Undoing the Demos

From Zone / Near Futures

Undoing the Demos

Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution

By Wendy Brown

Tracing neoliberalism's devastating erosions of democratic principles, practices, and cultures.

Distributed for Zone Books





Tracing neoliberalism's devastating erosions of democratic principles, practices, and cultures.

Neoliberal rationality—ubiquitous today in statecraft and the workplace, in jurisprudence, education, and culture—remakes everything and everyone in the image of homo oeconomicus. What happens when this rationality transposes the constituent elements of democracy into an economic register? In Undoing the Demos, Wendy Brown explains how democracy itself is imperiled. The demos disintegrates into bits of human capital; concerns with justice bow to the mandates of growth rates, credit ratings, and investment climates; liberty submits to the imperative of human capital appreciation; equality dissolves into market competition; and popular sovereignty grows incoherent. Liberal democratic practices may not survive these transformations. Radical democratic dreams may not either.

In an original and compelling argument, Brown explains how and why neoliberal reason undoes the political form and political imaginary it falsely promises to secure and reinvigorate. Through meticulous analyses of neoliberalized law, political practices, governance, and education, she charts the new common sense. Undoing the Demos makes clear that for democracy to have a future, it must become an object of struggle and rethinking.


$18.95 T | £15.99 ISBN: 9781935408536 296 pp. | 6 in x 8 in


$18.95 T | £15.99 ISBN: 9781935408543 296 pp. | 6 in x 8 in


  • Political theorist Wendy Brown opens her brilliant and incisive new book, Undoing the Demos, with a clarion call: Western democracy is imperiled. According to Brown, democracy has grown gaunt as a consequence of an ascendant political rationality that, like an ideological autoimmune disorder, has assaulted its very fiber and future…Democracy is the crux of the issue…and by focusing on how it's been diminished Brown has written a book that deserves to be widely read.

    Astra Taylor


  • In her important new book Undoing the Demos  (2015), Wendy Brown draws attention to the ways in which neoliberalism, like original sin, finds a home in the deepest core of our being. For Brown, that core is not the soul but democratic citizenship: our sense of belonging in a common world that we can govern together with others. In the era of neoliberalism, she writes, we are forced to translate ourselves into the inhuman idiom of entrepreneurial competitiveness, rendering our entire lives legible in the ruthless grammar of market competition.

    Boston Review

  • Brown's book is theoretical yet accessible…essential reading not only for academics but for anyone concerned with our collective political future, and with the defense of democratic politics.

    Pop Matters

  • Draws important empirical and analytical connections between Foucault's analytical approach to governmentality and a complementary Marxist critique of the material inequality that follows from neoliberal market reforms…[and] shows how such developments are reinforced by widespread acceptance of the concept of human capital.

    Foucault Studies


  • Wendy Brown's new book, Undoing the Demos, is a clarion call to democratic action. In close conversation with Michel Foucault's 1979 lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics, Brown brilliantly explores how the rationality of neoliberalism is hollowing out the modern subject and, with it, our contemporary liberal democracies. Delving deep into the logic of neoliberalism and widely across the spectrum of neoliberal practices, from benchmarking to higher education policy, Brown offers a compelling new dimension to the critical work on neoliberalism. It is necessary reading today—powerful and haunting.

    Bernard E. Harcourt

    Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia University and Directeur d'études, École des hautes études en sciences sociales

  • With this passionately incisive critique of neoliberal (ir)rationality, Wendy Brown delineates the political stakes of the present. Tracing its antipolitical and antidemocratic impulses, she challenges us to defend and extend the possibilities of a popular politics that makes the promises of democracy come true.

    John Clarke

    Professor Emeritus of Social Policy, The Open University

  • This is a book for the age of resistance, for the occupiers of the squares, for the generation of Occupy Wall Street. The premier radical political philosopher of our time offers a devastating critique of the way neoliberalism has hollowed out democracy. But the victory of homo oeconomicus over homo politicus is not irreversible. Wendy Brown has little time for 'left melancholy.' Hers is a call to arms for the defense of the enlightenment principles of freedom, equality, and solidarity and for reimagining and deepening democracy. After reading Brown, only bad faith can justify the toleration of neoliberalism.

    Costas Douzinas

    Director of the Birkbeck institute for the Humanities and author of Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis

  • Wendy Brown vividly lays bare neoliberalism's perverse rationality, the 'economization of everything,' documenting its corrosive consequences for public institutions, for solidaristic values, and for democracy itself. Essential but unsettling reading, Undoing the Demos is analytically acute and deeply disturbing.

    Jamie Peck

    author of Constructions of Neoliberal Reason

  • Brown deepens the conceptual analysis and criticism of neoliberal ideology, now on the point of becoming the dominant way people think about themselves, their lives and their social world. In illuminating detail, she also discusses the real and horrifying social changes taking place partly as a result of the way in which this ideology is being implemented. A major contribution, presenting its arguments with power and clarity, this book helps us understand the world we have increasingly been forced to live in, and to begin the process of thinking about what might be done to revitalize our political imagination and practices.

    Raymond Geuss

    Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Cambridge

  • A trenchant critique of the piecemeal neoliberal destruction of democratic politics by one of the most powerful political theorists of our time. Undoing the Demos is a much-needed, passionate defense of political autonomy.

    Rainer Forst

    Frankfurt University, author of Justification and Critique