May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Home Switchboard Unix Administration Red Hat TCP/IP Networks Neoliberalism Toxic Managers
(slightly skeptical) Educational society promoting "Back to basics" movement against IT overcomplexity and  bastardization of classic Unix

Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy

News Fifth column Recommended Links Democracy as a universal opener for access to natural resources Hypocrisy and Pseudo-democracy "Fight with Corruption" as a smoke screen for neoliberal penetration into host countries
Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy The Deep State Predator state Neocolonialism as Financial Imperialism Anatol Leiven on American Messianism Exploiting Revolutionary Romantics as polit-technology
Control of the MSM during color revolution is like air superiority in the war Delegitimization of Ruling Party Parasitism on Human rights: children of Lieutenant Schmidt Human right activists or globalism fifth column The art of manufacturing of prisoners of consciousness Sect of fraudulent election witnesses
Neoliberalism as a New Form of Corporatism Neoconservatism Elite Theory And the Revolt of the Elite The Iron Law of Oligarchy Two Party System as polyarchy  Totalitarian Decisionism & Human Rights: The Re-emergence of Nazi Law
Corporate Media: Journalism In the Service of the Powerful Few The Guardian Slips Beyond the Reach of Embarrassment The Real War on Reality Media as a weapon of mass deception Patterns of Propaganda Media-Military-Industrial Complex
American Exceptionalism Non-Interventionism Hypocrisy of British ruling elite Financial Humor Politically Incorrect Humor Etc

Undoing the demos: Neoliberalism’s stealth destruction of liberal democracy

Like Trotskyism, neoliberalism is incompatible with democracy. It has the same totalitarian vision of world order, and nowhere this vision includes the possibility for people to chose whant they want. If necessary the New World Order will be brought on the tips of bayonets. In this sense it is very close tot he spirit to the Trotskyism idea of "permanent revolution"

It also enforces a new encompassing rationalism, which should displace old, "outdated" rationality of liberal capitalism. In this review. The main features of this type of totalitarian thinking is so called "neoliberal rationality" which like in Marxism is heavily tilted toward viewing the people as "homo economicus". That makes  neoliberalism  profoundly destructive to the fiber and future of democracy in any form.

This new neoliberal rationality now mapping the myriad ways in which neo-liberalism, conceived as a productive mode of reason that today saturates ever more spheres of life, articulates crucial elements of democratic language, practice and subjectivity ‘according to a specific image of the economic’ (p. 10). In so doing neo-liberalism directly assaults the democratic imaginary that animated so much of modernity, hollowing out liberal democratic practices and institutions while at the same time cauterising radical democratic expressions.

Here are some quotes from Wendy Brown interview What Exactly Is Neoliberalism  to  Dissent Magazine (Nov 03, 2015):

"... I treat neoliberalism as a governing rationality through which everything is "economized" and in a very specific way: human beings become market actors and nothing but, every field of activity is seen as a market, and every entity (whether public or private, whether person, business, or state) is governed as a firm. Importantly, this is not simply a matter of extending commodification and monetization everywhere-that's the old Marxist depiction of capital's transformation of everyday life. Neoliberalism construes even non-wealth generating spheres-such as learning, dating, or exercising-in market terms, submits them to market metrics, and governs them with market techniques and practices. Above all, it casts people as human capital who must constantly tend to their own present and future value. ..."
"... The most common criticisms of neoliberalism, regarded solely as economic policy rather than as the broader phenomenon of a governing rationality, are that it generates and legitimates extreme inequalities of wealth and life conditions; that it leads to increasingly precarious and disposable populations; that it produces an unprecedented intimacy between capital (especially finance capital) and states, and thus permits domination of political life by capital; that it generates crass and even unethical commercialization of things rightly protected from markets, for example, babies, human organs, or endangered species or wilderness; that it privatizes public goods and thus eliminates shared and egalitarian access to them; and that it subjects states, societies, and individuals to the volatility and havoc of unregulated financial markets. ..."
"... with the neoliberal revolution that homo politicus is finally vanquished as a fundamental feature of being human and of democracy. Democracy requires that citizens be modestly oriented toward self-rule, not simply value enhancement, and that we understand our freedom as resting in such self-rule, not simply in market conduct. When this dimension of being human is extinguished, it takes with it the necessary energies, practices, and culture of democracy, as well as its very intelligibility. ..."
"... For most Marxists, neoliberalism emerges in the 1970s in response to capitalism's falling rate of profit; the shift of global economic gravity to OPEC, Asia, and other sites outside the West; and the dilution of class power generated by unions, redistributive welfare states, large and lazy corporations, and the expectations generated by educated democracies. From this perspective, neoliberalism is simply capitalism on steroids: a state and IMF-backed consolidation of class power aimed at releasing capital from regulatory and national constraints, and defanging all forms of popular solidarities, especially labor. ..."
"... The grains of truth in this analysis don't get at the fundamental transformation of social, cultural, and individual life brought about by neoliberal reason. They don't get at the ways that public institutions and services have not merely been outsourced but thoroughly recast as private goods for individual investment or consumption. And they don't get at the wholesale remaking of workplaces, schools, social life, and individuals. For that story, one has to track the dissemination of neoliberal economization through neoliberalism as a governing form of reason, not just a power grab by capital. There are many vehicles of this dissemination -- law, culture, and above all, the novel political-administrative form we have come to call governance. It is through governance practices that business models and metrics come to irrigate every crevice of society, circulating from investment banks to schools, from corporations to universities, from public agencies to the individual. It is through the replacement of democratic terms of law, participation, and justice with idioms of benchmarks, objectives, and buy-ins that governance dismantles democratic life while appearing only to instill it with "best practices." ..."
"... Progressives generally disparage Citizens United for having flooded the American electoral process with corporate money on the basis of tortured First Amendment reasoning that treats corporations as persons. However, a careful reading of the majority decision also reveals precisely the thoroughgoing economization of the terms and practices of democracy we have been talking about. In the majority opinion, electoral campaigns are cast as "political marketplaces," just as ideas are cast as freely circulating in a market where the only potential interference arises from restrictions on producers and consumers of ideas-who may speak and who may listen or judge. Thus, Justice Kennedy's insistence on the fundamental neoliberal principle that these marketplaces should be unregulated paves the way for overturning a century of campaign finance law aimed at modestly restricting the power of money in politics. Moreover, in the decision, political speech itself is rendered as a kind of capital right, functioning largely to advance the position of its bearer, whether that bearer is human capital, corporate capital, or finance capital. This understanding of political speech replaces the idea of democratic political speech as a vital (if potentially monopolizable and corruptible) medium for public deliberation and persuasion. ..."
"... My point was that democracy is really reduced to a whisper in the Euro-Atlantic nations today. Even Alan Greenspan says that elections don't much matter much because, "thanks to globalization . . . the world is governed by market forces," not elected representatives. ..."

Neoliberalism and the end of liberal democracy by Wendy Brown

Reprinted from

It is a commonplace to speak of the present regime in the United States as a neoconservative one, and to cast as a consolidated “neocon” project present efforts to intensify U.S. military capacity, increase U.S. global hegemony, dismantle the welfare state, retrench civil liberties, eliminate the right to abortion and affirmative action, re-Christianize the state, deregulate corporations, gut environmental protections, reverse progressive taxation, reduce education spending while increasing prison budgets, and feather the nests of the rich while criminalizing the poor. I do not contest the existence of a religious-political project known as Neoconservatism or challenge the appropriateness of understanding many of the links between these objectives in terms of a neoconservative agenda. However, I want to think to one side of this agenda in order to consider our current predicament in terms of a neoliberal political rationality, a rationality that exceeds particular positions on particular issues and that undergirds important features of the Clinton decade as well as the Reagan-Bush years. Further, I want to consider the way that this rationality is emerging as governmentality—a mode of governance encompassing but not limited to the state, and one that produces subjects, forms of citizenship and behavior, and a new organization of the social.

Economic Liberalism, Political Liberalism, and What Is the Neo in Neoliberalism

In ordinary parlance, neoliberalism refers to the repudiation of Keynesian welfare state economics and the ascendance of the Chicago School of political economy—von Hayek, Friedman, and others. In popular usage, neoliberalism is equated with a radically free market: maximized competition and free trade achieved through economic deregulation, elimination of tariffs, and a range of monetary and social policies favorable to business and indifferent toward poverty, social deracination, cultural decimation, long-term resource depletion, and environmental destruction. Neoliberalism is most often invoked in relation to the Third World, referring either to NAFTA-like schemes that increase the vulnerability of poor nations to the vicissitudes of globalization or to International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies that, through financing packages attached to “restructuring” requirements, yank the chains of every aspect of Third World existence, including political institutions and social formations.

For progressives, neoliberalism is thus a pejorative not only because it conjures economic policies that sustain or deepen local poverty and the subordination of peripheral to core nations, but also because it is compatible with, and sometimes even productive of, authoritarian, despotic, para-militaristic, and corrupt state forms as well as agents within civil society.

While these referents capture important effects of neoliberalism, they also reduce neoliberalism to a bundle of economic policies with inadvertent political and social consequences: they fail to address the political rationality that both organizes these policies and reaches beyond the market. Moreover, these referents do not capture the neo in neoliberalism, tending instead to treat the contemporary phenomenon as little more than a revival of classical liberal political economy.

Finally, they obscure the specifically political register of neoliberalism in the First World: that is, its powerful erosion of liberal democratic institutions and practices in places like the United States. My concern in this essay is with these neglected dimensions of neoliberalism.

One of the more incisive accounts of neoliberal political rationality comes from a surprising quarter: Michel Foucault is not generally heralded as a theorist of liberalism or of political economy. Yet Foucault’s 1978 and 1979 Collège de France lectures, long unpublished,2 consisted of his critical analysis of two groups of neoliberal economists: the Ordo-liberal school in postwar Germany (so named because its members, originally members of the Freiburg School, published mainly in the journal Ordo) and the Chicago School that arose midcentury in the United States. Thanks to the German sociologist Thomas Lemke, we have an excellent summary and interpretation of Foucault’s lectureson neoliberalism; in what follows I will draw extensively from Lemke’s work.

It may be helpful, before beginning a consideration of neoliberalism as a political rationality, to mark the conventional difference between political and economic liberalism—a difference especially confusing for Americans for whom “liberal” tends to signify a progressive political viewpoint and, in particular, support for the welfare state and other New Deal institutions, along with relatively high levels of political and legal intervention in the social sphere.4 In addition, given the contemporary phenomena of both neoconservatism and neoliberalism, and the association of both with the political right, ours is a time of often bewildering political nomenclature.5 Briefly, then, in economic thought, liberalism contrasts with mercantilism on one side and Keynesianism or socialism on the other; its classical version refers to a maximization of free trade and competition achieved by minimum interference from political institutions. In the history of political thought, while individual liberty remains a touchstone, liberalism signifies an order in which the state exists to secure the freedom of individuals on a formally egalitarian basis. A liberal political order may harbor either liberal or Keynesian economic policies—it may lean in the direction of maximizing liberty (its politically “conservative” tilt) or of maximizing equality (its politically “liberal” tilt), but in contemporary political parlance, it is no more or less a liberal democracy because of one leaning or the other. Indeed, the American convention of referring to advocates of the welfare state as political liberals is especially peculiar, given that American conservatives generally hew more closely to both the classical economic and the political doctrines of liberalism—it turns the meaning of liberalism in the direction of liberality rather than liberty. For our purposes, what is crucial is that the liberalism in what has come to be called neoliberalism refers to liberalism’s economic variant, recuperating selected pre-Keynesian assumptions about the generation of wealth and its distribution, rather than to liberalism as a political doctrine, as a set of political institutions, or as political practices. The neo in neoliberalism, however, establishes these principles on a significantly different analytic basis from those set forth by Adam Smith, as will become clear below. Moreover, neoliberalism is not simply a set of economic policies; it is not only about facilitating free trade, maximizing corporate profits, and challenging welfarism. Rather, neoliberalism carries a social analysis that, when deployed as a form of governmentality, reaches from the soul of the citizen-subject to education policy to practices of empire. Neoliberal rationality, while foregrounding the market, is not only or even primarily focused on the economy; it involves extending and disseminating market values to all institutions and social action, even as the market itself remains a distinctive player.

