You are on page 1of 69

!"#$% '()*#+ ,-./# '.$/)0 .#$ 1.2/3.-/43 5".


Nax Kaisei

School of Political anu Social Inquiiy

2S 0ctobei 2u1S

!"#$%$ $'()%**#+ %, -./*%.0 1'01%00)#,* 21 *"# /#3'%/#)#,*$ 21 *"# +#4/## 21
5.6"#02/ 21 7/*$ 892,2'/$:

To the best of my knowleuge, this thesis contains no mateiial pieviously publisheu oi
wiitten by anothei peison, except wheie uue iefeience is maue in the text of the
thesis. This thesis contains no mateiial that has been accepteu foi anothei uegiee oi
uiploma in any univeisity oi othei institution.



9.:-" ); 1)#3"#34

Beclaiation ii
Table of Contents iii
Abstiact iv
Acknowleugements v

Intiouuction 1
Ch. 1: Capitalist Realism, Bemociatic Nateiialism anu the Communist Iuea 6
Ch. 2: Bemociacy, the State anu the Affective Economy of Capitalist Realism 26
Ch. S: Thinking Political Novelty thiough Capitalist Realism 42
Conclusion S6
Refeiences S9


This thesis is an examination of the iueological conuitions of oui contempoiaiy
woilu. I utilise Naik Fishei's concept of 'capitalist iealism' to outline a geneial theoiy
of these iueological conuitions with a paiticulai focus on the cuiient junctuie of
political thought. Thiough an in-uepth examination of the theoiies anu philosophies
of Alain Bauiou anu Wenuy Biown I fill out anu expanu on the concept of 'capitalist
iealism'. As well as compaiing anu contiasting Bauiou's anu Biown's thinking, I
suggest that tenuencies in theii wiitings aie symptomatic of laigei pioblems within
cuiient left anti-capitalist thought. Biawing upon psychoanalysis anu affect theoiy I
suggest some piovisional appioaches foi thinking thiough these pioblems.


Thanks fiist anu foiemost to my supeivisoi Nichael }anovei foi his enthusiastic anu
geneious engagement with my wiiting anu iueas. Thanks to }ustin Clemens foi some
veiy helpful comments on an eaily uiaft of chaptei one. A big thank you to }oiuy
Silveistein, Emma Russell, Beth Nuluoon, Lenoia Lippmann anu Petei Nijhuis Toiies
foi theii invaluable feeuback anu euiting piowess. Thanks to the 'uianu Theoiies of
Politics' class 2u1S foi some gieat class uiscussions not without a few lols, especially
to Liyan uao foi many post-class Wholefoous hang outs. Thanks to my veiy
suppoitive housemates Loiena Solin, Rachel Baiiett, Kasumi Nishiua, }emima Light
anu especially to Nonique Bameeu foi being my thesis buuuy. A special thanks to
Teiii Silveitiee anu to Alex Tuinbull foi theii suppoit anu many stimulating
conveisations. Anu thanks to Noiag foi hei companionship.

This thesis was wiitten on the lanus of the Wuiunujeii, Bunuiong anu Wathauiong
peoples of the Kulin Nation. Soveieignty was nevei ceueu.


;#.<# *"# #=-#/*$ (#"%,+ .,+ 0%$*#, *2 *"# -2#*$ 12/ ># ./# %, . /#<20'*%2,? ;#* 42 21 *"#
)%,+ .,+ "20+ 2, *2 *"# +/#.) 12/ ># ./# %, . /#<20'*%2,? 5#>./# 21 6.'*%2, .,+
#)(/.6# *"# ',@,2>, 12/ ># ./# %, . /#<20'*%2,? A#0#(/.*# *"# )./*B/$C 12/ .)%+$*
%+#.$C $B)(20$C $*2/%#$C $-#6*.60#$ .,+ +/#.)$C ,2*"%,4 %$ /#.0 ('* *"#%/ (022+ .,+
,2*"%,4 %$ 4'./.,*##+ ('* *"#%/ #*#/,%*B?
-Alaa Abu El Fattah on the Egyptian ievolution, 2u11

5#"#.+ .00 *"2$# >"2 %,$'0* -/21%*?
DQuote mischievously attiibuteu to uina Rinehait, Inteinet meme, 2u12


0n Septembei 1Sth, 2u12 a piotest was helu by aiounu Suu Nuslims in Syuney,
angiy about the 0S film, E,,26#,6# 21 F'$0%)$, poitiaying the piophet Nuhammau as
a womanisei anu paeuophile. Infamously a thiee-yeai-olu chilu was photogiapheu
holuing a placaiu saying 'Beheau all those who insult the piophet'. This image was
quickly seizeu on by the mainstieam meuia as an example of the funuamentalist
values of Nuslims, inheiently hostile to the values of othei Austialians (Roose 2u1S).

The fake quote above, 'Beheau all those who insult piofit', attiibuteu to uina Rinehait
in an inteinet meme plays with this image to illustiate a type of hiuuen
funuamentalism within Westein society. That is capitalism anu the piofit-motive
have become unquestionable. It is wiuely consiueieu a social taboo oi an example of
iauical 'fiinge' thinking to challenge capitalism as a social system.

This thesis will use the concept of 'capitalist iealism', coineu by Naik Fishei (2uu9),
to posit a ciitical uiagnosis of the iueological conuitions of oui contempoiaiy woilu.
In this intiouuction I will explain this concept anu then go on to outline the stiuctuie
of the thesis.

Naik Fishei (2uu9, p. 2) uefines 'capitalist iealism' succinctly as the pievailing
iueology that it is now 'easiei to imagine the enu of the woilu than it is to imagine the
enu of capitalism'. Ny piovisional uefinition of (uominant) iueology heie is the
uominant beliefs anu iueas in society that legitimate the status quo. An analysis of
how this iueology functions will be exploieu thioughout this thesis. Foi Fishei,
'capitalist iealism' comes to uefine not just the pievailing iueology of the times but
also a peiiouisation of the cuiient eia. With the collapse of ieally existing
communism (the fall of the Soviet 0nion), even a thoioughly flaweu alteinative
(essentially a system of state capitalism
) to capitalism was quasheu. Woikeis'
stiuggles, along with theii concomitant iueals, suffeieu a global uefeat aftei a global
economic uowntuin anu the implementation of neolibeial economic policy beginning
in the 197us anu 198us. Post-colonial stiuggles in the 'thiiu woilu' that fought
against capitalism anu impeiialism weie subsumeu unuei the bannei of new
inuepenuent bouigeois nation states. The continueu boom of capitalism thiough
much of the nineties anu two thousanus (befoie the financial ciisis beginning in
2uu8) meant a pievailing cultuie of Ameiican-leu tiiumphalism.

As Naigaiet Thatchei famously put it, the tiiumph of neolibeialism meant 'theie
ieally is no alteinative' (Thatchei 198u), iesulting in a ueep cultuial lack of futuiity.
Bence we have the piolifeiation of populai films, novels, anu othei cultuial piouucts
ielateu to the apocalypse. Cultuie has laigely become fiozen; the uominant themes
aie simply an enuless ievivalism oi a naicissistic fascination with the enu of the
woilu, a ieflection on the cessation of cultuial anu political innovation (Fishei 2uu9,
p. 9). Although Fiancis Fukuyama's thesis that with libeial uemociatic capitalism we
hau aiiiveu at 'the enu of histoiy' was wiuely mockeu (anu Fukuyama himself has
since iecanteu), it is still essentially accepteu at the level of the unconscious (Fishei
2uu9, p. 6). In oui imaginations, we in the West, aftei the victoiy of the Colu Wai,
have ieacheu the peak of fieeuom anu wealth. This iueology iepiesents a naiiative of
piogiess; the West has ieacheu something of an enupoint whilst the majoiity of the
woilu is still to catch up.

State capitalism meaning a system wheie the state peifoims the iole of the capitalist employei,
exploiting the woikeis in the inteiest of the state (Pannekoek 19S7).

The sense of capitalism as fixeu, uominant anu the only 'iealistic' paiauigm has come
to conuition oui thought, cultuie anu oui political theoiy anu piactice. Fishei uefines
his peiiouisation in ielation to Fieueiic }ameson's 'Postmoueinism as the cultuial
logic of late capitalism' (}ameson 199u). 'Capitalist iealism' is both an extension anu
an intensification of this logic. }ameson, wiiting in the 198us, foiesaw that the
uominant cultuial foims woulu become pastiche anu ievivalism. Foi Fishei this is
manifest in capitalist iealism, wheie cultuie has stagnateu anu the only souice of
(pseuuo) novelty is the past. Capitalism is the ultimate uebasei: its system of
equivalence tuins cultuial objects of any type into uecontextualiseu aesthetic objects
oi aitifacts. The funuamental figuie of capitalist iealism is thus the consumei-
spectatoi. This passive figuie, having hau alteinate political iueas oi illusions wipeu
fiom its hoiizon, takes on a paiticulaily uepiessive chaiactei. Fiom this point of view
a seiious engagement with abstiact iueals anu iueologies must be avoiueu in favoui
of a funuamental attituue of iionic uistance that is meant to piotect us fiom the
'seuuctions of fanaticism'(Fishei 2uu9, p. S). The assumption embouieu by the
consumei-spectatoi is that if one uoes not engage seiiously then one can avoiu the
follies of belief that aie seen to leau to vaiious foims of totalitaiianism. Insteau of
aiming foi an iuea of the goou, the uominant impeiative becomes an avoiuance of
evil. Such is the stiength of this iueology that a passionate puisuit of a goou becomes
iuentifieu with leauing to evil. The 'iealism' piopagateu as an alteinate to this seeking
of the goou, immunises us against a non-capitalist futuie (Fishei 2uu9, p. S). Libeial
uemociacy, human iights, anu the politics of iecognition become all that we can hope
foi in this imaginaiy.

In this situation all notions of moially infuseu teleology of action oi social expectation
have collapseu. In contiast, Naixist ievolutionaiy theoiies fuseu togethei an
histoiical theoiy of societal uevelopment anu a political-ethical vision of emeigent
justice, libeity anu equality. Communism was famously envisioneu by Naix anu
Engels in !"# A2))',%$* F.,%1#$*2 as both politically just anu histoiically inevitable,
the two iueas being tieu togethei thiough the concept of piogiess (Naix & Engels
1966). Piogiess peisists now only as an iueology of capitalist iealism.
The pioblem
foi the left is that the political teleology of justice, of woiking foi a iauical iestiuctuie
of society aimeu at cieating new egalitaiian social ielations has uisappeaieu. We aie
living thiough a ciisis in political teleology wheie a histoiical teleology peisists
(piogiess) but it is an empty one with no claim foi justice.

In this thesis I will suggest that the wiitings of Fiench philosophei Alain Bauiou anu
the Ameiican political theoiist Wenuy Biown can help us fill out Fishei's uepiction of
'capitalist iealism'. Theii theoiisations also illuminate anu give shape to the question
of how capitalist iealism might be combateu. While otheis have wiitten about Bauiou
anu Biown's theoiisations, as yet no one has biought the two into conveisation.
Theie has been a gieat ueal of wiiting uealing with Bauiou's iecent philosophical
outline of the 'Communist Iuea' (Bosteels 2u11a; Zizek & Bouzinas 2u1u) but none
that put him in uialogue with Fishei's conception of 'capitalist iealism', noi Wenuy
Biown's account of the left's tuin towaius the state, oi hei uepiction of the subjective
anu affective constitution of late capitalism. Bauiou anu Biown aie fiom uispaiate
tiauitions. Biown places heiself within anu in uialogue with the Westein political
theoiy canon though she uiaws heavily on the woik of Foucault anu Nietzsche. The
impoitance of hei feminist ciitique of libeialism anu the state cannot be unueistateu
eithei. Bauiou, although a piouuct of the Fiench philosophical milieu of the 196us
anu 197us, has uevelopeu his own unique philosophical concepts anu methouology.
Bis cential political questions ielate to a thinking of the events of Nay '68 anu the
Cultuial Revolution, events that changeu his philosophy anu woiluview iiievocably.
Both thinkeis aie ueuicateu (with uiffeient emphases) to a iauical left ciitique of
capitalism anu a iethinking of the concepts cential to the Naixism of the twentieth

In chaptei one, I will aigue that Bauiou gives us a ieauing of the unueilying ontology
of capitalist iealism. Be also makes cleai that capitalist iealism is a peiiou of
capitalism chaiacteiiseu by a lack of iueas anu movements motivateu by

Though the apocalyptic theme of iecent cultuie suggests that in the face of enviionmental
catastiophe, cultuial stagnation anu capitalist ciisis, the iueology of piogiess may be coming in to
seiious question.
ievolutionaiy conceptions of systemic change. Thiough the woik of Bauiou I will
exploie the place of philosophy in ielation to politics, Bauiou's own theoiy of histoiy
anu the iole of uemociacy anu neo-colonialism in the constitution of capitalist
iealism. Bauiou points us towaius a veiy paiticulai type of political teleology, one
that is situation-specific yet univeisal, a complex opeiation oi oiientation anu one
that is nevei fully ueteimining oi embiacing.

In chaptei two, I tuin to Wenuy Biown in oiuei to examine how uemociacy, in
paiticulai the libeial iueology unueipinning it, seives to upholu the political
maintenance of capitalist iealism. Biown theoiises the embiace of a state-oiienteu
politics by the left in iesponse to the oveiaiching imposition of neolibeial political
anu economic iationalities. The pieuominance of a state- focuseu politics means that
social movements stiuggle to escape a libeial fiaming anu so aie limiteu in theii
ability to combat capitalist iealism. Biown fills out the ciucial subjective anu affective
uimensions of capitalist iealism.

In chaptei thiee, I take a ciitical look at both Biown anu Bauiou's conception of the
iaiity of political engagement anu action unuei capitalist iealism, a conception
influenceu by Naoism anu a ceitain uismissal of uialectical thinking. I will then look
at the thiee uominant affects that constitute capitalist iealism - /#$$#,*%)#,*, ciuel
optimism anu left melancholia - anu examine ways of moving thiough anu past these
affects in oiuei to combat capitalist iealism. I will tuin paiticulaily to lessons fiom
the fielu of affect theoiy as well as psychoanalysis to think thiough these issues.

1?.23"( @#"A
1.2/3.-/43 5".-/46+ 7"6)8(.3/8 B.3"(/.-/46 .#$ 3?"
1)660#/43 >$".

This chaptei will exploie how Alain Bauiou's philosophy helps us to bettei theoiise
capitalist iealism anu pioviues some answeis as to how capitalist iealism might be
combateu. In his F#*.-20%*%6$ Alain Bauiou makes cleai that he is engageu in wiiting
philosophy anu not woiks of political theoiy oi political philosophy (Bauiou 2uuSb,
p. 1u). Foi Bauiou philosophy is the consiueiation of tiuths. Bauiou's unique
conception of a tiuth will be uefineu below. Philosophy uoes not piouuce tiuths of its
own but can only think the compossibility (the ability oi possibility of coexisting) of
uiffeient tiuth pioceuuies. Thus philosophy foi Bauiou, although conuitioneu by
politics, must be consiueieu entiiely sepaiate fiom politics. It is the sutuiing of the
two that makes 'political philosophy' anathema to Bauiou's philosophical pioject
(Bauiou 2uuSb, p. 24). Neveitheless, I woulu aigue that his iecent wiitings aie pie-
occupieu with making an inteivention into philosophy that auuiesses political
questions. Bauiou's iecent pioject, along with Slavoj Zizek anu otheis, is to piopose a
ie-establishment of the Iuea of communism (Zizek & Bouzinas 2u1u). Be uoes this
centially thiough an essay calleu 'The Communist Iuea' which is containeu in a iecent
collection of wiitings entitleu !"# A2))',%$* 9B-2*"#$%$ (Bauiou 2u1ua).

Foi Bauiou, the antiuote to capitalist iealism iests with the 'Iuea'. Foi Bauiou
capitalist iealism is not just an eia oi an iueology, it has its own ontology. Bauiou
names this ontology 'uemociatic mateiialism' (Bauiou 2uu9, p. 1). It is essentially
summeu up in the statement 'theie aie only bouies anu languages': the axiom of
contempoiaiy conviction (Bauiou 2uu9, p. 1) .This ciuue mateiialism invites the
uominant impeiative of the woilu: to live without any Iuea. Foi Bauiou the Iuea is
essentially the Iuea of the goou (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. 1). The conception anu teiminology
of the 'Iuea' in his woik iepiesents not simply intellectual thought oi analysis but
thinking attacheu to a tianscenuent puipose beyonu the meie ieflection oi iepoitage
of empiiically given uata.
Without an Iuea we aie left with envisioning humanity as
only bouies oi life, an extension of animality (Bauiou 2uu9, p. 2). This vision of life is
flatteneu unuei a 'uemociatic' iueology wheie the uiveise pluiality of the species is
subsumeu unuei a juiiuical (foimal) anu noimative equality (Bauiou 2uu9, p. 2).

Bauiou's objection heie is to the flattening of uiffeience into a logic of equivalence,
wheie all things can be measuieu against the same stanuaiu oi value. This logic of
equivalence is a concomitant of the commouity foim cential to capitalism. It iesults
in a uominant iueology of ciuue ielativism. The obveise of this equality is that
multiplicity is continually uissolveu into a uuality, the uemociatic anu the totalitaiian,
oi the West anu the iest (Bauiou 2uu9, p. 4). I will aigue that this uuality foi Bauiou is
a key constituting factoi of capitalist iealism. This will be exploieu latei in the

Foi Bauiou, the veision of the Iuea paiticulai to politics is communism. Foi Bauiou
communism is the only political objective woithy of philosophy because it is the only
fully univeisal political iueal of justice anu equality (Bauiou 2uuSb, p. 8u). Bauiou's
communist Iuea iests on a ciitique of the belief that theie is an 'objective agent
insciibeu in social ieality, anu that it offeis the possibility of emancipation'.
Accoiuing to Bauiou this belief is a iemnant of a past politics that we neeu to bieak
away fiom (Bauiou 2u1ua, pp. S2-S). Bosteels (2uuS, p. 217) suggests that Bauiou
nevei iejects the iuea that the possibilities of emancipation aie immanent to the
situation, but antagonism as a piouuct of contiauiction as uepicteu classically in Naix
is not a featuie of his ontology (Toscano 2uu9, p. 189). A soliu objective agent of
ievolution, a figuie of peimanent contiauiction within the situation is not possible.
Such a subject can only come into being post-facto via the 'event' (a concept which
will be explaineu below). This iejection of the objective agent, who is ueemeu the
beaiei of histoiy, leaus Bauiou to offei a iefoimulation of the communist Iuea.

