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Thinking Antagonism

Political Ontology after Laclau

Oliver Marchart

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Discover Ernesto Laclau’s theory of antagonism and how it contributes to political and cultural thought

Ernesto Laclau (1935–2014) was one of the major theoretical voices on the Left. His concept of antagonism is the cornerstone of his theory of hegemony and the organising concept in his political ontology. Oliver Marchart presents the main features of this ontology and tracks the development of antagonism from German Idealism via Marx to today’s post-Marxism. In doing so, he demonstrates Laclau’s significant contribution to the current ‘ontological turn’ in political thought. By carving out the philosophical implications of antagonism, Marchart proposes a new theory of ‘thinking’ as a collective, political and conflictual practice.

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List of Abbreviations

Introduction: What Is Antagonism?

1. ‘What’s Going on With Being?’: Laclau and the Return of Political Ontology

Part I: Thinking the Political

2. Marx on the Beach: An Intellectual History of Antagonism

3. Beyond the ‘War Hypothesis’: Polemology in Foucault, Stiegler and Loraux

Part II: Thinking Politics

4. The Restless Nature of the Social: On the Micro-Conflictuality of Everyday Life

5. Politics and the Popular: Protest and Culture in Laclau’s Theory of Populism

6. On Minimal Politics: Conditions of Acting Politically

Part III: Politicising Thought

7. The Final Name of Being: Thinking as Reflective Intervention

8. Being as Acting: The Primacy of Politics and the Politics of Thought

Conclusion: Ostinato Rigore, or, The Ethics of Intellectual Engagement




About the Author

Oliver Marchart is Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Political Science at University of Vienna.


Thinking Antagonism is brilliantly conceived and lucidly written. It is a clear introduction to the important field of political ontology, a worthy testament to the intellectual legacy of Ernesto Laclau, and a significant radicalization of his central intuition. Marchart’s command of the material underwrites a complex and compelling argument for restoring the concept of antagonism to its central place in radical democratic theory. To think antagonism is to identify not an object to be known but a moment of insistent negativity that is the irreducible condition of political resistance. This book should be read by anyone interested in the future of the Left and the possibilities of critical political thought.

- Linda Zerilli, The University of Chicago

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