This essay explores the political implications of neoliberal rationality for liberal democracy—the implications of the political rationality corresponding to, legitimating, and legitimated by the neoliberal turn.

While Lemke, following Foucault, is careful to mark some of the differences between Ordo-liberal thought and its successor and radicalizer, the Chicago School, I will be treating contemporary neoliberal political rationality without attending to these differences in some of its source material. A rich genealogy of neoliberalism as it is currently practiced—one that mapped and contextualized the contributions of the two schools of political economy, traced the ways that rational choice theory differentially adhered and evolved in the various social sciences and their governmental applications, and described the interplay of all these currents with developments in capital over the past half century—would be quite useful. But this essay is not such a genealogy. Rather, my aim is to consider our current political predicament in terms of neoliberal political rationality, whose chief characteristics are enumerated below.

  1. The political sphere, along with every other dimension of contemporary existence, is submitted to an economic rationality; or, put the other way around, not only is the human being configured exhaustively as homo oeconomicus, but all dimensions of human life are cast in terms of a market rationality. While this entails submitting every action and policy to considerations of profitability, equally important is the production of all human and institutional action as rational entrepreneurial action, conducted according to a calculus of utility, benefit, or satisfaction against a microeconomic grid of scarcity, supply and demand, and moral value-neutrality. Neoliberalism does not simply assume that all aspects of social, cultural, and political life can be reduced to such a calculus; rather, it develops institutional practices and rewards for enacting this vision. That is, through discourse and policy promulgating its criteria, neoliberalism produces rational actors and imposes a market rationale for decision making in all spheres. Importantly, then, neoliberalism involves a normative rather than ontological claim about the pervasiveness of economic rationality and it advocates the institution building, policies, and discourse development appropriate to such a claim. Neoliberalism is a constructivist project: it does not presume the ontological givenness of a thoroughgoing economic rationality for all domains of society but rather takes as its task the development, dissemination, and institutionalization of such a rationality. This point is further developed in (2) below. 

  2. In contrast with the notorious laissez-faire and human propensity to “truck and barter” stressed by classical economic liberalism, neoliberalism does not conceive of either the market itself or rational economic behavior as purely natural. Both are constructed—organized by law and political institutions, and requiring political intervention and orchestration. Far from flourishing when left alone, the economy must be directed, buttressed, and protected by law and policy as well as by the dissemination of social norms designed to facilitate competition, free trade, and rational economic action on the part of every member and institution of society. In Lemke’s account, “In the Ordo-liberal scheme, the market does not amount to a natural economic reality, with intrinsic laws that the art of government must bear in mind and respect; instead, the market can be constituted and kept alive only by dint of political interventions. . . . [C]ompetition, too, is not a natural fact. . . . [T]his fundamental economic mechanism can function only if support is forthcoming to bolster a series of conditions, and adherence to the latter must consistently be guaranteed by legal measures” (193). 

    The neoliberal formulation of the state and especially of specific legal arrangements and decisions as the precondition and ongoing condition of the market does not mean that the market is controlled by the state but precisely the opposite. The market is the organizing and regulative principle of the state and society, along three different lines: 

    1. The state openly responds to needs of the market, whether through monetary and fiscal policy, immigration policy, the treatment of criminals, or the structure of public education. In so doing, the state is no longer encumbered by the danger of incurring the legitimation deficits predicted by 1970s social theorists and political economists such as Nicos Poulantzas, Jürgen Habermas, and James O’Connor.6 Rather, neoliberal rationality extended to the state itself indexes the state’s success according to its ability to sustain and foster the market and ties state legitimacy to such success. This is a new form of legitimation, one that “founds a state,” according to Lemke, and contrasts with the Hegelian and French revolutionary notion of the constitutional state as the emergent universal representative of the people. As Lemke describes Foucault’s account of Ordo-liberal thinking, “economic liberty produces the legitimacy for a form of sovereignty limited to guaranteeing economic activity . . . a state that was no longer defined in terms of an historical mission but legitimated itself with reference to economic growth” (196).

    2. The state itself is enfolded and animated by market rationality: that is, not simply profitability but a generalized calculation of cost and benefit becomes the measure of all state practices. Political discourse on all matters is framed in entrepreneurial terms; the state must not simply concern itself with the market but think and behave like a market actor across all of its functions, including law. 7

    3. Putting (a) and (b) together, the health and growth of the economy is the basis of state legitimacy, both because the state is forthrightly responsible for the health of the economy and because of the economic rationality to which state practices have been submitted. Thus, “It’s the economy, stupid” becomes more than a campaign slogan; rather, it expresses the principle of the state’s legitimacy and the basis for state action—from constitutional adjudication and campaign finance reform to welfare and education policy to foreign policy, including warfare and the organization of “homeland security.”
  3. The extension of economic rationality to formerly noneconomic domains and institutions reaches individual conduct, or, more precisely, prescribes the citizen-subject of a neoliberal order. Whereas classical liberalism articulated a distinction, and at times even a tension, among the criteria for individual moral, associational, and economic actions (hence the striking differences in tone, subject matter, and even prescriptions between Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and his Theory of Moral Sentiments), neoliberalism normatively constructs and interpellates individuals as entrepreneurial actors in every sphere of life. It figures individuals as rational, calculating creatures whose moral autonomy is measured by their capacity for “self-care”—the ability to provide for their own needs and service their own ambitions. In making the individual fully responsible for her- or himself, neoliberalism equates moral responsibility with rational action; it erases the discrepancy between economic and moral behavior by configuring morality entirely as a matter of rational deliberation about costs, benefits, and consequences. But in so doing, it carries responsibility for the self to new heights: the rationally calculating individual bears full responsibility for the consequences of his or her action no matter how severe the constraints on this action—for example, lack of skills, education, and child care in a period of high unemployment and limited welfare benefits. Correspondingly, a “mismanaged life,” the neoliberal appellation for failure to navigate impediments to prosperity, becomes a new mode of depoliticizing social and economic powers and at the same time reduces political citizenship to an unprecedented degree of passivity and political complacency. The model neoliberal citizen is one who strategizes for her- or himself among various social, political, and economic options, not one who strives with others to alter or organize these options.

    A fully realized neoliberal citizenry would be the opposite of public-minded; indeed, it would barely exist as a public. The body politic ceases to be a body but is rather a group of individual entrepreneurs and consumers . . . which is, of course, exactly how voters are addressed in most American campaign discourse.8 Other evidence for progress in the development of such a citizenry is not far from hand: consider the market rationality permeating universities today, from admissions and recruiting to the relentless consumer mentality of students as they consider university brand names, courses, and services, from faculty raiding and pay scales to promotion criteria.9 Or consider the way in which consequential moral lapses (of a sexual or criminal nature) by politicians, business executives, or church and university administrators are so often apologized for as “mistakes in judgment,” implying that it was the calculation that was wrong, not the act, actor, or rationale.

    The state is not without a project in the making of the neoliberal subject. It attempts to construct prudent subjects through policies that organize such prudence: this is the basis of a range of welfare reforms such as workfare and single-parent penalties, changes in the criminal code such as the “three strikes law,” and educational voucher schemes. Because neoliberalism casts rational action as a norm rather than an ontology, social policy is the means by which the state produces subjects whose compass is set entirely by their rational assessment of the costs and benefits of certain acts, whether those acts pertain to teen pregnancy, tax fraud, or retirement planning. The neoliberal citizen is calculating rather than rule abiding, a Benthamite rather than a Hobbesian. The state is one of many sites framing the calculations leading to social behaviors that keep costs low and productivity high. This mode of governmentality (techniques of governing that exceed express state action and orchestrate the subject’s conduct toward himor herself) convenes a “free” subject who rationally deliberates about alternative courses of action, makes choices, and bears responsibility for the consequences of these choices. In this way, Lemke argues, “the state leads and controls subjects without being responsible for them”; as individual “entrepreneurs” in every aspect of life, subjects become wholly responsible for their well-being and citizenship is reduced to success in this entrepreneurship (201). Neoliberal subjects are controlled through their freedom—not simply, as thinkers from the Frankfurt School through Foucault have argued, because freedom within an order of domination can be an instrument of that domination, but because of neoliberalism’s moralization of the consequences of this freedom. Such control also means that the withdrawal of the state from certain domains, followed by the privatization of certain state functions, does not amount to a dismantling of government but rather constitutes a technique of governing; indeed, it is the signature technique of neoliberal governance, in which rational economic action suffused throughout society replaces express state rule or provision. Neoliberalism shifts “the regulatory competence of the state onto ‘responsible,’ ‘rational’ individuals [with the aim of] encourag[ing] individuals to give their lives a specific entrepreneurial form” (Lemke, 202).

  4. Finally, the suffusion of both the state and the subject with economic rationality has the effect of radically transforming and narrowing the criteria for good social policy vis-à-vis classical liberal democracy. Not only must social policy meet profitability tests, incite and unblock competition, and produce rational subjects, it obeys the entrepreneurial principle of “equal inequality for all” as it “multiples and expands entrepreneurial forms with the body social” (Lemke, 195). This is the principle that links the neoliberal governmentalization of the state with that of the social and the subject.

Taken together, the extension of economic rationality to all aspects of thought and activity, the placement of the state in forthright and direct service to the economy, the rendering of the state tout court as an enterprise organized by market rationality, the production of the moral subject as an entrepreneurial subject, and the construction of social policy according to these criteria might appear as a more intensive rather than fundamentally new form of the saturation of social and political realms by capital. That is, the political rationality of neoliberalism might be read as issuing from a stage of capitalism that simply underscores Marx’s argument that capital penetrates and transforms every aspect of life—remaking everything in its image and reducing every value and activity to its cold rationale. All that would be new here is the flagrant and relentless submission of the state and the individual, the church and the university, morality, sex, marriage, and leisure practices to this rationale. Or better, the only novelty would be the recently achieved hegemony of rational choice theory in the human sciences, self-represented as an independent and objective branch of knowledge rather than an expression of the dominance of capital. Another reading that would figure neoliberalism as continuous with the past would theorize it through Weber’s rationalization thesis rather than Marx’s argument about capital. The extension of market rationality to every sphere, and especially the reduction of moral and political judgment to a cost-benefit calculus, would represent precisely the evisceration of substantive values by instrumental rationality that Weber predicted as the future of a disenchanted world. Thinking and judging are reduced to instrumental calculation in Weber’s “polar night of icy darkness”—there is no morality, no faith, no heroism, indeed no meaning outside the market.

