Voyou Désœuvré

I was reading Brown’s Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy last week in order to teach it, and it occurred to me while doing so that many of my students were born not long before Clinton was elected; in other words, they have lived their entire lives in a period when the broad coordinates of neoliberalism were accepted by the mainstream left as much as the right. A consequence of this, which became apparent during discussion, is that the pre-neoliberal liberal democracy that Brown identifies as an object of left nostalgia, doesn’t really exist for them (indeed, I don’t know that exists for me as much except vague memories of the miners’ strike and Merseyside’s universal hatred for Thatcher when I was growing up). I wonder if this hasn’t contributed to the increasing irrelevance of the left: an appeal to nostalgia for something that is increasingly unavailable as an object of anything at all, least of all nostaligia. Read more↴

In the excellent “Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy,” Wendy Brown writes:

Put simply, what liberal democracy has provided over the last 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 contract, 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 as insulation against the ghastliness of life exhaustively ordered by the market and measured by market values. It is this gap that a neo-liberal political rationality closes as it submits every aspect of political and social life to economic calculation.

This is right, but phrased this way it risks idealizing liberal democracy in just the way Brown wants to avoid. Read more↴