‘The Limits of EUrope’ special edition of Global Discourse is out this month… Co-editor Russell Foster previews the edition:
‘EUrope’ is changing. In the most visible way this change has recently manifested itself in a drawn-out Brexit which will satisfy no-one, the rise of Euroscepticism and illiberal democracies in response to immigration and integration failures, a potentially resurgent eurozone crisis and continuing economic disparities across the EU, and mounting perceptions of a democratic deficit and the (il)legitimacy of EU institutions. These raise many difficult questions, the hardest of which is – can the EU survive?
Our special edition “The Limits of EUrope” examines the challenges to the EU, and explores possible causes, and theories, of European disintegration. EUrope is changing rapidly – still struggling to respond to the aftershocks of the last few years while facing imminent challenges for the new European Parliament. The next European Commission will inherit an EU racked with political, economic, social, and institutional difficulties, with European populations strongly divided between those who see the Union as their best defence and those whose understandable anger and sense of abandonment are projected onto the EU.
Free movement, free trade, and a pooling of sovereignty – the dreams of the ECSC’s and EEC’s creators – are not merely a reality; they are a reality which threatens to bring the entire European project crashing down.
Popular consensus holds that mass Euroscepticism was defeated in 2017. But as current events across the EU demonstrate, the root causes of mass dissatisfaction have not gone away. The challenges which have faced EUrope since 2008 have neither been resolved nor disappeared of their own accord, and are likely to return in the future along with new challenges resulting from Brexit, a weaker German government, Macron’s tumbling approval ratings, and a right-wing surge from Andalusia to Saxony. These challenges necessitate new academic models of Europeanisation, de-Europeanisation, and EUrope itself.
This interdisciplinary, international special edition, which draws together a diverse mixture of opinions, beliefs, backgrounds and specialisms, is a first step towards understanding how EUrope’s successes may be the cause of EUrope’s failures. It is now abundantly clear that EUrope will not be the universal political, economic and social model anticipated in the heyday of integration and expansion, and that while EUrope is unlikely to fragment or shatter as was widely predicted during the heights of the Eurozone and Migration crises, future EUrope will be very unpredictable. A new Parliament, a new Commission, the approaching end of the Merkel and Macron administrations, and the unforeseeable aftermath of Brexit – all of these will have major impacts on EUrope. What will be the future of EUrope? This journal offers some of the earliest thoughts.
Just over 8 years after the outbreak of the so-called Arab uprisings, we seem to be unable to stop talking about it. The popular protests that led to the fall of authoritarian dictators and briefly reshuffled the status quo in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are still being used as a reference point in most of the scholarship on states and peoples in the area, be it to argue in favour of democratic practices or condemn regime-sponsored violence and authoritarianism. The recent wave of popular protests in Sudan and Algeria suggests that the momentum might still be there, bubbling under the surface.
The unmistaken protagonist of the 2011 uprisings was political Islam.
The unmistaken protagonist of the 2011 uprisings was political Islam. In
the political vacuum that followed the toppling of dictators, Islamist groups
such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt and the Ennahda in Tunisia – among
others— quickly rose to power through democratic processes. This is itself is
not particularly surprising, as decades-old social movements with an impressive
popular base, a history of oppositional politics and a steady access to funding
were immediately better placed to compete politically than the secular and
revolutionary parties that formed during the protests. Yet, the
election of MB’s Mohammed Morsi as president in Egypt and Ennahda’s
parliamentary role were deeply symbolic moments, not just for these specific
movements, but for Islamists across the region more widely. Their rise to power
through the ballot box signified the end of decades of illegality, and
celebrated the fact that the Islamist project finally seemed to be within
reach. However, the phenomenon that many observers labelled as the “Islamist
Wave” was set to be remarkably short-lived, as many of these groups were soon
confronted by the harsh challenges of transitional politics, and by deep states
that were only briefly overshadowed by the results of the popular protests.
In the case of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi was removed by a military coup d’etat led by current president
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi just over one year after being instated. The events of
July 2013 were followed by the re-establishment of a military regime and by a
wave of repression so brutal that its extent is unprecedented even in the MB’s
troubled history. More importantly, the MB’s destitution was also taken as a
greatly symbolic moment by those arguing that it represented the expression of
a broader, existential crisis, encapsulating the end of political Islam at
large. Statements like “Islamism
is no longer the answer” and “the fall of the MB
was accompanied by the fall of Islamism” seemed to give credit to advocates of
post-Islamism, who had long argued that political Islam had failed to pass the
test of power. However, political Islam does not begin and end with its most well-known
exponents, nor should its success be measured in terms of some groups’ direct
participation in the political process.
