Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

72: Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe part II:
The New Political Logic

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         A system of hegemony is brought about by raising an unessential notion to the level of a universalizing structural notion such that all organization exists as a function of that universalizing notion. Which unessential notion gets universalized is a function of the strength of (usually a self preservation) articulation based on the antagonisms between all entities (Q1).
         The psychoanalytic concept of suture refers both to the lack of an actual necessary causal link between ideas in a narrative and the ideological construct that pretends causality and makes the narrative flow as if it had causality. Thus the suture “ used to designate the production of the subject on the basis of the chain of its discourses....” As we saw last time, the stories we tell are both true and false but more importantly they can make us who we claim to be. Anyone who says “I” is suturing their life together: the person you are at any one time is different depending on your situation. We are all hypocritical and often change our mind every few minutes – and we all rationalize a logical suture to cover our lack of a stable identity (Q2).
         There are many different levels of suturing: metonymy is one; a suspension of disbelief is another; an even more common one is any objectification. Just as a medical suture is an artificial and incomplete fix so are all psychoanalytic sutures: in so far as the subject is created by a reference to an Other – this Other is always necessarily incomplete malleable and changeable and thus so is the subject (Q3).
         Hegemonic practice is always a suture: every articulation is unnecessary (in the sense of it could be worded differently – not that articulation does not have to happen) but is meant to appear necessary and therefore convincing (Q4).
         In order to further develop this post-Marxist theory this notion of hegemony would seem to necessitate a change in many older Marxist notions. Among these ontological notions that need to change are: 1) Marx's stages of economic development scheme becomes just one of many possible development tracks in a world in which development itself is not assured (Q5). 2) The unifying power of proletariat interests is never absolute in fact the unity of any class or group must be articulated always and continually or it will crumble and be commandeered by another articulation. 3) The natural hegemonic tasks are not necessarily preformed by the natural class identity of the agents. This means that Marx's proletariat task to bring about the world communist revolution for the betterment of the world is twice contingent: a world wide communist revolution is only possible (not necessary or inevitable) and it may or may not be brought about by the so called proletariat (Q6). 4) The very ridged notion of class is impossible because the notion of hegemony can apply even at a one to one personal level. Class is at best a mental approximate construct of what is actually a very amorphous whole. 5) Class alliances are impossible. What is possible is a group of sufficiently like minded individuals (that is individuals who have accepted a particular articulation). 6) Interests; base/superstructure; notion of terrains of ideology, economy and politics are now at best semi-convenient constructs; they are all replaced by the concept of articulation (Q7).
         Leadership in creating new hegemonic relations involves three new concepts: “Intellectual and moral leadership constitutes...a higher synthesis, a 'collective will', which, through ideology, becomes the organic cement unifying a 'historical bloc'.” To be continued next time
         Q1 Currently in Canadian politics the Liberals constantly articulate the notion that they are the “natural governing party” they also have the advantage of subliminally drawing on our nationalism (another articulation) by flashing the flag – which looks very similar to the Liberal's colours and propaganda flyers. Lately the NDP and the Green Party have been victims of another hegemonic articulation: “don't waste your vote.” despite having relatively higher numbers in the polls both parties under preform in elections. One could say the polls were off but Laclau and Mouffe would say that a successful hegemonic articulation resulted in changed behaviour on election night without a necessary change of ideology. In other words more people may hate one side than love another. Do you believe that the Liberals have an advantage because of their colours? Are people swayed by the idea of strategic voting? Does the Liberal narrative built around Pierre Elliott Trudeau benefit or hinder Justin Trudeau and today's Liberals? Does the right wing have an advantage due to the spelling and phonetic similarity of right (vs. left) and right (vs. wrong)?
         Q2 Are you a hypocrite? Have you ever changed your mind or is it better to say that you have grown with your experience? Do you behave differently around different people (for example: your parents, your friends, your lovers, your boss etc.) The authors claim that there is no essential “you.” “I” is only an ego satisfying lie we tell ourselves. Do you have a stable identity? Perhaps you might say that you have relatively more of a stable identity than a schizophrenic: is that really true or are you just hiding it better – and is that a good thing?
         Q3 When we suture some notions together we are in effect creating the narrative of our lives: we are making ourselves. Have you ever met someone (perhaps on Facebook) who is always finding beautiful or motivational slogans to “share”; or someone who spends a great deal of time reading the bible, praying and sharing their beliefs with you? Such people are trying very hard to convince themselves of their “truth” and in so articulating and sharing it they have the effect of trying to make the world in their image. They are (as we all are) solders in a “war of position.” A war of position is synonymous with a campaign to win the hearts and minds of a population. Are we really all always in a war of position?
         Q4 Have you ever heard a politician say “I think Canadians want....” or “It is clear that...” Would you say that these are obvious ways of trying to manipulate public opinion (engage in a war of position)?
         Q5 The notion of “development” especially when linked to “economic” is an extremely powerful hegemonic idea. If you can link increased economic development to any notion you can make the greatest evil look good and viable to a target audience: consider the tar sands and “lebensraum”. Consider also the motivations for the “personal development” industry. Does civilization have to be based on development?
         Q6 Some notions fall out of favour due to creative new articulations. At every moment in time the current successful articulation seems absolute and undeniable by its adherents. 150 years ago we used terms like lumpenproletariat, proletariat, petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie; in the more recent past we used the word “class” as in the lower class, the working class the middle class the upper class; today we use the word “income” as in lower income people, upper income people. Coincidently today there is no talk of a proletariat revolution; today there is much less talk about class conflict or class war; these real threats have been mitigated in part by successful re-articulations. Is this believable?
         Q7 By having post-Marxist theory shift attention to the notion of articulation over traditional Marxist categories we can see more clearly an important tool used to discredit past Marxist notions: new articulations that did not directly challenge Marxism but that made it look tired and dated and therefore less appealing. Where Marx's original articulations were new and exiting in his time and the First and Second Internationale's articulations a little less so; today anyone who uses Marxist language is immediately discounted as being “not too smart”. The left must develop its articulation skills (knowing it has an uphill battle) and respond more quickly to flanking maneuvers by the right. Would you agree or disagree?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren