universityof Minne-
sota Press, 1982), 210.
110 boundary2 / Fall1995

Negri emphasize the importance of what Laclauand Mouffecall "newsocial

movements" (for example, ACT-UP), but the "critiqueof the state-form"
calls for a transformationin the "livinglabor"of postmodern cyborg-citizens,
a radical revaluationof all values to undermine the oppressive condition
of the total, postmodern "subsumptionof labor under capital."33My point
here is that consumer society and the modes of social differentiation,or
fragmentation,are themselves supported by this administered society, the
postmodern Polizeiwissenschaft. Dislocation and difference, then, are part
of a historicalconditionand a particularregime of powerthat is by no means
fixed for all eternity.A genealogy of difference, then, would trace such con-
ditions of dominationwhile maintaininga subterranean affirmationof "living
labor"and a totalizingcritiqueof the workingconditions of global subjects.
Perhaps the most compelling argument in Hegemony and Socialist
Strategy is that negative freedom, the belief that "libertyis to be free from
restraintand violence from others" (Locke), needs to be replaced by a new
sense of positive liberties, a greater sense of participationin democratic
struggles. Laclau and Mouffeare, of course, correct in arguingthat the frag-
mentation and proliferationof struggles (for feminists, gays and lesbians,
environmentalists, etc.) cannot be dismissed as merely superstructure or
the end of ideology. The politicizationof culture and the social is vital to
any radical enterprise today. There is no reason, however, why we have
to choose between new social movements and totalizing discourses. This
opposition has given rise to an essentialist formof separatism that excludes
the potential of larger,collective struggles against dominant ideological for-
mations in the United States. The fetishism of dislocation and the related
weakness of a theory of ideology limitthe possibilities for the development
of a sense of what positive libertymight mean in the age of late capitalism.

33. See MichaelHardtand AntonioNegri,Laborof Dionysus(Minneapolis:Universityof

MinnesotaPress, 1994).