0ne of Bauiou's key philosophical anteceuents is Plato. Bauiou's Iuea heie shoulu be unueistoou with
iefeience to Plato's iuea of the goou; as conuitioning anu pioviuing meaning to being but itself
exceeuing being (Plato 2uuS, p. Su8e).
'Bemociatic' iueology shoulu be unueistoou heie as the concomitant of uemociacy as the political
foim of the libeial state iathei than the liteial meaning of uemociacy as the iule of the people. This
will be exploieu moie fully latei in the chaptei.
Bauiou suggests that the communist Iuea is something moie complex than simply a
ieinvigoiation of communist politics. In keeping with his unueistanuing of an 'Iuea'
as being not only an intellectual object but a puiposively envisioneu object oi
scenaiio so too he thinks of the communist Iuea is as a complex object iathei than a
simple ieveision to pievious Naixist theoietical oi iueological uses of that teim. In
Bauiou's conception, the communist Iuea is a tiipaitite constiuction. It consists of a
political tiuth pioceuuie, an histoiical element, anu a subjective element (Bauiou
2u1ub, p. 1).

To unueistanu this constiuction we neeu to iefei to a key theoietical anteceuent to
Bauiou, the late twentieth centuiy psychoanalytic thinkei, }acques Lacan (19u1 -
1981). Bauiou explains that his iuea of tiuth can be seen as analogous with Lacan's
conception of the Real (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. 4). A tiuth as piouuceu thiough a tiuth-
pioceuuie is uefineu by Bauiou as an ongoing consequence of an 'event', 'a iuptuie in
the noimal oiuei of bouies anu languages as it exists foi a paiticulai situation'
(Bauiou 2u1ub, p. 6). An event in this sense is to be contiasteu (in the stiongest
possible teims) with the noimal status quo of a situation (Bauiou 2uuSa, pp. 172-S).
A situation is any given set of ciicumstances that has a set system of oiueiing. In a
situation eveiything within it is accoiueu a set name anu a place (Bauiou 2uuSb, p.
14S). Foi Bauiou, events aie inteiiuptions of this system of naming anu placing. They
aie iaie anu take place in foui uiffeient spheies: Science, Ait, Love anu Politics.

The seconu pait of Bauiou's tiipaitite Iuea consists of an histoiical element, ioughly
analogous to Lacan's symbolic oiuei. Bistoiy foi Bauiou is in a uiffeient oiuei to
politics; it compiises the stoiy oi naiiative of histoiical facts. The facts heie aie
visible anu valueu elements of the situation. It is to be contiasteu against politics,
which is uefineu as a tiuth-pioceuuie that pioceeus fiom the iuptuie oi uistuibance
of the situation. The thiiu element of the Iuea is the subjective element, analogous to
Lacan's oiuei of the imaginaiy. This element is the opeiation wheieby the subject is
incoipoiateu into the tiuth pioceuuie anu becomes a militant of that tiuth (Bauiou
2u1ub, p. S). A typical example foi Bauiou is himself as a continuing militant of the
tiuth of Nay '68 (the political upheaval in Fiance). Foi Bauiou we aie still
contempoiaiies of Nay '68 in that the questions it iaiseu aie still the political
questions of touay. In paiticulai the events anu failuies of Nay '68 suggesteu that the
classical foims of the politics of emancipation (thiough the class paity) weie
ineffective (Bauiou 2u1ua, p. 62). To iemain a subject of this tiuth pioceuuie, in
Bauiou's teims, we must maintain fiuelity to the event. In this example, this consists
in applying the lessons of Nay '68 to an assessment of the politics of the twentieth
centuiy anu leaining anu expeiimenting with new political foims (Bauiou 2u1ua, p.
6S). Thus subjectivation is an imaginaiy 'piojection of the political ieal into the
symbolic naiiative of a Bistoiy' (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. S). In the Lacanian sense, the Real
iesists symbolisation in Bistoiy anu so can only be tianslateu into the symbolic by
means of the imaginaiy. Bauiou's point heie is to emphasise the neeu foi an
inteimeuiaiy between the event anu the situation. The event foi Bauiou is not a
uiiect iiiuption of the Real into the symbolic which blows apait the given situation.
What is impoitant foi Bauiou is not a gloiification of the event itself but its piocesses
of subjectivation (Bauiou 2u1ua, p. 219). The subjects, who become incoipoiateu into
the tiuth-pioceuuie, caiiy thiough changes in the situation. The subject is the
necessaiy biiuge between the Real anu the symbolic.

Although the subject is a necessaiy pait of Bauiou's foimulation of the Iuea, the
emphasis in 'The Communist Iuea' falls not on an investigation into the subject's
constiuction but is piincipally conceineu with the iefoimulation of the Iuea at a
conceptual oi philosophical level. Communism in this uepiction iemains to some
extent a Kantian iegulative iueal. It is something to aim foi but not something that
can be tiuly actualiseu. It maintains a philosophical puiity. Bauiou is explicit about
this in an eailiei iteiation of 'The Communist Iuea' wheie communism is uefineu as
'what Kant calleu an Iuea, with a iegulatoiy function, iathei than a
piogiamme'(Bauiou 2uu8, p. SS). What is lacking fiom Bauiou's communism in this
uepiction is the social actoi capable of enacting Communism. This is in staik contiast
to the uefinition given by Naix anu Engels in !"# G#/)., E+#2024B:
Communism is not a state of affaiis which is to be establisheu, an iueal to
which ieality will have to aujust itself. We call communism the ieal movement
which abolishes the piesent state of things. The conuitions of this movement
iesult fiom the piemises now in existence (Naix & Engels 197u, p. S6).

In contiast to Naix's 'communism', in 'The Communist Iuea' Bauiou is at pains to
point out that communism shoulu not become once again an aujective foi a politics; it
must maintain a uistance anu iemain at the level of the Iuea. It is piecisely an attempt
oi imagining of uiiectly implementing such an Iuea that Bauiou wains against. Foi
Bauiou the political expeiiments of vaiious foims of communist politics in the
twentieth centuiy iepiesent a communism which, in folly, attempteu to unfolu a
tiuth - of univeisal emancipation- uiiectly into histoiy without the meuiating piocess
of the imaginaiy subjectivation (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. S). The concept of the 'communist
paity' confuses anu shoit-ciicuits the complex tiipaitite ielationship within the Iuea
(Bauiou 2u1ub, p. S).

Foi Bauiou then, communism shoulu not name a politics but insteau seives to name
this complex tiipaitite Iuea that he conceives as an opeiation iathei than a concept in
itself. This opeiation has a necessaiily complex anu ambiguous chaiactei (Bauiou
2u1ub, p. 8). It is an inteiweaving of the thiee uimensions of the Real (inteiiuptive
events, uesiies, the unsymbolisable), the Symbolic (histoiy as the naiiative of the
situation of the given, the state) anu the Imaginaiy (inuiviuuals incoipoiating into
collective subjects by way of theii uesiies anu fantasies, theii ie-imaginations of
themselves in ielation to the woilu). The Iuea is an opeiation oi assemblage that
allows the inuiviuual as pait of a new subject to iealise heiself as pait of the
movement of Bistoiy. It is what anchois political piactices to a tiuly univeisal

9(03? .#$ CD/-

The question that neeus to be assesseu foi Bauiou is whethei his communist Iuea can
effectively act as a pioposal foi the iesuiiection of a political teleology. If 'capitalist
iealism' signifies a ciisis in political teleology oi a bioken histoiical naiiative then to
what extent uoes Bauiou's communist Iuea piopose a new teleology oi new
naiiative. This iaises the yet bioauei question, how exactly uo we combat capitalist

Fiistly it is ciitical to note that Bauiou's tiuths, although univeisal, aie always
paiticulai to the situation. An event such as the Egyptian ievolution (which
oveithiew Bosni Nubaiak) is immeuiately auuiesseu to eveiybouy ! it is an
unueniable event, eveiyone is toucheu by its univeisality (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 69).

Although this is the case it shoulu not be seen as a iesult of a iealm of univeisal tiuth
shining light fiom above on a situation. The tiuth foi Bauiou is the subject's fiuelity to
the event, uefineu as 'that which this fiuelity piouuces in the situation' (Bauiou 2uu1,
p. 42). A thinking of the situation accoiuing to the event embouies this fiuelity. So
although a tiuth is eteinal, its constiuction can only take place fiimly within a
paiticulai situation. Foi Bauiou this paiticulai ontology is an attempt to siuestep a
moueinist, unilineai teleology of piogiess, one both paiticulai to a twentieth centuiy
veision of communism anu to a colonialist iueology (which I will auuiess latei in this
chaptei). A tiuth is nevei a futuie social system oi even a paiticulai uogma, anu it can
nevei fully ueteimine oi obliteiate the situation. Bauiou expanus on this in his
uefinition of evil.

Evil foi Bauiou ielies fiistly on the goou; it is piemiseu on a tiuth-piocess (Bauiou
2uu1, p. 61). Theie aie thiee main uefinitions of evil foi Bauiou but only one that
conceins us heie: the 'uisastei'. The 'uisastei' foi Bauiou is what occuis when the
powei of a tiuth is absolutiseu oi totaliseu (Bauiou 2uu1, p. 71). In this sense, pait of
the piocess of a constiuction of a tiuth consists in the invention of a new subjective-
language, that is, the tiuth changes the names of elements in a situation. The opinions
anu communications of the situation altei as a iesult of the tiuth (Bauiou 2uu1, p.
82). The totalisation of a tiuth piesumes that this new oiuei of naming can
completely ie-wiite the language of opinions, oi the language of the cuiient situation.
So in the totaliseu oi absolutiseu tiuth common to both ieligious funuamentalism
anu ceitain totalitaiian political movements, the immoital woulu come to completely
ieplace the animality of humanity (Bauiou 2uu1, p. 84). This soit of pioceuuie
uisiegaius what is key to Bauiou's unueistanuing of the constiuction of the subject.
Foi Bauiou, the subject that paiticipates in the tiuth must maintain a necessaiy
uuality, split between the eveiyuay motivations of inteiest (as in moital conceins of
suivival anu socially ueteimineu expectations) anu a uisinteiesteu-inteiest, that pait

An objection to this woulu be to ask what exactly the univeisal significance of the Egyptian
ievolution is. 0ne possible iesponse woulu be to echo Zhou Enlai's famous answei when askeu about
the impact of the Fiench ievolution, 'it's too soon to say' (Schama 1989, p. xiii). Suffice to say Bauiou's
uepiction of the Egyptian Revolution's univeisality uoes not iest with a uiiect univeisal political lesson
but insteau with the unquestioneu metonymy of Tahiii Squaie, wheie a million people at its high point
weie univeisally acknowleugeu as the Egyptian people as a whole (Bauiou 2u12b, p. S4).
that is asocial in its motivation to pose tiuth against the noimality of knowleuge oi
opinions (Bauiou 2uu1, p. S4). This split 'some-one' howevei is the same entity, anu
the uiffeience between what is inteiest anu what is uisinteiesteu-inteiest can be
entiiely ambiguous (Bauiou 2uu1, p. SS). Foi Bauiou, the goou is goou only in so fai
as it can limit itself.

In the spheie of politics, a tiuth, thiough its subject-language, cannot name the
entiiety of the situation. In oiuei to avoiu uisastei, it must not uefinitively name oi
limit the collective oi the community because to uo so woulu be to pievent the
political tiuth-pioceuuie's univeisal auuiess (Bauiou 2uu1, p. 86). In Bauiou's
ontology, that which is invisible oi unspeakable fiom the point of view of the
situation, the elements that aie not visible anu valueu, aie the situation's voiu. The
tiuth-pioceuuie noimally iegulates its bieak with the situation thiough the
univeisality of the situation's voiu (Bauiou 2uu1, p. 74). The tiuth-pioceuuie is
always goveineu by what lies outsiue of the situation (nothing fiom the point of view
of the situation but -2*#,*%.00B eveiything) iathei than the specificities that lie within.
This allows the tiuth-pioceuuie to attain its univeisality. When the tiuth becomes a
meie 'simulacium' of the tiuth this piocess is ieveiseu. Then 'tiuth' is auuiesseu only
to the assumeu collective (to that ieal oi imaginaiy gioup that alieauy has a
substantial natuie within the situation), anu those who fall outsiue the ciiteiia of the
assumeu collective aie voiueu in oiuei to maintain the closeu anu substantial natuie
of the collective (Bauiou 2uu1, p. 74). That is, eveiyone else is auuiesseu with ueath
oi non-existence in the seivice of the closeu collectivity. The most common example
of this is nationalism oi xenophobia; in extieme cases this is manifesteu in genociue.

Thiough this quick suivey of Bauiou's veision of evil we can obseive that his
conception of an Iuea contains a stiictly uelimiteu veision of a political teleology. Bis
tiuths aie ones contingent on the specificity of the situation anu stiongly
counteiposeu to a totalisation, oi closeu enupoint of that tiuth oi inueeu of the
movement of histoiy. Bauiou's stiict iules of a political tiuth-pioceuuie pievent it
fiom naming the entiiety of the situation anu hence fiom establishing any soit of
enupoint oi final goal to politics. If the powei of a tiuth is nevei totaliseu oi nevei
fully woikeu thiough into the situation, the situation is necessaiily always able to be
subject to new tiuths. Foi Bauiou this is piecisely how the movement of histoiy
woiks, thiough successive events anu theii consequences embouieu in new subjects.

E2"80-.3/D" -";3/46F

Bauiou's theoiy of the subject thus leaves the question of a political teleology to the
futuie anteiioi ! that which will have been? Bauiou's funuamental injunction then is
to live with an Iuea, but this is an Iuea, paiticulaily at this piesent junctuie, with no
guaiantees. Bauiou piivileges the voiu, oi the inexistent as the point fiom which
change will occui. As Ballwaiu puts it 'Bauiou's motto has in effect become: tiust only
in what you cannot see' (Ballwaiu 2uu8, p. 121). Bauiou's Iuea is not uepenuent on a
'histoiical specification' oi unueilying stiuctuie oi economy (Ballwaiu 2uuS, p.
xxxii). Even when an event uoes occui one is not completely ueteimineu oi embiaceu
by the foice of the tiuth; the iauical subject acts without any guaiantees. This lack of
guaiantees oi pie-piepaieu political teleology means that in a situation of capitalist
iealism (oi of left uefeat) wheie the subject of social change is absent oi yet to be
constiucteu, the tenuency of the left can be to fall back onto a politics of uespaii oi

Foi Bauiou this pioblem biings up two opposing tenuencies within his own woik.
0ne is a tenuency towaius speculative leftism that I will exploie below. The othei
possible iesponse to the pioblem makes cential the issue of political oiganisation.
This is Bauiou's appioach in !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B anu one I will exploie latei in the

In capitalist iealism it seems as if the institutions of politics aie hopelessly
compiomiseu anu committeu to a capitalist (non)futuie. This leaus some leftists to
associate a tiue iauical politics with a bieak fiom all cuiiently existing classes,
paities, unions, social movements, anu states.
As tempting as this bieak may be it
leaus to a politics oi tenuency that seeks to avoiu any such meuiating factois

Examples heie span fiom the auventuiist left tenuencies of one pait of the Fiench Naoist milieu to
aspects of Beleuze anu uuattaii's woik, Situationism, contempoiaiy insuiiectionaiy anaichism, anti-
civilisation anaichism anu left teiioiism. !"# A2)%,4 E,$'//#6*%2, (2uu9) incoipoiates to some extent
all of the above.
(Bosteels 2u11a, p. 2S). Bauiou iuentifies speculative leftism as this fascination with
the event as a self-authoiising foice, believing that in its name it can ieject any
immanence to the situation (Bosteels 2u11a, p. 27). In this uepiction a communism
uetacheu fiom some immanence to the situation is a speculative leftist ueviation
away fiom a piopeily communist notion of the uialectical ielation between
communism anu capitalism. This is an effect of capitalist iealism. The consumei-
spectatoi figuie in the political iealm moiphs into a figuie of impatience as a
iesponse to uefeat. The impatient speculative leftist oscillates between 'exubeiance
anu uejection' (Bosteels 2u1u, p. S8). An excitement at momentaiy ievolts quickly
tiansfoims into a comfoitable melancholy when the ievolt fails to spontaneously
tiansfoim into a total ievolution thiough its own foice.

If one was to confine one's ieauing of Bauiou to 'The Communist Iuea' one might gain
an image of Bauiou as the aloof speculative philosophei; the piimaiy emphasis in this
text being the neeu to piopagate a new philosophical Iuea as the fiist step in the
challenging of capitalist iealism. This tenuency within Bauiou's woik can be fiuitfully
uiagnoseu as one paiticulai veision of speculative leftism. Foi Bosteels this is not so
much a split between iuealism anu mateiialism as it is an inuication of Bauiou's
pioblematic hieiaichy of philosophy ovei politics (Bosteels 2u11a, p. SS). In this
tenuency within Bauiou's thought, the key factoi is helu to be the stiength anu
coheience of the iueal. In this sense ieal political piocesses, be they the machinations
of paities, unions oi social movements, always have the potential to sully, uilute oi
uiveit fiom the stiength oi puiity of the cential iuea. Bosteels uefines speculative
leftism heie as 'a name foi the philosophical appiopiiation of iauical emancipatoiy
politics, as if this iauicality uepenueu on philosophy' (Bosteels 2u11a, p. SS). Bauiou
claims he uoes not want to pionounce on issues of politics, only on philosophy. But in
ueciying the iuea of a communist politics anu appoitioning communism (oi the
communist Iuea) solely to the uomain of the philosophical, Bauiou cannot but ueclaie
on the uemaication of the political. It is -"%02$2-"B that pionounces on communism
anu maintains the uistance fiom politics (oi the Real) allowing the tiipaitite
ielationship within the communist Iuea to avoiu any shoit-ciicuiting. Bespite
Bauiou's stateu wish to completely ue-sutuie philosophy anu politics, philosophy in

This left melancholy will be fuithei exploieu in chapteis 2 anu S.
'The Communist Iuea' iemains ovei anu above politics. Theie aie two factois
conuitioning Bauiou's move heie: fiistly, pait of the necessity of iemaining at this
iueal level is that in oiuei to legitimately iestitute the Iuea of communism in the
cuiient eia it must be uivoiceu fiom the twentieth centuiy histoiies of state
communism. 0nfoitunately foi Bauiou the foice of this impetus to uisconnect fiom
the histoiy of the twentieth centuiy initiates an iueal that tenus towaius an
impossible speculative leftist puiity, a puiity that can be maintaineu only via
philosophy. Seconuly, I contenu that Bauiou's wiitings heie aie veiy heavily
conuitioneu by theii political ciicumstances. Bauiou's (ie)foimulation of the
communist Iuea was fiist publisheu as a section in his 2uu7 text I# 3'2% J./@2KB #$*D%0
0# ,2)L (Bauiou 2uu7), an analysis of the ieactionaiy politics iepiesenteu by the then
Fiench piesiuent. Against this backgiounu of a peivasive ieactionaiy political cultuie
we cannot but expect, that with the absence of emancipatoiy political movements
that aie able to challenge capitalist iealism, Bauiou's emphasis might insteau fall on
the possibilities of philosophy.

