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PPR Research Seminar

Date: 9 March 2011 Time: 4.00-6.00 pm

Venue: Bowland North SR10

Mark Wenman (Nottingham): Agonism and the politics of conviction: An exploration of the political articulation of alternative faiths in liberal democratic societies, frawing on Connolly and Alan Badiou.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, western liberal regimes no longer contend with the effective mobilisation of alternative secular ideologies (such as Marxism or fascism), but find themselves instead confronted by forms of militant action inspired by fundamentalist readings of the religions of the book. In this context, the defenders of liberal secular modernity have mostly withdrawn into a narrow preoccupation with demonstrating the supposed rationality and neutrality of the core liberal values of mutual tolerance and individual rights. By way of contrast, religious militants - from Christian evangelicals to radical Islamists - present the authenticity of their convictions as the only alternative to the decadence of individualism and the permissiveness of liberal societies.

This paper considers prospects for an agonistic politics of truth and conviction, understood as the most appropriate response to this changed context. I reject liberal claims to secular neutrality, and consider the close proximity between contemporary liberal practices and the underlying protestant heritage. Drawing on the work of Alan Badiou, I consider the parallels between the motivations of contemporary religious militants and the ethics of previous secular forms of political militancy, which were similarly predicated on fidelity to a given 'Truth Event'. I take question with liberal anxieties about the politics of conviction (whether that is motivated by secular ideology or religious conviction), and I consider the inherent slide towards nihilism that haunts late modern liberal society with its fantasy of having overcome the politics of ideological contest. And I develop a conception of agonistic democracy which is partly inspired by William Connolly's theory of a 'bi-cameral' orientation to citizenship, but where the engaged militant is pressed and constrained - not by his/her own awareness of the contestability of his/her convictions (as in Connolly's theory) but - by the judgements of multiple others in an open-ended contest of and for the Truth.

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Organising departments and research centres: Politics, Philosophy and Religion PPR

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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