'Toward an ethics of incommensurability' in Strategies Journal of Theory Culture & Politics, November 2001, Pagination: 209-225 Volume: 14(2) ISSN: 14701251
In this essay, subsequently reprinted in Critchley (ed) The Laclau Reader (Routledge, 2005), I contend that post-Marxist political and cultural theory must address the ethical deficit in its theorisation of contemporary society. Asserting that the theoretical defence of contingency should be defended as necessary, I contend that if this defence is not made then the relation between the position of post-Marxist theorists such as Laclau and Mouffe, and particular instantiations of political orders, is impossible to maintain. The article intervened in a debate within both cultural studies and post-structuralist political theory concerning the status of ethical and normative questions. In both instances, an under-theorisation of the relation between ethics and politics had left some critics arguing that these orientations merely promulgated an unfounded relativism about moral commitments, and thus unwittingly repeated the behaviourist insistence on a strict distinction between matters of fact, and matters of opinion, such as ethics. Taking these critics seriously, I contend that the strict separation of theory from normative commitment cannot be maintained, that relativism only makes sense if one is dissociated from one’s social obligations altogether, and that the critical edge of cultural politics is maintained through insistence upon an ethics of contingency which requires normative investment and commitment to defending an open and pluralistic framework for political debate.