Thinking improperly about property and democracy

Liam Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalBook Reviewpeer-review


The publication of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and socialist strategy in 1985 marked something of an event in political theorising. In that text, Laclau and Mouffe argued that all forms of social objectivity – i.e. ‘society’ – are radically contingent and the effect of a form of power they called hegemony. Their political theory centred the ontological dimension of politics, in which the logic of hegemony theorised the institution of the social as ‘the political’. For Laclau and Mouffe, hegemony is dependent upon the articulation of a plurality of political identities as equivalent in their shared antagonistic opposition to their constitutive outside (1985). Central to this ‘post-Marxist’ project was a deconstructive reading of Marx, and in particular the insistence in Marx’s philosophy on the determinacy of the economy in the final instance. Having deconstructed Marx – thereby offering a new lease of life for Left political theory in coming to terms with the diminished centrality of the working classes to progressive and radical democratic politics – Laclau and Mouffe never returned to Marx in order to rethink the economy and the politics of property from a poststructuralist perspective. The whole question of property thus became but one dimension of the articulated ‘ensemble’ of relations which constitute hegemonic order (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, p. 102). In this way the central role that property relations play in securing the dominant unequal mode of production was displaced. By shifting the focus of Left political theorising away from relations of production and towards the struggles of political identities in securing hegemony, Laclau and Mouffe downplayed the centrality of the politics of property to the maintenance of hegemony and the proper.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-312
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Political Power
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2020


  • populism
  • Critical Theory
  • post-marxism
  • equality
  • property
  • propriety
  • democracy


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