Radical democracy

Radical democracy can be defined as "a type of democracy that signals an ongoing concern with the radical extension of equality and liberty".[1] Radical democracy is concerned with a radical extension of equality and freedom. Another feature is the idea that democracy is an un-finished, inclusive, continuous and reflexive process.[1]


Within radical democracy there are three distinct strands, as articulated by Lincoln Dahlberg.[1] These strands can be labeled as deliberative, agonistic and autonomist.

The first and most noted strand of radical democracy is the agonistic perspective, which is associated with the work of Laclau and Mouffe. Radical democracy was articulated by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in their book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, written in 1985. They argue that social movements which attempt to create social and political change need a strategy which challenges neoliberal and neoconservative concepts of democracy.[2] This strategy is to expand the liberal definition of democracy, based on freedom and equality, to include difference.[2]

According to Laclau and Mouffe "Radical democracy" means "the root of democracy".[3] Laclau and Mouffe claim that liberal democracy and deliberative democracy, in their attempts to build consensus, oppress differing opinions, races, classes, genders, and worldviews.[2] In the world, in a country, and in a social movement there are many (a plurality of) differences which resist consensus. Radical democracy is not only accepting of difference, dissent and antagonisms, but is dependent on it.[2] Laclau and Mouffe argue based on the assumption that there are oppressive power relations that exist in society and that those oppressive relations should be made visible, re-negotiated and altered.[4] By building democracy around difference and dissent, oppressive power relations existing in societies are able to come to the forefront so that they can be challenged.[2]

The second strand, deliberative, is mostly associated with the work of J├╝rgen Habermas. This strand of radical democracy is opposed to the agonistic perspective of Laclau and Mouffe. Habermas argues that political problems surrounding the organization of life can be resolved by deliberation.[5] That is, people coming together and deliberating on the best possible solution. This type of radical democracy is in contrast with the agonistic perspective based on consensus and communicative means: there is a reflexive critical process of coming to the best solution.[5] Equality and freedom are at the root of Habermas┬┤ deliberative theory. The deliberation is established through institutions that can ensure free and equal participation of all.[5] Habermas is aware of the fact that different cultures, world-views and ethics can lead to difficulties in the deliberative process. Despite this fact he argues that the communicative reason can create a bridge between opposing views and interests.[5]

The third strand of radical democracy is the autonomist strand, which is associated with left-communist and post-Marxist ideas. The difference between this type of radical democracy and the two noted above is the focus on "the community."[1] The community is seen as the pure constituted power instead of the deliberative rational individuals or the agonistic groups as in the first two strands. The community is resembles a "plural multitude" (of people) instead of the working class in traditional Marxist theory.[1] This plural multitude is the pure constituted power and reclaims this power by searching and creating mutual understandings within the community.[1] This strand of radical democracy challenges the traditional thinking about equality and freedom in liberal democracies by stating that individual equality can be found in the singularities within the multitude, equality overall is created by an all-inclusive multitude and freedom is created by restoring the multitude in its pure constituted power.[1] This strand of radical democracy is often a term used to refer to the post-Marxist perspectives of Italian radicalism - for example Paolo Virno.