"We Are All Democrats Now…" — Wendy Brown on Democracy

Wendy Brown

“What I am sure of, however, is that this is not a time for sloganeering that averts our glance from the powers destroying the conditions for democracy.”—Wendy Brown

Continuing our series of excerpts from Democracy in What State? , Wendy Brown examines the condition of democracy under neoliberalism. Brown argues that neoliberalism threaten to gut democratic institutions, principles, and ideals. (For excerpts from Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Daniel Bensaid).

Brown concludes with a section regarding the possibilities of “redemocratizing” in an age of neoliberalism

Does the poor fit of popular rule with the contemporary age add up to a brief for abandoning left struggles for democracy and soliciting left creativity in developing new political forms? Or does it, instead demand sober appreciation of democracy as an important ideal, always unavailable to materialization? Ought we to affirm that democracy (like freedom, equality, peace, and contentment) has never been realizable, yet served (and could still serve?) as a crucial counter to an otherwise wholly dark view of collective human possibility? Or perhaps democracy, like liberation, could only ever materialize as protest and, especially today, ought to be formally demoted from a from of governance to a politics of resistance.

I am genuinely uncertain her. What I am sure of, however, is that this is not a time for sloganeering that averts our glance from the powers destroying the conditions for democracy. Encomiums from left philosophers and activists to “deepen democracy,” “democratize democracy,” “take back democracy” “pluralize democracy” or invest ourselves in a “democracy to come . . .” will only be helpful to the extent that they reckon directly with these powers. We require honest and deep deliberation about what constitutes minimal thresholds of democratic power sharing, whether and why we still believe in democracy, whether it is a viable form for the twenty-first century, and whether there are any nonchilling alternatives that might be more effective in holding back the dark. Is there some way the people could have access to the powers that must be modestly shared for us to be modestly self-legislating today? Is the freedom promised by democracy something humans want or could be taught to want again? Is this freedom likely to yield the good for the world? What kind of containment or boundaries does democracy require, and if these are not available, is democracy still possible? If we were able to arrive at answers to these questions, there still remains the most difficult one: how the demos could identify and reach for the powers to be handled in common if democracy is to become anything more than a gloss of legitimacy for its inversion.”

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