Yet invaluable as Marx’s theory of capital and Weber’s theory of rationalization are in understanding certain aspects of neoliberalism, neither brings into view the historical-institutional rupture it signifies, the form of governmentality it replaces and the form it inaugurates, and hence the modalities of resistance it renders outmoded and those that must be developed if it is to be effectively challenged. Neoliberalism is not an inevitable historical development of capital and instrumental rationality; it is not the unfolding of laws of capital or of instrumental rationality suggested by a Marxist or Weberian analysis but represents instead a new and contingent organization and operation of both. Moreover, neither analysis articulates the shift neoliberalism heralds from relatively differentiated moral, economic, and political rationalities and venues in liberal democratic orders to their discursive and practical integration. Neoliberal governmentality undermines the relative autonomy of certain institutions—law, elections, the police, the public sphere—from one another and from the market, an independence that formerly sustained an interval and a tension between a capitalist political economy and a liberal democratic political system. The implications of this transformation are significant. Herbert Marcuse worried about the loss of a dialectical opposition within capitalism when it “delivers the goods”—that is, when, by the mid–twentieth century, a relatively complacent middle class had taken the place of the hardlaboring impoverished masses Marx depicted as the negating contradiction to the concentrated wealth of capital—but neoliberalism entails the erosion of oppositional political, moral, or subjective claims located outside capitalist rationality yet inside liberal democratic society, that is, the erosion of institutions, venues, and values organized by nonmarket rationalities in democracies. When democratic principles of governance, civil codes, and even religious morality are submitted to economic calculation, when no value or good stands outside of this calculus, then sources of opposition to, and mere modulation of, capitalist rationality disappear. This reminds us that however much a left analysis has identified a liberal political order with legitimating, cloaking, and mystifying the stratifications of society achieved by capitalism (and achieved as well by racial, sexual, and gender superordinations), it is also the case that liberal democratic principles of governance— liberalism as a political doctrine—have functioned as something of an antagonist to these stratifications. As Marx himself argued in “On the Jewish Question,” formal political principles of equality and freedom (with their attendant promises of individual autonomy and dignity) figure an alternative vision of humanity and alternative social and moral referents to those of the capitalist order within which they are asserted. This is the Janus-face or at least Janus-potential of liberal democracy vis-à-vis a capitalist economy: while liberal democracy encodes, reflects, and legitimates capitalist social relations, it simultaneously resists, counters, and tempers them.

Put simply, what liberal democracy has provided over the past two centuries is a modest ethical gap between economy and polity. Even as liberal democracy converges with many capitalist values (property rights, individualism, Hobbesian assumptions underneath all contracts, etc.), the formal distinction it establishes between moral and political principles on the one hand and the economic order on the other has also served to insulate citizens against the ghastliness of life exhaustively ordered by the market and measured by market values. It is this gap that a neoliberal political rationality closes as it submits every aspect of political and social life to economic calculation: asking not, for example, what liberal constitutionalism stands for, what moral or political values it protects and preserves, but rather what efficacy or profitability constitutionalism promotes . . . or interdicts. Liberal democracy cannot be submitted to neoliberal political governmentality and survive.

There is nothing in liberal democracy’s basic institutions or values—from free elections, representative democracy, and individual liberties equally distributed to modest power-sharing or even more substantive political participation—that inherently meets the test of serving economic competitiveness or inherently withstands a cost-benefit analysis. And it is liberal democracy that is going under in the present moment, even as the flag of American “democracy” is being planted everywhere it can find or create soft ground. (That “democracy” is the rubric under which so much antidemocratic imperial and domestic policy is enacted suggests that we are in an interregnum—or, more precisely, that neoliberalism borrows extensively from the old regime to legitimate itself even as it also develops and disseminates new codes of legitimacy. More about this below.) Nor is liberal democracy a temporary casualty of recent events or of a neoconservative agenda. As the foregoing account of neoliberal governmentality suggests, while post-9/11 international and domestic policy may have both hastened and highlighted the erosion of liberal democratic institutions and principles, this erosion is not simply the result of a national security strategy or even of the Bush administration’s unprecedented indifference to the plight of the poor, civil liberties, law valued as principle rather than tactic, or conventional liberal democratic criteria for legitimate foreign policy.10

My argument here is twofold. First, neoliberal rationality has not caused but rather has facilitated the dismantling of democracy during the current national security crisis. Democratic values and institutions are trumped by a cost-benefit and efficiency rationale for practices ranging from government secrecy (even government lying) to the curtailment of civil liberties. Second, the post-9/11 period has brought the ramifications of neoliberal rationality into sharp focus, largely through practices and policies that progressives assail as hypocrisies, lies, or contradictions but that may be better understood as neoliberal policies and actions taking shape under the legitimating cloth of a liberal democratic discourse increasingly void of substance.

The Bush administration’s imperial adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq clearly borrowed extensively from the legitimating rhetoric of democracy. Not only were both wars undertaken as battles for “our way of life” against regimes said to harbor enemies (terrorists) or dangers (weapons of mass destruction) to that way of life, but both violations of national sovereignty were justified by the argument that democracy could and ought to take shape in those places—each nation is said to need liberation from brutal and despotic rule. The standard left criticism of the first justification is that “our way of life” is more seriously threatened by a politics of imperialism and by certain policies of homeland security than by these small nations. But this criticism ignores the extent to which “our way of life” is being figured not in a classically liberal democratic but in a neoliberal idiom: that is, as the ability of the entrepreneurial subject and state to rationally plot means and ends and the ability of the state to secure the conditions, at home and abroad, for a market rationality and subjectivity by removing their impediments (whether Islamic fundamentalism or excessive and arbitrary state sovereignty in the figure of Saddam Hussein). Civil liberties are perfectly expendable within this conception of “our way of life”; unlike property rights, they are largely irrelevant to homo oeconomicus. Their attenuation or elimination does not falsify the project of protecting democracy in its neoliberal mode.

The Left criticized the second justification, that the United States could or ought to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban and Iraq from Hussein, as both hypocritical (the United States had previously funded and otherwise propped up both regimes) and disingenuous (U.S. foreign policy has never rested on the principle of developing democracy and was not serious about the project in these settings). Again, however, translated into neoliberal terms, “democracy,” here or there, does not signify a set of independent political institutions and civic practices comprising equality, freedom, autonomy and the principle of popular sovereignty but rather indicates only a state and subjects organized by market rationality.

Indeed, democracy could even be understood as a code word for availability to this rationality; removal of the Taliban and Baath party pave the way to that availability, and democracy is simply the name of the regime, conforming to neoliberal requirements, that must replace them. When Paul Bremer, the U.S.-appointed interim governor of Iraq, declared on May 26, 2003 (just weeks after the sacking of Baghdad and four days after the UN lifted economic sanctions), that Iraq was “open for business,” he made clear exactly how democracy would take shape in post- Saddam Iraq. Duty-free imported goods poured into the country, finishing off many local Iraqi businesses already damaged by the war. Multinationals tumbled over themselves to get a piece of the action, and foreign direct investment to replace and privatize state industry was described by the corporate executives advising the Bush administration as the “answer to all of Iraq’s problems.”11 The question of democratic institutions, as Bremer made clear by scrapping early plans to form an interim Iraqi government in favor of installing his own team of advisers, was at best secondary to the project of privatizing large portions of the economy and outsourcing the business of policing a society in rubble, chaos, and terror occasioned by the combination of ongoing military skirmishes and armed local gangs.12

It is not news that replacements for the Taliban and the Baath regimes need not be rights-based, formally egalitarian, representative, or otherwise substantively democratic in order to serve the purposes of global capitalism or the particular geopolitical interests of the United States. Nor is it news that the replacements of these regimes need not be administered by the Afghans or Iraqis themselves to satisfy American and global capitalist purposes and interests, though the residues of old-fashioned democracy inside the legitimation project of neoliberalism make even puppet or faux rule by an appointed governing council, or by officials elected in severely compromised election conditions, ideologically preferable to full-fledged directorship by the American occupation. What is striking, however, is the boldness of a raw market approach to political problem solving, the extent to which radical privatization schemes and a flourishing market economy built on foreign investment are offered not simply as the path to democracy but as the name and the measure of democracy in these nations, a naming and measuring first appearing in post-1989 Eastern Europe a decade earlier. Not only are democratic institutions largely irrelevant— and at times even impediments—to neoliberal governmentality, but the success of such governmentality does not depend on the question of whether it is locally administered or externally imposed. Market rationality knows no culture or country, and administrators are, as the economists say, fungible. Indeed, at this juncture in the displacement of liberal democracy by neoliberal governmentality, the question is how much legitimacy neoliberal governance requires from a democratic vocabulary—how much does neoliberalism have to cloak itself in liberal democratic discourse and work with liberal democratic institutions?

This is less a theoretical than a historical-empirical question about how deeply and extensively neoliberal rationality has taken hold as ideology, that is, how much and where neoliberal governance can legitimate itself in its own terms, without borrowing from other discourses. (Neoliberalism can become dominant as governmentality without being dominant as ideology—the former refers to governing practices and the latter to a popular order of belief that may or may not be fully in line with the former, and that may even be a site of resistance to it.) Clearly, a rhetoric of democracy and the shell of liberal democratic institutions remain more important in the imperial heartland than in recently “liberated” or conquered societies with few if any democratic traditions of legitimacy. However, the fact that George W. Bush retains the support of the majority of the American people, despite his open flaunting of democratic principles amid a failing economy and despite, too, evidence that the public justification for invading Iraq relied on cooked intelligence, suggests that neoliberalism has taken deep hold in the homeland. Particularly striking is the number of pundits who have characterized this willful deceit of the people as necessary rather than criminal, as a means to a rational end, thereby reminding us that one of the more dangerous features of neoliberal evisceration of a non-market morality lies in undercutting the basis for judging government actions by any criteria other than expedience.13

Just as neoliberal governmentality reduces the tension historically borne by the state between democratic values and the needs of capital as it openly weds the state to capital and resignifies democracy as ubiquitous entrepreneurialism, so neoliberalism also smooths an old wrinkle in the fabric of liberal democratic foreign policy between domestic political values and international interests. During the cold war, political progressives could use American sanctimony about democracy to condemn international actions that propped up or installed authoritarian regimes and overthrew popularly elected leaders in the Third World. The divergence between strategic international interests and democratic ideology produced a potential legitimation problem for foreign policy, especially as applied to Southeast Asia and Central and Latin America. Neoliberalism, by redefining democracy as thoroughgoing market rationality in state and society, a redefinition abetted by the postcommunist “democratization” process in Eastern Europe, largely eliminates that problem. Certainly human rights talk is ubiquitous in global democracy discourse, but not since Jimmy Carter’s ill-fated efforts to make human rights a substantive dimension of foreign policy have they served as more than window dressing for neoliberal adventures in democracy.