Statements like “Islamism is no longer the answer” and “the fall of the MB was accompanied by the fall of Islamism” seemed to give credit to advocates of post-Islamism, who had long argued that political Islam had failed to pass the test of power.
If anything, the events of July 2013 have shown that much has changed in
the field of political Islam following the Arab uprisings. Several Islamist
movements have gone from opposition, to power, to repression, to a new identity
quest over a very short period of time, meaning that the adjustment process is
still very much in flux. At the same time, the international focus on the
political performances of certain Islamist movements fails to shine a light on
the plethora of other practices that are associated to the ideology, and that
were not extirpated by the events of July 2013 but rather spurred by it. Here I
am referring to the pluralization Islamist political players, such as the
formation of Salafi parties, and to the new forms of activism, resistance, and
cross-ideological alliances that are emerging despite the harsh repression that
most of these groups face. The unprecedented circumstances that movements like
the MB find themselves in have invalidated their historical experiences, and
are forcing these groups to develop new tools of resistance and to rethink
their role in both politics and society. Rather than having failed, it seems
like political Islam is undergoing yet another phase of transformation. Hence,
there is a lot to learn from examining how these groups are reacting to their
experiences. Just how Islamist groups are navigating deeply unfamiliar
waters, the scholarship concerned with their study also need to acknowledge
these changes and develop new tools to analyse them accordingly.
In line with what is argued by Jillian Schwelder, Stacey
Philbrick Yadav notes that a lot has also changed from the
perspective of the researcher, as approaching the study of political
Islam today is drastically different from what it was 10 years
ago. Before the Arab uprisings we, as scholars and
researchers, had largely become accustomed to studying these movements focusing
on the civil society activities, electoral strategies, and alliances of
semi-tolerated Islamist opposition parties. This landscape has now vastly
changed, and while a decade ago Islamist groups were mostly constrained by
domestic policies and highly organized, nowadays their functions have
considerably diversified and are greatly influenced by transnational actors. In
turn, this makes it considerably harder to analyse the ever-evolving
relationship between Islamists and the state. Therefore, in the aftermath
of 2011 this particular scholarship also needs to undergo some transformations.
An excellent contribution to this emerging field has been made by the edited
volume by Hendrik Kraetzschmar and Paola Rivetti, who have initiated
a much-needed conversation about the need to move away from “Islamic
Exceptionalism” and to think about these groups like socio-political
organizations in a context of change.
As of the first few months of 2019, the whole region is still very much
in flux, characterized by unstable national environments, rising
authoritarianism and shrinking political space. In such a context, the
questions that we should be asking concern the way in which Islamist movements
have been affected by the long-term consequences of the Arab uprisings, how
they are reacting to these new challenges, and what that would mean for the
socio-political environments they operate within moving forward.
Yet recently, something resembling a strategic turn can be discerned within Discourse Theory (DT). In Germany, Martin Nonhoff started working on a rigorous theorization of strategy that fits within DT’s ontology. Eva Herschinger reappraised the notion for the first-time for an Anglophone audience. The hugely influential Inventing the Future by Srnicek and Williams placed strategic reflection about how progressives win at politics in the 21st century at the centre of its argument. And to make the circle full, Chantal Mouffe’s most recent work, For a Left-Wing Populism, wonders what kind of political strategy the Left needs to pursue in order to successfully implement its progressive projects.
But more academic
developments certainly played a role too in the triggering of this strategic
turn. About fifteen years ago, thinkers like Lash, Beasley-Murray, Arditi started
to challenge the poststructuralist interpretation of hegemony in a rigorous
fashion. The ensuing intellectual debate was far more sophisticated than the
rather virulent spat between the post-Marxists and Marxists like Geras,
Wood, and Mouzelis
in the early nineties. Favouring a paradigm they called ‘posthegemony’, Beasley-Murray
and his companions argued that the post-Marxist take on hegemony does not
suffice to salvage the concept, and wager it is time for the contemporary Left to
develop non-hegemonic strategies by embracing networked, viral, rhizomatic, and
The posthegemonic critique of Laclau and Mouffe definitely has flaws, but it also offers one of the clearest and most incisive formulations of a crucial problem plaguing post-Marxist Discourse Theory: it is ambivalent about whether hegemony is an ontic or an ontological category.
