Neoliberalism and Political Theory: an Introduction to Wendy Brown
Are we living through the death pangs of neoliberalism? And if so, what follows in its wake? For political theorist Wendy Brown, neoliberalism isn’t simply an economic system, but a “governing rationality” that, pervading every aspect of modern life, turns us “into market actors and nothing but…” Having substituted market mechanisms for democratic politics, neoliberalism leaves a void—to be filled, in a moment of crisis, by the very forces its anti-politics engender: nihilism, nationalism, white supremacy, and authoritarianism. In conversation with thinkers including Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and Foucault, Brown offers a diagnosis of neoliberal pathology—the evacuation of social and political possibility, a depreciation of sovereignty, a totalizing mania for markets—and theorizes its apparent opposite: a radical and genuine popular democracy. But what, for Brown, does democracy look like? What, exactly, is the nature of “neoliberal rationality,” and what can be done to defeat the “ferociously antidemocratic forces” that, for Brown, are neoliberalism’s natural successors?
In this course, we will read Brown alongside some of her canonical influences and contemporary interlocutors as we explore the questions and themes that have preoccupied her work: On what grounds can we demarcate neoliberalism as a cultural and political phase of modernity—or, perhaps, post-modernity? Why do democratic aspirations today clash with technocratic and punitive forms of governance? And what types of political subjects—both acquiescent and insurrectionary—have been produced as a result? Working through these topics, we will ask what is living and what is dead in the neoliberal project—and what freedom and social emancipation could mean in its wake. Readings will include selections from Brown’s In the Ruins of Neoliberalism, Undoing the Demos, Walled States Waning Sovereignty, and States of Injury, as well as works by Marx, Foucault, Hayek, Nietzsche, and Weber.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 16 — October 07, 2021