Mourning Liberal Democracy

An assault on liberal democratic values and institutions has been plainly evident in recent events: civil liberties undermined by the USA Patriot Acts and the Total Information Awareness (later renamed Total Terror Awareness) scheme, Oakland police shooting wood and rubber bullets at peaceful antiwar protesters, a proposed Oregon law to punish all civil disobedience as terrorism (replete with twenty five-year jail terms), and McCarthyite deployments of patriotism to suppress ordinary dissent and its iconography. It is evident as well in the staging of aggressive imperial wars and ensuing occupations along with the continued dismantling of the welfare state and the progressive taxation schemes already diluted by the Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. It has been more subtly apparent in “softer” events, such as the de-funding of public education that led eighty four Oregon school districts to sheer almost a month off the school year in spring 2003 and delivered provisional pink slips to thousands of California teachers at the end of the 2002–03 academic year.14

Or consider the debate about whether antiwar protests constituted unacceptable costs for a financially strapped cities—even many critics of current U.S. foreign policy expressed anger at peaceful civil disobedients over the expense and disruption they caused, implying that the value of public opinion and protest should be measured against its dollar cost.15 Together these phenomena suggest a transformation of American liberal democracy into a political and social form for which we do not yet have a name, a form organized by a combination of neoliberal governmentality and imperial world politics, shaped in the short run by global economic and security crises. They indicate a form in which an imperial agenda is able to take hold precisely because the domestic soil has been loosened for it by neoliberal rationality.

This form is not fascism or totalitarian as we have known them historically, nor are these labels likely to prove helpful in identifying or criticizing it.16 Rather, this is a political condition in which the substance of many of the significant features of constitutional and representative democracy have been gutted, jettisoned, or end-run, even as they continue to be promulgated ideologically, serving as a foil and shield for their undoing and for the doing of death elsewhere. These features include civil liberties equally distributed and protected; a press and other journalistic media minimally free from corporate ownership on one side and state control on the other; uncorrupted and unbought elections; quality public education oriented, inter alia, to producing the literacies relevant to informed and active citizenship; government openness, honesty, and accountability; a judiciary modestly insulated from political and commercial influence; separation of church and state; and a foreign policy guided at least in part by the rationale of protecting these domestic values. None of these constitutive elements of liberal democracy was ever fully realized in its short history—they have always been compromised by a variety of economic and social powers, from white supremacy to capitalism. And liberal democracies in the First World have always required other peoples to pay—politically, socially, and economically—for what these societies have enjoyed; that is, there has always been a colonially and imperially inflected gap between what has been valued in the core and what has been required from the periphery. So it is important to be precise here. Ours is not the first time in which elections have been bought, manipulated, and even engineered by the courts, the first time the press has been slavish to state and corporate power, the first time the United States has launched an aggressive assault on a sovereign nation or threatened the entire world with its own weapons of mass destruction.

What is unprecedented about this time is the extent to which basic principles and institutions of democracy are becoming nothing other than ideological shells concealing their opposite as well as the extent to which these principles and institutions even as values are being abandoned by large parts of the American population. Elements in this transformation include the development of the most secretive government in fifty years (the gutting of the Freedom of Information Act was one of the quiet early accomplishments of the G. W. Bush administration, the “classified” status of its more than 1,000 contracts with Halliburton one of its more recent); the plumping of corporate wealth combined with the reduction of social spending for limiting the economic vulnerability of the poor and middle classes; a bought, consolidated, and muffled press that willingly cooperates in its servitude (emblematic in this regard is the Judith Miller (non)scandal, in which the star New York Times journalist wittingly reported Pentagon propaganda about Iraqi WMDs as journalistically discovered fact); and intensified policing in every corner of American life— airports, university admissions offices, mosques, libraries, workplaces— a policing undertaken both by official agents of the state and by an interpellated citizenry.

A potentially permanent “state of emergency” combined with an infinitely expandable rhetoric of patriotism overtly legitimates undercutting the Bill of Rights and legitimates as well abrogation of conventional democratic principles in setting foreign policy, principles that include respect for nation-state sovereignty and reasoned justifications for war. But behind these rhetorics there is another layer of discourse facilitating the dismantling of liberal democratic institutions and practices: a governmentality of neoliberalism that eviscerates nonmarket morality and thus erodes the root of democracy in principle at the same time that it raises the status of profit and expediency as the criteria for policy making. There is much that is disturbing in the emergence of neoliberal governmentality and a great deal more work to do in theorizing its contribution to the organization and possibilities in current and future political life in the United States. In particular, as I suggested at the outset of this essay, filling in the contemporary political picture would require mapping the convergences and tensions between a (nonpartisan) neoliberal governmentality on the one hand and the specific agendas of Clintonian centrists and Reagan-Bush neoconservatives on the other. It would require exploring the continued efficacy of political rhetorics of morality and principle as neoliberalism voids the substance of and undercuts the need for extramarket morality.

It would require discerning what distinguishes neoliberal governmentality from old-fashioned corporatism and old-fashioned political realism. It would require examining the contradictory political imperatives delivered by the market and set as well by the tensions between nationstate interests and globalized capitalism indifferent to states and sovereignty. And it would require examining the points at which U.S. imperial policies converge with and diverge from or even conflict with neoliberal governmentality.

By way of conclusion, however, I leave aside these questions to reflect briefly on the implications for the Left of neoliberalism’s erosion of liberal democracy. While leftists of the past quarter century were rarely as antagonistic to liberal democracy as the Old Left, neither did we fully embrace it; at times we resented and railed against it, and certainly we harbored an aim to transform it into something else—social democracy or some form of radical democracy. So the Left is losing something it never loved, or at best was highly ambivalent about. We are also losing a site of criticism and political agitation—we criticized liberal democracy not only for its hypocrisy and ideological trickery but also for its institutional and rhetorical embedding of bourgeois, white, masculinist, and heterosexual superordination at the heart of humanism. Whatever loose identity we had as a Left took shape in terms of a differentiation from liberalism’s willful obliviousness to social stratification and injury that were glossed and hence secured by its formal juridical categories of liberty and equality.

Still, liberalism, as Gayatri Spivak once wrote in a very different context, is also that which one “cannot not want” (given the other historical possibilities, given the current historical meaning of its deprivation). Even here, though, the desire is framed as roundabout and against itself, as Spivak’s artful double negative indicates. It indicates a dependency we are not altogether happy about, an organization of desire we wish were otherwise. What might be the psychic/social/intellectual implications for leftists of losing this vexed object of attachment? What are the possible trajectories for a melancholic incorporation of that toward which one is openly ambivalent; or perhaps even hostile, resentful, rebellious?\

Freud posits melancholy as occasioned by ambivalence, though the ambivalence may be more unconsciously sustained than I am suggesting is the case for the Left’s relationship to liberal democracy. More precisely, Freud’s focus in theorizing melancholy is love that does not know or want to avow its hostility, whereas the task before us is to consider hostility that does not know or want to avow its love or dependency. Still, Freud’s thinking about melancholia remains useful here as a theory of loss amid ambivalent attachment and dependence and a theory of identity formation at the site of an ungrievable passion or attachment. It reminds us to consider how left melancholia about liberal democracy would not just be a problematic affect but would constitute a formation of the Left itself.

Incorporating the death of a loathed object to which one was nonetheless attached often takes the form of acting out the loathed qualities of the object. I once had an acquaintance whose muchdespised and abusive father died. While my friend overtly rejoiced at his passing, in the ensuing months she engaged in extraordinary outbursts of verbal and physical abuse toward friends and colleagues, even throwing things at them as she had described her father throwing household objects during her childhood. Another friend buried, after years of illness, a childish, hysterical, histrionic, and demanding mother, one who relentlessly produced herself as a victim amid her own aggressive demands. Relieved as my friend was to have done with this parent, what should emerge over the following year but exactly such tendencies in her own relationships? So this is one danger: that we would act out to keep alive those aspects of the political formation we are losing, that we would take up and perform liberal democracy’s complacencies, cruelties, or duplicities, stage them in our own work and thinking. This behavior would issue in part from the need to preserve the left identity and project that took shape at the site of liberal democracy, and in part from ambivalence about liberal democracy itself. In response to the loss of an object both loved and loathed, in which only the loathing or contempt is avowed, melancholy sustains the loved object, and continues to provide a cover for the love—a continued means of disavowing it—by incorporating and performing the loathsomeness.

There are other ways ambivalently structured loss can take shape as melancholic, including the straightforward possibility of idealizing a lost object as it was never idealized when alive. Straightforward, perhaps, but not simple, for this affect also involves remorse for a past of not loving the object well enough and self-reproach for ever having wished for its death or replacement. As idealization fueled by guilt, this affect also entails heightened aggression toward challenges or challengers to the idealization. In this guilt, anxiety, and defensiveness over the loss of liberal democracy, we would feel compelled to defend basic principles of liberalism or simply defend liberalism as a whole in a liberal way, that is, we would give up being critical of liberalism and, in doing so, give up being left. Freud identifies this surrender of identity upon the death of an ambivalent object as the suicidal wish in melancholia,17 a wish abetted in our case by a more general disorientation about what the Left is or stands for today. Evidence for such a surrender in the present extends from our strikingly unnuanced defenses of free speech, privacy, and other civil liberties to the staging of antiwar protests as “patriotic” through the iconography of the American flag. Often explained as what the Left must do when public discourse moves rightward, such accounts presume a single political continuum, ranged from extreme left to extreme right, in which liberals and conservatives are nothing more than the moderate versions of the extremes (communists and fascists). Not only does the model of the continuum reduce the variety of political possibility in modernity to matters of degree rather than kind, it erases the distinctiveness of a left critique and vision. Just as today’s neoliberals bear little in common with traditional conservatives, so the Left has traditionally stood for a set of values and possibilities qualitatively different from those of welfare state liberals. Times of alliance and spheres of overlap obviously exist, but a continuum does not capture the nature of these convergences and tactical linkages any better than it captures the differences between, for example, a liberal commitment to rights-based equality and a left commitment to emancipating the realm of production, or between a liberal enthusiasm for the welfare state and a left critique of its ideological and regulatory dimensions. So the idea that leftists must automatically defend liberal political values when they are on the ropes, while sensible from a liberal perspective, does not facilitate a left challenge to neoliberalism if the Left still wishes to advocate in the long run for something other than liberal democracy in a capitalist socioeconomic order.

Of course, there are aspects of liberal democracy that the Left has come to value and incorporate into its own vision of the good society—for example, an array of individual liberties that are largely unrelated to the freedom from domination promised by transforming the realm of production. But articulating this renewed left vision differs from defending civil liberties in liberal terms, a defense that itself erases a left project as it consigns it to something outside those terms. Similarly, patriotism and flag-waving are surely at odds with a left formulation of justice, even as love of America, represented through icons other than the flag or through narratives other than “supporting the troops,” might well have a part in this formulation. Finally, not only does defending liberal democracy in liberal terms sacrifice a left vision, but this sacrifice discredits the Left by tacitly reducing it to nothing more than a permanent objection to the existing regime. It renders the Left a party of complaint rather than a party with an alternative political, social, and economic vision.