‘…a progressive project that promotes hegemonic politics must also promote the liberal-democratic heritage, and engage in the furthering, and deepening of its core values – liberté, égalité, fraternité.’
Laclau and Mouffe see
hegemony on the one hand as a historically specific form of doing politics, that
arose from the ‘Democratic Revolution of Modernity’ at the end of the 18th
century. The possibility for hegemonic politics came into being together with
modern liberal democracy, and the two are closely intertwined. As such, a
progressive project that promotes hegemonic politics must also promote the
liberal-democratic heritage, and engage in the furthering, and deepening of its
core values – liberté, égalité,
fraternité. Laclau and Mouffe call this project ‘radical democracy’. Yet
contrary to this ontic interpretation of hegemony, Laclau has also presented
hegemony as an ontological category. He claims that every social practice has a
hegemonic dimension and that all meaning is ultimately hegemonically
constructed, and that all politics is therefore
hegemonic. This formulation presents hegemony as a timeless,
space-less, universal category – hegemony encompasses the Political.
Posthegemony theorists have for definitively confirmed the lingering sentiment that these two accounts are fundamentally incompatible. Yet they usually proceed by reducing DT to the ontic dimension. If hegemonic politics is merely one form of politics, it can be argued that it was never or is no longer a viable approach, and that an alternative posthegemonic politics through networks, autonomous zones, and exodus, constitutes the future of the left. However, a different reaction to this internal contradiction in DT, could be to embrace the ontological dimension of hegemony. This implies abandoning the idea of an innate link between democracy and hegemony, and instead framing DT as a metalanguage for understanding politics as such. In this vein, the result of the poststructuralist turn in hegemony theory is not a normative project like radical democracy, but instead a framework for describing and explaining the effects of political interventions. Obviously, in such an interpretation, strategy all of a sudden becomes a key concept.
If hegemonic politics is merely one form of politics, it can be argued that it was never or is no longer a viable approach, and that an alternative posthegemonic politics through networks, autonomous zones, and exodus, constitutes the future of the left.
Some of the first scholars
to recognize DT’s potential for strategic analysis were oddly enough rather
critical of Laclau and Mouffe. Boucher and Critchley for instance, both pointed
out that an internally fully coherent elaboration of DT’s main principles results
in a rather Machiavellistic theory about how power is contested and maintained,
devoid of any normative or ethical considerations. The
growing number of far-right groups bastardizing Gramsci’s ideas, lends credence
to this hypothesis. Yet whereas Boucher and Critchley perceived this
normative deficit negatively, the strategic turn in DT embraces the potential
of hegemony as an ontological category and seizes it to analyse the outcomes and
results of political projects, regardless of their goals.
A discourse-theoretical perspective thus alerts us to the ideological dimensions of strategy. It reveals that political strategy is not just about the schemes of spin doctors, politicians, and movement leaders, but that it also involves a structural and intersubjective component. A political strategy always constitutes an articulation into an order of discourse, and hence, its effects, its chances of success, and its political consequences can be discursively analysed. Every articulation, no matter whether it is inspired by the idea of a posthegemonic exodus, an explicitly counterhegemonic move, or just an isolated demand, affects the balance of forces at the hegemonic level, and DT equips us to study precisely how it will do so.
‘…political strategy is not just about the schemes of spin doctors, politicians, and movement leaders, but that it also involves a structural and intersubjective component.’
This strategic turn pushes DT into a completely new and unexplored corner of the pantheon of critical theory. Questioning when and why particular political moves (fail to) work, and thinking through the “adaptability” of the left-wing project so that it may actually be implemented, constitutes an entirely novel form of critique. Some might argue that it in fact does not constitute critique anymore at all, since this guise of DT has abandoned the normative ground from which it can be claimed something is bad or wrong. Yet if studying how progressive social change can be effected is a valuable and worthwhile endeavour in its own right, this relinquishing of normative ground does not mean DT has to lose its critical edge. Instead, such a move creates a clear division of labour between critical theories explaining the roots and oppressive effects of power, and DT as concerned with the ideological dynamics of the exercise of power.
