The BBC reported yesterday that Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown have called for ‘global market changes,’ primarily by proposing to tax banks that give out large bonuses to chairpeople. As it states: “Various proposals to reform the sector “deserve examination”, they said, but a one-off tax on high bonuses paid to bankers “should be considered a priority”. This is just another example of politicians drawing attention from the central issue that no one wants to touch: the state of the European economy in the neoliberal age. Instead of focusing on this elephant in the room, politicians seem to think that the current economic crisis was the result of individual greed and not a systematic by-product of neoliberalism itself. (Obama milked this explanation for all it was worth during his campaign last year.)

As Alex Callinicos summarizes in his book An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (which was released in 2003, but still very relevant today), “The process of competitive accumulation is responsible for capitalism’s chronic tendency towards crises of over-investment and profitability: financial speculation feeds this tendency but is not its primary cause” (p. 65). Callinicos maintains a strong Marxist framework in his analysis (while also drawing upon Polanyi), arguing that the nation state is still a significant actor in the global economy. As a result, revolutionary movements must take advantage of their decentralization but still strive to wrest control of the state. 

Tying in with this is Chantal Mouffe’s argument in The Democratic Paradox, in which she puts forth an agonistic conception of politics in contrast to the neo-Kantian theories of deliberative democracy made by Rawls and Habermas. Reading the book, I found myself agreeing completely with her critiques of both the deliberative democratic approach and the Third Way proposed by Giddens. However, Mouffe’s alternative was less clear. At times drawing upon anti-liberal thinkers like Schmitt and, in a different way, Derrida, she at other times insists on the importance of the left-right spectrum and of a liberal-democratic form of political order.

Ultimately it seems that she is a proponent of a robust and politically active democratic form of citizenship. However, the agonistic model she puts forth (and distinguishes from a purely Schmittian antagonism) is not forward enough on what concrete instances of political participation it would entail. While she is at pains to distinguish herself from Schmitt, she affirms that force and violence “can never be eliminated and cannot be adequately apprehended through the sole language of ethics of morality” (p. 130). While she rightly views power as constitutive of social relations, it is unclear as to how this constant possibility of violence is to be reconciled with her emphasis on a stable, liberal-democratic framework for agonistic politics.

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