was a renowned Argentine political philosopher whose ideas about “radical democracy” and populism influenced politicians on the new left in Latin America and activists around the world. His highly original essays and books drew on the work of Antonio Gramsci to investigate the assumptions of Marxism and illuminate the modern history of Latin America.
With collaborators like his wife, Chantal Mouffe, and cultural theorist Stuart Hall, Laclau he played a key role in the reformulation of Marxist theory, in light of the collapse of communism and the failure of social democracy. His “post-Marxist” manifesto, Hegemony and socialist strategy (1985), written with Mouffe, was translated into 30 languages and sales reached six figures. The book argued that the class conflict identified by Karl Marx was being overcome by new forms of identity and social consciousness. This worried some on the left, including his friend, Ralph Miliband, who feared he had lost touch with the mundane reality of class division and conflict, but his criticisms of Marx and Marxism were always made in a constructive spirit.
Political populism was an enduring fascination for Laclau. His first book, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism (1977), offered a courteous but devastating critique of the conventional discourse on Latin America at the time. This “dependency” approach tended to view large landowners – latifundistas – as semi-feudal and precapitalist, while Laclau it showed that they were an integral part of a Latin American capitalism that fostered enormous wealth and desperate poverty. He rejected the view of some “dependency” theorists, such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president of Brazil until 2003, that Latin America needed more capitalism rather than less.
In 2005, he returned to the topic with The Populist Reason, which helped explain the emergence of the new left sentiment in Latin America with the repeated electoral victories of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Néstor Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernández in Argentina, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, among others.
Laclau came to be seen as a key influence on Kirchner, even the Argentine newspaper La Nación reported that the president “did not make any important decisions without consulting him firstAlthough this was a great exaggeration, Kirchner, president-elect in 2003, appreciated the support of Laclau to reach beyond their Peronist base to the grassroots activists who had occupied hundreds of factories after the collapse and devaluation of 2001-02. The sympathy of Laclau by the new Latin American left it was not well received by those who were alarmed by the mobilization of the poor and excluded.
In fact, Laclau He believed that the European left had much to learn from Latin America, with its spirit of self-criticism and innovation. He argued that the left should not be embarrassed by charges of populism, whether directed at Chávez or the Greek left-wing Syriza party. It was crucial to distinguish between right-wing populism, for example Margaret Thatcher’s sale of council homes, and policies like Chávez’s gift to slum dwellers of ownership of the land on which they had built. While Thatcher mounted a far-reaching privatization program, Chávez pursued an “urbanization” plan that introduced water and electricity, schools and clinics to the poorest areas, combining self-government with the help of tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and teachers. .
Born in Buenos Aires, son of a lawyer and diplomat, also called Ernesto Laclau, and María Elena Gastelou, Ernesto
he studied history at the University of Buenos Aires. He came to Britain in the early 1970s after winning a scholarship to study at Oxford, with the support of historian Eric Hobsbawm. In 1973, he was appointed professor of politics at the University of Essex, and it was there that he met Mouffe, whom he married in 1975. The couple pursued their own work, but also collaborated on various projects, including the series Phronesis
, which they co-edited.
From 1990 to 1997, Laclau He was Director of the Center for Theoretical Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Essex, and became Professor Emeritus in 2003. He also taught at leading universities in the United States, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, South Africa, and Latin America.
In recent years, Laclau contributed frequently to the Argentine newspaper Page 12, and presented a series of interviews for Argentine television, Dialogues with Laclau.