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date: 18 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter begins by examining the origins of agonism in the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s early text “Homer’s Contest.” It then attempts to formulate a political interpretation of agonism that could provide law and legal studies a post-Marxist and Nietzschean critical position in which democracy is central. A first attempt at the formulation is an analysis of the constitutional theorist Carl Schmitt’s “antagonist” and “polemical” notion of politics that is based on a friend-enemy distinction, and of the consequences of such a notion for state constitutions and law. Schmitt serves as the background for the political theorist Chantal Mouffe, whose “agonistic pluralism” represents a conscious effort to moderate Schmitt’s existentially belligerent critique of liberalism into a workable politics in late modernity. Interpretations of agonism provided by William E. Connolly and Bonnie Honig and their possible links to law and legal studies are then briefly discussed. The chapter concludes that there is a kinship between political agonism understood in this way and a contemporary strain in political theory represented by, for example, Jacques Rancière. The roots of this kinship are traced finally to a post-Marxist tradition of “radical liberalism.”

Keywords: agonism, contest, politics, democracy, Nietzsche

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