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The Legacy of Wittgenstein: Pragmatism or Deconstruction

Edited By Ludwig Nagl and Chantal Mouffe

What is striking in the current reception of Wittgenstein is just how wide-ranging his influence has become among those who are trying to elaborate an alternative to the rationalistic framework dominant today. Pragmatists and deconstructionists are at the forefront of such a movement, of course, and it comes as no surprise that several of them have turned to Wittgenstein and have opened up new perspectives on his work. This joint interest has created a very welcome bridge between post-analytic and continental philosophy which have all but ignored each other for far too long. A promising dialogue is now developing, one to which the contributions to this volume can testify. They were originally presented at a conference organized in November 1999 at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster in London, sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Institute.


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Chantal Mouffe: Wittgenstein and the ethos of democracy 131


Chantal Mouffe Wittgenstein and the ethos of democracy The aspect of Wittgenstein 's legacy that I want to stress in this intervention con- cerns his contribution to what I take to be an urgent issue today: how to envisage a new way of theorizing about the political. There are several ways in which I could have approached this question. For instance I could have traced the influ- ence of Wittgenstein in the transformation of disciplines like cultural anthropol- ogy or the history of political ideas. Here one would have to mention the 'new history' pioneered by Quentin Skinner who envisages political writing as a way of acting with words and insists that political thought cannot be grasped without being situated within the politico-historical context in which this acting took place. And with respect to anthropology the work of Clifford Geertz and James Clifford who following the lead of Wittgenstein have criticized the homogeneous and bounded view of identity dominant in modem political theory and proposed to replace it by a new vocabulary of identity in terms of 'family resemblance', as an overlapping of similarities and differences. This kind of anthropology has important consequences for envisaging the task of a new political theory which as Clifford Geertz has recently argued should not be an 'intensely generalized re- flection on intensely generalized matters, an imagining of architectures in which no one could live, but should be, rather, an intellectual engagement, exact, mo- bile, and realistic, with present problems'. 1 The strategy I...

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