Disobedience affirms the order it ostensibly contests

Published on Tuesday May 24th, 2011

Jodi Dean, in Disobedience? Really?:

In this setting of the decline of symbolic efficiency, what can we make of democratic disobedience? It’s not simply that the bad guys occupy the transgressive position, breaking the law, it’s that there is no difference between obedience and disobedience. A recent book exemplifies this point with respect to the last decades of financial malfeasance in the US: ‘the best way to rob a bank is to own one.’ Another way to put it, there’s nothing left about disobedience. The rich and powerful have already swept that possibility away. Or, their illegality and corruption, their use of state law as weapons against the rest of us present those who want to argue in terms of law in the position of defending the very regime or order that works against us. Does it really make sense for leftists to fight in terms of constitutional regimes that are preserving the exploitation of the majority of the people? Lenin’s insight in The State and Revolution remains powerful:

In capitalist society, providing it develops under the most favorable conditions, we have a more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, and consequently always remains, in effect, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich. Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners (372).

So I guess I’m back to my first thesis, with a bit of qualification—in the setting of the decline of symbolic efficiency, disobedience affirms the order it ostensibly contests, and this setting is capitalism.


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