Mutant Neoliberalism and the Politics of Culture

This post is part of our symposium on Mutant Neoliberalism. You can find the full symposium here

Corinne Blalock –

mutant neolib imageAs other contributors to this symposium have noted, Mutant Neoliberalism effectively illustrates that neoliberalism cannot be reduced to neoclassical economics or the Washington Consensus, but instead must be understood as a constantly mutating cultural and political formation. What I want to address in this piece is the methodological lessons this volume offers those working in LPE. I see two central ones. First, if neoliberalism is ever-evolving, it requires an historicized and iterative practice of critique to understand how to challenge it—critique is not a stage in the process we get past. Second, narrative and popular consciousness are vital to both comprehending neoliberalism’s power and to any hope of constructing an alternative. It’s important not only to get neoliberalism right as a theoretical and descriptive matter, but also to understand that the stakes of that debate are not academic. The debate sets the terms by which we can begin to dismantle neoliberalism. In particular, Mutant Neoliberalism encourages us to follow the lead of Stuart Hall, by looking beyond the formal, elite record of neoliberalism’s ascendance to the popular culture that undergirds its power.

The volume begins by answering one of the most common objections to the concept of neoliberalism—its lack of coherent meaning—by providing a framework that theorizes the disagreement over meaning (rather than merely rehearsing it!). In this way, the collection builds on geographer Jamie Peck’s insight that the complexity and contradictions in our understanding of neoliberalism are not flaws in the critical accounts but symptoms of the fact that the ontology of neoliberalism itself is “an evolving web of relays, routines, and relations.” Peck traces this ontological incoherence and dynamism back to the interdisciplinary origins and mission of the Mont Pèlerin Society. Callison and Manfredi, by contrast, use the framework of the mutant to focus our attention on the ever-evolving nature of actually existing neoliberalism—the way neoliberalism is entwined with and shaped by other social and political formations. In short, mutant neoliberalism makes divergences in actual existing neoliberalism something to be explained, rather than something to be explained away.

And because neoliberalism is constantly evolving, we cannot assume we know what neoliberalism looks like, or how law functions under it, based on prior critiques or earlier political frameworks. As Stuart Hall admonished, we must resist the “easy transfer of generalizations from one conjuncture, nation or epoch to another.” The left-right dichotomy in particular is, on Callison and Manfredi’s account, “increasingly inadequate to map the relationship between neoliberalism and new political forces.” Almost every essay in Mutant Neoliberalism addresses a different mutation formed through the combination of what we readily recognize as core elements of neoliberalism with other political formations. In collecting these varied accounts, Mutant Neoliberalism clearly illustrates that—from Trump to Bolsonaro—elements we had assigned to “far-right” extremism are now inextricable from policies we had previously attributed to “Third Way” regimes.

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Nationalism and Neoliberal Governance

This post is part of our symposium on Mutant Neoliberalism. You can find the full symposium here

William Davies –

mutant neolib imageIn my 2014 book The Limits of Neoliberalism, I offered a largely Weberian account of how the principle of competition provides the metaphysical ideas on which the authority of the neoliberal state depends. Crucially, I suggested, competition doesn’t just offer a single idea, but two conflicting ideas: a liberal ideal of fairness of the competitive ‘game’ (as witnessed in appeals to ‘meritocracy’ and a ‘level playing field’) and a Schmittian ideal of victory over one’s foes (as witnessed in the fields of business strategy or life coaching). There is a tension at the heart of the neoliberal state, between the ambition to install the market as a legally-mandated universal norm, and the ambition to nurture the most innovative, competitive and powerful firms and territories.

To explore the latter, I studied a discourse rarely associated with neoliberal thought, that of national competitiveness, that was developed via a network of Harvard Business School, The World Economic Forum and a handful of other think tanks and European business schools, starting in the late 1970s. This was seized enthusiastically by the European Commission during the 1990s, which saw it as a way to revitalise sluggish European economies, and a justification to cut regulation (especially employment protections) and tax.

But what fascinated me especially about this discourse (which I was studying around 2007-08, back when Lehman Brothers was a bank and Donald Trump the guy from The Apprentice) were the hints of mercantilism, nationalism and existential threat that lurked on its margins. European competitiveness was threatened by its ageing population; US competitiveness was threatened by the end of the Cold War, which had done so much to cultivate innovation. Japan and later China were a danger. If one reads Quinn Slobodian’s Globalists, surely this is not how neoliberalism is supposed to work. I encountered economists working for the European Commission, who confessed to me (off the record) that they were afraid that there was a protectionist and mercantilist substrate to the whole discourse. The reason for these recollections here is that I can now see, with the aid of William Callison and Zachary Manfredi’s superb volume, that there were hints of ‘mutant neoliberalism’ emerging on the edges of the competitiveness agenda. To use Callison and Manfredi’s suggestive metaphor, the economists’ fear was that the competitiveness ‘gene’ might ‘mutate’ into something illiberal.

