Neoliberalism's Demons

9781503604810: Hardback
Release Date: 4th September 2018

9781503607125: Paperback
Release Date: 4th September 2018

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 176

Edition: 1st Edition

Stanford University Press

Neoliberalism's Demons

On the Political Theology of Late Capital

This book argues that neoliberalism must be understood as a system of political theology that claims to be founded on individual freedom but demonizes anyone who falls short of its impossible standards.
Hardback / £62.00
Paperback / £17.99

By both its supporters and detractors, neoliberalism is usually considered an economic policy agenda. Neoliberalism's Demons argues that it is much more than that: a complete worldview, neoliberalism presents the competitive marketplace as the model for true human flourishing. And it has enjoyed great success: from the struggle for "global competitiveness" on the world stage down to our individual practices of self-branding and social networking, neoliberalism has transformed every aspect of our shared social life.

The book explores the sources of neoliberalism's remarkable success and the roots of its current decline. Neoliberalism's appeal is its promise of freedom in the form of unfettered free choice. But that freedom is a trap: we have just enough freedom to be accountable for our failings, but not enough to create genuine change. If we choose rightly, we ratify our own exploitation. And if we choose wrongly, we are consigned to the outer darkness—and then demonized as the cause of social ills. By tracing the political and theological roots of the neoliberal concept of freedom, Adam Kotsko offers a fresh perspective, one that emphasizes the dynamics of race, gender, and sexuality. More than that, he accounts for the rise of right-wing populism, arguing that, far from breaking with the neoliberal model, it actually doubles down on neoliberalism's most destructive features.

Contents and Abstracts
1The Political Theology of Late Capital
chapter abstract

This chapter begins by recognizing that pairing neoliberalism and political theology is counterintuitive. On the one hand, most accounts of neoliberalism leave little room for the conventional themes of political theology. On the other hand, Schmitt's initial formulation of political theology denigrates the economic concerns that are ostensibly the sole concern of neoliberalism. Hence this chapter shows that the conventional themes of political theology emerge persistently in the existing accounts of neoliberalism and provides grounds in Schmitt's text for a broader vision of the field that could include a phenomenon like neoliberalism. This more general political theology would ask about attempts to answer the ultimately unanswerable question that is expressed theologically as the problem of evil and politically as the problem of legitimacy. The chapter concludes by sketching a political theology of neoliberalism centered on the core legitimating principle of freedom.

2The Political and the Economic
chapter abstract

This chapter makes the case for overcoming political theology's traditional hostility toward the economic realm. Drawing on the work of Wendy Brown, Giorgio Agamben, and Dotan Leshem, it traces this binary opposition back to the work of Hannah Arendt, who famously opposes the two realms and privileges the political over the economic. It then argues that "Arendt's axiom" is false: there is no pregiven distinction between the political and the economic; in fact, each political theological paradigm—very much including neoliberalism—reconfigures that binary for its own ends. Along the way the chapter holds up a variety of examples of alternative approaches to the relation of the political and the economic, including those of Marie-José Mondzain, Mark C. Taylor, Philip Goodchild, Joshua Ramey, and Eric Santner.

3Neoliberalism's Demons
chapter abstract

This chapter provides an account of neoliberalism as a political-theological paradigm that governs every sphere of social life—not just the state and the economy but religion, family structure, sexual practice, gender relations, and racialization—by means of a logic of demonization. Drawing a parallel between the shift to neoliberalism and the origins of capitalism, it argues that capitalist ideologues have tended to find common cause with reactionary Christians because both adhere to a worldview centered on divine providence, which is in turn inextricably intertwined with demonization as a logic of moral entrapment. The difference between neoliberalism and neoconservatism is more often one of degree than of kind, with the former leaving more room for redemption and the latter opting more often for total, irreversible demonization for subject populations.

4This Present Darkness
chapter abstract

The political theological account of neoliberalism developed in the previous chapter serves as the basis for an investigation of the reactionary populist wave represented by the Brexit vote and the Trump presidency. Rather than attempt to directly answer the question of whether it makes sense to view these phenomena as betokening the "end" of neoliberalism, the chapter begins by asking what the advent of the reactionary wave tells us about the intrinsic vulnerabilities of neoliberalism, focusing on the areas of electoral legitimation, the politicization of expertise, and the vision of society as a perpetual competition. It concludes by arguing that reactionary populism is a "heretical" version of the political theology of neoliberalism, which pushes core neoliberal values to near-parodic extremes.

Conclusion: After Neoliberalism
chapter abstract

This chapter begins by consolidating the new concept of political theology developed in the preceding chapters. It then asks what the general shape of a true break with neoliberalism might look like, drawing clues from the collapse of the Fordist regime that preceded it. It argues that Fordism's downfall came from its decision to preserve and tame capitalist structures—including structures of race, gender relations, and family—which were intended to legitimate the Fordist regime but were ultimately instrumental in its downfall. Any attempt to rebuild Fordist welfare state structures or even state-run industries would be vulnerable to a similar overthrow as long as the market economy remained the foundation of society. Hence, the only way to create a durable alternative to neoliberalism will require abolishing the "invisible hand" and taking control of the process of production through conscious, collective deliberation and decision making.

Adam Kotsko is on the faculty of the Shimer Great Books School of North Central College. His most recent book is The Prince of This World (Stanford, 2016).

"In all of the hubbub about neoliberalism, one often feels that there is not much more to say. Adam Kotsko's premise—that the devil and the neoliberal subject can only ever choose their own damnation—is as original as it is breathtaking. Everyone should read this book."

James Martel
San Francisco State University

"Kotsko argues that there is no inherent distinction between economic and political realms, with political-theological paradigms configuring the binary relationships for their own purposes.Recommended"

D. K. McKim

"It's been a long time since I've read something so acutely in tune with its political moment. Both wide-ranging and impressively concise, this book offers one of the most compelling critical analyses of neoliberalism I've yet encountered, understood holistically as an economic agenda, a moral vision, and a state mission."

Peter Hallward
Kingston University London