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Neoliberalism and Democracy – is there no alternative?

Frost, Tom (2016) Neoliberalism and Democracy – is there no alternative? Review of: Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution by Brown, Wendy. European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 3 (1). pp. 129-137. ISSN 2325-4823. (doi:10.1080/23254823.2016.1181330) (KAR id:102843)


There exist, in the academy today, huge numbers of scholars opposed to neoliberalism. In university libraries are hundreds of monographs on neoliberalism, many (if not all) casting a critical eye on this concept, and its perceived deleterious effects on democracy and the social structures of modernity. All this has occurred because, in the words of one such volume, ‘we live in the age of neoliberalism’ (Saad-Filho and Johnston, 2005, p.1). Nevertheless, what is often effaced in a great many of these volumes is a detailed consideration of exactly what is meant by ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘democracy’. Despite the centrality of the concept of neoliberalism to many critical works, many, like Saad-Filho and Johnston, find it ‘impossible to define neoliberalism purely theoretically’ (Saad-Filho and Johnston, 2005, p.1). Nor are Saad-Filho and Johnston alone in this matter (Chomsky, 1999; Harvey, 2005). Likewise, democracy is a contestable and contested notion, which has varied meanings depending upon the individual writing about it (Agamben et al., 2012). Democracy means rule by the people. But who are the people, and how (if at all) does democracy operate for their benefit?

Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos is, first and foremost, a critique of neoliberalism and its impact upon democracy. In fact, this is the main strength of Brown’s argument in the volume, and the reason why Undoing the Demos is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature. It does not provide any blueprint or toolkit for activists wanting to challenge the status quo (p. 28). Her critique of neoliberalism is not a call to rehabilitate liberal democracy, nor to specify a kind of democracy which can resist neoliberalism. Undoing the Demos makes clear that even if neoliberal policies were abandoned, this would not stop the undermining of democracy through the normative economisation of political life (p.201).

Item Type: Review
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/23254823.2016.1181330
Uncontrolled keywords: Democracy; neoliberalism; education; resistance
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
J Political Science
K Law
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
Funders: University of Sussex (
Depositing User: Tom Frost
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2023 14:17 UTC
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2024 09:41 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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