Still, if we are slipping from liberalism to fascism, and if radical democracy or socialism is nowhere on the political horizon, don’t we have to defend liberal democratic institutions and values? Isn’t this the lesson of Weimar? I have labored to suggest that this is not the right diagnosis of our predicament: it does not grasp what is at stake in neoliberal governmentality—which is not fascism—nor on what grounds it might be challenged. Indeed, the left defense of the welfare state in the 1980s, which seemed to stem from precisely such an analysis—“if we can’t have socialism, at least we should preserve welfare state capitalism”—backfired from just such a misdiagnosis. On the one hand, rather than articulating an emancipatory vision that included the eradication rather than regulation of poverty, the Left appeared aligned with big government, big spending, and misplaced compassion for those construed as failing to give their lives proper entrepreneurial shape. On the other hand, the welfare state was dismantled on grounds that had almost nothing to do with the terms of liberal democracy and everything to do with neoliberal economic and political rationality. We are not simply in the throes of a right-wing or conservative positioning within liberal democracy but rather at the threshold of a different political formation, one that conducts and legitimates itself on different grounds from liberal democracy even as it does not immediately divest itself of the name. It is a formation that is developing a domestic imperium correlative with a global one, achieved through a secretive and remarkably agentic state; through corporatized media, schools, and prisons; and through a variety of technologies for intensified local administrative, regulatory, and police powers. It is a formation made possible by the production of citizens as individual entrepreneurial actors across all dimensions of their lives, by the reduction of civil society to a domain for exercising this entrepreneurship, and by the figuration of the state as a firm whose products are rational individual subjects, an expanding economy, national security, and global power.

This formation produces a twofold challenge for the Left. First, it compels us to consider the implications of losing liberal democracy and especially its implications for our own work by learning what the Left has depended on and demanded from liberal democracy, which aspects of it have formed the basis of our critiques of it, rebellions against it, and identity based on differentiation from it. We may also need to mourn liberal democracy, avowing our ambivalent attachment to it, our need for it, our mix of love and hostility toward it. The aim of this work is framed by the second challenge, that of devising intelligent left strategies for challenging the neoliberal political-economic formation now taking shape and an intelligent left countervision to this formation. Ahalf century ago, Marcuse argued that capitalism had eliminated a revolutionary subject (the proletariat) representing the negation of capitalism; consequently, he insisted, the Left had to derive and cultivate anticapitalist principles, possibilities, and agency from capitalism’s constitutive outside. That is, the Left needed to tap the desires— not for wealth or goods but for beauty, love, mental and physical well-being, meaningful work, and peace—manifestly unmet within a capitalist order and to appeal to those desires as the basis for rejecting and replacing the order. No longer could economic contradictions of capitalism inherently fuel opposition to it; rather, opposition had to be founded in an alternative table of values. Today, the problem Marcuse diagnosed has expanded from capitalism to liberal democracy: oppositional consciousness cannot be generated from liberal democracy’s false promises and hypocrisies. The space between liberal democratic ideals and lived realities has ceased to be exploitable, because liberal democracy itself is no longer the most salient discourse of political legitimacy and the good life. Put the other way around, the politically exploitable hollowness in formal promises of freedom and equality has largely vanished to the extent that both freedom and equality have been redefined by neoliberalism. Similarly, revealed connections between political and economic actors—not merely bought politicians but arrangements of mutual profiteering between corporate America and its political elite—do not incite outrage at malfeasance, corruption, or injustice but appear instead as a potentially rational set of linkages between state and economy. Thus, from the “scandal” of Enron to the “scandal” of Vice President Cheney delivering Iraq to Halliburton to clean up and rebuild, there is no scandal. There is only market rationality, a rationality that can encompass even a modest amount of criminality but also treats close state-corporate ties as a potentially positive value—maximizing the aims of each—rather than as a conflict of interest. 18 Similarly, even as the Bush administration fails to come up with WMDs in Iraq and fails to be able to install order let alone democracy there, such deficiencies are irrelevant to the neoliberal criteria for success in that military episode. Indeed, even the scandal of Bush’s installation as president by a politicized Supreme Court in 2000 was more or less ingested by the American people as business as usual, an ingestion that represents a shift from the expectation that the Supreme Court is independent of political influence to one that tacitly accepts its inclusion in the governmentality of neoliberalism. Similarly, John Poindexter, a key figure in the Iran-Contra affair and director of the proposed “Terrorism Information Awareness” program that would have put all Americans under surveillance, continued to have power and legitimacy at the Pentagon until the flap over the scheme to run a futures market on political violence in the Middle East. All three of these projects are instances of neoliberalism’s indifference to democracy; only the last forced Poindexter into retirement.

These examples suggest that not only liberal democratic principles but democratic morality has been largely eviscerated—in neoliberal terms, each of these “scandals” is framed as a matter of miscalculation or political maneuvering rather than by right and wrong, truth or falsehood, institutional propriety or impropriety. Consequently, the Left cannot count on revealed deception, hypocrisies, interlocking directorates, featherbedding, or corruption to stir opposition to the existing regime. It cannot count on the expectation that moral principle undergirds political action or even on consistency as a value by which to judge state practices or aims. Much of the American public appeared indifferent to the fact that both the Afghan and Iraqi regimes targeted by Bush had previously been supported or even built by earlier U.S. foreign policy. It also appeared indifferent to the touting of the “liberation” of Afghan women as one of the great immediate achievements of the overthrow of the Taliban while the overthrow of the Baath regime set into motion an immediately more oppressive regime of gender in Iraq. The inconsistency does not matter much, because political reasons and reasoning that exceed or precede neoliberal criteria have ceased to matter much. This is serious political nihilism, which no mere defense of free speech and privacy, let alone securing the right to gay marriage or an increase in the minimum wage, will reverse.

What remains for the Left, then, is to challenge emerging neoliberal governmentality in Euro-Atlantic states with an alternative vision of the good, one that rejects homo economicus as the norm of the human and rejects this norm’s correlative formations of economy, society, state, and (non)morality. In its barest form, this would be a vision in which justice would center not on maximizing individual wealth or rights but on developing and enhancing the capacity of citizens to share power and hence to collaboratively govern themselves. In such an order, rights and elections would be the background rather than token of democracy; or better, rights would function to safeguard the individual against radical democratic enthusiasms but would not themselves signal the presence or constitute the principle of democracy. Instead, a left vision of justice would focus on practices and institutions of popular power; a modestly egalitarian distribution of wealth and access to institutions; an incessant reckoning with all forms of power—social, economic, political, and even psychic; a long view of the fragility and finitude of nonhuman nature; and the importance of both meaningful activity and hospitable dwellings to human flourishing. However differently others might place the accent marks, none of these values can be derived from neoliberal rationality or meet neoliberal criteria for the good. The drive to develop and promulgate such a counterrationality—a different figuration of human beings, citizenship, economic life, and the political—is critical both to the long labor of fashioning a more just future and to the immediate task of challenging the deadly policies of the imperial American state.

Top Visited
Past week
Past month


Old News ;-)

[Nov 03, 2015] Booked #3 What Exactly Is Neoliberalism

Project MUSE - Neo-liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy

Neo-liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy

Wendy Brown

From: Theory & Event
Volume 7, Issue 1, 2003

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

For the American Left, the wake of 9/11, the War on Terrorism, practices of "homeland security," and the recent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq together produce a complex set of questions about what to think, what to stand for, and what to organize. These questions are contoured both by our diagnosis of the current orders of power and rule and by our vision of alternatives to these orders. This essay aims to contribute to our necessarily collaborative intellectual effort -- no single analysis can be comprehensive -- at diagnosing the present and formulating alternatives by reflecting on the political rationality taking shape in the U.S. over the past quarter century. It is commonplace to speak of the present regime in the United States as a neo-conservative one, and to cast as a consolidated "neo-con" project present efforts to intensify U.S. military capacity, increase U.S. global hegemony, dismantle the welfare state, retrench civil liberties, eliminate the right to abortion and affirmative action, re-Christianize the state, de-regulate corporations, gut environmental protections, reverse progressive taxation, reduce education spending while increasing prison budgets, and feather the nests of the rich while criminalizing the poor. I do not contest the existence of a religious-political project known as neo-conservatism nor challenge the appropriateness of understanding many of the links between these objectives in terms of a neo-conservative agenda. However, I want to background this agenda in order to consider our current predicament in terms of a neo-liberal political rationality, a rationality that exceeds particular positions on particular issues, and one that undergirds important features of the Clinton decade as well as the Reagan-Bush years. Further, I want to consider the way that this rationality is emerging as governmentality -- a mode of governance encompassing but not limited to the state, and one which produces subjects, forms of citizenship and behavior, and a new organization of the social. In ordinary parlance, neo-liberalism refers to the repudiation of Keynesian welfare state economics and the ascendance of the Chicago School of political economy -- von Hayek, Friedman, et al. In popular usage, neo-liberalism is equated with a radically free market: maximized competition and free trade achieved through economic de-regulation, elimination of tariffs, and a range of monetary and social policies favorable to business and indifferent toward poverty, social deracination, cultural decimation, long term resource depletion and environmental destruction. Neo-liberalism is most often invoked in relation to the Third World, referring either to NAFTA-like schemes that increase the vulnerability of poor nations to the vicissitudes of globalization or to International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies which, through financing packages attached to "restructuring" requirements, yank the chains of every aspect of Third World existence, including political institutions and social formations. For progressives, neo-liberalism is thus a pejorative not only because it conjures economic policies which sustain or deepen local poverty and the subordination of peripheral to core nations, but also because it is compatible with, and sometimes even productive of, authoritarian, despotic, paramilitaristic, and/or corrupt state forms and agents within civil society.While these referents capture an important effect of neo-liberalism, they also reduce neo-liberalism to a bundle of economic policies with inadvertent political and social consequences: they eschew the political rationality that both organizes these policies and reaches beyond the market. Moreover, these referents do not capture the neo in neo-liberalism, tending instead to treat the contemporary phenomenon as little more than a revival of classical liberal political economy. Finally, they obscure the specifically political register of neo-liberalism in the First World, that is, its powerful erosion of liberal democratic institutions and practices in places like the United States. My concern in this essay is with these neglected dimensions of neo-liberalism.One of the more incisive accounts of neo-liberal political rationality comes from a surprising quarter: Michel Foucault is not generally heralded as a theorist of liberalism or of political economy. Yet Foucault's 1978 and 1979 College de France lectures, still untranscribed and unpublished, consisted of presentations of his critical analysis of two groups of neo-liberal economists: the Ordo-liberal school in postwar Germany (so...

On Wendy Brown Public Seminar

Different scholars get curious about different things. It turns out that I'm curious about rather different things to Wendy Brown. Her new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (Zone Books, New York 2015) is very fine. Certainly the clearest and sharpest account of neoliberalism I have read so far. I'll try to summarize its insights into neoliberalism, but also pose some questions regarding the things about which I am curious that get no mention in it.

Let's start with an example. Brown discusses the 2003 Bremer Orders, issued by Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the United States and its allies defeated Saddam Hussein and occupied the country. The Bremer Orders appear at first blush to be a classic instance of neoliberal 'shock doctrine'. The Bremer Orders decreed the sell-off of state enterprises, the opening of Iraqi companies to foreign ownership, the restriction of labor rights and a capital-friendly tax regime.

Brown concentrates on Bremer Order 81, the prohibition of re-use of crop seeds of protected varieties. The Iraq seed bank, located in Abu Ghraib, did not survive the war. The United States government handed out genetically modified seed in 2004. Iraqi farmers would now be permanently bound to agribusiness companies such as Monsanto, Dow and DuPont. Agriculture has existed in Iraq since 8000BC, but never like this before.

