Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies

Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics

Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: September 2009

Author: Jodi Dean

Cultural Studies, Media Studies, Politics > Political Theory

Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies is an impassioned call for the realization of a progressive left politics in the United States. Through an assessment of the ideologies underlying contemporary political culture, Jodi Dean takes the left to task for its capitulations to conservatives and its failure to take responsibility for the extensive neoliberalization implemented during the Clinton presidency. She argues that the left’s ability to develop and defend a collective vision of equality and solidarity has been undermined by the ascendance of “communicative capitalism,” a constellation of consumerism, the privileging of the self over group interests, and the embrace of the language of victimization. As Dean explains, communicative capitalism is enabled and exacerbated by the Web and other networked communications media, which reduce political energies to the registration of opinion and the transmission of feelings. The result is a psychotic politics where certainty displaces credibility and the circulation of intense feeling trumps the exchange of reason.

Dean’s critique ranges from her argument that the term democracy has become a meaningless cipher invoked by the left and right alike to an analysis of the fantasy of free trade underlying neoliberalism, and from an examination of new theories of sovereignty advanced by politicians and left academics to a look at the changing meanings of “evil” in the speeches of U.S. presidents since the mid-twentieth century. She emphasizes the futility of a politics enacted by individuals determined not to offend anyone, and she examines questions of truth, knowledge, and power in relation to 9/11 conspiracy theories. Dean insists that any reestablishment of a vital and purposeful left politics will require shedding the mantle of victimization, confronting the marriage of neoliberalism and democracy, and mobilizing different terms to represent political strategies and goals.


Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies is inspiring because it calls for action on a new terrain. . . This is a rattling good yarn, one that shivers the timbers and inspires this reader at least to cut loose the anchor and set sail for new horizons.” — Sean Cubitt, Arena

“Dean . . . offers an interesting critique of the Left, arguing that it has capitulated to conservatives, beginning in the 1960s, and failed to respond to the neoliberal agenda implemented during the Clinton presidency.” — Andrew Moran, Democratization

“In Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies Jodi Dean pulls few punches in her critique of the American Left, for both its complacency and its limited capacity to (or even lack of awareness of the need to) offer a stand of political resistance to power. . . . Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies is not, however, merely a critique of the US Left; it is also a powerful demolition of its claims for a collective existence.” — David Chandler, Radical Philosophy

‘[A] provocative examination of contemporary Left politics. . . . The complex ideas of poststructuralist thinkers such as Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek figure prominently in her analysis. As in her earlier work, however, Dean is able to relate the value of such thinkers in understanding contemporary events with unique lucidity and clarity. . . . [A]n important, worthwhile, and entertaining contribution to discussions of radical alternatives to current political realities. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers, upper-division undergraduate students, and above.” — R. W. Glover, Choice

“Dean’s [text] is stimulating in its ability to offer an alternative view of how neoliberalism achieved apparent invincibility. The work offers a challenge to leftists to produce not only some new, radical ideas but to unite and be heard once more.” — Lucy Welsh, Feminist Legal Studies

“Jodi Dean provides an incredibly lucid explanation of what neoliberalism has been both in policy terms and collective fantasies of the relation of markets to freedom. But the really threatening Big Other in this book is not neoliberal ideology, but the failed and flawed leftist will that concedes too much power and unity to neoliberalism. This is a frank polemic that will stimulate many arguments about the past and future of critical theory and democratic politics in the United States.” — Lauren Berlant, author of The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship

“Jodi Dean’s new book provides what we have all been waiting for: the authentic theoretical analysis of how ideology functions in today’s global capitalism. Her diagnosis of ‘communicative capitalism’ discloses how our ‘really-existing democracies’ curtail prospects of radical emancipatory politics. Dean demonstrates this status of democracy as a political fantasy not through cheap pseudo-Marxist denunciations, but through a detailed examination of social, symbolic, and libidinal mechanisms and practices. To anyone who continues to dwell in illusions about liberal democracy, one should simply say: ‘Hey, didn’t you read Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies?’” — Slavoj Zizek, Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Erasmus Professor of the Humanities in the Faculty of Philosophy at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. She is the author of Žižek’s Politics, Publicity’s Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy, and Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Post-Politics and Left Victory 1

1. Technology: The Promises of Communicative Capitalism 19

2. Free Trade: The Neoliberal Fantasy 49

3. Democracy: A Knot of Hope and Despair 75

4. Resolve: Speaking of Evil 95

5. Ethics: Left Responsiveness and Retreat 123

6. Certainty: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories and Psychosis 145

Notes 177

Bibliography 195

Index 203
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4505-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4492-6
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