Did Neo-Liberalism Kill Off Democracy?

The Guardian, continuing with its series on Generation Y or “the millennials”, has published a rather disturbing article today: “Have millennials given up on democracy?“. It would be one of the great ironies of Late Modernity (a time full of great ironies in any case), if the greatest accomplishment of neo-liberalism was the total discrediting of the institutions of democracy.

Millennials can, perhaps, be forgiven for their apparent antipathy towards democracy. They have grown up knowing only neo-liberal or neo-conservative regime (equivalent in any case) as being practically synonymous with the meaning of democracy. Thanks to a pernicious propaganda that has managed to make words like “capitalism” and “democracy” equivalent in meaning, I’m not surprised that millennials have developed a great antipathy to democracy.

Not exactly what Mr. Fukuyama expected from his “end of history”. But it brings to mind Nietzsche’s forecast that the triumph of liberal institutions would be a Cadmean victory that would result in their own self-negation.

What’s most disturbing about this antipathy is that it is apparently increasing from generation to generation. So, yes indeed, it is the “end of the Grand Narrative” to all appearances.

We have to soberly face the fact, it seems, that the word “democracy” has become bankrupt of any determinate meaning in a time when every capitalist, communist or fascist regime calls itself “true democracy”. There may be no real way of salvaging the word “democracy” from the wreckage and decadence of democratic institutions, or wrestling it away from the cynicism of the propagandists.

It’s not the ideals of democracy that have become decadent. It’s the institutions and language of democracy. That seems pretty clear from Mr. Safi’s article. The young are still politically engaged. Some sense of social justice still seems to motivate them. But the old language doesn’t speak to them any longer.

Having watched The Big Short last night, I can well understand that growing antipathy to democracy, not to leave unmentioned the Iraq War, which probably did more damage to the meaning of “democracy”, and discredited it even moreso, than the fraud, corruption, delusive thinking and groupthink of the 2008 market meltdown. It’s all a part of “blowback” from the pursuit of a pernicious ideology.

It’s hard to say what the political ideals of the younger generations might be. Mr. Safi doesn’t seem to know or to speak to that. It seems an open question which direction this might take, some form of “technocracy” being one possibility, which I find completely unpalatable as that would imply that the “integral consciousness” might very well be abortive.  It could be otherwise, though — something more holistic and ecological.

It’s an open question.


6 responses to “Did Neo-Liberalism Kill Off Democracy?”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    It seems to me that democracy is situational. A housewife living in the United States in the 1880s, for example, who had no desire for work outside of her home wouldn’t feel very much the limitations or the lack of opportunities for women in the workplace.

    In my own case, for example, “politics” in the workplace – IS – the greatest barrier! It’s killing those of us who want to set things right; and by “right” I mean based on “honest” decision making process. You said it a while back that “Honesty protects all.”

    Indeed! In my line of work, honesty is really everything, since one can easily fudge things with impunity, and hence one can undermine the integrity of the entire profession.

    For another person, none of the politics may matter as long as he can sit at a bar after work and drink beer and burp all night:

    But the antipathy of the millennials towards democracy may be well-founded. To whom do most politicians pledge allegiance? Why, the wealthiest of their constituents, of course!

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Another interesting article on the subject in today’s Guardian, although this is about “Generation Z” (or Gen K). This penchant for measuring generations by decades is rubbish. A generation is typically 25 to 30 years, and not a decade. Nonetheless, interesting insights.


    The most important thing that’s come out of this series in the Guardian is the declining participation rate in democratic politics generation to generation (and it’s everywhere). And as I pointed out above, its not just “apathy” or “disengagement” of the young with democratic institutions. It’s antipathy, because all they’ve known about democracy has been decidedly negative in the last couple of decades as the thing lurches from crisis to crisis.

    Anxiety levels increasing, apparently, generation over generation, and not just the usual “teen angst” that everybody goes through.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      “………. because all they’ve known about democracy has been decidedly negative in the last couple of decades as the thing lurches from crisis to crisis.”

      Yes, and that “crisis to crisis” is precisely where “politics” in the United States has had its most controversial nosedives: 1) hurricane Katrina, 2) Veterans’ benefits programs, 3) Flint, Michigan, lead in drinking water debacle that no one seems to know how to fix, 4) the looming crisis in the entitlements – Bush 43 actually wanted to tie-in social security to the equities’ market!!

      I stand with “Gen K.” in their mistrust of today’s politics and politicians. What proportion of what the U.S. politicians do is meant to create a secure future for this generation? I suspect very little to nothing at all.

  3. Dwig says :

    I think David Graeber’s book “The Democracy Project” could be relevant here. (He’s the author of “Debt — The First 5000 Years” and one of the originators of Occupy Wall Street.). Per Graeber, “democracy” was a dirty word to the “founders of the republic”. It seems that in the US, a major ongoing theme has been the tug of war between democracy and oligarchy.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    Hmmmmmm………How interesting! I have not seen the movie “The Big Short”, but the organization I work for is going to screen it this Thursday evening 🙂

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    “The Big Short” was a good movie. It’s probably a good thing that Margot Robbie had such a small role, otherwise, I wouldn’t have remembered anything from the movie 🙂

    Well, as we all know, the “too big to fail” have become even bigger now. So, where to from here?

    As far as I can tell from the trend in the price of real estate, we are headed toward another housing bubble.

    The only criticism I have about the movie is that it portrays stupidity and greed as the main reasons behind the push for the creation of subprime mortgage market.

    But they are forgetting the “malice” factor.

    You see, if my home gets ransacked and robbed one day, I would think that some idiot may have thought they could actually find anything worth stealing in my place and I would consider the whole thing a random act committed by a random person. But if my office gets ransacked and robbed the day after or the same week, then I’m going to be sure that someone is after me intending harm of some kind.

    Well, that’s what happened in the financial and economic debacle of 2007 – 2008. Many millions lost their homes and livelihood and retirement savings. Therefore, the event was not just the result of greed and stupidity, but it was a carefully crafted and well-coordinated attack on the working and middle classes in the West. It was an act of Malice.

    Even the character for Mark Baum hinted as much at the very end when he noted that Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke had a meeting at the White House, and so they knew that the U.S. taxpayer dollars would be used to bail out the banks.

    But hey, if the owners of the mom-and-pop shop around the corner goes bust, tough luck!

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