Through a small 'legal tweak', a domain not previously incorporated into the global market economy became subject to the 'best practices' of agribusiness. Brown: "Thus, Order 81 epitomizes the neoliberal mobilization of law not to repress or punish, but to structure competition and effect 'the conduct of conduct.'" (148) Order 81 subordinates farming to a market 'reality principle'.

Brown's curiosity is about neoliberalism as a political rationality. As we shall see, it exceeds and even reverses some classic tenets of liberalism. "Neoliberalism is the rationality through which capitalism finally swallows humanity…." (44) Brown constructs a compelling case for the coherence of this political rationality as a force in the world. But she does so by not being curious about some other things along the way, and one might in turn be curious about how these other curious things and neoliberal political rationality might interact.

She is not curious about the relation between politics and war. Politics is a separate sphere in Brown. Quite a lot has to get bracketed off here to get down to Order 81 as a legal tweak, curious though that tweak may be. Nor is she curious about certain kinds of agency. It would appear that Order 81 was more or less drafted by agribusiness giant Monsanto, which had close ties to the Bush administration. Nor is she interested in the particular kind of business Monsanto represents.

This would be where the story invokes the particular things I am most curious about. Is Monsanto an example of 'capital' as traditionally understood, or is it some new kind of economic rationality? It is interesting to me that what is at the core of this story is patents on the germ lines of cereal crops. This is a kind of business based on making information a commodity, and controlling the physical product in which that information is embodied through law and coercion as much as through persuasion.

Hence to me it is a story about a new kind of ruling class, which elsewhere I call the vectoral class, whose power lies in the control not of the means of production but of information. As Peter Linebaugh shows so graphically in The London Hanged, the imposition of capitalist relations of production in England in the 18th century was as much a matter of coercion and violence as anything else.

So perhaps not surprisingly, the imposition of vectoralist relations of production are no less coercive. The thing I am curious about, but which Brown is not, is whether neoliberalism is a symptom of a mutation in the relations of production themselves. That might account for forms of law and politics that are "a meshing that exceeds the interlocking directorates or quid quo pro arrangements familiar from past iterations of capitalism." (149)

For Brown, neoliberalism is a political rationality, a "normative order of reason" (9), the "conduct of conduct." (21) Its effect is to convert the politics of democratic liberalism to an exclusively economic liberalism. Democracy is being hollowed out from within. Economic growth, capital accumulation, and competitive positioning become the sole project of the state.

Political rationality is not an intention of a power, not an ideology, or "material conditions." (115) It works through a "regime of truth." (115) "Political rationality is not an instrument of governmental practice, but rather the condition of possibility and legitimacy of its instruments, the field of normative reason from which governing is forged." (116) It constitutes subjects (homo economicus) and objects (populations). It is not the same as a discourse – there can be many and competing ones. Nor is it the same as governmentality, which means a shift away from the power of command and punishment. Political rationality does not originate with the state but does circulate through it. It isn't a normative form of reason so much as its implementation.

Perhaps the neoliberal renders moot a certain obsession in post-Marxist thought with the figure of The Political and of democracy as its ideal-type of procedure. In Agamben's Homo Sacer, there is an ambiguity as to whether the demos is the whole political body or the poor. In Rancière's Dissensus it is neither, but is rather the uncounted, the part that has no part. In Balibar's Equiliberty equality and freedom are imposed by the revolt of the excluded in a never-ending struggle. It is curious to me that rare are the moments when anyone stops to question whether politics even exists, or whether like God, the Political is a myth, one about to go the way of Zoroaster in an era when the one true faith of the market is becoming the hegemonic faith of the world.

There's no shortage of rear-guard actions by believers in The Political, for whom neoliberalism is a kind of heresy, an economic god masquerading as a political one. There's attention to widening 'inequality' to the vulgarity of commercialism, the endless cycle of booms and crashes in a financialized economy. Strikingly, liberals and Marxists alike all assume this is all still covered by the concept of 'capitalism'. There's a general consensus that capital's power has been rising, that labor suffered defeats, if rather less attention as to why and how. What made it possible for the ruling class to – quite literally – route around the power of labor and the social movements? It is striking how rarely the infrastructure of twenty-first century political economy ever comes up.

In Brown what we get is a clear articulation of a kind of fault line in political rationalities, but not much as to why it might have happened. Neoliberalism enlarges the terrain of what can be 'economized.' Contra classical liberalism, there is only homo economicus, which is then rethought as 'human capital.' There are only kinds of capital competing with each other, and these are imagined on the model of finance capital, as an unequal field of speculative units attempting to accumulate and augment their value. Neoliberal 'liberty' is economic, not political. The old values of equality, liberty fraternity are displaced by human capital, which is not even a humanism any more. What the young Marx called the "true realm of freedom" no longer beckons.

Brown: "Whether through social media 'followers', 'likes', and 'retweets', through rankings and ratings for every activity and domain, or through more directly monetized practices, the pursuit of education, training, leisure, reproduction, consumption, and more are increasingly configured as strategic decisions and practices related to enhancing the self's future value." (34) But notice the slippage here. This is about games and strategies, not human capital. As I proposed in Gamer Theory, this is a model of subjectivity in which we are all gamers, of which the speculator is just one model. Perhaps it is about the arrival of a kind of tertiary regime of information as value, where sign-value controls exchange value controls use value. This development would not then be well captured by the concept of neoliberalism to the extent that aspects of it are neither political nor economic.

Still, to the extent that an aspect of the present still appears political and economic, Brown shows how the neoliberal subject is no longer that of Smith, with its trucking, bartering and exchanging, nor a Benthemite maximizing of pleasure and minimizing of pain. The subject is now supposed to be a wise investor, calculator and networker, or as I would put it, a gamer, for as Brown acknowledges, "this does not always take monetary form." (37) Even if she is not curious as to what form it actually takes. There's not much attention here to the digital infrastructure undergirding the gamer-subject, "organizing its dating, mating, creative, and leisure practices in value-enhancing ways" (177)

Neoliberal political rationality is no longer about Kantian subjects who are ends in themselves and a value in themselves. The human is disposable. Here I am curious as to in what sense neoliberalism is actually a neofascism, a petit-bourgeois culture in which the ruling class buys-off the middle class through the repression of those below it. Fascism hardly appears at all in Brown's account, in which liberal democracy is taken to be the normal model of modern politics.

But what if we took fascism as the norm rather than an historically quarantined exception? This would at least make sense of the casual acceptance not just of inequality but the possibility of the extinction of those units of 'human capital' that fail to successfully compete. It would also bring us closer to the exercise of state violence in our time and to social movements like #BlackLivesMatter, for whom the state remains a repressive apparatus of violence above all else.

To see everything as capital is a petit-bourgeois worldview. Labor disappears as a category. It is Marx inverted: for Marx capital was dead labor. For neoliberalism, labor is extinct and there is only capital. Supposedly there are many capitals, all competing with each other. There's no foundation for citizenship, for a human capital can go bankrupt and cease to exist. (Unless of course it is 'too big to fail'-a telling exception). There is no public good and no commons. Perhaps, when Donald Trump is a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, there is no politics, either. Or as I would read it, after Benjamin, we have again our old enemy the aestheticization of the political.

For Brown, the mission of the neoliberal state is to help economic growth, competitiveness and credit rating. Actually, I wonder of that is really the case. Perhaps 'austerity' is not about growth at all, but maintaining the transfer of wealth upwards in the absence of growth. It might help to be a bit more curious as to how much of neoliberalism is not a rationality at all but an ideology. Following in the steps of Foucault, Brown is interested in how neoliberal rationality is a regime of truth.

Certainly in its own terms it is a (semi) coherent set of norms for economic management. But perhaps the Nietzschian flavor is too strong here. I would not want to forego the tools with which to show its incoherence, irrationality and ideological special-pleading for an emergent ruling class, based on truth-claims made with methods outside its orbit, and derived from the struggles against it.

Undoing the Demos is among other things a reconstructive reading of Foucault's lectures on biopolitics as an account of how liberalism became neoliberalism in the postwar years. This is not Foucault at his best. Here he is doing something close to old-fashioned intellectual history. Brown: "… neoliberalism for Foucault was intellectually conceived and politically implemented." (50) And yet both he and Brown want to make claims for this as something more than an ideological and superstructural development.

As Brown candidly acknowledges, parts of the lectures read as an "anti-Marxist rant," even as parts might lend themselves to a less than cautious reader to a sort of "neo-Marxist critique." (55) But it can never be such. Nowhere does Foucault ask what transformations in the forces of production, putting pressure on the relations of production, might generate such a break in political and ideological forms. In that sense the lectures remain what Poulantzas would have called a regional study. The attempt is rather to make the political into a superstructure, indeed the superstructure.

In Brown's account, Foucault begins with the question of limits to state power, with rights as a constraint on sovereignty, but along side which there was a second principle of limit: the market as not just an alternate form of organization but also of a certain truth: "market veridiction." The neoliberal turn pushes rights aside and makes the market not just a limit to the state but its very principle of operation.

Unlike Marxists, Foucault is not interested in property rights, the occlusion of class by nation, or the state as ruling class in committee. Instead, the focus is on the market as truth and limit to government. For Foucault, neoliberalism emerges out of a crisis of liberalism – and in this he accepts its own narrative about itself. Neoliberalism does not want to be perceived as a response to the crisis of capitalism; it wants to present itself as a response to the failure of the state.

Here Foucault does some old-style intellectual history, linking the Freiberg school and the Chicago school with Hayek as the link between. The former contributes idea of state's role in fostering competition, latter idea of human capital. Interestingly, Hayek is also the person who, whatever his ideological commitments, really thought about the problem of information in economic theory. But that would be to connect these intellectual developments to what was happening with the forces of production at the time, whereas Foucault wants to think The Political as autonomous and primary.

Brown: "Neoliberalism is not about the state leaving the economy alone. Rather, neoliberalism activates the state on behalf of the economy not to undertake economic functions or to intervene in economic effects, but rather to facilitate economic competition and growth and to economize the social, or, as Foucault puts it, to 'regulate society by the market.'" (62) The missing concept there for me is information. It is no accident that neoliberalism has its moment in the postwar period, when the infrastructure of command and control through information that had developed during the war for managing complex systems was extended out of the military industrial complex into civilian industry.

Hayek had said that only the price signal could function as a rational management of information in a complex economy, and yet as Ronald Coase showed, market transactions are not free. In cases where the cost of market transaction outweighed its efficiency, the nonmarket organizational form of the firm would prevail. The corporation emerged as a truly enormous nonmarket form of resource allocation. The state is called upon to perform all sorts of functions to enable these behemoths to coexist and survive. Meanwhile, the ideological fixation on 'competition' covered up the lack of it.

For neoliberalism, "the economy is at once model, object and project." (62) Precisely because it can only be an artificial construct at this point. Civil society seems to have worked its charms on Foucault. He could not see the other side of the picture. Looked at from the point of view of neoliberalism, the state has to become more like the market. (And one can celebrate or decry that proposition). But one can also see it the other way around: the market has to be propped up and kept going by the state. Ever since Kenneth Arrow, nobody could much believe that the market was always an optimal allocator of resources.

