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Tasked with the project of puncturing common neoliberal sense and with developing a viable and compelling alternative to capitalist globalization..


What alternative global economic system and political arrangements would honor regional, historical, cultural and religious differences? Within such arrangements, what or who would make and enforce decisions about production, distribution, consumption and resource utilization about population thresholds, species coexistence and earthly finitude? How to use the local knowledges and achieve the local control essential to human thriving and ecological stewardship in the context of any worldwide economic system? How to prevent rogue subversions without military repression or prevent corruption and graft without surveillance and policing? Whither the nation-state or international law?

Where thinkers and actors have even been willing to pose and consider such questions, answers have been thin. However, the Left is not alone in faltering before the task of crafting, in ideas or institutions, a realizable alternative future trajectory. Rather, the Left’s predicament refracts a ubiquitous, if unavowed, exhaustion and despair in Western civilization. At the triumphal “end of history” in the West, most have ceased to believe in the human capacity to craft and sustain a world that is humane, free, sustainable and above all, modestly under human control. This loss of conviction about the human capacity to craft and steer its existence or even to secure its future is the most profound and devastating sense in which modernity is “over.” Neoliberalism’s perverse theology of markets rests on this land of scorched belief in the modern. Ceding all power to craft the future of markets, it insists that markets “know best,” even if, in the age of financialization, markets do not and must not know at all and the hidden hand has gone permanently missing.

Neoliberal rationality did not germinate this civilizational despair. However, its figuration of the human, its reality principle and its worldview – “there is no alternation” – consecrates, deepens and naturalizes without acknowledging this despair. In letting markets decide our present and future, neoliberalism wholly abandons the project of individual or collective mastery of existence. The neoliberal solution to problems is always more markets, more complete markets, more perfect markets, more financialization, new technologies, new ways to monetize. Anything but collaborative and contestatory human decision making, control over the conditions of existence, planning for the future; anything but deliberate constructions of existence through democratic discussion, law, policy. Anything but the human knowledge, deliberation, judgment and action classically associated with homo politicus.

The task of the Left today is compounded by this generalized collapse of faith in the powers of knowledge, reason and will for the deliberate making and tending of our common existence. Insistence that “another world is possible” runs opposite to this tide of general despair, this abandoned belief in human capacities to gestate and guide a decent and sustainable order, this capitulation to being playthings of powers that escaped from the bottle in which humans germinated them. The Left alone persists in a belief (or in a polemic, absent a belief) that all could live well, live free and live together – a dream whose abandonment is expressed in the ascendancy of neoliberal reason and is why this form of reason could so easily take hold. The perpetual treadmill on which every being and activity is placed, and the horizons of all other meanings and purposes shrink accordingly. This is the civilizational turning point that neoliberal rationality marks, its postpostmodernism and deep antihumanism, its surrender to a felt and lived condition of human impotence, unknowingness, failure and irresponsibility.

Thus, the Left’s difficulties are compounded by the seduction of such surrender to the overwhelmingly large, fast, complex, contingently imbricated and seemingly unharnessable powers organizing the world today. Tasked with the already difficult project of puncturing common neoliberal sense and with developing a viable and compelling alternative to capitalist globalization, the Left must also counter this civilizational despair. Our work on all three fronts is incalculably difficult, bears no immediate reward and carries no guarantee of success. Yet what, apart from this work, could afford the slightest hope for a just, sustainable and habitable future?

— Wendy Brown is Professor of Political Science at Berkeley. Her recent Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution discusses how neoliberal rationality erodes critical democratic rights and values.[cherry_banner image=”7185″ title=”Adbusters #121″ url=”″ template=”issue.tmpl”]Manifesto for World Revolution, Part 4[/cherry_banner]