Chantal Mouffe is one of the preeminent political theorists on democracy, populism, and social movements in the world today. She has written extensively about the crisis of neoliberalism, political identity, and democratic socialism.
Mouffe is widely recognized as the thought leader behind some of the most exciting political developments in Europe. The founders of the new Spanish political party Podemos have taken substantial inspiration from Mouffe’s work alongside her late husband, Ernesto Laclau. Syriza’s path to power in Greece has been driven by the ideas of Mouffe and Laclau—the governor of Athens and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis were among their students.
Iñigo Errejón, political secretary of Podemos, summed up Mouffe and Laclau’s work on populism over the past 30 years in an obituary he wrote after Laclau’s passing.
Politics is neither akin to a boxing match (a mere clash or the arbitration between existing actors) nor a game of chess (alliances, movements and tactics using already-given pieces), but a continual ‘war of position’—with episodes of movement, but also, of course, the balances of force frozen in institutions—in order to constitute the sides (the identities), the terms, and the battleground itself. To speak of the fragmentation of possible identities and their contingency is not to celebrate particularisms nor the conservative myth of the end of antagonism; rather, it means awareness of the irreplaceable need for politics for the purposes of articulating and generating imaginaries that can unite and mobilise people.
I sat down with Mouffe two months before the election to discuss populist politics, the American election, and #AllofUs, an electoral project that a group of young movement leaders in the United States have recently launched.
Waleed Shahid: What are your thoughts about the development and popularity of left and right-wing populism in the United States?
Chantal Mouffe: I’m not a specialist of the United States. I see Sanders as an example of a left-populist movement and Trump as a right-populist. It is really a pity that Sanders did not get the nomination. He would have had a much better chance against Trump and would have brought together many more people through pure enthusiasm for an alternative and change. I would definitely be curious to hear more about why people think Bernie Sanders didn’t do well with minorities.