Rescuing politics from liberalism: Butler and Mouffe on affectivity and the place of ethics

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© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017. Both Judith Butler and Chantal Mouffe challenge liberal conceptions of politics based on their ontological descriptions of the political. Mouffe argues that the failure of liberalism to grasp the agonistic character of political life means that properly political conflicts get translated into moral terms. Mouffe thinks that the way to correct our “post-political” problems (like alt-right movements) is to avoid translating political conflicts into a moral register. I challenge Mouffe’s separation of ethics and politics by invoking Butler’s more nuanced account of the ethical sphere. I demonstrate that Mouffe does not consider that there are different orders of moral claims (for example, the claims that others have on us to treat them with justice and dignity, claims that at least implicitly demand not to be weighed in terms of economic or political utility); nor does Mouffe consider that there are different orders of affect, some of which cannot be simply opposed to rationality.

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Philosophy and Social Criticism