Democracy Without Guarantees

Marc James Léger
Recent events reveal that democracy is in trouble. The neoliberal governance that has accompanied globalization, post-Fordism, and the new digital economy is having disastrous consequences, including a return to nineteenth-century levels of economic inequality, unprecedented environmental catastrophes, and state-of-emergency security regimes produced by endless wars for regime change. When one considers the relationship between culture and society, one might wonder if art is also in trouble — or, somewhat more skeptically, if art is not somehow, either unwittingly or programmatically, an aspect of this same neoliberal governance.

In its modern enlightenment version, art was thought to help nurture a reasoning subject who could express humanity as a project rather than a fatal superstition. Despite their very different conceptions, what all of the modernist art movements had in common was the background of Western liberal capitalism and bourgeois ideology. Since postmodernism, we have been telling ourselves a different story. History has ended, and so aesthetic resistance to bourgeois capitalism has also ended. Mark Fisher defines this sense that capitalism is now the only viable socio-economic system as “capitalist realism.”1 1 - Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Winchester: O Books, 2009). We could say that much of the art produced today is capitalist realist art. Given that most of the art movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were critical of bourgeois ideology, contemporary art finds itself in a strange situation with regard to the legacy of modernity.

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This article also appears in the issue 92 - Democracy

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