cover image For a Left Populism

For a Left Populism

Chantal Mouffe. Verso, $19.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-78663-755-0

Mouffe (Agonistics), a political theorist at the University of Westminster, argues in favor of leftist populism as a means to combat both elitist, neoliberal technocracy and reactionary, xenophobic versions of populism. Populism “is not an ideology,” Mouffe asserts. “It is a way of doing politics.” Drawing on such thinkers as Machiavelli, Gramsci, and her former collaborator Ernesto Laclau, and limiting her analysis to Western Europe, she begins with a strong critique of the “postpolitical” landscape dominated by the centrist, neoliberal “Third Way” ideology that arose in the wake of Thatcherism in Britain in which political debate about visions or philosophies for government was portrayed as unnecessary. Mouffe’s “radical reformism” attempts to split the difference between the ultraleft’s revolutionary break from liberal democracy and the “sterile reformism of the social liberals,” a noble effort that grows increasingly muddled; some of the more abstract, theoretical passages can be difficult to parse, and the democratic formations she seeks to launch already exist. It’s difficult to tell who this book was written for, since large swaths of the left (in Western Europe and elsewhere) either already practice what Mouffe proposes or participate in the more radical formations that she critiques. Mouffe makes solid points about the neoliberal undermining of democratic principles, but is disconcertingly alienated from real work being done on the grassroots left. [em](July) [/em]