Critique of pure politics

RP 136 () / Review

Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, Verso, London and New York, 2005. xii + 276 pp., £26.00 hb., 1 85984 651 3 hb.

On Populist Reason reveals a fundamental fact about Ernesto Laclauʼs research programme to which many, including the editors of the recently published Laclau: A Critical Reader (Routledge, 2004), remain blind: that populism, as both concept and historical experience, constitutes the centre of gravity of his work as a whole. Laclauʼs contributions to the reconfiguration of Gramsciʼs concept of hegemony and his account of radical democracy (co-authored with Chantal Mouffe) are unthinkable without his historical experience of populism in Argentina and his subsequent attempts first to conceptualize it and then to generalize its logic to politics as a whole. Hegemony, or, better, what we might call a performative principle of hegemonization, is the mechanism of this generalization. Populism also underlies Laclauʼs more recent philosophical meditations on ʻuniversalityʼ and his forays into post- Marxist critical thought. This is Laclauʼs intellectual project: the translation of ʻpopulismʼ into ʻpoliticsʼ via ʻhegemonyʼ. On Populist Reason is a summary of this project so far.