About the author
Thomas Jacobs is a PhD
candidate at the Centre for EU Studies, Ghent University. His main research
interests include EU trade policy, international political economy, and
political communication. Most of Thomas’ work focuses on discourse,
meaning-making, signification, and strategy in political praxis, departing from
a poststructuralist perspective, more specifically the discourse-theoretical
tradition of Laclau and Mouffe. Prior to entering academia, he worked as a
consultant at a Brussels-based communications and public affairs firm.
In 2018 the most used and abused term was undoubtedly that of ‘populism’.
Rarely has a term been so over-inflated and so over-extended that it has become practically meaningless, while at the same time achieving iconic status. I propose here to carry out a (very) brief deconstruction of the term populism and the presentation of an alternative reading based on the work of the late Ernesto Laclau (On Populist Reason) and my own Latin American in Europe hybrid viewpoint.
When the liberal newspaper The Guardian ran a long feature on populism (https://www.theguardian.com/world/series/the-new-populism ) we knew it had arrived as it were. The general gist of the project was that ‘populism’ was a major political foe in the global North for all left-liberal folk. It introduced authoritarianism and irrationality into good old centrist politics. These so-called centrists included Tony Blair and Hilary Clinton who were given a platform for their views that included for the latter a call for the liberal centre in Europe to lead on keeping migrants out so that migration would not become an issue of the populist right. The mind boggles is all I can say ( https://blog.oup.com/2016/01/migration-global-trade-unions/ ).
Rarely has a term been so over-inflated and so over-extended that it has become practically meaningless, while at the same time achieving iconic status.
The new Northern orthodoxy on populism emerged in the mid 2000’s as a way to categorise such diverse emerging political figures such as Trump, Farage, Le Pen, Wieder and Urban, along with their Suthern cousins such as Chávez, Morales and the Kirchners. Populism was defined as an anti-elite politics, also anti-pluralist and usually based on some type of identity politics (Jan-Werner Müller What is Populism).
The purpose of defining populism we are told is to help in defeating it as it is a threat to liberal democracy, whether it comes from the far right or the far left. The current crisis has, apparently nothing to do with neo-liberalism and its paroxysm in 2008-09, the austerity politics which followed or the popular reactions against both. By focusing on this version of ‘populism’ as the cause of democratic decline this liberal onslaught has itself undermined democratic institutions and the very meaning of democratic citizenship. It has allowed the liberal political classes to evade responsibility for the authoritarian trend in the North Atlantic (eg Trump, Brexit, Le Pen) while scapegoating those resisting it (eg Sanders, Corbyn, Melenchon) and demonising those in the global South who have combatted neo-liberalism such as the progressive regimes of Latin America dubbed ‘bad’ because populist lefts.
Central to the development of a national-popular will in Latin America was the concept of the people (pueblo). For Ernesto Laclau it is only by developing and extending Gramsci’s work in this area that we can overcomethe exclusion/opposition between particularity and universality in the construction of the people. “For him there is a particularity a plebs—which claims hegemonically to constitute a populus while the populus (the abstract universality) can exist only as embodied in a plebs. When we reach that point, we are close to the ‘people’ of populism” (Laclau 2005, p. 107). The development of populism is probably the main difference between Latin American political development and that of other regions. To this day, in international commentary on the “left populism” of Chávez et al. we find quite an ethnocentric emphasis on the irrationality of populism and a constant tendency to see it as the enemy of “normal” political development toward class patterns and progressive social transformation. For Laclau , on the contrary, “populism presents itself both as subversive of the existing state of things and as the starting point for a more or less radical reconstruction of a new world order wherever the previous one has been shaken” (Laclau 2005, p. 177). The old order was changed utterly by the emergence of this nation-popular ideology and worldview. It could also become radicalized at key conjunctures when the “people-oligarchy” opposition became the dominant divide in society.
The old order was changed utterly by the emergence of this nation-popular ideology and worldview. It could also become radicalized at key conjunctures when the “people-oligarchy” opposition became the dominant divide in society.