Bosteels (2u11a, p. S4) suggests that this speculative leftist tenuency within
philosophy as a whole, anu ceitainly as a minoi tenuency within Bauiou's woik, may
not be a simple mistaken ueviation which neeus to be coiiecteu. Insteau speculative
leftism may be seen as being in a ciucial uialectic with the politics of the ieal
movement. Especially uuiing a ieactionaiy eia, philosophy may have something to
tiansmit back towaius the spheie of politics iathei than simply being conuitioneu by
it in a one-way ielationship.

'.$/)0 )# ?/43)(%

Capitalist iealism is the iueology of the enu of histoiy, the cessation of innovation,
anu the enu of political alteinatives. What exactly uoes it mean foi histoiy to enu. If
we unueistanu histoiy as facts anu events pileu on top of each othei into an 'empty
homogeneous' (Benjamin 197S) space oi lineai mouel of time then how is it possible
foi histoiy to cease unless we aie in fact at the enu of the woilu. Foi Bauiou such a
veision of histoiy uoes not exist (Bauiou 2u1ub; }ohnston 2uu9, p. 11). Bistoiy, in the

I will uiscuss this iuea fuithei in chaptei S
sense Bauiou iefeis to heie, is the naiiative iepiesentation of the 'state', by which
Bauiou means the 'system of constiaints that limit the possibility of possibilities'. The
state compiises the oiueiing piinciples of the situation (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. 7). Bistoiy
as the naiiative of the state is to be contiasteu against the inteiiuptive anu cieative
uimensions of the event. The event's opening of the possibility of the cieation of
heteiogeneous timescapes uefies any easy histoiicisation. Bauiou's events uo not
unfolu into a homogenous lineai empty time. Eveiy event constitutes its own time
(}ohnston 2uu9, p. 11). Theie aie multiple histoiies anu new events cannot be
unueistoou thiough an examination of genealogies.

Bistoiy as such ! in Bauiou's view ! is maue up of histoiical 'facts', which aie the
consequences of the existence of a state. A tiuth-pioceuuie, which necessaiily
opeiates at a uistance fiom the state (as the event is what is new anu inteiiupts the
oiueiing piinciples of the situation), must then iely on 'non-factual' elements (as well
as 'factual' ones). The impoitance of the Iuea is that it has the powei to piesent the
tiuth as if it weie a 'fact' (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. 8). In othei woius it is a way of
tiansfoiming a pait of the tiuth into the oiuei of the symbolic.

Foi Bauiou, this iealm of histoiy as the naiiative iepiesentation of the 'facts' of the
state is oiuinaiy histoiy anu the histoiy of inuiviuual lives is confineu within the state
(Bauiou 2u1ub, p. 11). The Iuea allows the piojection of the exception into the
oiuinaiy life of inuiviuuals. It uoes not uiiectly incoipoiate an inuiviuual into the
bouy oi subject of tiuth but it uoes assist with enabling someone to be taken to a
place wheie they can make the uecision to be incoipoiateu oi not into this collective
subject (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. 11).

At the level of the imagination then it is not haiu to uiscein how the enu of histoiy is
unconsciously accepteu within capitalist iealism. Foi in this uepiction at the enu of
histoiy we aie no longei subject to woilu-changing events, oi gieat political
paiauigm shifts baseu on the movement anu stiuggle of people motivateu thiough
gianu iueas. Bistoiy as it takes place without the pievalence of an Iuea anu without
the invention of new collective subjects woulu seem to have enueu oi ieacheu an
apotheosis of soits. Without the eiuption of events (unueistoou thiough the lens of
an Iuea), histoiy uoes seem flat, unitaiy anu homogenous. In the iueology of capitalist
iealism all phenomena can be ieau as somehow a piouuct of 'oveiueteimining
stieams of histoiical continuity' (}ohnston 2uu9, p. 12). A ciucial pait of capitalist
iealism is the imagining of capitalism as the only ieal actoi oi agency, the only souice
of ongoing uynamism.

9?" /#3"(D.--/8 2"(/)$

Following this analysis we can move to an examination of Bauiou's peiiouisation.
Bauiou's concept of the Iuea makes cleai that his philosophy is not a simple uivision
between the flat, oppiessive woilu of the eveiyuay, anu the woilu of the event that is
to be waiteu foi to eiupt out of the eveiyuay with a soit of messianic hope. A woilu as
such can be chaiacteiiseu anu peiiouiseu by the ielative existence of the stiength of
an Iuea as it pievails within the state of the situation.

Accoiuing to Bauiou we aie living in what he calls an inteivallic peiiou. An inteivallic
peiiou occuis immeuiately aftei a peiiou wheie a 'ievolutionaiy conception of
political action has been sufficiently claiifieu that |...j it is explicitly piesenteu as an
alteinative to the uominant woilu, anu on this basis has massive, uisciplineu suppoit'
(Bauiou 2u12b, p. S9). The ielevant pievious peiiou this iefeis to aie the yeais
ioughly between 19Su anu 198u. This was a peiiou wheie the iueas of communism
anu ievolution hau woiluwiue intelligibility as political possibilities, if not woiluwiue
suppoit (Bauiou 2u12b, p. S7). In oui inteivallic peiiou by contiast the Iuea of
communism no longei holus any cuiiency. The foices of ieaction in such a peiiou
have tiiumpheu anu uiscontent is iestiicteu to the foim of ievolt oi iiots; to only a
negative answei to the pievailing systems of uomination. Nissing fiom the ievolts of
the inteivallic peiiou is the Iuea, which lies uoimant.

Foi Bauiou the Egyptian anu Tunisian ievolutions qualify as woilu-changing events.
But they aie missing the next level of political uevelopment. They achieve the level of
oveithiowing uictatois thiough mass action anu theiefoie aie tiuly histoiical
moments that hint towaius a 'iebiith of histoiy' (Bauiou 2u12b, p. S7). Foi Bauiou
howevei the cuiient histoiical sequence is analogous to the iiots anu ievolutions in
Euiope that took place in the 18Sus anu 184us. They weie momentous events but the
communist Iuea was not yet uevelopeu anu new political foims weie unable to be
inventeu (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 41).
Thus until the Iuea is iefoimulateu 'the iiot |can
only bej the guaiuian of the histoiy of emancipation.' (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 41). The
histoiical iiot (an event such as the Egyptian ievolution) places the political
questions that weie unansweieu in the pievious peiiou back on the agenua anu
points to an uigent neeu to iefoimulate the Iuea in oiuei to cieate a new politics that
goes beyonu ievolt anu the mass movement (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 42). The political
pioblem inheiiteu fiom the pievious eia is the pioblem of oiganisation, but foi
Bauiou, in oiuei to cieate new oiganisational foims, it is necessaiy to iefoimulate the
Iuea (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 42).

Bauiou's uesciiption of an inteivallic peiiou shoulu be ieau as a uesciiption of
capitalist iealism. Bauiou uoes not uiscount the possibility of iesistance but he aigues
that without the Iuea, ievolts aie uismisseu as momentaiy fiagments of angei with
no meaning, containing nothing that woulu thiow oui unueistanuing of the woilu
into any seiious uoubt. This is the effect of capitalist iealism pai excellence. Revolts
oi iiots of any kinu aie piesumeu to be effects of the uysfunction of society; foi the
most pait they aie inteipieteu not as political in theii own iight but as being the
expiession of uiscontent, uishaimony anu unequal uistiibution. With this analysis
such iesistance can be easily uissolveu into pioblems of societal uysfunction that
neeu auuiessing at the level of social policy, oi at the level of the state. In othei
woius, they become ciinkles to be iioneu ovei, whilst the iionei iemains in a static
position. Politics iemains at the level of the state, anu the state only. In an inteivallic
peiiou, while the Iuea is still to be iefoimulateu, a tiuly ievolutionaiy politics can
only finu a veiy paitial oi fiagmenteu expiession. If we aie to follow Bauiou,
capitalist iealism cannot be funuamentally alteieu without the iefoimulation of the
Iuea. In !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B Bauiou gives us some sense of how this might happen.

'.$/)0G4 3?")(% ); 2)-/3/8.- )(=.#/4.3/)#

Foi Bauiou this in contiast to the pievious ievolutionaiy peiiou which was chaiacteiiseu by the
Republican Iuea (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 41).
Wiitten in a post-2u11 woilu, a yeai of gieat political upheavals, which some have
suggesteu signals the enu of the 'long uaik night of the left'(Bouzinas & Zizek 2u1u),
in !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B Bauiou's emphasis changes: his challenge to capitalist
iealism as well as the ieinvention of the Iuea uepenus almost entiiely on the
constiuction of new collective political subjects. Beie political alteinatives cannot be
uieameu up solely in the abstiact. If this weie the case they woulu become simply
utopian iueas floating unanchoieu aiounu the maiketplace of iueas, subject only to
iational oi aesthetic juugment; the peifect objects of contemplation foi the
consumei-spectatoi figuie funuamental to capitalist iealism. To the contiaiy, I aigue
that Bauiou's conception of politics in !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B (anu in the majoiity of
his wiitings) uepenus on conciete, active subjects.

If one answei to the pioblem of the incoheience, oi inueeu non-existence of the
collective subject is to fall back on a melancholic speculative leftism, the othei
pioceeus thiough the patient constiuction of political oiganisation. This concept is
key foi Bauiou in !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B?

An oiganisation lies at the inteisection between an Iuea anu an event (Bauiou 2u12b,
p. 6S). The Iuea uoes not pieceue the iiot; it is inteitwineu with its effects. The
constiuction of a political oiganisation iequiies that the oiganisation must ietain
tiaces of the cieative powei of the histoiical iiot (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 64). The key
qualities of this powei of the histoiical iiot aie contiaction, intensification anu
localisation. Classically the political oiganisation pieseiveu these qualities of
contiaction by stiict iules of membeiship, intensification thiough militant activism,
anu localisation thiough fiim iules of conquest of the sites wheie one is piesent
(Bauiou 2u12b, p. 6S).
Bauiou aigues we shoulu pieseive the qualities of
contiaction, intensification anu localisation as a means of constiucting new political
oiganisations, but the paiticulai classical foim of the class baseu centialiseu political
paity, which was the typical toolbox of communist paities woiluwiue thioughout the

A typical example of the lattei being the occupieu factoiy wheie it is cleai both to those within anu
outsiue the factoiy which oiganisational foices aie the symbolic masteis of that space (Bauiou 2u12b,
p. 6S).
twentieth centuiy, is to be iethought. The class-paity foim
as such has been
exhausteu, anu Bauiou aigues that 'these pioceuuies foi guaiuing the Tiue will be
alteieu in the coming sequence' (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 6S). This question of oiganisation
is inheiiteu fiom the pievious sequence of the Iuea anu must be uealt with in oiuei to
constiuct a new sequence. As we witness a ietuin to an eia of iiots signaling a iebiith
of histoiy it will become incieasingly necessaiy to constiuct new foims of political
oiganisation ieflective of a new veision of the Iuea. Without oiganisation, the event
iemains just a moment; without any piopeily political ongoing consequence, the
iebiith of histoiy is just a biilliant anecuote (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 7u). In othei woius,
without oiganisation, iiots oi ievolts iisk becoming easily assimilable to capitalist

Bauiou's chaiacteiistic example of this failuie of political oiganisation is the anti-
globalisation movements of the late 199us anu eaily 2uuus. Foi Fishei too these
movements conceueu fai too much to capitalist iealism. They weie unable to
constiuct a coheient political alteinative, anu the emphasis on big piotest spectacles
ovei political oiganisation leau to an impiession that iathei than pioposing that
'anothei woilu is possible', the movement appeaieu to ieally uesiie a mitigation oi
iegulation of the extieme uispaiities of the cuiient woilu (Fishei 2uu9, p. 14).
Similaily, foi Bauiou this sequence of piotest iepiesenteu an alliance between a soit
of economistic iefoimism (foi instance the call foi moie iegulation of capitalism) anu
an auventuiist movementism, typifieu by a uispeiseu netwoik of hoiizontally
oiganiseu gioupuscules tieu togethei by affinity (Bauiou 2uuSb, p. xxxv). This
enthusiasm foi movements without ongoing political oiganisations leaus to a politics
that, although encouiaging of ievolt, is unable to foimulate new political foims. This
soit of politics can easily lapse into a concomitant of capitalist uevelopment,
ueveloping as its aujunct. As capitalist iealism piouuces an imaginaiy wheie
capitalism is the only ieal foice of change anu novelty in the woilu, movements of
iesistance often manifest as a spectaculai yet momentaiy opposition to uominant
foices whilst essentially iemaining fascinateu by anu inteiioi to these systems of

The politics that took the foim of the paity iepiesenting the class aimeu at taking contiol of the
state ! a politics baseu on the self-affiimation of the woiking class.

In light of the foimulation of this theoiy of the necessity of political oiganisation, it
behooves us to ieau the key pait of the 'Iuea' as not a motivating utopian iefeience,
but as the nexus point at which the political militant enteis into the iealm of histoiy.
0iganisation effects the tiansition fiom the ieal to the symbolic, fiom uesiie to law. A
political oiganisation is 'an oiuei in the seivice of uisoiuei, the constant
guaiuianship of an exception' (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 66). The oiganisation is a
'fiagmentation of the Iuea into actions, pioclamations anu inventions' (Bauiou 2u12b,
p. 66). 0iganisation, in othei woius, is the pait of the Iuea that becomes actualiseu
accoiuing to the specifics of the event anu the situation that the event occuis in.

If in 'The Communist Iuea' the communist Iuea appeaieu as the ciucial iuea oi
iueology ! as the puiview of the philosophei, that woulu allow the masses to entei
histoiy ! the emphasis in !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B is on the political oiganisation as
containing both the foice of the event anu a woiking thiough of the Iuea in oiuei to
constiuct the tiuly new woilu (within the olu). The change in emphasis iepiesents in
itself the conuitioning of Bauiou's philosophy by iecent political events.

7"6)8(.8%+ 3)3.-/3.(/.#/46 .#$ 3?" !"43

If one pait of the pioblem with the anti-globalisation movement was its iefusal to
builu political oiganisations, anothei concomitant pioblem was its economism.
Bauiou laments this economism because foi him political tiuth pioceuuies cannot be
linkeu to economics, as economics is synonymous with the histoiy of the state of the
situation, oi a sociology of the positive oiuei of being. The event piopei foi Bauiou
cannot be uisceineu fiom what he calls the 'encyclopeuia of the situation', a suivey of
the obvious elements, visible anu valueu (}ohnston 2uu9, p. 1S1).

Without a uiiectly political challenge theie was an inability to ciiticise oi challenge
libeial uemociatic foims. The ciitique of the excesses of capitalism was not
tiansfoimeu into a soliu politics that coulu contest this uominance. In othei woius
anti-capitalism is not a sufficient challenge to capitalist iealism while it is containeu
within uemociatic foims.

Bauiou takes Fishei's ciitique of capitalist iealism fuithei by inteiiogating the
political foim that capitalist iealism takes. Bis thesis is that this political foim is
uemociacy, uemociacy specifieu as a foim of the state (Bauiou 2uuSb, p. 81). Bauiou
posits this uefinition as in opposition to the liteial meaning of uemociacy: 'the powei
of peoples ovei theii own existence', a uefinition that implies the witheiing away of
the state (Bauiou 2u11, p. 1S). The unquestioneu iueology of uemociacy (uefineu as a
foim of the state) peifoims an impoitant function in maintaining capitalist iealism
foi Bauiou. It limits ciiticism as such so one can only legitimately engage in politics
whilst iemaining within uemociatic iueology, as in 'how can a society that claims to
be a uemociacy be guilty of this oi that.' (Bauiou 2u11, p. 6). 0ne must fiame one's
ciiticism as measuieu against a uemociatic iueal. In othei woius you can be as
ciitical as you like as long as youi ciiticism is as a citizen who uoes not question the
state oi libeial uemociacy.

Bemociacy heie peifoims two majoi inteiielateu functions foi the maintenance of
capitalist iealism. Fiistly, as Bauiou puts it, the political foim of uemociacy is the
piecise coiielate of capitalism as uefineu by Fishei in A.-%*.0%$* H#.0%$) 8MNNO:. In
this uepiction the consumei-spectatoi ie-emeiges as the heuonist without meaning.
Bauiou, uiawing on Plato, asseits that 'the only thing that constitutes the uemociatic
subject is |.j pleasuie-seeking behavioui' (Bauiou 2u11, p. 9). The key iuea of
uemociacy is the illusion that eveiything is available anu open to consumption, anu
that eveiything is equivalent to eveiything else unuei a univeisal measuie of value
(such as thiough money as a meuium of exchange). Within this woilu the only thing
appioaching meaning is a youthful pleasuie seeking uiive (Bauiou 2u11, pp. 9-1u). It
is heie that the heuonist of Bauiou's 'uemociacy' meiges with the consumei-
spectatoi of Fishei's 'capitalist iealism'. The enuless celebiation of the supposeuly
new anu youthful is ieally just so much iecycling: pastiche anu ievivalism. uenuinely
youthful enthusiasm is uistiusteu.