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Mutant Neoliberalism, Originary Violence and Feminist Revolts in Latin America

This post is part of our symposium on Mutant Neoliberalism. You can find the full symposium here

Verónica Gago – 

mutant neolib imageIn an interview, Michel Foucault said that when “actually existing” socialism was put in scare quotes, as if it were not exactly “real,” the only thing the scare quotes revealed was the strength of an abstract ideal that theorists invariably used as a measuring stick to evaluate, and theoretically marginalize, whatever was actually happening on the ground. What if we were to apply such an ironic qualification to neoliberalism? Consider Latin America, for instance: Is there an “actually existing” neoliberalism in Latin America that fails the normative ideal of its theorists? Is this a geographically specific version of neoliberalism that has just been marginalized due to the region’s peripheral reality and unique history? It would seem, instead, that the opposite is true: The problematic feature of neoliberalism is its polymorphism, its capacity to combine and adapt. The thesis of this book points to precisely this capacity: neoliberalism’s mutant character.

With this thesis, the book seeks to answer a conjunctural question which I will also consider in this comment: Why is neoliberalism—in different geographies—allied with extreme conservatism, and even with fascism, today? The book also addresses a longstanding question which we have repeatedly posed in these years of permanent crisis: Is there any force that is capable of burying neoliberalism? Indeed, each new conjuncture only differently conjugates the question: Can the coronavirus pandemic annihilate neoliberalism? Following William Callison and Zachary Manfredi’s text on the notion of mutant neoliberalism and the possibility of its extinction, the chapters in the book respond to this series of questions with a complex answer: Even political conjunctures that seem to be animated by an opposition to neoliberal presuppositions can ultimately give them new impetus, reassembling and relaunching neoliberalism in ways that demonstrate its mutant cunning.

I would like to do two things in this comment. First, I will examine key aspects of recent Latin American developments in order to suggest a certain genealogy of neoliberalism. Second, I will address Etienne Balibar’s chapter in the book, linking it to the dynamics of generalized indebtedness in subaltern populations, and drawing connections with the recent cycle of feminist struggles.

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The Bourgeois Internationale, Part II

This post is Part II of David Grewal’s response to Mutant Neoliberalism, Part I is available here. You can find the full symposium here

David Grewal – 

mutant neolib imageAs I noted in my first post, it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic will force a reckoning with the democratic deficit in the European Union and prompt a renewal of left-wing politics across the continent. However, the existing constitutional machinery of the five presidencies that make up the EU is both complex and considerably resistant to change, even (perhaps especially) in a crisis. In 2014, in a review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, I wondered what we could expect from “today’s unhappy alliance between the remnants of the old workers’ parties of Western Europe and the Bundesbank?” It was mainly a rhetorical question: I expected very little from the political alliance behind “zombie” neoliberalism in Europe. But in light of what Callison and Manfredi term neoliberalism’s mutations, it is worth noting what has in fact come to pass since then: electoral defeat after electoral defeat for the left (and even center-left). This trend should give pause to those who think further federalization will provide the answer to Europe’s deep ordoliberal tendencies, and yet that seems to be the only path that many progressives in Europe can imagine (another TINA, but a teleological one).

Following Cooper’s cogent analysis, what we should expect is precisely what we have been seeing: stasis at the level of the institutions and far-right electoral strategies that leverage anti-austerity sentiment among ordinary voters by promising something that the straitjacketed parties of the mainstream center-left and even the far left have been mostly unwilling to offer: a break with neoliberalism and, if that agenda requires it, a break with ‘Europe.’ Again, the COVID-19 pandemic seems more likely to consolidate rather than repudiate this trend. It will not soon be forgotten that even pro-EU governments in France and Germany called a panicked halt to the export of medical equipment to a stricken Italy while national borders were raised again across the continent.

These events brings us to the second piece I want to discuss, Slobodian and Plehwe’s history of the rise of Eurosceptic neoliberalism, “Neoliberals against Europe,” which presents an important counter to any simplistic equation of the EU with neoliberalism (or ordoliberalism) and hence of Euroscepticism with anti-neoliberalism.

