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SAAP Annual Meeting

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Democratic Theory: Interests, Antagonisms and Dialogue

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John Ryder
Khazar University

Leszek Koczanowicz
Higher School of Social Psychology

Recent work on pragmatist democratic theory has emphasized the potential problem of social and political pluralism and/or dissent for Deweyan and pragmatist democracy. A parallel development in democratic theory has also emphasized the issue of pluralism by contrast with prominent deliberative and consensual theories of democracy. This latter development is identified primarily with the work of Chantal Mouffe, who argues that a plurality of opinions and commitments is to be expected and encouraged in a democratic society, and that such a plurality often involves antagonistic oppositions. There has been very little contact between pragmatist, Deweyan democratic theory and Mouffe’s agonistic conception. This is a failing that begs for correction because there are several interesting points at which the two conceptions overlap, and because in other respects each is a challenge to the other. We would like to offer two complementary approaches to the question of how democratic theory, specifically pragmatist democratic theory, may handle the question of the presence in complex societies of antagonism. The question itself is suggested by the theoretical analysis of democracy of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, work that has not been directly addressed by pragmatist political commentators. The first approach is to read Dewey in a way that enables a Deweyan conception of democracy to account for Mouffe’s and Laclau’s positing of antagonism at the heart of any political process. The second treats the question of antagonism through Mead and the centrality of dialogue.


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