In a new interview for Jacobin’s The Dig podcast, Daniel Denvir speaks with Wendy Brown, author Walled States and Undoing the Demos. Click here to learn more about her work. Click here to read the full interview. An excerpt appears below:
“JACOBIN: You write that debates over the causes of Trumpism have been confused in part because they often pit economic and social explanations against one another. ‘Understanding the roots and energies of the current situation requires appreciating neoliberal political culture and subject production, not only the economic conditions and enduring racisms that spawned it.’ What sort of political culture and human subjects has neoliberalism made, and how does that in turn fit in with an economic analysis of the rise of Trumpism?
WENDY BROWN:Let’s start with the familiar understanding of neoliberalism as a set of policies. Our standard understanding goes something like this: neoliberalism slashes the social state, privatizes public goods, turns progressive taxation into regressive taxation, smashes unions, and above all deregulates capital, locally and around the world. That’s true, but neoliberalism is much more than simply a set of policies; it’s also something that governs us — society, culture, ways of understanding ourselves, and ways of configuring social relations — as much as it transforms capital. Neoliberalism transforms what we might call a social state or a Keynesian economic order, not just at the level of economic policy, but at a much deeper level pertaining to how we are to understand freedom, the state, our relations with one another, society, and morality.
Why does this matter? Because neoliberalism delivers a full-frontal attack on the very notion of the public good and society. Margaret Thatcher said it best: ‘There is no such thing as society. There’s only individual men and women,’ and then she paused, ‘and their families.’ There’s no common, there’s no social, there’s no society, there’s only individuals and/or families.”