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Up or Out: Migration and Rated Governance

This post is part of our symposium on Mutant Neoliberalism. You can find the full symposium here

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian –

mutant neolib imageKen Loach’s 2016 film I Am Daniel Blake (2016) depicts post-crash austerity in all of its bleak barbarity. The plot revolves around the film’s protagonist, a middle-aged carpenter, who attempts to navigate the British welfare system after a heart attack makes it hard for him to work. The authorities don’t seem to agree with Blake’s cardiologist, who deems him unfit to work, so they send him down a rabbit hole of denied unemployment claims, rejected appeals, idiotic make-work and financial destitution. The message the system sends to our unlucky hero is that he is not worthy: of the state’s resources, of an employer’s goodwill, of anyone’s sympathy, of his own basic humanity. On Michel Feher’s assessment, we might add another shortcoming: he isn’t creditworthy, either.

There are thousands, if not millions, of Daniel Blakes struggling to get by in the world, many of whom have even less going for them than this fictional white man living in Newcastle. In his contribution to Manfredi and Callison’s Mutant Neoliberalism, Feher views these individual lives as the final domino in a decades-long cascade of policy decisions that made creditworthiness a prerequisite for getting by in the world—whether one is an individual, a company, or a country.

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The Bourgeois Internationale, Part I

This post is part of our symposium on Mutant Neoliberalism. You can find the full symposium here

David Grewal – 

mutant neolib imageMutant Neoliberalism is an excellent collection of essays canvassing what editors William Callison and Zachary Manfredi rightly diagnose as the changing face of neoliberalism – really, the multiplicity of national, transnational and post-national neoliberalisms – evolving in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Instead of a mortal wounding, the crisis generated the paradox, as several authors in the collection note, that neoliberalism’s failures led to more, not less, neoliberalism. Crises generated by neoliberal prescriptions (privatization, financialization, austerity, etc.) are said to be solvable using more of the same, while radical reform proposals face the usual assessment (TINA = “there is no alternative”). This fact led to the conception of neoliberalism after the crisis as a “zombie” formation, the onward march of the undead, but Callison and Manfredi rightly note that events around 2016 seem to have altered this diagnosis. Instead, neoliberalism now seems less “zombie” than what they term “mutant,” proliferating in new forms, and hybridizing with traditional and new right social and political movements, sometimes in spite of manifest ideological and programmatic differences between them and the “pure” form of post-war neoliberalism (of Hayek, Mont Pellerin, and so ).

All this seems right and interesting. I want to focus in this brief response on the place of the “international” in this diagnosis, particularly as it concerns debates in the European context. It seems to me that both the undead (“zombie”) and the hybridizing (“mutant”) aspects of contemporary neoliberalism are deeply interrelated and best understood in relation to the problem of international economic integration (a.k.a. “global capitalism”). I will focus therefore on two excellent contributions to the volume, one by Melinda Cooper (“Anti-Austerity on the Far Right”), which looks at the anti-neoliberal politics of far-right movements in Europe during the interwar rise of fascism, and then again from the 1970s to the present; and another by Quinn Slobodian and Dieter Plehwe (“Neoliberals against Europe”), which studies right-wing Euroscepticism in relation to a politics of national neoliberalisms.

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Dead Again? Mutant Neoliberalism and Crisis Reinvention

Editor’s note: Will the rise of new political forces and the explosion of global crises sound neoliberalism’s death knell? Or will ostensible challenges to existing political and economic orders instead catalyze new mutations in neoliberalism’s dynamic development? Mutant Neoliberalism, a recent edited collection, brings together leading scholars of neoliberalism—political theorists, historians, philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists—to rethink transformations in market rule and their relation to ongoing political ruptures. LPE blog is excited to host a symposium on this new and timely volume. Below is the first piece in the symposium series, an introduction by the volume’s editors William Callison and Zachary Manfredi. – LPE Blog

William Callison & Zachary Manfredi –

mutant neolib imageMutant Neoliberalism started as an attempt to wrestle with the complexities of a world transformed by the 2008 financial crisis. We both devoured the outpouring of critical commentary in the wake of that crisis, much of which alleged the demise of neoliberalism – “zombie neoliberalism” would soon give way to a new economic order and a new form of governance. With the political ruptures of the mid 2010s – the rise of far-right parties in Europe, the Brexit referendum, the Trump and Bolsonaro elections, along with ascendant authoritarianism in Turkey, the Philippines and elsewhere – we then witnessed another round of commentary predicting the “death” of neoliberalism. We were skeptical.