Bauiou's ciitique of uemociacy in fact iests on veiy similai giounus to Naix's ciitique
of equality: things shoulu not be subsumeu unuei a univeisal measuie of value. In the
economic spheie this is iepiesenteu by money oi the value-foim, the univeisal
measuie of laboui. In politics this is manifesteu as foimal oi juiiuical equality. 0f
couise the two iueas aie intimately inteitwineu. 0nuei uemociacy uiffeiences anu
hieiaichies of piopeity, euucation, occupation, genuei, anu iace peisist but eveiyone
is maue foimally (legally) equal. As Wenuy Biown puts it, the state achieves its own
univeisality, anu hence a new legitimacy thiough this piocess (Biown, W 199S, p.
1u9). The iights given by the mouein state aie not simple illusions, but the fieeuoms
they iepiesent ieify anu natuialise capitalist society. Rights aie foimally attiibuteu to
abstiact inuiviuuals iathei than substantively iealiseu by conciete inuiviuuals within
society. The effect of a libeial uiscouise of fieeuom as (legal) iights in the mouein
state is to obscuie the social foices that piouuce inequality anu social uistinctions
(Biown, W 199S, p. 11S).

Real equality foi Bauiou cannot be baseu on the same abstiact, univeisal measuie
that capitalist society is baseu upon. This is a theme pickeu up by theoiists fiom the
'communisation' peispective who emphasise that what is uemanueu by communism
is a uestiuction of the fungibility of laboui, of the stanuaius of valuation anu
measuiement which constitute univeisal equivalency themselves (Theoiie-
Communiste 2u12, p. S4). It is this logic of equivalence that unueipins 'uemociatic
mateiialism'. It pievents a consiueiation of tiuths unueistoou in this sense as the
emeigence of the tiuly new within the situation. If eveiything can be compaieu
against eveiything else we emeige with a flat ontology that allows no ioom foi
genuine iuptuial change.

If the fiist function of uemociatic iueology within capitalist iealism is to miiioi the
logic of equivalence of commouity exchange in a paiallel political logic of equivalence
of juiiuical peisons (ignoiing anu concealing theii ieal uiffeiences in powei), its
seconu function foi Bauiou is the ieuuctionist illusion by which uemociacy, whilst
seemingly celebiating a multiplicity of uiffeiences, actually opeiates thiough

I will exploie Biown's ciitique of libeial uemociacy fuithei in chaptei two.
uissolving the woilu into a uuality: the uemociatic anu the totalitaiian, oi the West
anu the iest (Bauiou 2uu9, p. 4).

A cential chaptei of !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B outlines how the events of the Aiab Spiing
have been willfully misinteipieteu by Westein politicians anu mainstieam meuia as a
uesiie foi the political anu economic systems of the West. The ciy foi fieeuom is
inteipieteu as fieeuom of enteipiise, opinion, anu fiee elections unuei a
iepiesentative uemociacy (Bauiou 2u12b, p. 48). In this ieauing of the piotests, the
Aiab countiies aie simply uemanuing Westein inclusion (Bauiou 2u12b, p. S1). This
iuea seives a vital iueological function not just as uiluting anu uenying the evental
chaiactei of the Aiab spiing but also as ieinfoicing the Westein naiiative of
piogiess. The iuea of this uesiie foi inclusion in the West shoulu be unueistoou as a
neo-colonial iueology. It seives to make piotests oi iiots in so-calleu 'Westein
uemociatic' countiies incompiehensible. If we've alieauy aiiiveu at the enu of
histoiy, with the West as telos, then what is theie to possibly complain about.

If the events of the Aiab Spiing can be ieuuceu to the iuea of the uesiie foi the West,
this pievents us fiom having to seiiously engage with abstiact iueals anu iueologies
that may piesent othei ways of inteipieting such events. The opeiation of this
ieuuction tuins the Aiab Spiing into a piocess of messy mimesis iathei than
acknowleuging that theie may be alteinate iueas of the goou at play. The West is
always the political telos anu the systems of the West aie piemiseu not on the goou,
but the avoiuance of evil. Thus the iuea that the Aiab Spiing iepiesents a uesiie on
the pait of the Aiab masses to imitate anu appioach the situation of the West, what
Bauiou calls 'the uesiie foi the West', piecluues the consiueiation of a passionate oi
uisciplineu puisuit of a goou. In uemociacy such an engagement oi passionate
puisuit must be avoiueu in favoui of a funuamental attituue of iionic uistance that is
meant to piotect us fiom the 'seuuctions of fanaticism' (Fishei 2uu9, p. S). Bemociacy
once again is bioken uown into a uuality, the uemociatic anu the totalitaiian, as all
non-uemociatic (oi iauical) iueas that aie aimeu at the goou aie taiieu with the same
biush of fanaticism oi totalitaiianism. The uuality imposeu by the iueology of
uemociacy seives to eiect an official antagonism (between the uemociatic anu non-
uemociatic) in oiuei to uisplace anu obscuie the ieal antagonisms unueilying
society. Capitalist iealism is fuithei enfoiceu as these antagonisms within become

Bemociacy uefines itself against totalitaiianism by giving piimacy to uiffeience,
alteiity, pluiality anu contingency (Bosteels 2u11b, p. 262). These values howevei
mesh veiy easily into capitalist iealism on the conuition that the uiffeience expiesseu
is subsumeu unuei a logic of geneial equivalence. Bauiou's 'uemociatic mateiialism'
thus emeiges as poweiful uesciiption of the unueilying functioning of capitalist

If a ciitique of capitalist iealism inevitably leaus us to a ciitique of uemociacy, the
next question to investigate is how left politics anu social movements have been
subsumeu within libeial uemociatic foims as a iesult of capitalist iealism.
To uo this we'll tuin to the Ameiican political theoiist Wenuy Biown.

1?.23"( 9*)A
7"6)8(.8%+ 3?" E3.3" .#$ 3?" ,;;"83/D" C8)#)6% );
1.2/3.-/43 5".-/46

Bauiou's analysis leaus us to the necessity of a ueepei examination of the political
maintenance of capitalist iealism anu to the neeu to tianscenu an economistic
ciitique anu politics (that weie typical of both the anti-globalisation movements anu
aiguably the woiluwiue '0ccupy' movement).
Although Wenuy Biown uses uiffeient teims she gives us gieat insight into the
political woikings of capitalist iealism thiough hei theoiisation of the state anu
uepiction of the failuie of vaiious left iesponses to capitalist iealism. In J*.*#$ 21
E,P'/B (199S) Biown's chief aim is the theoiisation of the tuin of left politics,
paiticulaily feminism, to a politics of iights, iecognition anu ieuistiibution. 0nlike
theoiists such as Axel Bonneth anu Nancy Fiasei (Fiasei & Bonneth 2uuS), foi
Biown these aie categoiies inteinal to a libeial political oiuei. Reuistiibution is
oveily economistic, lacking in a political ciitique, whilst iecognition can nevei be
fully iealiseu if enacteu by a libeial state. I will expanu upon this ciitique below but
foi now it is useful to unueistanu that Biown situates this tuin histoiically anu
philosophically. She uiscusses how the left paiticipates in a shoiing up of the
categoiies of libeial uemociacy anu hence ieinfoices capitalist iealism.
Biown's theoiisation fills in ceitain gaps within the concept anu peiiouisation of
capitalist iealism offeieu by Naik Fishei. As well as giving us a veiy useful analysis of
the woikings of the state, Biown analyses the unconscious wishes anu attachments of
the capitalist iealist subject. Biown helps us unueistanu how capitalist iealism
functions as an iueological view that eliminates the possibilities of politically
tiansfoimative action by piojecting an image of the exhaustion by capitalism of all
possible paths of action. Biown fills out the ciucial subjective anu affective uimension
of capitalist iealism, a uimension Bauiou only auuiesses supeificially.
In capitalist iealism no othei political alteinative appeais at all cieuible. A common
ieaction fiom the left (those who pieviously woulu have fought foi political
alteinatives anu contesteu powei within anu without cuiient political institutions) to
the onset of capitalist iealism is to iegaiu the cuiient institutions of politics (paities,
pailiament, couits, meuia, unions) as hopelessly compiomiseu anu committeu
absolutely to a capitalist futuie. In this imagining, the space of politics (anu
uemociacy) is closeu to contestation, as institutions aie no longei open to any foim
of political alteinative.

0ne answei to this is a speculative leftism that associates a tiue iauical politics with
a bieak fiom all such meuiating factois. Biown foi hei pait uepicts anu ciitiques a
iightist iesponse to this effect of capitalist iealism. In this imagining if theie is no
alteinative to be founu outsiue the existing oiuei anu if all existing institutions aie in
lockstep on the one (capitalist iealist) agenua then the state becomes the ue facto
only place wheie politics is possible. A politics that seeks to woik fiom outsiue, oi
use institutions as a means towaius an enu in which those institutions aie iauically
tiansfoimeu, is seen as completely uniealistic anu inueeu impossible. Political change
must be woikeu only thiough the state, anu only within capitalism.
This chaptei will pioceeu thiough an examination of Biown's conception of the state,
hei uepiction anu ciitique of the left's move towaius a state-centieu politics, anu then
to an examination of Biown's ciitique of libeialism anu the attenuant politics of
iuentity. This will incluue a uiscussion of the affective economy of capitalist iealism.
Biown's answei to capitalist iealism will be examineu, incluuing hei uefinition anu
noimative vision of (iauical) uemociacy.
9?" -";3G4 30(# 3) 3?" 43.3"
In the intiouuction to J*.*#$ 21 E,P'/B, wiitten in the miu-199us but ieflecting on the
politics of the 198us anu eaily 199us, Biown's cential question is why has 'fieeuom'
gone off the political agenua of the left. Why have the iueas cential to the social

I will ciitique this iuea fuithei latei in Chaptei S.
movements of the 196us anu 197us gone out of fashion in favoui of a tuin towaius a
state-centieu politics of iights, ieuistiibution, welfaiism anu iecognition (Biown, W
199S, p. 9).
Beie Biown takes a position that is similai to the histoiical aigument of Naik Fishei
yet moie specific. Fishei aigues that the battle to establish capitalist iealism was won
in the 198us thiough the aggiessive implementation of global neolibeialism typifieu
by the policies of Reagan anu Thatchei. This implementation was piemiseu on the
uefeat of global social anu laboui movements (Fishei 2uu9, p. 8). Biown is moie
specific about the attacks of neolibeialism.
The key factoi foi Biown is 'the iight's piogiammatic attack on the welfaie state
since the miu-7us' (Biown, W 199S, p. 1u). As a key constitutive element of a post
Woilu Wai Two class settlement, the welfaie state was valueu foi its ieuistiibutive
function. It seiveu to entiench a moie meiitociatic class oiuei whilst piopping up a
huge miuule class. As moie iauical iueas of fieeuom, ievolution anu a challenge to the
state anu capitalism uisappeaieu fiom left iueological uiscouise the uefence of the
welfaie state gaineu paiamount impoitance (Biown, W 199S, p. 1u).
The majoi consequence of this tuin is that the left became iueologically sutuieu to
the state as an agent of ieuistiibution. Echoing Fishei's anu Bauiou's ciitique of the
anti-globalisation movement, Biown suggests that fai fiom seeing capital anu the
state as in league, oi as iepiesenting a similai set of inteiests, the mainstieam left
now sees the state as a bulwaik against the iavages of fiee maiket capitalism. The left
has given up on a political ciitique of the state as a site of uomination, anu insteau
focuses on economic ieuistiibution. The state is implicitly figuieu heie as eithei a
neutial place of politics oi even a piogiessive foice (Biown, W 199S, p. 11).
A ciucial example of this foi Biown is the 'uominant position in feminist political
uiscouise' of aiguments, such as those of Piven anu Ehienieich (Ehienieich & Piven
198S), that state institutions shoulu be embiaceu by feminism (Biown, W 199S, p.
172). In this view the giowing involvement of women with the state, 'as clients anu
woikeis but also as constituents anu politicians', is equivalent to the giowing agency
anu political empoweiment of women (Biown, W 199S, p. 172). Feminism itself
comes into alliance with the state as it offeis the political anu legal means by which
the inuepenuence of women as inuiviuual agents can be wiesteu fiom tiauitional,
patiiaichal family stiuctuies. Biown is ciitical of this appioach anu questions
whethei this supposeu inuepenuence is not just a tiansfei of powei fiom the
patiiaichal stiuctuies of the family to stiuctuies of male uomination that aie
systematiseu in mass institutions (Biown, W 199S, p. 178). She pioceeus to iuentify
the limits anu iisks associateu with this appioach.
H(""$)6 .#$ 4)8/.- 3)3.-/3%
Foi Biown what this position fails to see is fiistly, that neolibeialism is a state pioject
anu seconuly, that the state is a masculinist set of institutions iiieconcilable with the
aims of feminism. She uenies a uiiect causal oi base-supeistiuctuie ielationship
between an economic oiuei anu a political oiuei. Biown asseits that what is lost in a
post-Naixist iepuuiation of Naix is his insight that capitalism is not just a simple
moue of piouuction on top of which any set of political oi social ielations can be built.
Rathei, the iueological foims oi abstiactions necessaiy to capitalism, such as the
commouity, shoulu be unueistoou as an effect of the 'complex anu uissimulating
activity of commouification' which 'iemains itself a social foice as well as the
conuenseu site of social foices' (Biown, W 199S, p. 1S). This social foice iequiies a
complex set of iueological mechanisms anu abstiactions, centially laboui as abstiact,
value-piouucing laboui. It is thiough this abstiaction that laboui becomes a fungible
commouity. Accoiuing to Naix, it is this iule of abstiaction that ultimately conuitions
laboui's existence (Euen 2u12, p. S1). Biown's veision of Naixism aligns hei with
figuies such as Lukcs anu Auoino who theoiiseu Naix's ciitique of capitalism as a
total social ciitique (Auoino & Boikheimei 1972; Lukcs 1971).
Naix shoulu be ieau not as pioviuing an economistic ciitique, but as pioviuing a
wiuei social theoiy wheie the cential categoiies aie alienation, exploitation anu
uomination. These aie categoiies which piompt us towaius a politics of fieeuom, not
meiely an economistic politics of equality oi ieuistiibution (Biown, W 199S, p. 1S).
By contiast, the tuin to an economistic ciitique of capitalism is a coiollaiy of a
political acceptance of the mainstays of libeial iueology, wheie piivate libeity anu
consumption, choice anu expiession come to iepiesent fieeuom (Biown, W 199S, pp.
Foi Biown, as uistinct fiom the economistic ieauing of Naix, a ciitique of capitalism
unueistoou in the Naixist sense iequiies a ciitique of the state, anu a foiegiounuing
of the political piocesses of uomination. She aigues that this move away fiom a
political ciitique of the state anu libeial uemociacy is an effect of the iight's
appiopiiation of the uiscouise of fieeuom, the uiscieuiting of the socialist pioject by
the authoiitaiian natuie of the 0SSR (anu its collapse), anu finally an eiasuie of the
concept of fieeuom as a populai ciitical teim (Biown, W 199S, p. 18). Bominant
stianus of feminism in paiticulai have tuineu away fiom fieeuom, in favoui of social
equality anu political piotection, which aie implicitly thought to be achieveu thiough
state piocesses (Biown, W 199S, p. 21). This evaues piecisely those issues of
uomination in its systematiseu foims.
This change of emphasis foi left politics can be seen as a consequence of the onset of
capitalist iealism. In the 197us anu 198us a new eia of piofitability foi capital
necessitateu a steauy uismantling of aspects of the welfaie state acioss the uevelopeu
woilu. Policies of fiee tiaue, piivatisation, ueiegulation anu maiketisation
thioughout the uevelopeu woilu (Baivey 2uuS) weie key aspects of this uismantling.
This piocess anu the iueology behinu it have come to be known as neolibeialism. A
typical mistake of left analysis is to see this piocess as an encioachment of the
maiket, ieau as piivate inteiests, onto the teiiain of the state, unueistoou as
iepiesenting public inteiests. Biown aigues that neolibeialism shoulu not be
unueistoou as the fiee maiket eiouing the state but insteau shoulu be unueistoou as
a newly hegemonic political iationality (Biown, W 2uu6, p. 69S). A cential featuie of
this is the imposition of maiket iationality on not just the economic spheie but also
the iealms of the social anu political. Neolibeialism piomulgates a set of noimative
values. It is piouuctive of an entiepieneuiial iationality, wheie a vision of the goou
life is measuieu against maiketiseu ciiteiia of inuiviuual woith, autonomy anu self-
0nuei neolibeialism the maiket is not left to flouiish unhinueieu; iathei a specific
set of social anu goveinmental policies aie neeueu to enable anu piomulgate
neolibeial conuitions. As Biown states 'the state itself must constiuct anu constiue
itself in maiket teims' (Biown, W 2uu6, p. 694). Neolibeialism, foi Biown, is a
totalising iueology, cieating a specific moue of goveinance as well as a paiticulai kinu
of subject imbueu with a neolibeial political iationality. Biown unueilines that in the
198us as state powei was being tiansmogiifieu anu expanueu (foi example thiough
an emphasis on law anu oiuei), this shift was obscuieu by a successful cloaking of
neolibeial state policies in the ihetoiic of anti-statism anu fieeuom (Biown, W 199S,
p. 18). As well as being a successful piopaganua effoit by the iight this is a shift
integial to the establishment of capitalist iealism. The left swalloweu a uiscouise
wheieby the only two political options available weie a uefence of the Keynesian
welfaie state oi a totally maiketiseu society.
9?" 43.3"
Biown is paiticulaily ciitical of a tuin towaius the state by feminists as foi hei the
state iepiesents a set of masculinist institutions iiieconcilable with the aims of
feminism. Foi Biown, such a move can be at least paitially blameu on the iecent post-
Naixist emphasis of ciitical theoiy away fiom a ciitique of state powei. Biown
aigues that the wiitings of Foucault aie the most symptomatic of this tienu.
Foucault's famous theoietical move is to see powei as piouuctive iathei than as
iepiessive. Be aigues that powei is suffuseu thioughout society, woiking in uiffeient
moualities with uiffeient giauations (Foucault 198u, p. 9S). Powei is cieative of
subjects. Powei uoes not iesiue in ceitain objects oi people anu woik against oi on
top of those who have no powei (Biown, W 199S, p. 16). Foucault iuentifies ciitical
theoiisation of the state as synonymous with a focus on soveieignty anu legitimacy,
that is, on powei as iepiessive (Foucault 198u, p. 96). Foucault's theoiisation of
powei as piouuctive iathei than iepiessive meant that the state has become ue-
emphasiseu as a site of ciitical analysis. Biown is a subsciibei to the Foucauluian
account of powei, but what he misses, Biown aigues, is that the state shoulu not be
unueistoou as compiising simply soveieign iepiessive powei, noi uoes it seive as a
meiely symbolic figuieheau unueineath which the ieal activities of powei occui.
Biown, boiiowing Foucault's phiasing iefeiiing to sexuality (Foucault 1978, p. 1uS),
suggests that the state is a 'uense tiansfei point of powei', a site that is thoioughly
implicateu in the techniques anu tactics of uomination thiough the piouuctive,
'capillaiy' woikings of powei (Biown, W 199S, pp. 16-7).

