2017 David and Elaine Spitz Prize Winner

CSPT is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Prize is Wendy Brown, Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, for her book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Zone Books / MIT Press, 2015).

The following is the Prize Committee’s commendation for the book:

In Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, Wendy Brown dramatizes with keen analytical skill and substantial rhetorical power the triumph of neoliberal rationality and its relentless “economization” of all facets of contemporary political, social, and individual life. Undoing’s formidable critique of neoliberalism paints an austere and compulsive picture of the dissolution and displacement of democratic politics, political rights, and citizenship.  Under the debilitating ethos of competition, human capital, the veridiction of the market, securitization, and governance that the book painstakingly depicts, states, citizens, and souls morph from figures of political sovereignty to figures of “financialized firms.” To adumbrate the conditions that mark the gradual but decisive supplanting of the constituent elements of democracy by benchmarking, branding, and “best practices,” Brown offers an imaginative narrative of western political theory, tracing the tangled interplay between homo politicus and homo oeconomicus from the ancient Greek world (Aristotle) through European modernity (Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Marx, Mill). The elucidation of the “large arc” and “key mechanisms” through which neoliberalism’s novelties emerge only to evacuate democratic principles and institutions is not an entirely despairing project however.

In contributing to democratic political theory as well as to an immanent critique of neoliberalism, Undoing constructively revises Foucault’s analysis of the modern subject by keeping citizens and the demos “acting in concert” in view so that we might meaningfully ask (and answer): “What effects does neoliberal rationality have on democracy, including on democratic principles, institutions, values, expressions, coalitions, and forces?” With its telling combination of unsparing critique and refusal to surrender to melancholy, this book demonstrably conjugates the perils of (neo)liberalism and the promises of democracy, the economization of everything and the possibilities of turning points for homo politicus. By accomplishing this with theoretical acumen, conceptual alacrity, and rhetorical conviction, Undoing the Demos warrants both admiration and recognition as winner of the 2017 David and Elaine Spitz Prize for the best book in liberal and/or democratic theory.

2017 Spitz Prize Committee:

Mary Dietz, Northwestern University (chair)
Jill Frank, Cornell University
Melvin Rogers, Brown University

See past Spitz Prize winners here.