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A democratic critique of precarity

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The term ‘precarity’ has become increasingly popular as a way to capture the material and psychological vulnerability resulting from neoliberal economic reforms. This article demonstrates that such precarity is incompatible with democracy. More specifically, it makes two arguments. First, and inspired by Montesquieu’s analysis of ‘the principles’, or public commitments behind different forms of government, it argues that modern democracy is a sui generis form of government animated and sustained by a principle of shared responsibility. Second, it shows that this principle is negated by the neoliberal form of governing. The neoliberal policies currently operating in many democratic countries not only push ever more people into precarious conditions where they have to compete against each other for security and status; by displacing onto individuals a responsibility that ought to be shared and divided between citizens, they corrupt the core of democracy itself. The article thus suggests that precarity is problematic not only from the standpoint of social justice, as emphasized in earlier research, but also from the perspective of democracy. Precarity contradicts the ways of life that must be regenerated in order for a democratic form of government to sustain itself over time.
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Keywords: Arendt; Montesquieu; democracy; neoliberalism; precariat; precarity; responsibility

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 2015

More about this publication?
  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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