Biown aigues that the state is not a stiaightfoiwaiu entity with a monolithic logic,
agency oi methou of exeicising powei. Insteau the state is an 'incoheient,
multifaceteu ensemble of powei ielations' (Biown, W 199S, p. 174). It is a space foi a
complex assoitment of uiscouises anu piactices, often oveilapping anu contiauictoiy
(Biown, W 199S, pp. 174-7). The foui cential contempoiaiy uimensions of
masculinist state powei which woik in often contiauictoiy anu oveilapping ways aie:
the 0%(#/.0 uimension, the 6.-%*.0%$* uimension, the -/#/24.*%<# uimension anu the
('/#.'6/.*%6 uimension (Biown, W 199S, pp. 18u-9S). Although Biown giounus hei
analysis of the state in a feminist ciitique of the state's masculine natuie we can make
use of this ciitique to pioblematise the state not only foi its masculinism but as a set
of institutions anu social ielations incompatible with the tiansfoimative aims of left
social movements.
Q%/$*0B, the libeial uimension is masculinist because of the uivision in libeial iueology
between the family, the economy anu the state. The family is natuialiseu as the
iightful place of women whose woik anu ielations within the family aie not
iecogniseu as socially constiucteu oi ueteimineu. Even when women gain civil iights
anu entiy into civil society, because a gieat poition of women's lives aie fateu to be
within the familial spheie within oui cuiient social configuiation, these civil iights
aie foi the most pait iiielevant to the uaily stiuggles of women (Biown, W 199S, pp.
18u-1). Foi Biown 'it is as giatuitous to uwell upon an impoveiisheu single mothei's
fieeuom to puisue hei own inuiviuual inteiests in society as it is to caiiy on about
the piopeity iights of the homeless'(Biown, W 199S, p. 18S). This highlights not
simply the masculinist natuie of libeial iueology in this instance, but that libeialism
enables an eschewing of ueteimining mateiial factois in its piouuction oi imagining
of supposeuly autonomous anu fiee inuiviuuals. This libeial uimension of the state is
the key object of Biown's analysis in J*.*#$ 21 E,P'/B anu I will ietuin to it below.

Biown suggests that Foucault came back to a ciitical analysis of the state in his latei wiitings anu
lectuies, paiticulaily thiough his analysis of biopolitics anu goveinmentality (Biown, W 199S, p. 17).
Biown's object of ciitique heie is the wiitings of Foucault's miuule peiiou anu the influence these
wiitings have hau on othei ciitical theoiists who have utiliseu Foucault to take the focus away fiom
the state as a site of ciitical inquiiy into the woikings of powei.
J#62,+0B the capitalist uimension iests on the state's entwinement with the capitalist
moue of piouuction. The state guaiantees the iights of piivate piopeity anu contiols
women's sexuality anu iepiouuction thiough legal iegulation. The state maintains
complex systems of contiol thiough welfaie anu laboui policy that ueteimine the
entiy anu exit of women fiom the laboui foice. Capitalism uepenus on women's
unpaiu iepiouuctive laboui to piepaie (feeu anu keep healthy) labouieis foi the
woikfoice anu ensuie the iepiouuction of the species (Biown, W 199S, pp. 184-S).
The *"%/+ uimension of the state foi Biown is the pieiogative uimension, which is
essentially the state's monopoly on violence thiough the police anu the militaiy. A
key factoi in the iueology behinu this monopoly is that the state is figuieu as a
politics between men wheie the object of this politics is the exchange, contiol anu
piotection of women (Biown, W 199S, p. 188).
The 12'/*" anu final uimension is the buieauciatic uimension. Buieauciacy, aigues
Biown, is figuieu as a pait of iegimes of uomination pieuicateu on calculability,
pieuictability anu contiol. These iegimes aie genueieu as a paiticulaily male will to
powei, anu the objects of theii contiol aie feminiseu (Biown, W 199S, p. 19S). This
plays out in state buieauciacy as a casting of women as uepenuent anu suboiuinate
to masculine buieauciatic piocesses (Biown, W 199S, p. 192). This genueieu piocess
shoulu be unueistoou as an integial pait of capitalist iealism's functioning. We aie
piouuceu thiough these piocesses as uepenuent upon the state foi the basics of life,
libeity anu secuiity. The state becomes the only actoi we, in oui poweiless position,
can call upon foi ieuiess.
1.2/3.- .4 2()=("44/D" .83)(F
All these uimensions of state powei uepenu upon a constiuction of women as objects
foi iegulation anu piotection. Although these uimensions have to some extent always
been key featuies of the state, what has changeu in late moueinity, accoiuing to
Biown, is that as the state incieasingly comes to ieplace the inuiviuual man as
piotectoi anu iegulatoi of women, it comes to appeai in some guises as a feminist
foice oi a piogiessive agent of equality anu piotection (Biown, W 199S, p. 19S). Nale
social powei is piojecteu moie anu moie by the state, anu less obviously thiough the
stiuctuies of the family. Biown sees this as a histoiical piocess of 'capitalism's steauy
eiosion' of the tiauitional uemaication between family anu economy, piouuction anu
iepiouuction, public anu piivate (Biown, W 199S, p. 194). An alteinative ieauing,
fiom an autonomist Naixist view of the tiansfoimation of capitalism, woulu suggest
that feminist stiuggles as well as woikeis stiuggles in the 196us anu 197us have leu
to this bieakuown (Tionti 1964). The mass social movements of the post Woilu Wai
Two eia effecteu a politicisation of hitheito uepoliticiseu social ielations (such as the
natuialiseu status of the family within a libeial oiuei). In this iespect the situation in
which we finu ouiselves is self-cieateu.
The fault with Biown's analysis heie is specifically capitalist iealist in essence. If we
take capital to be the only histoiical actoi then we aie only evei left to play catch-up,
to eithei auapt oi iesist. Capital in this guise appeais to be piogiessive, bieaking
uown olu hieiaichies anu fieeing women fiom the stiictuies of the family. Biown
heie, in contiast to the autonomist Naixist view, is unable to imagine othei agencies
oi ueteimining factois. She asciibes too much powei to capitalism as a totally
ueteimining social system.
If capital is figuieu as the only agency ieally capable of
change then a left politics iisks imagining itself as capital's ally. This alliance of couise
is echoeu in feminisms new alliance with the state as ciitiqueu by Biown above. An
imagining of alteinate agencies oi subjects that aie not capital oi the state is ciucial
to combating capitalist iealism.
I/:"(.-/46+ /$"#3/3% 2)-/3/84 .#$ ("44"#3/6"#3
The libeial uimension of the state is the most impoitant aspect foi Biown as she
exploies the emeigence of a paiticulai kinu of iuentity politics in the 198us anu
199us. These iuentity politics aie 'iooteu in uisciplinaiy piouuctions but oiienteu by
libeial uiscouise towaiu piotest against exclusion fiom a uiscuisive foimation of
univeisal justice' (Biown, W 199S, p. S8).
Theie aie foui uiffeient inteiielateu causes of the emeigence of a paiticulai type of
iuentity politics that seeks iemeuy, iecognition anu iights thiough the state:
uisciplinaiy piouuction of iegulateu iuentities; the cieation of a neolibeialiseu iisk
society wheie the inuiviuual is both completely self-iesponsible but almost entiiely

I'll expanu upon this ciitique of Biown's uepiction of capitalism anu its concomitant iueology as
totally ueteimining in chaptei thiee.
unable to change theii ueteimining social conuitions; the loss of a gianu histoiical
pioject to anchoi political piojects anu uesiies; anu an aspiiational oiientation
towaius a miuule class iueal inteinal to a libeial capitalist oiuei.
The tiauitional categoiies of a Foiuist welfaie state have bioken uown. As the
tiauitional bouigeois nucleai family is uismantleu, new foims of uiscipline anu
contiol have emeigeu that both contain anu piouuce new iuentities. Biown also
asciibes this piouuction to the systems of consumei capitalism that mobilise
stiuctuies of iuentity anu belonging to piouuce new uesiies anu affinities foi ceitain
bianus anu piouucts. These new uisciplinaiy iuentity piouuctions aie baseu on social
behavioui but become ieifieu as iuentities oi social positions: Biown gives the
example of the 'iecoveiing alcoholic piofessional' oi the 'ciack mothei' (Biown, W
199S, p. S8). The welfaie state uses social categoiies such as iace, genuei, anu
maiiiage status anu in uoing so piouuces ceitain iuentities at the cioss-section of
these categoiies. These piouuctions in tuin become iuentities aiounu which lobby
gioups anu political claims aiise. The paiauigmatic example heie woulu be the
mobilisation of the iuentity 'single mothei' (Ajzenstaut 2uu9).
The same ueteiiitoiialising anu uestabilising foices that leau to the piouuction of
uisciplinaiy iuentities also leau to the iueal conuitions foi a ceitain ieplacement of
politics with moiality. Biown, uiawing on Nietzsche, names this piocess
'iessentiment'. Ressentiment is the moialising vengeance of the poweiless. It is an
affect of angei anu moial iighteousness that oveiwhelms any huit that may have
been inflicteu by the poweiful. It both piouuces a subject who is taken to have
inflicteu the huit anu cieates a site wheie one can uisplace this oiiginal huit (Biown,
W 199S, p. 68). Ressentiment when combineu with a libeial iueology eschews any
stiuctuial unueistanuing of oppiession. Inuiviuuals come to peisonify oppiession
anu theii acts oi speech is to be punisheu. The best example of this kinu of imagining
is in 'hate speech' oi anti-vilification legislation. This kinu of moialising that uiiects
its attention to inuiviuual wionguoing is anti-histoiical anu anti-stiuctuial.
The key factois iesponsible foi cieating a society uominateu by iessentiment aie an
acute poweilessness combineu with a staikly inuiviuualiseu woilu wheie one is helu
almost entiiely iesponsible foi one's own failuies. This situation uesciibes peifectly
the 'iisk society' we cuiiently inhabit (Beck 1992). 0ui society is one wheie
inuiviuuals aie piouuceu anu ueteimineu thiough vast, complex systems of global
contiol anu uomination but, paiauoxically, aie helu 'staikly iesponsible' foi
themselves (Biown, W 199S, p. 69). Ressentiment is thus piouuceu as anti-political
affect ueeply inteitwineu with the politics of iuentity. Contempoiaiy politiciseu
iuentity is ueeply investeu in its own pain, as it is this pain anu suffeiing which is
constitutive of the iuentity anu its claims foi ieuiess anu iecognition (Biown, W
199S, pp. 7S-4). Such a politics becomes stuck in a stiuctuie of affect that neeus a
continuous ie-insciiption of pain anu suffeiing, anu a moial uenunciation of powei
qua powei as that which shoulu make amenus foi this suffeiing. In othei woius, the
binaiy stiuctuie of poweiful anu poweiless is ieifieu.
Politiciseu iuentity is an effect of capitalist iealism pai excellence because 'it can holu
out no futuie ! foi itself oi otheis ! that tiiumphs ovei this pain' (Biown, W 199S, p.
74). The iights anu iecognition gianteu to us as political subjects unuei a libeial
constitutional oiuei aie not iights foi conciete inuiviuuals that take into account all
the messy featuies anu limits of oui piouuction by histoiical anu social foices. They
aie iights gianteu to abstiact political subjects.
The subject is thus iueally emancipateu thiough its anointing as an abstiact
peison, a foimally fiee anu equal human being, anu is piactically
iesuboiuinateu thiough this iuealist uisavowal of the mateiial constituents of
peisonhoou, which constiain anu contain oui fieeuom (Biown, 199S, p.1u6).
A ieal mateiial, equitable iecognition can nevei be achieveu thiough a libeial state
oiuei. Politiciseu iuentity is thus stuck with an investment in continuous iepetition of
past anu piesent suffeiing.
The loss of the possibility of a futuie uiffeient fiom this continuous iepetition is
uiiectly ielateu to the social poweilessness of the subject of late moueinity. The
social movements of pievious eias pioviueu two things: fiistly, a ceitain amount of
cognitive mapping: inteipietative mouels anu iueologies boin of stiuggle that ielateu
a histoiical, political anu stiuctuial unueistanuing of one's place in the woilu
(}ameson 1988); seconuly, a mooiing to a ceitain uegiee of collective stiength
thiough a commonly appioacheu political pioject that aimeu not just to tiansfoim
but also to tianscenu the cuiient political oiuei. Politiciseu iuentity that enacts a
state-centieu politics iepiesents an attachment anu positioning which can give one a
sense of community anu belonging within a society of contingency anu iisk. Bowevei
it lacks a wiuei fiamewoik of inteipietation anu peimits no tempoial oi spatial
positioning. It lacks a wiuei social theoiy (Biown, W 199S, p. SS). In this iespect it
becomes akin to an inteiest gioup uemanuing a laigei piece of the pie iathei than
having a wiuei ciitique of the stiuctuie of the pie-cieating anu uiviuing appaiatus.
I'u aigue that iessentiment is not simply a piouuct of the iisk society but also a uiiect
iesult of the uefeat of social movements anu the consequent eclipse of a wiuei pioject
of ievolutionaiy social tiansfoimation. Ressentiment is the iepioach of powei in lieu
of a biu to builu oui own powei. It accepts capitalism fully, assuming the hoiizon of
possibilities within the existing system as its untianscenuable limit.
I";3 6"-.#8?)-/.+ 8(0"- )23/6/46 .#$ 3?" 40:J"83 ); 8.2/3.-/43 (".-/46
0n top of hei analysis of iessentiment Biown is moie uamning about the left's hanu
in its own uefeat. If one segment of the left has embiaceu the state, anothei segment,
implicitly the Naixist left, has faileu to auuiess the neeus anu uesiies cieateu by new
iuentity foimations (Biown, W 2uu1, p. 19). Boiiowing Waltei Benjamin's phiasing
Biown sees paits of the left as suffeiing acutely fiom a 'left melancholia'. That is, an
attachment to a lost object of left analyses anu passions (which can be unueistoou as
an oiientation towaius the mass male white inuustiial woikei, anuoi the class
paity), iathei than an oiientation to the conuitions of the piesent. The left has
become attacheu to its uefeat in a similai vein to the iuentity attachments as analyseu
above. This as an attachment to a politics of the past, which makes us 'stanu entiiely
to the left of the possible' (Biown, W 2uu1, p. 17u). This places the ciitique on veiy
similai giounus to Bosteels anu Bauiou's ciitique of speculative leftism as outlineu in
chaptei one. Bowevei Biown's object of ciitique is not the ultia-leftist oi the
philosopheis who holu themselves above the fiay but a left that iefuses to auapt,
innovate anu iesponu to new political conuitions.

Biown holus that since the 197us capitalism has been ienatuialiseu within left
uiscouise. Class iesentment has been ieconfiguieu in a way that obscuies a ciitique
of class society, as othei maikeis of social iuentity, in paiticulai iace, genuei anu

