Just started reading Jeffrey Robbins' Radical Democracy and Political Theology, which led me to reconsider the work of Chantal Mouffe (who is famous for co-writing a book with Ernesto Laclau). Why I like what I have found in Mouffe is her reading of pragmatism and Wittgenstein (I am starting to see the wisdom of the words Negri once said about how everything has changed since Wittgenstein, which has led to my growing issues with Badiou). Reading Jeffrey Stout's Democracy and Tradition over the summer, Stout's interaction with the pragmatist Richard Rorty (and even Rorty's latter openness to public, religious expressions) and finally, Stout's utilization of key, underdeveloped ideas about the secular from Barth's theology made me look out for pragmatic ideas about democracy. Thus, my antennas went up on Robbins' section on Schmitt and Mouffe.
Mouffe's idea of Agonistic pluralism is framed by the reality of the "us vs them" format made famous by Carl Schmitt (her view of pluralism also has roots from Nietzsche and Weber). What Mouffe attempts to do is articulate a politics that forms a "we", which brings together this multiplicity of conflicts, diversity and antagonism. In short, society is never going to be free of "adversaries" (not Schmitt's "enemies") but the pluralistic, democratic space must find ways to be tolerant of such diverse positions. By framing the argument as "adversaries" and not the moral term "enemies", Mouffe acknowledges the contingency of her own beliefs but also the commitment to fight for her beliefs without making it a moral issue. So her presupposition is her view of pluralism that entails the antagonistic nature of different values. She declares that "the real issue at stake in democratic politics is how to establish the us/them distinction in a way that is compatible with pluralist democracy." In order for this theory to work, there needs to be consensus on the basis of this system of conflict ( a symbolic "common ground"). She points out that any movement or figures that won't work with this consensus thus ultimately places themselves or herself in the category of the "enemy". Probably the most adequate or legitimate place to bring a sense of unity is some type of constitutional document. In essence she is working with both sides of western democracy: its liberalism (rule of law, separation of church/state and powers, individual rights, popular sovereignty) and its democracy (populism, pluralism).
One of the key subjects that people feel passion/emotion for is religious issues. However, one of the cornerstones for liberal democracy is the separation of church and state. Mouffe reads this idea differently in stating that the separation of church and state really means the separation between religion and "state power." I think this is probably the best analysis I have read on this subject and I think it fits with a Barthian view. She has this great quote: "It is the tendency to identify politics with the state and the state with the public that has led to the mistaken idea that the separation between the church and the state means the absolute relegation of religion to the private." She notes that this view cannot be defended. Passions (including religious) cannot be removed from politics. However, there is a post-Nazi fear of the passions because in the liberal-democratic mind it leads to "irrational" decisions by the mob or as Toscano calls "fanaticism".
Oftentimes religious expression spills into the ideas of public policies and shapes reactions to them as well. There is no such thing as the liberal neutral view that manages to keep "divisive issues" out of the public realm. It is better to acknowledge the tensions that are in society and work to deal with them in a way that is tolerant to all segments of society. This is a tolerance that is shaped by an idea that there will never be a final, complete reconciliation of conflicts. She writes that "the prime task of democratic politics is not to eliminate passions or to relegate them to the private sphere in order to establish a rational consensus in the public sphere. It is, rather, to attempt to mobilize those passions toward democratic designs." In summary, diversity is to be praised in whatever format it is expressed as long as it recognizes the right of the difference of the other or the adversary.