Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Stating the Exception: Rhetoric and Neoliberal Governance during the Creation and Passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Stating the Exception: Rhetoric and Neoliberal Governance during the Creation and Passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008

Article excerpt

The German Ideology, written in 1846, argued that the key political debate of the time reflected particular relations of power rather than universal interests. According to its authors, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the contemporary "doctrine of the separation of powers" represented a deliberative compromise between different economic interests and not "the common interest of all the members of society" (65-66). As the old German monarchy and aristocracy became increasingly dependent on international commerce to maintain their wealth and power, they articulated a new political rationality that divided power along the axes of executive and legislative (parliamentary) branches. The question of the common good, Marx and Engels contended, was never on the table. A democracy that actually worked on behalf of common interests required "the abolition of the antagonism between the town and country" and a new set of political discourses contingent on the subjugated knowledge of the proletariat (Marx and Engels 69). Although Marx and Engels focus on the German state and the reformist tendencies of its Young Hegelians, the tension they identify between common interests as the constituent power of democracy and the constituted power of the state remains a central concern for the practice of sovereign power throughout world history (Bruner; Negri).

Not surprisingly, a similar problematic expresses itself today in the doctrine of neoliberalism. As the flows of global capitalism have transformed the antagonism between the town and country into a spatial metaphor that Hardt and Negri describe as the "biopolitical metropolis"-a political landscape defined by multiple and competing antagonisms that administer life from afar--neoliberalism has come to reign as the new political rationality of our times (Commonwealth 154). Like the balance of power thesis embedded in nineteenth-century democracies, neoliberalism constitutes or proscribes democratic power by representing itself as working on behalf of the common interests even as it centralizes wealth within the ruling classes (Harvey). Its class interestedness notwithstanding, support for the idea of neoliberalism, what Jodi Dean calls the "fantasy of free trade," has proliferated in the public vernacular as well as in public policy (56). Today an array of discourses--emanating from institutional spaces such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization to internet websites such as the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Free to Choose Network, and the Peter Schiff Show--tell citizens that the old Keynesian plan of large-scale government spending on everything from education to health care to job creation must be replaced. Rather than establish government institutions and regulatory agencies to foster a more secure and stable financial climate as the New Deal did, neoliberalism advocates a free market, hands-off approach to public policy. Society, the argument goes, has become increasingly dependent on international competition to stimulate economic growth, and thus any regulatory barrier to trade is an impediment to proper market operations.

But how different, really, is this opposition between neoliberalism and Keynesianism? Do these macroeconomic philosophies actually represent two agonistically opposed policy positions, or, like the debate surrounding political representation in the mid-nineteenth century, do these positions merely reflect two different instantiations of today's dominant cartography of power? According to a recent article by argumentation theorists David Hingstman and G. Thomas Goodnight, the latter situation is more likely the case. Noting that since the Great Recession of 2008 neoliberalism and Keynesianism have become increasingly articulated to right and left wing policy positions, Hingstman and Goodnight argue that the differences between these two macroeconomic philosophies "are considerably more ambiguous than claimed" (18). …

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