I will uiscuss this 'Left melancholia' fuithei in chaptei S.
sexuality, come to beai iesponsibility foi all the piivations anu suffeiings of the
capitalist oiuei (Biown, W 199S, p. 6u). In the place of a tiansfoimative vision of the
enu of class society theie is insteau a fantasmatic imagining of an iueal that those
who aie iacialiseu, genueieu anu socially maikeu aie excluueu fiom. This iueal is the
miuule class nucleai family, which has legal piotections, fieeuom fiom haiassment,
secuie employment anu housing (Biown, W 2uu1, p. 61). Politiciseu iuentity's claims
of injuiy anu exclusion uepenu on this iueal to aspiie to, anu aie foimeu piecisely as
subjects by this imagineu exclusion. They thus feel attacheu to anu investeu in an
iueal inteinal to capitalist society as a goou in a contingent anu uestabiliseu symbolic
oiuei. Biown heie pioviues us with a ciitique of the affective economy of capitalist
iealism. This economy uepenus on an attachment to an iueal that is inteinal to
capitalism anu thus piecluues a ciitique of capitalism.
The psychic investments of the capitalist iealist subject aie not only typifieu by an
affective economy of iessentiment, a vengeful uepoliticiseu moialising, but also by
what Lauien Beilant calls a 'ciuel optimism' which she succinctly uefines as 'when
something you uesiie is actually an obstacle to youi flouiishing' (Beilant 2u11, p. 1).
Ciucially the ciuelty of the optimism lies in thiee things. Fiistly, that the object of
uesiie is impossible, a fantasy that often obscuies othei objects; in this case a uesiie
foi a miuule class iueal uisplaces a moie total ciitique. Seconuly, the investment in
these fantasy objects is what sustains a subject's ego continuity. The veiy uesiie foi
the iueal, anu the ongoing exclusion fiom it pioviues 'the subject's sense of what it
means to keep on living on anu to look foiwaiu to being in the woilu' (Beilant 2u11,
p. 24). Thiiuly, this optimism is ciuel because the loss of this scene of optimism holus
such psychic significance that without anothei scene of optimism to attach to the
subject loses the capacity foi optimism altogethei (Beilant 2u11, p. 24).
Biown's social theoiy can be seen as one aspect of an analysis of capitalist iealism.
Ciucially she gives a moie sophisticateu assessment anu analysis of the mateiial anu
iueological stiuctuies of the state anu pioviues a soliu answei as to why the left
shoulu not focus on a state-centieu politics. She also gives us an analysis of the
unconscious attachments anu affective economy of capitalist iealism.
Foi Bauiou the subject of libeial uemociacy ! oi as he phiases it, 'uemociatic
mateiialism' ! is simply the heuonist-sophist, conceineu with pleasuie anu the
ciiculation of opinion. The subject within this histoiical moment anu iueological
enfiaming is fascinateu by anu fixateu upon bouies anu languages whilst tiuth, in
Bauiou's sense of a connection to events that can piouuce ieal novelty, languishes.
Biown fills out this account anu suggests that it is not a case of asking what space
exists foi iesistance (oi foi that mattei, wheie can we caive out aieas of oi foi tiuth)
! as if theie's a simple inveise ielation between the amount of uomination anu the
amount of iesistance oi fieeuom. Foi Biown iesistance to powei shoulu be
unueistoou as inteitwineu with the powei that it opposes. Resistance is not
necessaiily emancipatoiy oi subveisive; if iesistance uoesn't offei an alteinative
vision it is voiueu of noimativity (Biown, W 199S, p. 22). This ciitique accoius with
Fishei anu Bauiou's ciitique of the anti-globalisation movement figuieu as the
hysteiic subject making uemanus foi powei to enact iathei than positing any soit of
countei-powei. In this context Biown uoes not ask wheie the spaces within capitalist
iealism aie foi fieeuom, but insteau asks, to what extent uoes the subject of capitalist
iealism loathe fieeuom anu uesiie unfieeuom (Biown, W 199S, p. 64). To what
extent aie oui uesiies not exteinal oi iesistant to but insteau themselves constitutive
of capitalist iealism. Anu how uo we inteiiupt these psychic attachments. These
attachments aie usefully summaiiseu as left melancholia, iessentiment anu ciuel
optimism. Whethei Biown uoes pioviue an answei to the question of how they coulu
be inteiiupteu oi looseneu is something we will exploie fuithei in chaptei thiee of
this thesis.
5.$/8.- $"6)8(.8%
Foi now we can uiaw up a tentative uefinition of Biown's noimative goou oi goal.
Biown thioughout J*.*#$ 21 E,P'/B iefeis to 'iauical uemociacy' anu 'iauical
uemociats' as ciucial oppositional teims. These teims iepiesent foi hei what might
mount a challenge to a state-centieu left politics. Yet Biown is ciitical of the theoiists
commonly associateu with 'iauical uemociacy' such as Einesto Laclau anu Chantal
Nouffe. Foi Biown theie is nothing iauical about these theoiists. They uo not
iepiesent a bieak fiom libeial capitalism; they simply aigue foi moie libeities anu
moie ieuistiibution within this oiuei (Biown, W 199S, p. 11). Biown uoes not go on
to give a piopei uefinition of hei own conception of 'iauical uemociacy' but we can
pick up a few clues fiom this text as well as anothei, 'Bemociacy anu Bau Bieams'
(Biown, W 2uu7), as to what hei positive iuea of iauical uemociacy is.
Biown's uefinition of iauical uemociacy echoes that of hei intellectual mentoi
Sheluon Wolin. The key to unueistanuing theii vision of uemociacy is that theii
conception is completely countei-poseu to uemociacy, as it is commonly unueistoou
touay ! that is, uemociacy within a libeial-constitutional oiuei.
In the fiist instance Biown's ciitique of libeialism echoes Bauiou's ciitique of
uemociatic mateiialism. That is, that within libeialism a uefinition of the goou is
ueteimineu by values anu goals that aie inuiviuually uisceineu anu puisueu; the
goou shoulu not be puisueu collectively oi thiough political institutions (Biown, W
199S, p. 146). Biown is ciitical of such a political oiuei in which the question of what
is the goou, is always alieauy foiecloseu as a piivate mattei. In opposition to this
Biown pioposes that iauical uemociacy is a mattei of collective uecision-making,
ueteimination anu woilu-making, a 'vision of mass tiansfoimative political anu social
movements' (Biown, W 2uu7). Bowevei Biown, like Wolin, in his seminal essay,
'Fugitive Bemociacy' (Wolin 1994), takes this collective self-ueteimination to be
antithetical to the bounueu natuie of uemociacy in a constitutional oiuei. Wolin
uefines a constitution in this instance as not pioviuing a set of institutions anu limits
foi the cieation anu piactice of self-iule oi citizen's uecision-making, but insteau as
iegulating 'the amount of uemociatic politics that is let in' (Wolin 1994, p. 14).

Wolin aigues that uemociacy is a concomitant of ievolution, as uemociacy is a
piouuct of the shatteiing of existing oiueis of social hieiaichy. A ievolution is what
tiansgiesses these oiueis anu ieuistiibutes an expeiience of political powei to those
who weie excluueu unuei the olu oiuei (Wolin 1994, p. 17).
Biown echoes this Wolinian uefinition of a iauical uemociacy. It is typifieu by
collective self-legislation, by eveiyone paiticipating in shaping the conuitions anu
teims of life (Biown, W 199S, p. 4). Fieeuom is not a mattei of wheie the political is
locateu but how it is expeiienceu - when the excluueu take on iesponsibilities anu
have a ieal expeiience of powei (Biown, W 199S, p. S).
In Wolin's theoiisation, because of uemociacy's tie to ievolution anu its inability to
be institutionaliseu without being completely attenuateu, uemociacy can only evei
seive a tempoiaiy iestoiative function (Biown, W 2uu7). Biown is sceptical of this
anu we get a hint that she is somewhat moie hopeful of the piospect of a thoioughly
tiansfoimeu political oi social oiuei. Bowevei she uoes not fully iepuuiate Wolin's
fugitive uemociacy thesis. In fact she affiims his theoiy as non-totalising anu
theiefoie opening up of new oppoitunities foi theoiisation (Biown, W 2uu7). This
theoiisation of the iaiity of tiuly uemociatic political expeiiences anu actions will be
examineu in chaptei thiee.

1?.23"( 9?(""A
9?/#</#= K)-/3/8.- L)D"-3% 3?()0=? 1.2/3.-/43

This chaptei will biing togethei, anu compaie anu contiast, what I have uepicteu as
Wenuy Biown anu Alain Bauiou's iespective analyses of capitalist iealism. Thiough
an examination of theii theoiies of politics, philosophy anu noimative goals I will
ciitically assess the stiengths anu weaknesses theii iueas have foi how to best think
politics anu change in an eia of capitalist iealism.

The cential question heie as Bauiou fiames it is 'Can we ieally think that theie is
something new in the situation, not the new outsiue the situation noi somewheie
else, but can we ieally think of novelty anu tieat it in the situation.' (Bosteels 2u11b,
p. Su7). To auu to this, thiough my tieatment of Wenuy Biown I'u suggest the
apposite question foi us becomes: how uo we think (political) novelty within a
capitalist iealist iueology expiesseu thiough a geneialiseu attachment to uemociatic
foims of politics anu typifieu by an affective economy of left melancholia,
iessentiment anu ciuel optimism.

'.$/)0 .#$ 3?" (.(/3% ); 2)-/3/84

Foi Bauiou the class politics of the twentieth centuiy aie no longei woikable (Bauiou
2uu8, p. S7). Political tiuth pioceuuies, a iuptuie in the noimal oiuei of the situation,
cannot be linkeu to economics, as economics is synonymous with the 'Bistoiy of the
state of the situation', oi a sociology of the given oiuei of being. The event piopei foi
Bauiou cannot be uisceineu fiom what he calls the 'encyclopeuia of the situation', a
suivey of the obvious elements, visible anu valueu. The event ietains an immanence
to the situation but not an absolute one (}ohnston 2uu9, p. 1Su). Its evental chaiactei
iesiues in its inexplicability fiom the point of view of the situation (}ohnston 2uu9, p.
1S1). Bauiou has no analysis of inheient inteinal antagonism oi contiauiction within
the situation, fiom which an event might spiing uialectically.

Zizek uiaws an analogy between Bauiou's uivision between the economy anu politics
anu Aienut's (19S8) famous uistinction between the householu as the piivate iealm
of necessity, auministiation anu piovision of goous anu seivices, anu the public iealm
of communal life as the place of politics, the uomain of fieeuom (Zizek 2uu2, p. 271).
Bauiou explicitly iejects the classical Naixist notion of ievolutionaiy politics as the
'expiession of the concentiation of social contiauictions' (Bauiou 2u12a, p. 6S).

Bauiou emphasises a ceitain iaiity of politics. This is a consequence of Bauiou's
ontology that holus that events (in themselves) aie iaie; they aie to be uistinguisheu
fiom eveiyuay time oi the histoiy of the situation (}ohnston 2uu9, p. 11). As political
piocesses aien't vieweu as expiessions of contiauictions oi antagonisms alieauy
existing within the situation, politics becomes necessaiily unpieuictable, geneiateu
extia-situationally anu iaie.

!"#$% '()*# .#$ 3?" (.(/3% ); 2)-/3/84

Wenuy Biown is on similai giounu with hei ue-politicisation thesis auvanceu in
some of hei moie iecent woik. Foi hei the uefeat of a left political pioject comes to
be figuieu as the enu of politics tout couit. In hei essay 'Nightmaie: Neolibeialism,
Neoconseivatism, anu Be-Bemociatisation' (2uu6), Biown uepicts a 0niteu States
wheie, as a iesult of the imposition of neo-conseivative anu neo-libeial iueology,
citizens no longei holu ueai ceitain uemociatic values. The joining togethei of these
two iueologies leaves us with 'an abject, unemancipatoiy, anu anti-egalitaiian
subjective oiientation amongst a significant swathe of the Ameiican populace'
(Biown, W 2uu6, p. 7uS). This is a iesult of the tiiumph of maiket iationality, the
uevaluing of political paiticipation anu the inuiviuualisation of social oi public
pioblems anu issues (Biown, W 2uu6, p. 7u4). Theie aie two pioblems with Biown's
analysis of uepoliticisation oi ue-uemociatisation heie. Fiistly, it is piemiseu on an
iuealiseu past wheie libeial uemociacy ieally functioneu anu citizens weie
subjectively oiienteu towaius (at least libeial notions of) equality anu libeity. Such a
histoiy obscuies a uemociatic iueology that was always heavily iacialiseu, genueieu
anu piemiseu on a uivision between the political class anu the masses (Zinn 198u).
Seconuly, as }oui Bean suggests, the ue-politicisation thesis on the left is equivalent to
the left tieating political uefeat as a foieclosuie of politics in toto (Bean 2uu9, p. 2S).
Although it is impoitant to iecognise the shifting political teiiain of a capitalist
iealism typifieu by a neolibeial political iationality, we cannot fail to see this as a
political piocess in itself. Reactionaiy foices of vaiious hues aie continually
contesting the political iealm. To claim politics as being puiely homologous with a
left oi emancipatoiy politics pievents an analysis of social piocesses, oi iueological
impositions as themselves a iesult of political contestation. Biown's key example is
the inuiviuualisation of pioblems pieviously thought to be social oi public;
inuiviuuals aie piouuceu anu ueteimineu thiough vast, complex systems of global
contiol anu uomination but, paiauoxically, aie helu 'staikly iesponsible' foi
themselves (Biown, W 199S, p. 69). This staik iesponsibility, coupleu with acute
poweilessness, shoulu not be imagineu as a ue-politicisation of hitheito political
phenomena but the iesult of a continually contesteu anu ieiteiateu politics which on
the one hanu, ueiacinates anu uestabilizes, anu, on the othei hanu fights foi the
imposition of a maiket iationality which piecluues any social cognitive mapping that
uoes not accoiu with an inuiviuualist schema of iesponsibility oi ueteimination.

9?" "#$ ); ("D)-03/)# M.4 *" <#)* /3N

The uepoliticisation thesis in the enu places Biown alongsiue Bauiou at his most
speculative leftist moments. Foi Biown, ievolutionaiy hoiizons oi ievolutionaiy
thinking, a vision of complete social tiansfoimation, is a vision that belongs to
moueinity, a moueinity that we can no longei inhabit (Biown, W 2uuS, p. 99). In oui
times ievolution seems anachionistic because of the uispeisal of economic, social anu
political powei, making a total powei shift seem liteially incieuible (Biown, W 2uuS,
p. 1u1). The concept of ievolution was tieu to two ielateu piinciples that animateu
moueinity. The fiist was the capacity of humanity to seize holu of its own uestiny
thiough ieason anu the seconu was the belief in piogiess anu the foice of histoiy.
Biown aigues that we have lost the iuea that that collective human will can inteiiupt
tiauition anu the past in oiuei to foige a moie humane futuie (Biown, W 2uuS, p.
1u4). Biown ! unlike Bauiou who in fact emphasises the necessaiily anachionistic
chaiactei of ievolution, oi political tiuth pioceuuies ! iolls with the punches of
histoiy anu concluues that 'histoiically outmoueu, exhausteu as an ambition,
iuptuieu as political ontology, uiscieuiteu by contempoiaiy political epistemology !
ievolution is unquestionably finisheu'(Biown, W 2uuS, p. 112). Revolution is finisheu
foi Biown as a political pioject. Biown wants to iescue the 'fecunuity' of
ievolutionaiy imagination, whilst sepaiating it fiom the push towaius the 'knowable
anu contiollable' anu the institutionalisable (Biown, W 2uuS, p. 11S). She suggests 'a
iauical uemociatic ciitique anu utopian imaginaiy that has no ceitainty about its
piospects oi even about the means anu vehicles of its iealization, that uoes not know
what its imagineu peisonae will be capable of' (Biown, W 2uuS, p. 114). Theoiy oi
philosophy heie plays a kinu of placeholuei iole, in the absence of emancipatoiy oi
ievolutionaiy political movements oi subjects. Biown is uisuainful of the possibilities
of a lasting tiansfoimation thiough the actual political implementation of such
emancipatoiy iueas. Biown enus up echoing Wolin's 'fugitive uemociacy' thesis
wheie uemociacy can nevei be institutionaliseu without being completely attenuateu
(Wolin 1994). Thus (iauical) uemociacy is piesenteu as a Kantian iegulative iueal,
something to be stiiven foi but nevei actually ieacheu, a utopia that cannot anu must
not be actually implementeu. Biown's ievolutionaiy imagination minus the
possibility of actual ievolution echoes Bauiou's moie speculative leftist iteiations of
the communist Iuea. The appeal of such an appioach may be that it is always non-
totalising anu nevei subject to failuie. If it can nevei fail it can always be a hope. But
it is a hope appoitioneu to philosophy oi theoiy, not to ieally existing political
piocesses. The appoitioning of emancipatoiy thought anu political novelty to the
fielu of theoiy oi philosophy is a uiiect effect of an imagination of the political fielu as
essentially closeu. Real politics becomes only that which is iuentifieu as emancipatoiy
politics. Thus in a peiiou of capitalist iealism, politics itself is ueemeu a iaie

The unfoitunate effect of this is to ieify the uistinction between a woilu of quasi-
natuialiseu social piocesses anu a woilu of politics uefineu eithei as battling wills (in
a veision of voluntaiism), oi collective subjectifications eithei maintaining fiuelity to
oi ieacting against a tianscenuental anu totally unpieuictable event. Toscano
suggests that this leaus to an aestheticisation of the iaiity of politics, which is in fact
ieflective of a conuition of political weakness of the left (Toscano 2u11, p. 228). The
iuea of the iaiity of politics may iesonate as a way of holuing on to a hope of
tiansfoimative politics in the face of a time of global ieaction anu left uefeat, but it
scuttles oui ability to unueistanu this uefeat as in itself a political piocess. Bauiou's
inteivallic peiiou oi Fishei's capitalist iealism, if ieau thiough the iaiity of politics
thesis, is explainable only as 'insufficient will |oij sheei contingency' (Toscano 2u11,
p. 219), Eithei we haven't tiieu haiu enough oi we'ie just waiting foi anothei event.
In fact Bauiou's iathei unsatisfactoiy answei to this is a mouification of the foimei; a
vaiiant on Biown's thesis that with oui entiy into post-moueinity we neeu to
necessaiily become post-ievolutionaiy. Foi Bauiou what uistinguishes his own
inteivallic peiiou fiom the left-Beiueggeiian enu of politics thesis (a position that
Bauiou iuentifies with the closuie of metaphysics, whose only solution a la Beiueggei
is the ietuin of the gous) is that in his uiagnosis of the enu of the emancipatoiy
politics of the twentieth centuiy we've ieacheu a satuiation point (Bosteels 2u11a, p.
292). The politics that took the foim of *"# -./*B /#-/#$#,*%,4 *"# 60.$$ .%)#+ .*
*.@%,4 62,*/20 21 *"# $*.*#C . -20%*%6$ (.$#+ 2, *"# $#01D.11%/).*%2, 21 *"# >2/@%,4 60.$$C
an appioach nameu by the Fiench iauical collective !"R2/%# A2))',%$*# as
'piogiammatism' (Biown, N 2u1S, p. 7u), has ieacheu a point beyonu which it can
take us no fuithei. Accoiuing to !"R2/%# A2))',%$*# such a satuiation point is
objectively conuitioneu by the bieakuown of the woiking class thiough the
iecomposition of capitalism (Biown, N 2u1S, p. 7u). Foi Bauiou politics can nevei be
a simple piouuct of the objective situation, so the satuiation point has to be
subjectively conuitioneu. In othei woius, we have tiieu anu faileu, albeit tiieu anu
faileu in 'multiple anu heteiogeneous' ways (Bosteels 2u11b, p. 292). Foi Bauiou it is
the complex failuie of the Cultuial Revolution that finally signals the enu of
piogiammatism anu the neeu to invent new political foims (Bauiou 2uu8, p. 1SS).

