Today political protest often takes the form of spontaneous, noninstitutional, mass action. Mass protests during the Arab Spring showed that established systems of power—in that case, the reciprocal support among Arab dictators and Western democracies—can be interrupted, at least for a short moment in history. These new activist movements often use online media to spread their message. Mass demonstrations from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Taksim Square in Istanbul show the power of networked communication to fuel “performative democracy”—at the center of which stands the global citizen.
The Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection was a phenomenon, celebrated in some quarters and inveighed against in others, publicized in media that ranged from campus bulletin boards to Fox News. Seven years later, The Invisible Committee follows up their premonitory manifesto with a new book, To Our Friends.
The current conflict in Ukraine has spawned the most serious crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. It has undermined European security, raised questions about NATO’s future, and put an end to one of the most ambitious projects of U.S. foreign policy—building a partnership with Russia. It also threatens to undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts on issues ranging from terrorism to nuclear proliferation. And in the absence of direct negotiations, each side is betting that political and economic pressure will force the other to blink first.
Illegal immigration continues to roil American politics. The right-wing media stir up panic over “anchor babies,” job stealing, welfare dependence, bilingualism, al-Qaeda terrorists disguised as Latinos, even a conspiracy by Latinos to “retake” the Southwest. State and local governments have passed more than 300 laws that attempt to restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to hospitals, schools, food stamps, and driver’s licenses.
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.
Experts, pundits, and politicians agree: public debt is hindering growth and increasing unemployment. Governments must reduce debt at all cost if they want to restore confidence and get back on a path to prosperity. Maurizio Lazzarato’s diagnosis, however, is completely different: under capitalism, debt is not primarily a question of budget and economic concerns but a political relation of subjection and enslavement. Debt has become infinite and unpayable.
Although George W. Bush memorably declared, “I’m the decider,” as president he was remarkably indecisive when it came to U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His administration’s policymaking featured an ongoing clash between moderate realists and conservative hard-liners inspired by right-wing religious ideas and a vision of democracy as cure-all. Riven by these competing agendas, the Bush administration vacillated between recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination and embracing Israeli leaders who often chose war over negotiations.
The computer systems of government agencies are notoriously complex. New technologies are piled on older technologies, creating layers that call to mind an archaeological dig. Obsolete programming languages and closed mainframe designs offer barriers to integration with other agency systems. Worldwide, these unwieldy systems waste billions of dollars, keep citizens from receiving services, and even—as seen in interoperability failures on 9/11 and during Hurricane Katrina—cost lives.
There’s never been a better time to be outside the consensus—and if you don’t believe it, then peer into these genre-defining essays from The Baffler, the magazine that’s been blunting the cutting edge of American culture and politics for a quarter of a century. Here’s Thomas Frank on the upward-falling cult of expertise in Washington, D.C., where belonging means getting the major events of our era wrong. Here’s Rick Perlstein on direct mail scams, multilevel marketing, and the roots of right-wing lying.
Anyone who has ever been to a public hearing or community meeting would agree that participatory democracy can be boring. Hours of repetitive presentations, alternatingly alarmist or complacent, for or against, accompanied by constant heckling, often with no clear outcome or decision. Is this the best democracy can offer? In Making Democracy Fun, Josh Lerner offers a novel solution for the sad state of our deliberative democracy: the power of good game design.