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New Left Review I/169, May-June 1988


Norman Geras

Ex-Marxism Without Substance: Being A Real Reply to Laclau and Mouffe

There is a discursive strategy commonly adopted by politicians, particularly at election time, in the face of discomforting questions. It consists of appearing to respond to a questioner but without actually answering her question. The thing has the external form of an answer but is not one. Practically everyone knows how this works. The politician subtly alters the terms of the question to suit his own convenience, or substitutes a different one, or just repeats what he has already said (which may have prompted the question in the first place), or talks about something else altogether—or uses some combination of these moves. In any case, he does not answer. It is with just such a ‘politician’s reply’ that Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe have responded to my criticisms of their book. To have expected that they would receive these with any warmth would obviously have been foolish. But no even moderately careful reader, such as one might think each of them had good enough reason in this case to be, can have been left in doubt as to what the criticisms were. I lay them out in summary and then show, one by one, how Laclau and Mouffe have thought fit to deal with them.

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Norman Geras, ‘Ex-Marxism Without Substance: Being A Real Reply to Laclau and Mouffe’, NLR I/169: £3
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