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Variegated neo-liberalism, finance-dominated accumulation and citizenship

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date17/03/2017
Host publicationThe Transformation of Citizenship, Volume 1: Political Economy
EditorsJuergen Mackert, Bryan Turner
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781317203896
ISBN (Print)9781138672901
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The conservative historian Niall Ferguson (2001: 10) has remarked that capitalism and democracy form the ‘double helix’ of modern societies. This resonates with many other claims, advanced for almost two centuries from diverse theoretical and political perspectives, that there is an elective affinity between these social forms. This chapter revisits such claims in the light of the growing financialisation of social relations and the rise of neo-liberalisation as an economic and political project. Given the essentially contested definitions of capitalism and democracy, I will introduce two working definitions and then modify them to reflect further theoretical arguments and recent empirical trends. No definitions in such a hotly disputed field can be innocent, of course, and mine are initially inspired by Karl Marx and Max Weber. First, capitalism involves trade in free markets and the rational organisation of commodity production based on formally free labour markets; and, second, democracy comprises liberal representative democracy based on competitive elections and a wide franchise. Starting from these definitions I will explore the implications of economic and political changes in the last four decades for the alleged affinity between capitalism and democracy. Specifically, I consider important transformations in capitalist social relations and their associated challenges to the form, functions, and legitimacy of post-war democratic national territorial states; conversely, I consider how neo-liberalism alters the viability of democratic forms of governance at different sites and scales of economic and political organisation. These remarks enable me to explain the rise of authoritarian statism and an enduring austerity state and link these trends to the decline of citizenship rights.