Chapter 3. How to approach political discourse: Deliberation, agonism and beyond
This chapter delves into the theorization of political discourse and its role indemocratic politics. It discusses two main lines of thinking which are deliberativeaction and the discourse theory (or agonistic pluralism); then, it adoptsthe critical realist theory of hegemony as the third position to understand thenature of political discourse. It first defines democratic politics as moments ofovert conflict and, in so doing, proposes a conflictual understanding of politics.In the second part, it questions if either deliberative action or discourse theoryis compatible with the aims of this study and discusses some of their shortcomings.In the last part, the critical realist theory of hegemony (Joseph, 2000) istaken as the basis and the operationalization of it with the analytical tools ofcritical discourse analysis is proposed.The first line of thinking sees rational deliberation as the core of ademocratic political system, it tries to define the rules for ideal communicationand proposes a theory of communicative action and discourse ethics toapproximate to this ideal condition (Rawls, 1971; Habermas, 1984; Cohen,1997; Fishkin, 2011), while the second line sees antagonism and dissensus asnecessary components of a democracy and therefore adopts a conflict-basedunderstanding of politics (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985; Mouffe, 2000; Rancière,1998; Arditi, 2007). In the first part, a definition for democratic politics interms of a conflictual understanding of politics is provided. This will be the keyaspect as conflict stands at the centre of the analysis.In the second part, the premises and weaknesses of deliberative action arediscussed on the basis of a conflictual understanding of democratic politics.This conceptualization benefits from the agonistic view which is championedby Laclau and Mouffe. Then, it is also questioned whether the discourse theoryis compatible for the selected case, although we partly benefit from it in orderto show the weaknesses of the deliberative approach. In the third and last part,the critical realist theory of hegemony is discussed and adopted in order tochampion the view that the political discourses of the governing party are basedon the structural hegemony of neoliberalism and the chance of maintainingthe executive power depends on its capacity to sustain a discursive hegemonythrough the strategic use of language.