In Western Europe, on the other hand, the term ‘populism’ is used mainly in a pejorative way to refer to the rise of a new right and its demagogic leaders. The different trajectory of the term in Latin America should warn us against any claims to universality of this discourse. Yet we may also learn from Latin America where the left ‘populism’ of the post 2000 left governments was also the result of the flawed and biased system of representative democracy that preceded them. Maybe the ‘crisis of representation’ referred to in the Latin American debates may also be a factor in the rise of the ‘new populisms’ of the North Atlantic. Following Laclau we can understand how populism is best understood as a political logic or discourse that belongs neither to the left or the right (this does not mean it is beyond left and right but that is another issue). This populism creates a ‘logic of difference’ between power and those challenging it. The construction of a people – populism?- is not therefore a degradation of democracy. Indeed, all successful socialist movements in the past have been ‘populist’ in this sense. It emerges this as subversive of the political order, the existing state of affairs and offers a starting point for a more or less radical reconstruction of society.
The construction of a people – populism?- is not therefore a degradation of democracy. Indeed, all successful socialist movements in the past have been ‘populist’ in this sense.
The Latin American debate on populism could maybe be brought to bear in Western Europe to provide a different vantage point to what has become a rather debilitating polarisation between ‘populism’ and centrist liberalism. It could add some nuance and complexity to the debate especially from a progressive perspective. That has already happened through the engagement of Ernesto Laclau and in particular Chantal Mouffe with Podemos in Spain (see https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/book/podemos-in-name-of-people ). But there is far less sign of a broader perspective in the Anglo sphere. It would allow us to move beyond the notion that liberal democracy was an unambiguous human good and populism an obvious bad.
The cause of radical democracy is ill-served by a demonization of populism and an uncritical embrace of liberalism. We would do well to recall now- in the midst of the complex Brexit crisis- what Laclau said in relation to what ‘creates the conditions leading to a populist rupture’ which we saw as a ‘situation in which a plurality of unsatisfied demands and increasing inability of the institutional system to absorb them differentially exist’
Call for papers: The Politics of Negative Emotions
Global Discourse, Volume 11, Issue 1
Edited by Dan Degerman, Lancaster University (email@example.com)
Negative emotions seemingly lie at the heart of recent political changes and movements in the West. Anger, fear and sadness have, to varying degrees, been implicated in the outcome of the Brexit referendum and the rise of Trump, on the one hand, and the persistence of Black Lives Matter and the impact of the Me Too movement, on the other. Rightly or wrongly, the negative emotions of disadvantaged groups and their role in political action have long been a subject of suspicion, criticism and regulation. A philosophical tradition that stretches from Plato to Martha Nussbaum has urged us to keep negative emotions like anger and jealousy out of politics, and to instead nurture positive ones, like love and compassion. Yet, that must be confounding to minorities, the poor and other marginalized groups, whose political claims frequently originate in negative emotions and take the form of emotional expressions. Indeed, their marginalization and attendant suffering has been exacerbated by processes, such as medicalization, which prompt individuals to think of their anger, fear and other painful emotions as personal problems to be dealt with in the medical or some other ostensibly apolitical sphere. But not everyone believes negative emotions must be kept out of politics. Some feminists have long defended the political value of anger. And, more recently, such thinkers as Judith Butler and Deborah Gould have highlighted the politically empowering and constructive role that other negative emotions can play as well. But whether these newer perspectives can survive the popular trend of blaming our contemporary political problems on passions like anger and fear remains to be seen.
This issue of Global Discourse seeks to examine the specific challenges posed by political responses to negative emotion through engagement and analysis of real-world cases, such as the rise of the far right in Europe and the US, Brexit, Black Lives Matter and Me Too. Possible questions to be explored include:
What is the relationship between negative emotions and political agency?
Who is permitted to express negative emotions, and whose emotions get medicalized, irrationalized or depoliticized in some other way?
Should negative emotions play a role in political processes, such as elections and referenda, policy-making and protests?
Should liberal democratic governments seek to expel negative and instil positive emotions in their citizens?
What is the relationship between negative emotions and the politics of well-being?
Can there be a politics of negative emotions independent of identity politics?
Submission instructions and deadlines
Abstracts of 400 words: 1st March 2019
Articles (solicited on the basis of review of abstracts): 1st August 2019
Instructions for authors
Please submit by email all abstracts and articles to the Guest Editors
Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal’s scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.
The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.
All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.