On Friday 4 November, H.W. Siemens, Professor in Modern Philosophy at the Leiden Institute for Philosophy, will give a public lecture entitled: “The Rise of Political Agonism and its Relation to Deconstruction: The Case of Chantal Mouffe”. The talk will take place in Lögberg 201, The University of Iceland, at 13.00-14.00. The lecture is hosted by EDDA – Center of Excellence in collaboration with the Philosophy Institute at the University of Iceland. 

Do we need to rethink conflict as an irreducible and essential element for vibrant democratic politics today? If so, how should conflict be understood such that it is anchored in the deep structure of political life, while remaining within the bounds of democratic principles? In this paper, these question are approached by examining the thought of Chantal Mouffe, as a case study of movement of political agonism that has emerged in the last 15 years or so. A number of democratic theorists (Chantal Mouffe, William Connolly, Bonnie Honig inter alia) have used deconstruction to formulate powerful critiques of liberal-democratic theory, but also alternative theories of democracy that give a central place to tension and antagonism in democratic politics (section I). While claiming to derive their criticisms and alternatives from the deconstructive logic of the ‘constitutive outside’, this derivation is problematic (section II), so that political agonism is best understood as a reconstructive reaction to deconstruction that is not without its difficulties, but also holds some promise as a way to re-think pluralistic democracy in the 21st century (section III). Of value in Mouffe’s approach to democratic theory, I argue, are three things: anti-essentialism; the demand for an ontology that does justice to contemporary forms of pluralism; and the claim that pluralism is inseparable from antagonism. However, her reliance on Schmitt’s political ontology creates irresolvable problems, problems that can be addressed by adopting a Nietzschean ontology of will to power instead. In short: Mouffe should be a Nietzschean, not a Schmittian.

Herman Siemens works as Assistant Professor in Modern Philosophy at the Leiden Institute for Philosophy. He has published extensively in his area of specialization, Nietzsche and post-Nietzschean thought, including the book Nietzsche, Power and Politics (de Gruyter 2008). Since 1998 he has been working together with other Nietzsche scholars on the Nietzsche-Wörterbuch Project, based at the Radboud University Nijmegen and Leiden, volume I of which appeared in 2004; since 2011 it appears on Nietzsche Online. His own research has focused on Nietzsche’s ontology of conflict, his concept of the agon and its appropriations by contemporary democratic theorists. At present he heads an NWO-funded research programme Between Deliberation and Agonism: Rethinking Conflict and its Relation to Law in Political Philosophy. He has been President of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society since 2008.