Fiscal Crisis or the Neo-​liberal Assault on Democracy

Of course, it is al­ways pos­sible, and very often the case, that the dom­inant media claims that a “fiscal crisis” has pre­cip­it­ated mass demon­stra­tions, strikes, and new forms of polit­ical mo­bil­iz­a­tion in Greece. Although it is true that there is fiscal crisis, it should not be un­der­stood as a peri­odic dif­fi­culty that a country or a re­gion peri­od­ic­ally passes through only then to re-​enjoy the eco­nomic status quo. What is emer­ging in fast and furious form is a con­stel­la­tion of neo-​liberal eco­nomic prac­tices that are es­tab­lishing a new paradigm for thinking about the re­la­tion between eco­nomic and so­cial forms as well as modes of ra­tion­ality, mor­ality, and sub­ject form­a­tion. And the problem, that which pushes tens of thou­sands of people onto the street, is not simply the rise of tech­no­lo­gical modes of labor and new ways of cal­cu­lating the value of work and life. Rather, neo-​liberalism works through pro­du­cing dis­pens­able populations; it ex­poses pop­u­la­tions to pre­carity; it es­tab­lishes modes of work that pre­sume that la­bour will al­ways be tem­porary; it decim­ates long-​standing in­sti­tu­tions of so­cial demo­cracy, with­draws so­cial ser­vices from those who are most rad­ic­ally un­pro­tected – the poor, the home­less, the un­doc­u­mented – be­cause the value of so­cial ser­vices or eco­nomic rights to basic pro­vi­sions like shelter and food has been re­placed by an eco­nomic cal­culus that values only the en­tre­pren­eurial ca­pa­cities of in­di­viduals and mor­al­izes against all those who are un­able to fend for them­selves or make cap­it­alism work for them.

So when we ask why so many thou­sands take to the street in re­la­tion to a “fiscal” crisis, it is be­cause they are see and op­pose an en­tire eco­nomic re­gime that amasses wealth for the very few at ac­cel­er­ated speeds as it aug­ments the number of those who live in poverty and are ex­posed to forms of pre­carity for which no in­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tion still ex­ists. When pop­u­la­tions un­der­stand them­selves as aban­doned to con­di­tions of in­duced pre­carity, they un­der­stand that they are no longer rep­res­ented by polit­ical re­gimes that are in­sep­ar­able from neo-​liberal forms of power and ra­tion­ality. At this point, the demo­cratic claims of the state are called into ques­tion, for who is the “we” who is rep­res­ented by gov­ern­ments that are them­selves driven by, and driving neo-​liberal forms of eco­nomics that rely on dis­pens­able pop­u­la­tions, sub­sti­tut­able labor (through “flex­ib­ility” models), aban­doned pop­u­la­tions ex­cluded from the “we” that is rep­res­ented by demo­cratic gov­ern­ments and in­sti­tu­tions. So when the aban­doned as­semble and in­sist that they are still the “we” who demo­cracy must rep­resent, that their dis­pens­ab­ility calls into ques­tion the claim that any neo-​liberal gov­ern­ment can make to being demo­cratic. If demo­cracy is to have any meaning still, then, it must ex­press the will of the people, and what we see on the ground, in the street, and that noise we hear through the squares, is pre­cisely the re­con­sti­t­u­tion of the pop­ular will, the bodily gath­ering and in­sist­ence of a people who will not be dis­pensed with, and through whom we see en­acted in mi­cro­cosm so­cial forms of rad­ical demo­cracy, which in­clude re­la­tions of equality and mu­tual dependency.

The problem is not a fiscal crisis whose bailout will re­turn mat­ters to normal. The problem is that the neo-​liberal forms of polit­ical and eco­nomic power reg­u­larly abandon pop­u­la­tions to con­di­tions of pre­carity, and that this peri­odic and reg­ular abandoning of people has it­self be­come the normal. As a result, the call on the streets is pre­cisely not to “fix” this fiscal crisis, but to in­sist that the dis­mant­ling of neo-​liberalism is im­per­ative for the re­newal of rad­ical democracy.

Greek Left Review

  1 comment for “Fiscal Crisis or the Neo-​liberal Assault on Democracy

  1. Henry
    17 November 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Her usual crystal clarity then.

    A useful pre­cept is that someone who can’t ex­plain what they are talking about doesn’t really un­der­stand it either.

    Some people say ‘Judith Butler dares us to say we don’t un­der­stand’. And I guess if I did say this to her face about her writ­ings, I’d be greeted with a wry smile or a telling pause. But prob­ably no explanation.

    A couple of ex­amples for you: The first sen­tence isn’t a very common sen­tence struc­ture — to say the least. And “forms of polit­ical mo­bil­iz­a­tion” could mean sev­eral things. Never mind…

    Second sen­tence — two “peri­od­icals”. OK I guess she never said she was writing po­etry. Third sen­tence is back to the old game of making long puzzle-​sentences as a chal­lenge to the reader, with lot’s of vague terms that could once again mean any­thing. Not good. (I didn’t count the sen­tence length)

    The ar­gu­ment about ‘new forms of pre­carity’ sounds du­bious. There will al­ways be new forms of pre­carity (or even pre­cari­ous­ness). I don’t think that using the word ‘aban­don­ment’ is any­thing more than the closest thing Butler gets to emotive lan­guage. Etcetc.

    Overview: a clever-​clever quasi-​Marxist play on the idea of demo­cracy — ar­gu­ably an at­tempt to jus­tify a re­volu­tion. No deep ar­gu­ments, be­cause there is no clarity.

    I think this piece is an at­tempt to lump to­gether civil un­rest in dif­ferent coun­tries in vastly dif­fering po­s­i­tions — with a single vague and shallow ex­plan­a­tion that fits Butler’s world view, and her wish for rad­ical change.

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