Bauiou's conception of the Cultuial Revolution iuns fiom Novembei 196S to }uly 1968. It was this
peiiou foi Bauiou when theie was genuine political activity of the masses anu totally unpieuictable
situations. This mass activity necessaiily exceeueu the paity-state but was finally containeu by it. The
Cultuial Revolution 'maiks an iiieplaceable expeiience of satuiation, because a violent will to finu a
new political path, to ielaunch the ievolution, anu to finu new foims of the woikeis' stiuggle unuei the
foimal conuitions of socialism enueu up in failuie when confionteu with the necessaiy maintenance,
foi ieasons of public oiuei anu the iefusal of civil wai, of the geneial fiame of the paity-state' (Bauiou
2uu8, p. 1SS).
B.)/46 .#$ 3?" O0.4/P.03)#)6)04 2)*"( ); 2)-/3/8.- 40:J"83/D/3%

It is at this junctuie that we can uiscein the influence of a ceitain Naoist emphasis on
the subjective 'heioism of thought'
in both Bauiou anu Biown (Bosteels 2u11b, p.
296). The impoitance of Naoism heie is that it 'asciibes a sepaiate anu elevateu
significance to the quasi-autonomous powei of political subjectivity' (Wiight 2u1S, p.
S2). Foi Bauiou Nao's key insight ovei Lenin was that he iecogniseu that a Naixist
analysis of society was not enough to cieate ievolutionaiy consciousness ! as such an
analysis 'is not sufficiently subtiacteu' fiom the capitalist anu impeiialist constitution
of the woilu (Bosteels 2u11b, p. S29). As such the emphasis falls on the self-
constituteu powei of the subject to subtiact itself fiom the situation. 0ne
consequence of this foi Bauiou is that he often falls into a kinu of Saitiean
uecisionism. Although foi Bauiou the subject of a political tiuth-pioceuuie is always a
collective subject, it is the inuiviuual who has to make a cleai cut uecision as to
whethei oi not to incoipoiate themselves into a bouy of tiuth (Bauiou 2u1ub, p. S).

We can see that this too is the case foi Biown in hei emphasis on subjective
uisposition anu the totalising natuie of iueology. As we saw in chaptei two, the
pioblem foi Biown is not the containing of an inheient uesiie foi fieeuom by
capitalist libeial uemociacy, but piecisely that the mouein subject loathes fieeuom
anu uesiies unfieeuom because it is politically constituteu thiough an
oveiueteimining affect of iessentiment. An objective analysis of the situation is thus
insufficient foi ueteimining consciousness. As uemonstiateu in chaptei two, foi
Biown it is this subjectivity in itself that in pait ueteimines the logic anu
maintenance of capitalist iealism. The pioblem with geneialising this subjective
uisposition as iepiesentative of the mouein subject unuei late capitalism is that it
gives too much cieuence to an iuea of iueology as totally ueteimining iathei than
only hegemonic, paitial, messy anu contiauictoiy. If the capitalist iealist subject is
completely inculcateu into the uominant iueology then the possibilities foi any
iesistance become uepenuent upon a willeu escape fiom this iueology iathei than a
piocess of uisiuption of its alieauy uneven, contiauictoiy anu contestable

The emphasis heie is on the subjective heioism iathei than the 'thought'. It is ciucial to note that
'political thought' is inteinal to political piocesses foi Bauiou.
functioning. The analysis of a totally ueteimining iueology is concomitant with
Biown's closuie oi iaiity of politics thesis.

Biown's answei to this oveiueteimining logic of iessentiment (coupleu with left
melancholy anu ciuel optimism) is a veision of political voluntaiism. Rathei than
Bauiou's uiscounting of the mateiial (oi political economy) as intiansitive to politics,
foi Biown it is the affective uimension of capitalist iealism that neeus to be oveicome
oi jumpeu ovei iathei than woikeu thiough uialectically. Biown exhoits us to let go
of oui past attachments to achieve a moie puiely political politics (Biown, W 2uuS, p.
99). Saia Ahmeu ciitiques Biown foi auvocating a feminism that woulu 'let its objects
fly' (Ahmeu 2uu4, p. 187). In this case the 'objects' aie oui attachments to the wounus
of social injuiy, to the constitution by society of subjects uefineu by an oppiessive
system of sex anu genuei. Ahmeu aigues that to let go of these objects woulu be to
allow them to be 'enciypteu as ielics of a past we assume is behinu us' (Ahmeu 2uu4,
p. 187). These soits of psychic attachments cannot be simply inteiiupteu by will
alone oi an ethical commitment. To uo so wiites out the unconscious anu piouuces
'subjects as ethical intentionalists who can make cognitive uecisions to shoit-ciicuit
founuational affective attachments' (Beilant 2u11, p. 182).

, L/"34Q8?".# 2)-/3/84 .#$ 8.2/3.-/46 .4 4)8/.- 3)3.-/3%

Biown's account of 'moialism as anti-politics', as outlineu in chaptei two, is a
convincing account of left political attachments to state uemociatic foims unuei
capitalist iealism. Bowevei unlike Bauiou hei ciitique leaus us to a iauically negative
amoial anu unmooieu politics. Biown's positive noimative vision ! 'iauical
uemociacy' ! is in fact iathei insubstantial, puiposefully so. Foi Biown 'iauical
uemociacy' is a placeholuei concept, a means by which to ciitique anu oppose the
existing aiiangements of society. When on occasion Biown outlines hei vision
fuithei it is to ieflect a ceitain Wolinian uefinition of iauical politics which iests
essentially on an emphasis on the uistiibution anu expeiience of powei. As such
theie is no cential goou, oi tiuth that Biown oiients hei politics aiounu. Biown to a
ceitain extent holus a Nachiavellian account of politics, one that uoubts 'the fit
between univeisals anu the contingencies of politics'(Biown, W 2uu1, p. 27) .
Because of the messy contingency of ieal woilu politics, a politics of abstiact
piinciples evinces a ceitain navet. Foi Biown, as foi Nietzsche, tiuth anu moiality
aie 'fully implicateu in anu by powei' (Biown, W 199S, p. 48). Biown aigues against
political 'conviction' as a basis foi an emancipatoiy politics. Conviction foi hei is
inheiently anti-uemociatic because it is piemiseu on tianscenuent iueals. A politics
of tiuth is necessaiily totalitaiian (Biown, W 2uu1, p. 9S). Biown suggests that we
must give up a politics baseu on belief foi a moie puiely stiategic politics. Noims
shoulu be ueciueu upon politically iathei than epistemologically (Biown, W 199S, p.
47). Emancipatoiy politics in this iegistei shoulu be ieau as an autonomous piocess,
not tieu to a tianscenuent oi pieceuing noim oi aim; as only evei amoial, necessaiily
non-univeisalistic anu fully immanent to its own piocesses.

9?" >$". .#$ 3?" $/.-"83/8

Bauiou too sees politics as a singulai piocess, one intiansitive to the situation anu
self-iefeiential. Bowevei Bauiou uiffeis fiom Biown with his theoiy of the Iuea,
which, as outlineu in chaptei one is not puiely political. The Iuea is a complex
tiipaitite opeiation, which contains a political tiuth-pioceuuie as well as having an
histoiic anu a subjective element. The Real of the political tiuth-pioceuuie iesists
symbolisation in histoiy anu so can only be tianslateu into the symbolic by means of
the imaginaiy thiough the piocess of subjectification. Bauiou's point heie is the neeu
foi an inteimeuiaiy between the event anu the situation. Politics as such cannot act
uiiectly into histoiy. As exploieu in chaptei one, Bauiou's new political teleology
iequiieu to combat capitalist iealism neeus not only political piocesses but a laigei
anchoiing Iuea to a univeisal(istic) pioject.

0nlike Biown's moie iauically negative veision of politics Bauiou's philosophy is one
of 'affiimative uialectics' (Bauiou 2u1S). Novelty is still piouuceu uialectically foi
Bauiou but unlike classical Naixian (oi Begelian) uialectics the new is not cieateu
thiough a simple negation of the olu. In Bauiou's ontology (anu implieu political
logic), this uialectical logic is ieveiseu. We have fiist the new in the figuie of the
event. The event is not the cieation of the new situation; it is the cieation of a new
possibility in the existing situation (Bauiou 2u1S, p. S). The event opens the
possibility of subjectification, anu it is the subject that woiks to altei the situation.
Pait of this woik foi Bauiou will involve negation of the olu oiuei. What's ciucial to
note about Bauiou's uialectics is that, as he puts it, theie is something non-uialectical
in its beginning, 'something of the futuie comes befoie the negative piesent' (Bauiou
2u1S, p. S).

Biown's methou foi cieating oi uisceining the new is a kinu of non-uialectical
voluntaiistic negativity, with a kinu of speculative leftist utopianism appoitioneu to
the iole of theoiy oi philosophy. Bauiou's methou is an affiimative uialectics with an
expiessly non-uialectical element.

As we leaint in chaptei two it is oui uesiies that aie themselves constitutive of
capitalist iealism. These uesiies ciiculate within an affective economy of ciuel
optimism, iessentiment anu left melancholia. In what follows I piopose that neithei
Biown noi Bauiou's methou foi unueistanuing the cieation of novelty aie uniquely
suiteu to auuiessing the constitution of capitalist iealism.

1(0"- )23/6/46

The Iuea can give us the stiength to bieak with scenes of ciuel optimism. It cieates a
new anu poweiful (because of its univeisality) psychic scene of uesiie. In Beilant's
complex account of ciuel optimism, the hegemonic is to be ieau not meiely as a foim
of uomination maue moie appealing. A stable life in contempoiaiy society iequiies
an optimistic 'foimalism of attachment' to shaieu stoiies about what the 'goou life'
constitutes (Beilant 2u11, p. 18S). It is the stiength of these psychic attachments that
maintain the ciuelty of this optimism. These attachments aie impeuiments to a
collective iefiguiing of what the happy objects of the goou life may be in a woilu that
is no longei capitalist. Bauiou's communist Iuea is what has the stiength to
ieconfiguie these attachments. A univeisal piomise oi pioject has the potential to ie-
uiiect anu iemake fantasies of the goou life, to ieconfiguie the cooiuinates of
'hegemonic sociability'(Beilant 2u11, p. 18S) . Thiough the imaginaiy uimension
inuiviuuals act into histoiy by way of theii uesiies anu fantasies of a futuie
tiansfoimeu situation. The Iuea is an opeiation oi assemblage that allows the
inuiviuual as pait of a new subject to iealise heiself as pait of the movement of
histoiy. The Iuea inteiiupts anu ieoiients the self 's imaginaiy piojection into the
symbolic thiough the cieation of new fantasies. Bowevei if we aie to follow Bauiou,
we aie still waiting foi the iefoimulation of the Iuea. We aie still waiting foi the
foieiunnei of the political piocesses that coulu unueitake this iefoimulation, the
event, oi events as the case may be. Bauiou's non-uialectical element leaves us to
some extent waiting foi a seculai veision of giace (}ohnston 2uu7, p. 1S).


Ressentiment, though iigoiously theoiiseu by Biown, cannot be simply exhoiteu
against oi let go in oiuei to achieve a moie puiely political politics. Ahmeu (2uu4)
points us towaius a moie classical uialectical mouel foi the woiking thiough of
negative affect into novelty. Ahmeu counsels us not to tiy anu foiget the pain of social
injuiy (the attachment to which constitutes oui iepuuiation anu iepioach of powei).
Rathei the new anu uialectical task woulu be to avoiu an ontologising of that pain, oi
to avoiu it piouucing new giounus foi an epistemology (as in feminist stanupoint
theoiy) in favoui of cieating a heimeneutics of that pain, to leain how to ieau pain as
always histoiically ueteimineu anu contingently constituteu. Such a ieauing of this
pain is not a moving away fiom but a woiking with (Ahmeu 2uu4, p. 17S). As Biown
emphasises (as outlineu in chaptei two), in oiuei to uevelop a ciitical ieauing of
social injuiy one neeus a wiuei social theoiy, a level of cognitive mapping that
appeais unavailable within capitalist iealism. Ahmeu suggests that emancipatoiy
political piactices aie always piimoiuially anu necessaiily ieactive against histoiies
anu systems of oppiession (Ahmeu 2uu4, p. 174). The geneiation of political novelty
heie is uepenuent on an angei uevelopeu as ieaction. Ahmeu pioposes what I call an
affective uialectics wheieby this veiy angei opens up possibilities of the futuie.
Angei, as well as being eneigising, 'makes us shuuuei, sweat anu tiemble, it might
just shuuuei us into new ways of being' (Ahmeu 2uu4, p. 17S). This angei combineu
with a ieauing of socially constituteu pain anu suffeiing is finally cieative. Foi Ahmeu
the passions anu uesiies which animate iessentiment can be ie-woikeu thiough
ueveloping a closei ielationship with oui objects iathei than letting them fly, thiough
moving with these objects anu thus letting oui objects move us (Ahmeu 2uu4, p.
176). Biown's Nietszchean oi Wolinian emphasis on the expeiience of powei heie
becomes again apposite. As Nietzsche suggests it is only thiough some expeiience of
powei that we aie able to foiget, oi to move with anu thiough negative affect
(Nietzsche 191S, p. S7). Anu as in Bauiou, the inuiviuual must incoipoiate into a
collective subject; the expeiience of powei must be collective in oiuei to challenge
the inuiviuualistic iueology ciucial to iessentiment.

I";3 6"-.#8?)-/.

If ciuel optimism can be auuiesseu affiimatively thiough the Iuea, anu iessentiment
thiough a non-voluntaiistic uialectical ie-woiking of negative affect, then how uo we
think novelty thiough melancholia.

Biown's left melancholia is not as simple a uiagnosis as it at fiist seems. Left
melancholia, iathei than iepiesenting only pathology oi an unhealthy attachment to
a lost object, coulu be a way thiough which to iethink the place of the leftist (in
paiticulai the leftist philosophei) within capitalist iealism.

uioigio Agamben suggests that melancholia has the same stiuctuie as the
psychoanalytic concept of peiveision oi fetishism. Fetishism woiks thiough a logic of
uisavowal, which has a uouble stiuctuie of affiimation anu negation (Agamben 199S,
p. 21).
This uisavowal is a ietieat fiom anu an assent to the iuea, a simultaneous
uenial anu acceptance. As in melancholia theie is an unobtainable object that
pioviues some measuie of satisfaction by its veiy unattainability, the fetish object
shoulu be thought of as the piesence of an absence because it continuously alluues to
something beyonu itself that can nevei be tiuly possesseu (Clemens 2u1S, p. 9S). The
melancholic is unable to ueal with theii giief ovei the lost object because the object is
not only an exteinal object but iepiesents something that is lost insiue the
melancholic. This loss is unconscious anu not consciously knowable (Fieuu 19S7, p.

As }ustin Clemens explains 'Foi Fieuu the exemplaiy fetishistic piimal scene is that of the little boy
who, glancing up his mothei's skiit, is hoiiifieu by hei unexpecteu lack of a penis, anu though
somehow acknowleuging this lack, simultaneously iefuses it as well. The integiity of the phallic
mothei is theieaftei pieseiveu by the fetishist in the foim of a metonymic substitution (e.g. foi the
mothei's pubic haii), often as fui, velvet, unueigaiments oi shoes'(Clemens 2u1S, p. 92).
24S). As the melancholic uoes not have conscious knowleuge of what the object is
that they have lost, it is possible to ieau the melancholic as acting if they hau lost an
object that nevei in fact existeu. The melancholic thus has the capability of
summoning 'the non-existent into absence' (Clemens 2u1S, p. 9S). It is heie that the
uouble stiuctuie of uisavowal anu melancholia becomes ciucial. Nelancholia is
uepenuent on an attachment to an unknown object but this object becomes unknown
piecisely because it is incoipoiateu into the ego. As the stiuctuie of this attachment
is a uenial anu acceptance, the object is both loveu anu completely iepuuiateu. 0nce
the object is incoipoiateu into the ego the melancholic uevelops a ceitain self-hatieu
oi inteinally uiiecteu iepuuiation (Fieuu 19S7, p. 249). Thus the left melancholic,
figuieu heie as the leftist theoiist oi philosophei, is able to maintain a utopian
imaginaiy thiough theii uisconnection fiom the woilu anu has the ability to summon
new non-existent objects oi iueas into existence, oi at least into an absence
constituteu by the wisheu existence of imaginaiy objects. The left melancholic
tenuency heie is analogous to the speculative leftist tenuency; at once a uangei
because of its withuiawal fiom the woilu but also (as pioffeieu in chaptei one)
iepiesentative of the mouest ability of philosophy to iemain a placeholuei in a time
of left uefeat anu at times tiansmit concepts oi iueas back into the iealm of politics.
Philosophy heie can function in an ongoing uialectic with political piocesses,
piocesses themselves that may bieak uown the iueological bounuaiies of the
political, incluuing those that eiect a stiict sepaiation between thought anu action.

If one siue of left melancholia is its cieative oi affiimative ability to summon new
objects into absence then its othei siue is negative oi uestiuctive. This siue is
iepiesenteu in the tenuency towaius self-iepioach anu the uesiie foi self-

The moie puiely negative siue of this negative tenuency is one of pie-emptive self-
eiasuie, figuieu in the philosophei's complete nihilism oi self-ueclaieu iiielevance
uue to the lack of any soit of subjectivity oi agency that coulu challenge capitalism. In
this ienueiing capital is the only foice capable of cieating ieal change. Philosophy oi
theoiy is ieuuceu to an inane anu sycophantic anu ultimately self-effacing fascination
with the uynamics of capital as the only ieal actoi left.

Theie is howevei a moie piouuctive oi uialectical figuiing of this negative tenuency.
In Bauiou's ienueiing we've ieacheu a satuiation point. In Wenuy Biown's view a
classical theoiy of ievolution is no longei tenable. The question of ievolution is thus
ie-poseu as a question of immanent pioletaiian self-abolition without passing
thiough the classical ievolutionaiy phases of paity foimation, state seizuie,
uictatoiship of the pioletaiiat anu finally the liquiuation of class society. Theoiie
Communiste name this piocess 'communisation'. The politics of the woiking class
paitymovementunion is not only satuiateu but also no longei objectively possible.
The task of the pioletaiiat now is to iepiouuce itself without iepiouucing the class
ielation; it thus neeus to iepiouuce itself as othei than the pioletaiiat (Biown, N
2u1S, p. 71). In othei woius self-oiganisation is iequiieu in oiuei to self-abolish.

The uynamic of the action of a class as a class is thus also its own limit point.