The developed world became the over-developed world. Commodification ran up against the limits of what it could claim to organize efficiently or effectively. Whole chunks of social life had to be hacked off and fed into the flames to keep the steam up. Commodification moved on from land to things to pure information. A whole infrastructure was put into place, of information vectors, backed up by the extension of the old partial rights into a comprehensive set of private property rights called 'intellectual property'. This for me would be a sketch of a story that makes sense of neoliberalism.

If 'economy' is not a static, unmoving thing in the postwar period, neither is the 'state.' Both are transformed by the same techne. As Sandra Braman shows, the functions of the state start to work differently when what the state runs on is information. If there's a connection between state and private organizational units in the postwar period, it is that they both run on the same computational infrastructure, from the mainframe era to the PC to today's so-called cloud computing. One might wonder, pace Kittler, if these were the vector more of military rationalities than of market ones. This would help make sense of an aporia in Foucault and Brown: that the neoliberal subject is not only autonomous and self-managing, but also obeys commands. Autonomy is constrained. Initiative is welcome but only in fulfilling a task commanded from without. This is the essence of military organization.

One might also wonder if it is not at least in part from the generalization of military models that inequality becomes naturalized and normalized. It is certainly the case that another component of this, as Brown astutely observes, is a move away from the category of exchange to one of competition. In bourgeois economics, all exchanges are equal, including that of labor and capital. Barring a few outlier situations, the price at which an exchange takes place will tend to equilibrium. Or so it was once believed. Competition implies not equality but inequality. Some are just better than others and deserve more. It is as ideological and self-proving a nostrum as exchange, of course.

As already mentioned, capital replaces labor entirely as the agent of a worldview. There are only capitals, including human capital. All subjects are supposed to be entrepreneurs of the self. One can connect this to the observations of Franco Beradi about the disappearance of the figure of alienation. It is as if nothing is taken from the subject; its all about what the subject can get for itself. This entrepreneurial quality has less and less to do with production. Its not about trucking and bartering in things – except perhaps for Brooklyn's retro-hipsters who want not to be traders of information but to make actual stuff again, like organic beard-oil. That counter-trend might be the sign that petit-bourgeois culture now knows itself to be playing a game of trading information and attempting to compete in that game for surplus information, which can be traded in turn for money and in turn again for things.

Success at this game becomes the only measure of success: "those who act according to other principles are not simply irrational, but refuse 'reality.'" (67) It is a wild and unpredictable reality. The market is now frankly acknowledged to be convulsive. "The state must support the economy, organizing its conditions and facilitating its growth, and is thereby made responsible for the economy without being able to predict, control, or offset its effects."

The politics that goes with this is a centrist extremism. You can be for gay marriage or for prayer in schools, but the market is not to be questioned. The market is not there to enable the good life; all of life is to be sacrificed to keeping the market going. Brown: "Where others saw only economic policy, Foucault discerned a revolutionary and comprehensive political rationality , one that drew on classical liberal language and concerns while inverting many of liberalism's purposes and channels of accountability." (67)

Brown points to rather different limitations to Foucault's thinking than I would. For Brown, his view is state-centric. There's only the state and its subjects. For Brown, it is the citizen who is excluded here (rather than labor, praxis.) Foucault tends to see things from the point of view of power. He is a little too fascinated with neoliberal 'freedom'. There's no subtending world of exploitation. Brown questions "his acceptance of the neoliberal claim that the economy constitutes the limit of government for liberalism and neoliberalism, that it must not be touched because it cannot be known." (77)

For Foucault, homo economicus as a man of interest is a constant, but for Brown, self-interest does not quite capture the latest iteration. "Homo economicus is made, not born, and operates in a context replete with risk, contingency, and potentially violent changes, from burst bubbles and capital or currency meltdowns to wholesale industry dissolution." (84) To me this is the subjectivity of the gamer, or the 'Army of One.'

Homo politicus is not really a figure for Foucault, or perhaps just an episodic one. He sees things from the pov of state power. Brown: "Still, it is strange that sovereignty for Foucault remains so closely allied to the state and never circulates through the people – it's almost as if he forgot to cut off the king's head in political theory." (86)

For Brown, homo politicus is the main casualty of neoliberalism. She explains this via the just-so story of political theory, for which homo politicus is something of an ironic founding myth. "In the beginning, there was homo politicus…." (87) Humans live together as political animals, where politics means the capacity for association, language, law, and ethical judgment (but not, as Steigler notes, techne).

Aristotle is quite candid about the prerequisites for political life: slavery and private property. The household is at the same time the model of rule and site of relations of production. But Aristotle is a bit troubled by household production, which might ground not homo politicus, but another kind of figure. There's two different kinds of production, one natural, one unnatural. Unnatural wealth is accumulated for its own sake. Proper acquisition concerns the household; the improper the marketplace and money. The former has limits and grants leisure, the latter becomes an end in itself.

No mention is made here of war, which might ground the right to citizenship in the first place, and determine the extent of those rights. Nor is any mention made of techne. How is political communication actually and materially conducted? Are not the agora and rhetoric technologies of the polis? There is also a bit of an elision between the classical concept of man as political and the modern one, skipping the intervening millennia in which the leisure of the man of means was not for politics but for God.

Even modern liberal political thought respects the foundational fiction of homo politicus. In Smith we are not exactly political animals, but creatures of truck and barter – of exchange. But we're not creatures of pure self interest. We might be homo economicus already in Smith, but also creatures of deliberation, restraint and self-direction – in a word, sovereignty. The rise of homo economicus is not incompatible with a presumed power of the political over economic. The state could choose mercantilism or free trade, for example. Smith was intent on proving why the latter was better state policy.

In Locke there is more strain between homo politicus and homo economicus. The danger of the latter is made clearer in Rousseau, who is perhaps the main source of the investment in The Political that persists in critical theory today. Rousseau is the prophet of the return of homo politicus in the form of popular sovereignty rising up against self-interest. In Hegel this becomes the universality of the state versus the mere particularity of civil society. The young Marx begins with the unrealized nature of sovereign political man. Mill offers a world of little sovereigns, choosing their own means and ends. Here the boundary between state and liberty is a political question. The state is beginning to recede as guarantor of liberty, equality, fraternity. It becomes rather the manager of what Foucault calls the biopolitical. But homo politicus still lingers in subjects relation to itself, even in Freud, for whom the superego is the politician of the self.

This thumbnail account of the mythic history of homo politicus is for Brown a story which shows the novelty of neoliberalism: "the vanquishing of homo politicus by contemporary neoliberal rationality, the insistence that there are only rational market actors in every sphere of human existence, is novel, indeed revolutionary, in the history of the west." (99)

Brown shows that there's a slippage in neoliberal though about the subject, between the individual and the family. Homo economicus is still imaged as a male head of a household, or at least one with the benefits of such a household. He may no longer have slaves, but someone tends the kids and does the dishes. The family remains a nonmarket sphere that cannot be economized. It's a space of needs, inter-dependence, love, loyalty, community and care – where it is women who take care of all that 'stuff.' I might venture that for all its patriarchal faults, the family is the minimal unit of communism, not as a utopia of course, but strictly understood as a domain of shared or pooled resources outside of both exchange and even gift –as both Karatani and Graeber might see it.

Neoliberalism puts pressure on the family, and in particular on 'women's work'. "Either women align their own conduct with this truth, becoming homo economicus, in which case the world becomes uninhabitable, or women's activities and bearing as femina domestica remain the unabowed glue for a world whose governing principle cannot hold it together…." (104) Neoliberalism intensifies gender subordination, not least because its demolition of social services leaves women propping up more than half the sky. Women'a domestic labor is incidentally the only time labor really appears as a category in Brown's text.

If the point of liberalism was liberty, the point of neoliberalism is, perversely enough, sacrifice. "This is the central paradox, perhaps even the central ruse, of neoliberal governance: the neoliberal revolution takes place in the name of freedom – free markets, free countries, free men – but tears up freedom's grounding in sovereignty for states and subjects alike." (108) One is 'free' only to submit to market 'discipline.'

Brown: "But when citizenship loses its distinctly political morphology and with it the mantle of sovereignty, it loses not only its orientation toward the public and towards values enshrined by, say, constitutions, it also ceases to carry the Kantian autonomy underpinning individual sovereignty." (109) 'Enshrined' is a curious word-choice there. For believers in the political, neoliberalism really does appear either as an attack on the sacred or a heretical form of it.

It is, as Foucault predicted in a rather different context, the end of Man as sacred stand-in for the hidden God. No longer are people able to pursue the good life in their own way, as nothing adheres to 'man' other than as human capital, as servant of the market. It is, for Brown, "an existential disappearance of freedom from the world." (110) When Weber attacked the iron cage of rationality and Marx the commodity as reification, both presumed a subjectivity outside of both rationality and commodity, although I am not sure that in the case of Marx that subject was necessarily a political one. I think for Marx that subject was labor, in its capacity to know and imagine and transform the world. And I am not sure that this other agency of Marx is erased by neoliberalism. It is more contained by a vectoral technology, in which all of labor's agency is siphoned off as 'creativity' and captured as intellectual property for a new iteration of a ruling class that may not be strictly capitalist any more.

Brown thinks that Foucault's sources for thinking the political rationality of neoliberalism are Max Weber and Hebert Marcuse. From Weber he takes the distinction between the rationality of means and ends, which was developed into a whole critique of modernity in Adorno and Horkheimer. In Marcuse, the object is more specifically a technological rationality, extending out of capitalist relations of production and colonizing other parts of life.

Here Foucault's project is an explicitly anti-Marxist one. He restores the autonomy of the political that is questioned in Marcuse, but in the form of a rationality thought to extend beyond mere ideology. "For Foucault, political rationalities are world-changing, hegemonic orders of normative reason, generative of subjects, markets, states, law, jurisprudence, and their relations." (121) Brown gives a bit more weight to agency in her version, where the agent is 'capital', but not much is said about its historical form, other than that it is now 'financial'. We're not told at any point how or why it became so.

One hint at what's missing here is Brown's account of governance, which she thinks converged with neoliberalism but is not of it. Governance is the move from hierarchy to network, from institution to process, from command to self-organization. As I suggested earlier, this is actually not that far removed from modern military organizational forms. And it shares with it an infrastructure of communication technology that makes information the key to both control and autonomy. This is contemporary logistics. The political is made technical – as indeed Marcuse had already suggested. There is a devolution of responsibility to smaller and weaker units. "Thus, responsibilized individuals are required to provide for themselves in the context of powers and contingencies radically limiting their ability to do so." (134)

A particularly interesting part of Undoing the Demos is Brown's discussion of law. For her, "… neoliberal law is the opposite of planning. It facilitates the economic game, but does not direct or contain it." (67) her example is the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This famously gives corporations the standing of people with unqualified free speech rights, and mobilizes even the constitution for the project of a neoliberal makeover of governance.

In Brown's reading, Justice Kennedy's decision in that case, writing for the majority, is essentially arguing that speech is like capital, and thus should be another domain of unfettered competition. Curiously, while for Brown, Kennedy's proposition makes speech like capital, what speech is for Kennedy is information. This once again appears as the elided concept. It is curious that it shows up in nearly all of Browns quotations from the decision. Kennedy writes of the right of citizens to "use information to reach consensus." (157) He in concerned with "where a person may get his or her information." (160) Of situations where one is "deprived of information." (165)

For Kennedy, speech is innovative and productive, which is a bit like capital, but are also attributes of information in a commodity economy in which it has become a commodity. Hence while Brown stresses that in Kennedy's decision "There is only capital, and whether it is human, corporate, financial or derivative…" (161) this is a metaphorical leap which steps over the key word: information. And it is information that composes the means of control and accumulation of all the leading forms of corporate power now.

