Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution

Article excerpt

WENDY BROWN Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution Zone Books, New York, 2015, 296 pp.

Wendy Brown's new book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (Zone Books, 2015) marks a rich and insightful contribution to the increasingly substantial social science literature that, for a number of years already, tries to pin down the nature and significance of neoliberalism. The present book produces a revised and extended set of arguments concerning the impact of neoliberalism on some of the foundational aspects of contemporary democracy, arguments that began to be developed in her previous work such as Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics (Princeton University Press, 2005).

Since "neoliberalism" itself is a notion that is both contested and at the same time used on a wide scale in academic and activist contexts, any such work is in need to first elaborate on the meaning that is deemed relevant. Indeed, as Brown herself reports in the opening chapter, there is a widespread predilection to understand neoliberalism mostly as a specific set of economic policies increasingly deployed over the last three decades, and to focus then on their perceived consequences on the unraveling welfare states. Such policies generally promote deregulation, liberalization, privatization and deficit reduction - commonly seen as the "Washington consensus" (policies promoted by the international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the Work Bank).

There are, writes Brown, at least four kinds of systemic effects of these economic policies over time. First, increased inequality. Economists such as Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman are vocal in presenting the converging data sets on the rise of inequality as measured across and within developed and developing countries. In and of itself, the study of the raising forms of inequality is a growing part of the debates on neoliberalism. The second effect is an extension of the dynamic of marketization, that is, of giving a monetary and exchange value to objects that were previously not deemed to have a trading potential (an example here would be the carbon emissions trading schemes established by various intergovernmental conventions). A third effect is the growing "corporate domination of political decisions", exemplified by the sheer costs of electoral campaigns and by the fact that, increasingly, both the elected officials and their sponsors are now part of the famous 1% decried by protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street. This "intimacy" of capital with political institutions is now well documented and has profound impact on the way we understand conventional mechanisms of political representation. At the same time, recent decisions of the US Supreme Court such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) aggravate this trend by providing corporations a First Amendment free speech protection similar to that which was heretofore reserved to individual citizens, thereby making elected officials even more dependent on corporate campaign donations. Finally, neoliberal economic policies generate structural economic instability by deregulating the most high-risk forms of finance capital, as seen in the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2009. The legislative and regulatory efforts throughout the '80s and the '90s to limit and then repel the Glass-Steagall banking legislation in place since 1933 are considered responsible for the financial crisis.

Yet Wendy Brown's crucial contribution in this book is not necessarily to delve into the nature and consequences of neoliberal economic policies. Instead, her intellectual efforts are directed towards a more foundational aspect: neoliberalism understood as the dominant form of political rationality. In this, she elaborates on the previous work by Michel Foucault (particularly in his recently published conferences at the College de France in the late '70s). …

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