Outta town, outta Brown

I’m leaving on a trip for about a week, and unless I find some unexpected spare time I won’t be posting or reading much in that time. Going to flat, featureless Nebraska, but at least I get to see my family, including my lovely nieces. As a parting shot, here’s an excerpt from Wendy Brown’s “Neoliberalism and The End of Liberal Democracy,” followed by a brief comment, that relates to my post for the Long Sunday democracy thing:

“Moreover, neither analysis [Marx’s or Weber’s] 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” […] 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, the 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 stratification 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 the 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-faced or at least Janus-potential of liberal democracy vis-a-vis a capitalist economy: while liberal democracy encodes, reflects, and legitimates capitalist social relations, it simultaneously resists, counters, and tempers them.”

Obviously, my reading of the Grundrisse Marx differs greatly from Brown’s reading of a much earlier Marx. The middle Marx hints at something much different, namely that freedom and equality arise politically because they are necessary economically, they are both the preconditions for and results of social relations in an exchange economy. This formulation doesn’t quite capture the relationship for me, but it’ll have to do for now, until I return and have more time to work through it. For now, it’s sufficient to note that the later Marx, contra Brown, does not conceive of democracy as being a priori, inherently atagonistic to capitalism.


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