The uual stiuctuie of the left melancholic holus the left intellectual oi philosophei at
the same limit point; if the left melancholic uesiies a mateiial ievolution they also
necessaiily uesiie a tuining ovei of the existing categoiies of social thought. This
neeu foi new conceptual categoiies is maue staikei by the iiielevance of classical
ievolutionaiy concepts. If we accept the 'communisation' thesis then the left
intellectual can no longei position heiself as (a possible) paity oi oiganic intellectual
(uiamsci 1971, p. 1u) iepiesenting the inteiests of the woiking class, the limit point
of the class stiuggle means theie is a similai limit point foi ciitical intellectual
piouuction. Foi Toscano (2u1u, p. 2u4) theie is a uifficulty in geneiating the suitable
iueological categoiies of social oiganisation of any futuie communist society fiom the
piesent moment. The conceptual tools of the left theoiist in oiuei to stay ielevant to
the uynamics of emancipatoiy political piocesses shoulu ieflect an awaieness of the
conuitions of theii own piouuction anu thus the limitations of theii ielevance. The
stiuctuie of left melancholia allows us to think cieatively anu uialectically thiough

The fullei veision of this aigument iuns that 'because .6*%,4 as a class also involves acting as a
60.$$, the uynamic of stiuggle (class action) is also its own limit. The iecipiocal implication of uynamic
anu limit thus opens a /%1* oi 4.- oi $>#/<# 8ecait: in class stiuggle by exposing both %,*#/,.0
contiauictions inheient to the composition of the class anu class composition itself as contiauictoiy to
class abolition. The opening of such a iift thus posits oi inuicates oi imposes a fuithei limit to be
oveicome. This is the sense of Theoiie Communiste's foimulation: "self-oiganization is the fiist act of
ievolution; it then becomes an obstacle which the ievolution has to oveicome' (Biown, N 2u1S).

the necessity of the left theoiist's own piocess of self-abolition in a piocess of
communisation. The possibility of this self-abolition is not something to be
immeuiately effecteu by the most ievolutionaiy cutting euge theoiists; it only
piesents itself as a possible consequence of ieal emancipatoiy political movements.
The ability of the left intellectual unuei capitalist iealism, poiseu between a
melancholic cieativity anu a necessaiy tenuency towaius self-abolition, to pieuict oi
cieate ievolutionaiy iueas is foimally limiteu. The piemises of the 'ieal movement
that abolishes the cuiient state of things' may alieauy be in existence but the
categoiies of thought may not be.

The ciucial question in the oveituining of capitalist iealism is not to be fought at the
level of iueas; neithei the communist Iuea (in Bauiou's ienueiing) noi a post-
ievolutionaiy utopian imaginaiy (a la Biown) will holu much watei without ieal
political piocesses. The piemises foi this movement aie neithei 'the new outsiue the
situation noi somewheie else' (Bosteels 2u11b, p. Su7) but aie alieauy within the
situation. It is thiough a complex messy uialectic, neithei wholly negative noi wholly
affiimative, that we can best imagine such ieal movements emeiging.

Capitalist iealism can anu will be combateu funuamentally thiough political
piocesses. But it behooves us to take heeu of Naix's mateiialist ciitique of the
sepaiation between politics anu economics (anu inueeu thought anu action), anu
iecognise that the answeis uo not lie only in expiessly political piocesses as we
cuiiently ieau these uefinitions, as uelimiteu within the iueological bounuaiies of
capitalist iealism. Politics shoulu be unueistoou as neithei iaie noi autonomous. The
bounuaiies of politics shoulu be unueistoou as always uiawn aiounu iueological
lines. Political piocesses themselves woik with anu ieuiaw the lines of what is
ueemeu political anu what is not.


In this thesis I have sought to uemonstiate the usefulness of Alain Bauiou anu Wenuy
Biown's thinking foi analysing anu expanuing upon Naik Fishei's concept of
capitalist iealism. In uoing so I have iaiseu a numbei of issues suiiounuing how oui
cuiient iueological junctuie shoulu be theoiiseu.

I have aigueu that Bauiou's take on capitalist iealism hinges on the communist Iuea.
Akin to Fishei's peiiouisation of capitalist iealism, Bauiou has his own peiiouisation
of the inteivallic peiiou, a peiiou chaiacteiiseu by a lack of the (communist) Iuea.
Social movements anu woikeis movements as well as theii concomitant iueals have
been uefeateu; we now live in a peiiou chaiacteiiseu by a lack of the Iuea. I followeu
both Biown anu Bauiou in ciitiquing 'uemociacy', specifieu as a state foimation, as
cential to the woikings of capitalist iealism. Bemociatic iueology uissolves the woilu
into a uuality: the uemociatic anu the totalitaiian oi the West anu the iest. Foi
Bauiou this is an iueological stiuctuie uepenuent on neocolonialism. Bemociacy is
also an iueology wheie eveiything is available anu eveiything is ieuucible to
eveiything else unuei a univeisal measuie of value, being the value-foim of laboui
anu the ciiculation of goous anu seivices via money. This manifests politically as
juiiuical equality, the key to the woikings of contempoiaiy libeialism. Wenuy Biown
ciitically analyses this libeialism in the functioning of the state anu capitalism. I
establisheu that capitalist iealism foi Biown is not only chaiacteiiseu by a lack (of
the iuea) ! it is chaiacteiiseu by a geneialiseu subjective uisposition anu ceitain
figuiing of inuiviuuals' uesiies. In the inuiviuualiseu woilu of capitalist iealism, we'ie
ueteimineu by an affective economy chaiacteiiseu by iessentiment, ciuel optimism
anu left melancholia.

A key aspect of this thesis is an examination of vaiious left iesponses to capitalist
iealism. Biown examines the embiace of the state as the only place of politics by
ceitain stianus of feminism anu iuentity politics. With Bauiou anu Bosteels we've
seen how speculative leftism, which seeks a bieak with all meuiating institutions of
capitalism, leaus to a view wheie philosophy anu speculative thought aie piivilegeu
ovei political piactice as iesponses to the woilu we inhabit. We have also seen how
capitalist iealism functions to obscuie notions of subjects oi agencies outsiue of the
state anu capital; this leaves segments of the left as having a fascination with capital
as the only actoi left.

The question then becomes: Bow can we think a new theoiy of the subject. Biown
pioviues a convincing analysis of the uynamics of the situation anu the subjective
conuitioning of the capitalist iealist subject, but the subject that coulu challenge
capitalist iealism is unueitheoiiseu. When she uoes posit an answei she conceives of
the active, tiansfoimative subject as a kinu of Nachiavellian agent of powei politics.
Bauiou, on the othei hanu, has a well-uevelopeu theoiy of the subject but no ieal
analysis of the affective economy that constitutes the capitalist iealist subject anu
ietains a key iole foi the non-uialectical 'event'. Both Bauiou anu Biown offei a
iesponse baseu on the quasi-autonomous powei of subjectivity as one answei to
capitalist iealism; both, as I have shown, aie piemiseu on the thesis of the iaiity of

0ui political junctuie places us in a peiiou wheie the potential of the class-paity foim
baseu on an affiimation of the unity of the woiking class is exhausteu. We face the
question of how to theoiise new subjects that coulu challenge capitalist iealism, anu
which opeiate apait fiom a state-centiic politics.

What is the left aftei the class-paity. We have seen that a politics centieu on the
state, a philosophical utopian appioach, anu a movementism without oiganisation
fascinateu by the agency of capital, aie all incapable of challenging capitalist iealism.

The question poseu by this ieseaich is how to ietain a theoiy of the subject (a subject
capable of effecting substantial social change), that uoesn't uepenu on the class-paity,
whilst ietaining a uialectical inteiplay between the objective anu the subjective
thiough envisioning a political fielu with contestable spaces anu bounuaiies.

The limit-point of class stiuggle positeu by theoiists fiom the 'communisation'
peispective confionts us with the challenging piospect of imagining not just the
cieation of new subjects, but also the self-abolition of those new subjects. This thesis
suggests that the positing of this limit-point cieates new questions suiiounuing the
place of the left theoiist oi philosophei in ielation to emancipatoiy political


Auoino, TW & Boikheimei, N 1972, I%.0#6*%6 21 S,0%4"*#,)#,*, Beiuei anu Beiuei,
New Yoik.

Agamben, u 199S, J*.,K.$, 0niveisity of Ninnesota Piess, Ninneapolis anu Lonuon.

Ahmeu, S 2uu4, !"# A'0*'/.0 T20%*%6$ 21 S)2*%2,, Routleuge, New Yoik.

Ajzenstaut, N 2uu9, 'Noial Panic anu Neo-Libeialism: The Case of Single Notheis on
Welfaie in Isiael', 5/%*%$" U2'/,.0 21 A/%)%,2024B, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 68-87.

Aienut, B 19S8, !"# 9')., A2,+%*%2,, The 0niveisity of Chicago Piess, Chicago.

Bauiou, A 2uu1, S*"%6$, veiso, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

2uuSa, E,1%,%*# !"2'4"*V !/'*" .,+ *"# H#*'/, *2 T"%02$2-"B, Continuum, Lonuon
anu New Yoik.

2uuSb, F#*.-20%*%6$, veiso, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

2uu7, I# W'2% J./@2KB #$*D%0 0# X2)L, Nouvelles Euitions Lignes, Paiis.

2uu8, 'The Communist Bypothesis', X#> ;#1* H#<%#>, vol. 49, p. 29.

2uu9, ;24%6$ 21 Y2/0+$, Continuum, Lonuon.

2u1ua, !"# A2))',%$* 9B-2*"#$%$, veiso, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

2u1ub, 'The Iuea of Communism', in S Zizek & C Bouzinas (eus), !"# E+#. 21
A2))',%$), veiso, Lonuon, New Yoik.

2u11, 'The Bemociatic Emblem', in W Ncuuaig (eu.), I#)26/.6B E, Y".* J*.*#L,
Columbia 0niveisity Piess, New Yoik.

2u12a, T"%02$2-"B 12/ F%0%*.,*$, veiso, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

2u12b, !"# H#(%/*" 21 9%$*2/B, veiso, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

2u1S, 'Affiimative Bialectics: fiom Logic to Anthiopology', !"# E,*#/,.*%2,.0
U2'/,.0 21 5.+%2' J*'+%#$, vol. 2, no. 1.

Beck, 0 1992, !"# H%$@ J26%#*B, SAuE publications, Lonuon.

Benjamin, W 197S, 'Theses on the Philosophy of Bistoiy', in B Aienut (eu.),
E00')%,.*%2,$, Fontana, Lonuon.

Beilant, L 2u11, A/'#0 Z-*%)%$), Buke 0niveisity Piess, Buiham anu Lonuon.

Bosteels, B 2uuS, 'Post-Naoism: Bauiou anu Politics', -2$%*%2,$V #.$* .$%. 6'0*'/#$
6/%*%3'#, vol. 1S, no. S, pp. S7S-6S4.

2u1u, 'The Leftist Bypothesis: Communism in the Age of Teiioi', in S Zizek & C
Bouzinas (eus), !"# E+#. 21 A2))',%$), veiso, Lonuon, New Yoik.

2u11a, !"# 76*'.0%*B 21 A2))',%$), veiso Books, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

2u11b, 5.+%2' .,+ T20%*%6$, Buke 0niveisity Piess, Buiham anu Lonuon.

Biown, N 2u1S, 'The Pioletaiiat', !/.,$D$6/%-*$, vol. 1, no. S.

Biown, W 199S, J*.*#$ 21 E,P'/BV T2>#/ .,+ Q/##+2) %, ;.*# F2+#/,%*B, Piinceton
0niveisity Piess, Piinceton.

2uu1, T20%*%6$ 2'* 21 9%$*2/B, Piinceton 0niveisity Piess, Piinceton.

2uuS, S+4#>2/@, Piinceton 0niveisity Piess, Piinceton anu 0xfoiu.

2uu6, 'Ameiican Nightmaie', T20%*%6.0 *"#2/B, vol. S4, no. 6, pp. 69u-714.

2uu7, 'Bemociacy anu Bau Bieams', !"#2/B [ S<#,*, vol. 1u, no. 1.

Clemens, } 2u1S, T$B6"2.,.0B$%$ %$ ., 7,*%-"%02$2-"B, Euinbuigh 0niveisity Piess,

Committee, TI 2uu9, !"# A2)%,4 E,$'//#6*%2,, Semiotext(e), New Yoik.

Bean, } 2uu9, 'Politics without Politics', -./.00.=, vol. 1S, no. S, pp. 2u-S6.

Bouzinas, C & Zizek, S 2u1u, 'Intiouuction', in C Bouzinas & S Zizek (eus), !"# E+#. 21
A2))',%$), veiso, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

Euen, B 2u12, 'Angels of love in the unhappiness factoiy', J'(P#6*%<%*B, vol. S, no. 1, pp.

Ehienieich, B & Piven, FF 198S, 'Iueology anu the State: Women, Powei, anu the
Welfaie State', in I Bowe (eu.), 70*#/,.*%<#$V T/2-2$.0$ 12/ 7)#/%6. 1/2) *"#
I#)26/.*%6 ;#1*, Pantheon, New Yoik.

Fishei, N 2uu9, A.-%*.0%$* /#.0%$)V E$ *"#/# ,2 .0*#/,.*%<#L, Zeio Books, Lonuon.

Foucault, N 1978, !"# 9%$*2/B 21 J#='.0%*B \20')# ], Pantheon Books, New Yoik.

198u, T2>#/^_,2>0#+4#V J#0#6*#+ E,*#/<%#>$ .,+ Z*"#/ Y/%*%,4$ ]O`MD]O``,
Pantheon Books, New Yoik.

Fiasei, N & Bonneth, A 2uuS, H#+%$*/%('*%2, 2/ H#624,%*%2,LV 7 -20%*%6.0D-"%02$2-"%6.0
#=6".,4#, veiso, Lonuon.

Fieuu, S 19S7, !"# J*.,+./+ S+%*%2, 21 !"# A2)-0#*# Y2/@$ 21 J%4)',+ Q/#'+, vol. XIv
(1914-1916), The Bogaith Piess, Lonuon.

uiamsci, A 1971, J#0#6*%2,$ 1/2) -/%$2, ,2*#(22@$, Lawience & Wishait, Lonuon.

Ballwaiu, P 2uuS, 5.+%2'V 7 J'(P#6* *2 !/'*", 0niveisity of Ninnesota Piess,

2uu8, '0iuei anu Event', X#> ;#1* H#<%#>, no. SS.

Baivey, B 2uuS, 7 5/%#1 9%$*2/B 21 X#20%(#/.0%$), 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess, 0xfoiu.

}ameson, F 1988, 'Cognitive Napping', in C Nelson & L uiossbeig (eus), F./=%$) .,+
*"# E,*#/-/#*.*%2, 21 A'0*'/#, 0niveisity of Illinois Piess, 0SA.

199u, T2$*)2+#/,%$)C 2/C !"# A'0*'/.0 ;24%6 21 ;.*# A.-%*.0%$), Buke 0niveisity
Piess, Buiham.

}ohnston, A 2uu7, 'The Quick anu the Beau: Alain Bauiou anu the Split Seeus of
Tiansfoimation', E,*#/,.*%2,.0 U2'/,.0 21 a%b#@ J*'+%#$, vol. 1, no. 2.

2uu9, 5.+%2'C a%b#@C .,+ T20%*%6.0 !/.,$12/).*%2,$V !"# A.+#,6# 21 A".,4#,
Noithwestein 0niv Piess, Evanston, Illinois.

Lukcs, u 1971, 9%$*2/B .,+ A0.$$ A2,$6%2'$,#$$V J*'+%#$ %, F./=%$* I%.0#6*%6$, The NIT
piess, Cambiiuge, Nassachusetts.

Naix, K & Engels, F 1966, F.,%1#$*2 21 *"# A2))',%$* T./*B 8]cdc:, Piogiess
Publisheis, Noscow.

197u, !"# G#/)., E+#2024B, Lawience anu Wishait, Lonuon.

Nietzsche 191S, !"# G#,#.024B 21 F2/.0$, Bovei Publications Nineola, New Yoik.

Pannekoek, A 19S7, 'State Capitalism anu Bictatoiship', E,*#/,.*%2,.0 A2',6%0
A2//#$-2,+#,6#, vol. S, no. 1, vieweu 1S 0ctobei, 2u1S.

Plato 2uuS, !"# H#-'(0%6 8ecN 5A:, Penguin Books, Baltimoie.

Roose, }N 2u1S, 'Contesting Islam thiough the 2u12 Syuney Piotests: An Analysis of
Post-piotest Political Biscouise amongst Austialian Nuslims', E$0.) .,+ A"/%$*%.,f
F'$0%) H#0.*%2,$.

Schama, S 1989, A%*%K#,$V 7 A"/2,%60# 21 *"# Q/#,6" H#<20'*%2,, viking, Lonuon.

Thatchei, N 198u, 'Piess Confeience foi Ameiican coiiesponuents in Lonuon', papei
piesenteu to Piess Confeience, 1u Bowning St, Lonuon, 0niteu Kinguom, }une 2S.

Theoiie-Communiste 2u12, 'The Noment of Communization', in B Noys (eu.),
A2))',%K.*%2, .,+ %*$ I%$62,*#,*$, Ninoi Compositions, Wivenhoe New Yoik Poit

Toscano, A 2uu9, 'Paitisan Thought', 9%$*2/%6.0 F.*#/%.0%$), vol. 17, no. S, pp. 17S-91.

2u1u, 'The Politics of Abstiaction: Communism anu Philosophy', in C Bouzinas &
S Zizek (eus), !"# E+#. 21 A2))',%$), veiso, Lonuon anu New Yoik.

2u11, 'Anti-Sociology anu its Limits', in P Bowman & R Stamp (eus), H#.+%,4
H.,6%#/#, Continuum, Lonuon, pp. 217-S7.

Tionti, N 1964, 'Lenin in Englanu', Y2/@%,4 A0.$$ 7'*2,2)B .,+ *"# A/%$%$V E*.0%.,
F./=%$* !#=*$ 21 *"# !"#2/B .,+ T/.6*%6# 21 . A0.$$ F2<#)#,*, vol. 79, pp. 1-6.

Wolin, SS 1994, 'Fugitive Bemociacy', A2,$*#00.*%2,$, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 11-2S.

Wiight, C 2u1S, 5.+%2' %, U.).%6., Re.Piess Nelbouine.

Zinn, B 198u, 7 T#2-0#g$ 9%$*2/B 21 *"# h,%*#+ J*.*#$, Baipei Colophon, New Yoik.

Zizek, S 2uu2, H#<20'*%2, .* *"# G.*#$V $#0#6*#+ >/%*%,4$ 21 ;#,%, 1/2) ]O]`, veiso,
New Yoik.

Zizek, S & Bouzinas, C (eus) 2u1u, !"# E+#. 21 A2))',%$), veiso Lonuon anu New


I authoiise the ielease of a copy of this thesis to Nonash PSI Bonouis Thesis
Collection up the completion of examination