Democratic Keynesianism? Bullshit.


It may be healthy sign, in the midst of the left’s active search for a way forward in the wake of the failures of State socialism, that all sorts of ideas are being bandied about. Perhaps the most uninspired are the calls (I feel like they are increasingly frequent these days) to just return uncritically to what we had right before neoliberalism: a big central State apparatus that intervenes actively to stabilize capitalism by redistributing some wealth to the working class.

In this case, it is offered (in The Nation!) as a solution to the troubles that have emerged in many places after the Arab spring. This article is just another variant of the unapologetically paternalistic idea that what the Arabs need is to be more like the West, to grow up and become an adult like the US and Britain, etc. With respect to democracy, this idea holds that the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, etc. were chaos, unrest, confusion, and what is required after such events is the famous “transition to democracy,” which is to say a transition to a stable liberal-democratic State regime, precisely like the ones we have in the West (The New York Times is the worst offender here).

This idea badly misconceives of democracy as a stable State regime, when in fact a democratic State is a contradiction in terms, as Marx is at pains to argue (in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right). Democracy is not a stable State regime. Democracy is the uprising itself, it is the disruption of the ruling order (as Ranciere would have it), and, more, it is people themselves, in the caesura created by that disruption, discovering together what they are capable of, how they might live together differently, how they might govern their afffairs for themselves. Democracy is not the liberal-democratic State. And it is certainly not Keynesianism. When the two are elided, as they so often are, we have to call bullshit. And we have to reaffirm the very, very long tradition of democratic thought that sees democracy more clearly, as people themselves managing their own affairs together.


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