Neoliberal rationality—ubiquitous today in statecraft and the workplace, in jurisprudence, education, and culture—remakes everything and everyone in the image of homo oeconomicus. What happens when this rationality transposes the constituent elements of democracy into an economic register? In Undoing the Demos, Wendy Brown explains how democracy itself is imperiled. The demos disintegrates into bits of human capital; concerns with justice bow to the mandates of growth rates, credit ratings, and investment climates; liberty submits to the imperative of human capital appreciation; equality dissolves into market competition; and popular sovereignty grows incoherent. Liberal democratic practices may not survive these transformations. Radical democratic dreams may not either.
In an original and compelling argument, Brown explains how and why neoliberal reason undoes the political form and political imaginary it falsely promises to secure and reinvigorate. Through meticulous analyses of neoliberalized law, political practices, governance, and education, she charts the new common sense. Undoing the Demos makes clear that for democracy to have a future, it must become an object of struggle and rethinking.
In this volume, three distinguished scholars draw on critical theory to address our current predicament. Wendy Brown, Peter E. Gordon, and Max Pensky share a conviction that critical theory retains the power to illuminate the forces producing the current political constellation as well as possible paths away from it. Brown explains how “freedom” has become a rallying cry for manifestly un-emancipatory movements; Gordon dismantles the idea that fascism is rooted in the susceptible psychology of individual citizens and reflects instead on the broader cultural and historical circumstances that lend it force; and Pensky brings together the unlikely pair of Tocqueville and Adorno to explore how democracies can buckle under internal pressure. These incisive essays do not seek to smooth over the irrationality of the contemporary world, and they do not offer the false comforts of an easy return to liberal democratic values. Rather, the three authors draw on their deep engagements with nineteenth–and twentieth–century thought to investigate the historical and political contradictions that have brought about this moment, offering fiery and urgent responses to the demands of the day.
Dislike, disapproval, and regulation lurk at the heart of tolerance. To tolerate is not to affirm but to conditionally allow what is unwanted or deviant. And, although presented as an alternative to violence, tolerance can play a part in justifying violence--dramatically so in the war in Iraq and the War on Terror. Wielded, especially since 9/11, as a way of distinguishing a civilized West from a barbaric Islam, tolerance is paradoxically underwriting Western imperialism.
Brown's analysis of the history and contemporary life of tolerance reveals it in a startlingly unfamiliar guise. Heavy with norms and consolidating the dominance of the powerful, tolerance sustains the abjection of the tolerated and equates the intolerant with the barbaric. Examining the operation of tolerance in contexts as different as the War on Terror, campaigns for gay rights, and the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, Brown traces the operation of tolerance in contemporary struggles over identity, citizenship, and civilization.
Why do walls marking national boundaries proliferate amid widespread proclamations of global connectedness and despite anticipation of a world without borders? Why are barricades built of concrete, steel, and barbed wire when threats to the nation today are so often miniaturized, vaporous, clandestine, dispersed, or networked?
In Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Wendy Brown considers the recent spate of wall building in contrast to the erosion of nation-state sovereignty. Drawing on classical and contemporary political theories of state sovereignty in order to understand how state power and national identity persist amid its decline, Brown considers both the need of the state for legitimacy and the popular desires that incite the contemporary building of walls. The new walls—dividing Texas from Mexico, Israel from Palestine, South Africa from Zimbabwe—consecrate the broken boundaries they would seem to contest and signify the ungovernability of a range of forces unleashed by globalization. Yet these same walls often amount to little more than theatrical props, frequently breached, and blur the distinction between law and lawlessness that they are intended to represent. But if today's walls fail to resolve the conflicts between globalization and national identity, they nonetheless project a stark image of sovereign power. Walls, Brown argues, address human desires for containment and protection in a world increasingly without these provisions. Walls respond to the wish for horizons even as horizons are vanquished.
Brown and Halley have assembled essays from diverse contributors—law professors, philosophers, political theorists, and literary critics—united chiefly by their willingness to think critically from the left about left legal projects. The essays themselves vary by topic, by theoretical approach, and by conclusion. While some contributors attempt to rework particular left legal projects, others insist upon abandoning or replacing those projects. Still others leave open the question of what is to be done as they devote their critical attention to understanding what we are doing. Above all, Left Legalism/Left Critique is a rare contemporary argument and model for the intellectually exhilarating and politically enriching dimensions of left critique—dimensions that persist even, and perhaps especially, when critique is unsure of the intellectual and political possibilities it may produce.
Contributors: Lauren Berlant, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, Richard T. Ford, Katherine M. Franke, Janet Halley, Mark Kelman, David Kennedy, Duncan Kennedy, Gillian Lester, Michael Warner
Politics Out of History also presents a provocative argument for a new approach to thinking about history--one that forsakes the idea that history has a purpose and treats it instead as a way of illuminating openings in the present by, for example, identifying the haunting and constraining effects of past injustices unresolved. Brown also argues for a revitalized relationship between intellectual and political life, one that cultivates the autonomy of each while promoting their interlocutory potential. This book will be essential reading for all who find the trajectories of contemporary liberal democracies bewildering and are willing to engage readings of a range of thinkers--Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Benjamin, Derrida--to rethink democratic possibility in our time.
Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst debate the uses and misuses of tolerance, an exchange that highlights the fundamental differences in their critical practice despite a number of political similarities. Both scholars address the normative premises, limits, and political implications of various conceptions of tolerance. Brown offers a genealogical critique of contemporary discourses on tolerance in Western liberal societies, focusing on their inherent ties to colonialism and imperialism, and Forst reconstructs an intellectual history of tolerance that attempts to redeem its political virtue in democratic societies. Brown and Forst work from different perspectives and traditions, yet they each remain wary of the subjection and abnegation embodied in toleration discourses, among other issues. The result is a dialogue rich in critical and conceptual reflections on power, justice, discourse, rationality, and identity.