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Radical democracy as an ideology 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.[1] This strategy is to expand the liberal definition of democracy, based on freedom and equality, to include difference.[1]

"Radical democracy" means "the root of democracy". Laclau and Mouffe claim that liberal democracy and deliberative democracy, in their attempts to build consensus, oppress differing opinions, races, classes, genders, and worldviews.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1] By building democracy around difference and dissent, oppressive relations of power that exist in society are able to come to the forefront so that they can be challenged.[2]

In other contexts, radical democracy is a term used to refer to the post-Marxist perspectives of Italian radicalism - especially Paolo Virno.



Since Laclau and Mouffe argued for a radical democracy, many other theorist and practitioners have adapted and changed the term. For example, Paulo Freire, bell hooks and Henry Giroux have all written about education for a radical democracy.[3][4][5] Theorists such as Paul Chatterton and Richard JF Day have written about the importance of radical democracy within some of the autonomous movements in Latin America (namely the EZLN - Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Mexico, the MST - Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil, and the Piquetero - Unemployed Workers Movement in Argentina).[6][7]

Challenges and contradictions

There are several challenges and contradictions within radical democracy. One such challenge is the difficulty in engaging in radical democracy in practice. There is therefore a large gap between what radical democracy looks like in theory and how it is practiced. There may be a number of reasons for this gap: a) it may be difficult or inefficient to make decisions in a group while being tolerant and accepting of dissent and antagonistic worldviews; b) it may be uncomfortable for those making decisions to confront oppressive power relationships as part of the decision making process.

Because of radical democracy's focus on difference, and challenging oppressive power relations, it has been seen as conducive to post-colonial theory and decolonization. However, the concept of radical democracy is seen in some circles as colonial in nature due to its reliance on a western notion of democracy.[8] Also, radical democracy challenges consensus decision making processes which are essential to many indigenous governing practices.[8]

Contemporary mass movements committed to radical democracy

TNSM Pakistan



  1. ^ a b c d e Laclau, E and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Verso: London.
  2. ^ Mouffe, C. (1996). Democracy, Power, and the ‘Political’. In Benhabib, S. (ed.) Democracy and Difference (pp. 245-255). Princeton: University Press.
  3. ^ Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.
  4. ^ hooks, b. (1996). Representation and Democracy: An Interview. In Trend, D. (ed.) Radical Democracy: Identity, Citizenship, and the State (pp. 228-236). New York: Routledge.
  5. ^ Giroux, H. (1996). Pedagogy and Radical Democracy in the Age of “Political Correctness”. In Trend, D. (ed.) Radical Democracy: Identity, Citizenship, and the State (pp. 179-194). New York: Routledge.
  6. ^ Chatterton, P. Making Autonomous Geographies: Argentina’s Popular Uprising and the ‘Movimiento de Traebajadores Desocupados (Unemployed Workers Movement), Geoforum, (2005), Volume 36, Issue 5, pp. 545-61.
  7. ^ Day, R. (2005). Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements. Between the lines: Toronto.
  8. ^ a b Dhaliwal, A. (1996). Can the Subaltern Vote? Radical Democracy, Discourses of Representation and Rights, and Questions of Race. In Trend, D. (ed.) Radical Democracy: Identity, Citizenship, and the State (pp. 42-61). New York: Routledge.
  9. ^ Socialism as Radical Democracy -- Statement of Principles of the Socialist Party USA (accessed 14 May 2008).


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