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The Books Interview: Chantal Mouffe

November 19, 2009

You argue that politicians should seek to create a “vibrant ‘agonistic’ public sphere”. What do you mean by that?
What I have in mind is not simply a space for the expression of any kind of disagreement, but a confrontation between conflicting notions about how to organise society. This does not exist in Britain at the moment, because no political party clearly challenges the hegemony of neoliberalism. There are, of course, disagreements about a variety of issues, but what is lacking is a debate about possible alternatives to the current neoliberal model of globalisation. We have been told by advocates of New Labour that politics now takes place at the centre and that the categories of right and left have become obsolete.

Did the BBC contribute towards the creation of such a public sphere by putting the BNP’s Nick Griffin on Question Time?
In such a situation, which I designate as “post-political”, an agonistic debate cannot exist, and it is not by inviting Nick Griffin on Question Time that things are going to change. That does not mean that he should not have been invited. Indeed, if the BNP is allowed to present candidates at elections, there is no reason to ban its representatives from taking part in public debates. To criticise the BBC for inviting him is typical of themoralistic attitude that has replaced the political confrontation between left and right. Instead of trumpeting their moral condemnation, Labour politicians should be inspired to examine why some of their supporters are being attracted by the BNP. But moral indignation is easier and more self-gratifying than auto-critique. more

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