Whose Populism? Which People? Mouffe, Girard and Lonergan in Dialogue


  • Nicholas Olkovich St. Mark’s College




populism, agonism, radical democracy, Chantal Mouffe, René Girard, Bernard Lonergan


Chantal Mouffe argues that neoliberal “post-politics” has contributed to the rise of a populist moment marked by the re-emergence of collective identifications constitutive of what Carl Schmitt terms “the political.” Although right-wing populism exemplifies one response to post-politics, its xenophobic or exclusivist construction of “the people” represents the flipside of neoliberal globalization’s moralization of Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction. In her efforts to overcome this stalemate, Mouffe commends the development of an agonistic form of politics that widens democratic debate as well as a left populist movement focused on radicalizing the principles of liberty and equality for all. Drawing on the work of René Girard and Bernard Lonergan in this paper’s final section, I aim to confirm but also complicate Mouffe’s account of the twofold movement from antagonism to agonism and radical democracy. The fruits of this three-way conversation represent a modest first step towards the articulation of an inclusive populism. 


Cavanaugh, William T. 2011. Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Decreus, Thomas, Matthias Lievens and Chantal Mouffe. 2011. “Hegemony and the Radicalisation of Democracy: An Interview with Chantal Mouffe.” Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 73: 677–699.

Doran, Robert. 1990. Theology and the Dialectics of History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

———. 2012. The Trinity in History: A Theology of the Divine Missions, Volume 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

———. 2015. “Social Grace and the Mission of the Church.” In A Realist’s Church: Essays in Honor of Joseph A. Komonchak, edited by Patrick Hayes and Nicholas Rademacher, 169–184. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Golsan, Richard. 2002. Rene Girard and Myth. Abingdon: Routledge.

Laclau, Ernesto. 1996. “Deconstruction, Pragmatism, Hegemony.” In Deconstruction and Pragmatism. Edited by Chantal Mouffe. Abindgon: Routledge.

———. 2005. On Populist Reason. London: Verso.

Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe. 2004. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.

Loewe, William P. 1996. The College Student’s Introduction to Christology. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical.

Lonergan, Bernard. 1972. Method in Theology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

———. 1992. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. Edited by Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

———. 1993. “Dimensions of Meaning.” In Collection: Papers by Bernard J.F. Lonergan, edited by Frederick E. Crowe, 232–245. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

———. 2007. The Triune God: Systematics. Translated by Michael G. Shields. Edited by Robert M. Doran and H. Daniel Monsour. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

———. 2018. The Redemption. Translated by Michael Shields. Edited by Robert Doran, Jeremy Wilkins and H. Daniel Monsour. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1988. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Mouffe, Chantal. 1993. The Return of the Political. London: Verso.

———. 2000. The Democratic Paradox. London: Verso.

———. 2005. On the Political. Abindgon: Routledge.

———. 2006. “Religion, Liberal Democracy and Citizenship.” In Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World, edited by Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan, 318–326. New York: Fordham University Press.

———. 2013. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. London: Verso.

———. 2018. For a Left Populism. London: Verso.

Olkovich, Nicholas. 2018. “Rethinking the Politics-Religion Distinction.” Political Theology 19: 227–246. https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2018.1425335

Ormerod, Neil. 2013. “Desire and the Origins of Culture: Girard and Lonergan in Conversation.” Heythrop Journal 54: 784–795. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2265.2011.00697.x

Ritchie, Angus. 2019. Inclusive Populism. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Rosenberg, Randall S. 2017. The Givenness of Desire: Concrete Subjectivity and the Natural Desire to See God. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781487510718

Howarth, David and Yannis Stavrakakis. 2000. “Introducing Discourse Theory and Political Analysis.” In Discourse Theory and Political Analysis, edited by David R. Howarth, Aletta J. Norval and Yannis Stavrakakis, 1–23. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Palaver, Wolfgang. 1995. “Hobbes and the Katechon: The Secularization of Sacrificial Christianity.” Contagion 2: 57–74. https://doi.org/10.1353/ctn.1995.0005

Rougeau, Vincent. 2017. “A Cosmopolitan Church Confronts Right-Wing Populism.” Seattle University Law Review 4: 1343–1258.



How to Cite

Olkovich, N. (2020). Whose Populism? Which People? Mouffe, Girard and Lonergan in Dialogue. Religious Studies and Theology, 39(2), 160–176. https://doi.org/10.1558/rsth.42161