Adam Kotsko's Critical Reads

November 20th, 2018

By both its supporters and detractors, neoliberalism is usually considered an economic policy agenda. Neoliberalism's Demons argues that it is much more than that: a complete worldview, neoliberalism presents the competitive marketplace as the model for true human flourishing. And it has enjoyed great success: from the struggle for "global competitiveness" on the world stage down to our individual practices of self-branding and social networking, neoliberalism has transformed every aspect of our shared social life. The book explores the sources of neoliberalism's remarkable success and the roots of its current decline. Neoliberalism's appeal is its promise of freedom in the form of unfettered free choice. But that freedom is a trap: we have just enough freedom to be accountable for our failings, but not enough to create genuine change. If we choose rightly, we ratify our own exploitation. And if we choose wrongly, we are consigned to the outer darkness—and then demonized as the cause of social ills. By tracing the political and theological roots of the neoliberal concept of freedom, Adam Kotsko offers a fresh perspective, one that emphasizes the dynamics of race, gender, and sexuality. More than that, he accounts for the rise of right-wing populism, arguing that, far from breaking with the neoliberal model, it actually doubles down on neoliberalism's most destructive features. Adam Kotsko will discuss Neoliberalism's Demons on November 26 at 6pm.

The Sacrament of Language, by Giorgio Agamben - This is a short, accessible, and representative work from Agamben, showing the full range of his concerns and the power and limitations of his distinctive approach. (It is also my sentimental favorite as it is the first book of his that I translated.)

Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, by Carl Schmitt - This brief and incisive text is, perhaps predictably, foundational for the field of political theology. While his politics are terrible, his writing is elegant and forceful.

On the Genealogy of Morals, by Friedrich Nietzsche - This inquiry into the unexpected (and unseemly) origin of moral concepts is, in my opinion, one of the very greatest philosophical works in the Western tradition. I can't imagine trying to think without it.

Caliban and the Witch, by Silvia Federici - A groundbreaking account of the origins of capitalism that foregrounds race, gender, colonialism, and reactionary religion.

The Great Transformation, by Karl Polanyi - An earlier groundbreaking account of the origins of capitalism that foregrounds the artificiality and destructiveness of the market economy and the need for state authorities to step in and save society from the market's corrosive forces.

The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt - A hugely influential investigation of the relationship between economics and politics, reaching from ancient Athens to postwar consumer society. There is a lot in here that is questionable, but Arendt opened up a crucial area of inquiry.

The King's Two Bodies, by Ernst Kantorowicz - Another classic of political theology, this one focused on the ways that doctrines surrounding Christ unexpectedly shape institutional and bureaucratic structures in the West.

Family Values, by Melinda Cooper - A retelling of the origins of neoliberalism that highlights the role of race, gender, sexuality, and religion from Reagan to Obama.

About Adam Kotsko: Adam Kotsko teaches in the Shimer Great Books School of North Central College. He is the author of The Prince of This World and Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television, among other books, and his writing has appeared in venues that include The GuardianThe Washington Post, and n+1.