Information is what Monsanto and Wall st have in common, and have in common too with the tech companies, the drug companies, even Walmart, which is essentially a logistics company rather than a retailer. Corporations compete with their brandtheir supply chain management, rather than by trucking and bartering things, let alone making them. Of course there are still things for sale in the market, but never without their wrappings of information, not to mention the end user agreements protecting their proprietary code.

It is from the point of view of information that it makes perfect sense for corporations to have untrammelled rights to speech, for corporations 'compete' with, as and for information. This is the point of view from which it even makes perverse sense to Kennedy that corporations are a disadvantaged minority group in that the state curtails their speech rights in elections.

That the postwar commodity economy, having run out of things to sell, has to sell information is also a good way of making sense of the 'neoliberal' turn in education. Business now thinks it has the tools to take on, and make money from, things that just could not even be quantified with the old Fordist forces of production. In the neoliberal 'truth' regime, no amount of evidence will convince anyone that the charter schools and for-profit colleges are doing a mediocre to terrible job of this.

Brown's focus is on the decline of liberal arts in higher education. College is now about 'return on investment' and "removing quaint concerns with developing the person or the citizen." Here Brown strikes something of a nostalgic note. "Once about developing intelligent, thoughtful elites and reproducing culture… higher education now produces human capital." (24) Anyone attentive to the aggressive purging from higher education of suspected reds during the cold war could question that rosy assessment of its recent past.

A liberal arts education was one appropriate to free men, not slaves. It lifted a student's sights from the immediate and local to wider horizons. For Brown, the extension of such an education beyond a narrow elite was a significant achievement of postwar America. But one might wonder here, as in the ancient context, how citizenship is connected to war. The GI Bill could be seen as a way of recognizing and also defusing the demands the citizen-soldier makes on the polity it has risked itself defending. One might question how much this concern for educating citizens was a cold war project, sustained by the Soviet 'menace'. And one might also ask if it already had an economic rationale, in turning out labor with the broader 'skill set' for a more complex and increasingly information-driven economy.

Perhaps it is also worth recalling that the postwar university was a complex beast. In part it delivered a broadened liberal arts education. But it was also the heart of the military-industrial complex, from which today's military-entertainment complex was born. (Not to mention a parallel medical-industrial one). From wartime through to the seventies, the state funded basic research, much of it on the Pentagon's dime, contributing to a common stock of innovation. The crucial change was to allow universities to own the intellectual property they created, which put places like Stanford and MIT into the information business in an unprecedented way.

Perhaps it is because I am not a product of it that I am not so enamored of the myth of the great American university. It is, after all, where one of the two branches of neoliberalism in Foucault's account actually came from. It was not just a safe-haven for humanisms, of the homo politicus variety and otherwise. Brown: "Even its critics cannot see the ways in which we have lost a recognition of ourselves as held together by literatures, images, religions, histories, myths, ideas, forms of reason, grammars, figures and languages. Instead, we are presumed to be held together by technologies and capital flows. That presumption, of course, is at risk of becoming true, at which point humanity will have entered its darkest chapter ever." (188) To me this sounds like that old discourse my New School colleague Mark Grief identifies as the 'crisis of man'.

How are the old 'figures and languages' not also technologies, or dependent on technologies? How was the postwar university not already held together by capital flows? Here I don't think the toolbox Brown has chosen leads to particularly sharp analysis. It may be the case that the "worldly development of mind and character are outmoded and have been displaced by another set of metrics: income streams, profitability, technological innovation and contribution to society construed narrowly as the development and promulgation of marketable goods and services." (190) But Brown has rather naturalized the postwar university and lost sight of how it too appeared as something alien and coercive in its time. On which see for example 'On the Poverty of Student Life.'

The disinvestment in higher education may be more explicable in terms of labor market requirements. Today's vectoral class has no need of the mass worker. Labor is bifurcated between a small core of highly skilled workers using or designing information technology and a vast precarious population whose jobs have been deskilled by the same information technology.

In sum, Brown's account holds capital constant and locates a break in the regime of political rationality. The latter has a certain primacy, as in Foucault, but is also to some extent emerging for capital. Capital is understood somewhat metaphorically, as a category that includes both actual corporations and forms of subjectivity. This capital is understood to be somewhat modified, to be financial capital, even if the only example – Monsanto – does not fit that category.

What we're missing is the possibility that the mutation in political rationality has a hidden driver – a transformation in the commodity form itself. The key ingredient in this transformation – information – actually appears in the margins the analysis, but can't rise to the level of a concept where there are only two regimes of subject-formation theorized: homo economicus and homo politicus. That not only politics and economics but also war, strategy and education are now all made of information, both as concept and real infrastructure, remains unthought.

Brown offers an excellent diagnosis of the what of neoliberalism, but not the why. Perhaps Foucault is of less help here than one might hope, and for quite specific historical reasons. He was among other things a late artifact of the cold war struggle around Marxism in the university. There was a time when his heroic dissent from PCF orthodoxies had relevance. Now that the latter has ceased to exist, it might be time to rethink the how the archive even of critical theory is no neutral resource but is itself a product of a historical struggles. Or perhaps I am just curious about different things.

Recommended Links

Google matched content

Softpanorama Recommended

Top articles


When Firms Become Persons and Persons Become Firms outstanding lecture - Boing Boing

Neoliberalism and Global Cinema Capital, Culture, and Marxist Critique - Google Books

Unemployed Negativity The Methlab of Democracy More on the Micropolitics of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism poisons everything How free market mania threatens education - and democracy -

Wendy Brown on Neoliberalism & modern Democracy - YouTube

Reclaiming Democracy: An Interview with Wendy Brown on Occupy, Sovereignty, and Secularism

5-12 Wendy Brown Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution The Majority Report with Sam Seder

The Trott Line Wendy Brown, Neoliberalism, and Why Taking Your Work Email Off Your Phone Will Not Save Democracy

Wendy Brown (political scientist) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2015 Beaverbrook Annual Lecture Wendy Brown Neoliberalism Contra Democracy Ten Theses Art History & Communication Studi

States without Nations Wendy Brown's Talk Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and the Nation-State

Wendy Brown Homo Economicus Art & Education

Neoliberalism Is Changing Our World Without Our Even Noticing PopMatters

An Interview with Wendy Brown Prodigal

Wendy Brown interview at Critical Legal Thinking

Posted on February 22, 2013 by stuartelden

Wendy Brown is interviewed at Critical Legal Thinking about her work and contemporary politics. Thanks to Andrew Burridge for the link.

Edgework Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics - Wendy Brown - Google Books

The Program in Critical Theory

Neoliberalism + Biopolitics Working Group | Neoliberalism and Marxist Legacies

Wendy Brown, Professor of Political Science, UC Berkeley, Michael Burawoy, Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley, Colleen Lye, Associate Professor of English, UC Berkeley and Richard Walker, Professor Emeritus of Geography, UC Berkeley

Guest post by Roger Foster Comments on Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution The Association fo

Foucault News

Wendy Brown-Governmentality in the Age of Neoliberalism (2014)

26 May 2014 by Clare O'Farrell

American Nightmare Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization

La clé des langues - Anglais - Neoliberalism, De-Democratization, Sacrifice

Neoliberalism Making a Boogeyman Out of a Buzzword Foundation for Economic Education

C21 Wendy Brown

Neoliberalism's Defeat of Democracy – Critical Inquiry

Interview with Wendy Brown Laney SPECTRA the Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Theory Archives

When Firms Become Persons and Persons Become Firms neoliberal jurisprudence in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores - 07 - 2015 - Eve

Wendy Brown - Sacrificial Citizenship Neoliberal Austerity Politics Committee on Globalization and Social Change

The Meaning of David Cameron - Richard Seymour - Google Books

Biopolitical Screens Image, Power, and the Neoliberal Brain - Pasi Väliaho - Google Books

Contemporary Political Theory - Undoing the demos Neoliberalism-'s stealth revolution

Restless Subjects in Rigid Systems Risk and Speculation in Millennial ... - Susanne Wegener - Google Books

Akrivoulis DE. Walled states at the intersection of Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism the 'march of freedom' and the collapse



Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy


War and Peace : Skeptical Finance : John Kenneth Galbraith :Talleyrand : Oscar Wilde : Otto Von Bismarck : Keynes : George Carlin : Skeptics : Propaganda  : SE quotes : Language Design and Programming Quotes : Random IT-related quotesSomerset Maugham : Marcus Aurelius : Kurt Vonnegut : Eric Hoffer : Winston Churchill : Napoleon Bonaparte : Ambrose BierceBernard Shaw : Mark Twain Quotes


Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law


Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

Classic books:

The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-MonthHow to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Hater’s Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite

Most popular humor pages:

Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society : Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society : Computer Humor Collection : BSD Logo Story : The Cuckoo's Egg : IT Slang : C++ Humor : ARE YOU A BBS ADDICT? : The Perl Purity Test : Object oriented programmers of all nations : Financial Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : The Most Comprehensive Collection of Editor-related Humor : Programming Language Humor : Goldman Sachs related humor : Greenspan humor : C Humor : Scripting Humor : Real Programmers Humor : Web Humor : GPL-related Humor : OFM Humor : Politically Incorrect Humor : IDS Humor : "Linux Sucks" Humor : Russian Musical Humor : Best Russian Programmer Humor : Microsoft plans to buy Catholic Church : Richard Stallman Related Humor : Admin Humor : Perl-related Humor : Linus Torvalds Related humor : PseudoScience Related Humor : Networking Humor : Shell Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2012 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2013 : Java Humor : Software Engineering Humor : Sun Solaris Related Humor : Education Humor : IBM Humor : Assembler-related Humor : VIM Humor : Computer Viruses Humor : Bright tomorrow is rescheduled to a day after tomorrow : Classic Computer Humor

The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D

Copyright © 1996-2021 by Softpanorama Society. was initially created as a service to the (now defunct) UN Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) without any remuneration. This document is an industrial compilation designed and created exclusively for educational use and is distributed under the Softpanorama Content License. Original materials copyright belong to respective owners. Quotes are made for educational purposes only in compliance with the fair use doctrine.

FAIR USE NOTICE This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to advance understanding of computer science, IT technology, economic, scientific, and social issues. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided by section 107 of the US Copyright Law according to which such material can be distributed without profit exclusively for research and educational purposes.

This is a Spartan WHYFF (We Help You For Free) site written by people for whom English is not a native language. Grammar and spelling errors should be expected. The site contain some broken links as it develops like a living tree...

You can use PayPal to to buy a cup of coffee for authors of this site


The statements, views and opinions presented on this web page are those of the author (or referenced source) and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of the Softpanorama society. We do not warrant the correctness of the information provided or its fitness for any purpose. The site uses AdSense so you need to be aware of Google privacy policy. You you do not want to be tracked by Google please disable Javascript for this site. This site is perfectly usable without Javascript.

Last modified: September, 11, 2020