Neoliberalism wasn’t going to vanish, but it was changing – and it will change again. In our introduction to the edited collection, we synthesized the insights of the contributors into a broader theory of “mutant neoliberalism.” This was meant as a conceptual heuristic for interpreting different transformations of neoliberalism – whether understood as a form of institutional governance, a rationality of individual conduct, or an order of capitalist production. We sought to avoid reducing neoliberalism to a generic vituperative category, while also underscoring the manifold traditions of neoliberal thought and practice that emerged over the twentieth century. In proposing the metaphor of the “mutant” as an alternative to the “zombie,” we were not quarreling with projects that aim to abolish and replace neoliberalism with democratic and socialist alternatives. Rather, we hoped to challenge critiques that issue neoliberalism a premature death certificate. Chief among our concerns, in other words, was pushing back against narratives that a crisis of neoliberalism will serve as its own gravedigger: first the financial crisis of 2008, then the political ruptures of the mid-2010s, and now – perhaps – the fallout from the global pandemic of COVID-19.

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LPE on COVID-19 (vol. 5)


Valeria Vital, an ER tech, holds a sign during a protest by medical professionals working for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., and their supporters on March 23, 2020. Photo (via The Intercept): Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Polaris


Dear Readers, 

Today we’re bringing you a special Saturday edition of our ongoing covid-19 series.

Take care,

LPE Blog


Your first stop after reading this post should be here, to listen to Amy Kapczynski and Gregg Gonsalves on The Dig podcast. They talk about how to survive this plague – the politics of public health and what we can learn from ACT UP.

Over at Demos, Sabeel Rahman posted this analysis of the pandemic as a crisis of racial capitalism. (Racial capitalism is one of our analytical keystones here at LPE – you can read more about it on the blog.) The post comes from a longer report, available here, that makes clear how the crisis “is revealing the deeper inequities for Black and brown people that have always been present in our economy and democracy but that are often papered over in ordinary times.”

This week Mehrsa Baradaran also posted a reporton financial inclusion and building an equitable financial system in the wake of COVID-19:

As part of Congress’s financial stimulus response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES Act included $1,200 stimulus checks to all qualifying Americans—but there was no clear plan for delivering these checks to unbanked and underbanked Americans. Unfortunately, financial inclusion—access to payment systems, credit products, and financial services of all kinds—is an afterthought in politics and policymaking debates, but it’s wholly necessary to build an equitable economy.

Along with Julius Krein, and E. Glen Weyl, Ganesh Sitaraman suggested this week that the US create a war production board to ramp up “production, coordination, and deployment” of COVID-19 testing.

As cities and states report desperate shortfalls, Robert Hockett is promoting ‘Community QE,” to give them a lifeline. You can read about it in these two forbes posts, and in his longer piece up on SSRN.

In case you’re left wanting more, a few recommendations from around the internet:

First, LPE folks can learn a lot from this op-ed by Melissa L. St. Hilaire, a domestic worker in Florida who was fired when the pandemic hit. Next, the Boston Review has been publishing a wave of great pieces on class and inequality in the crisis – in no particular order, here’s one on the politics of disposability, another about a Brazilian town building a successful solidarity economy, and a look at the figure of the welfare queen in policy debates about COVID relief.





Consumer Protection after Consumer Sovereignty

Luke Herrine–

The consumer is at the center of the neoliberal’s moral universe. For both neoclassical welfarists and Hayekian moralists, the consumer is the Everyman. For, whatever else we do, we are all consumers. The “free market” has value because it forces the firms that control the process of production and distribution to compete for our business. Because firms’ very survival depends on their ability to convince us to pay them and because we only pay for things we think are valuable, firms are incentivized to take our interests into account in every decision they make. As they compete to serve our interests more and more effectively, the process of production and distribution becomes more and more efficient at giving us what we want.

According to this ideology of consumer sovereignty, we collectively control the social provisioning process through our individual decisions. Democratic governance is the facilitation of free consumer choice.

Consumer sovereignty is at the center of many familiar neoliberal reform projects. Chicago School antitrust builds on the proposition that the only reason to prevent business consolidation is to lower prices for consumers. Virginia School public choice (and its theory of regulatory capture) depends on the idea that citizenship is basically like consumption, with elected officials acting as firms that compete for votes and appointed officials as firms that compete for resources. Part of the First Amendment’s Lochnerization has involved undermining legislative and regulatory power in teh name of protecting consumers’ right to the information that judges deem necessary to make their purchasing decisions. Etc.

It has become familiar to those who follow the LPE movement that, in building a post-neoliberal way of thinking, we need to move beyond consumer sovereignty. LPE thinkers in antitrust have pointed out the implications of corporate power for workers, for productivity, for corruption of our political system, and generally for our collective ability to control our social system. Similarly with respect to public choice theory and the Lochnerized First Amendment.

But what does all of this mean for how we think about consumers and the law that is supposed to protect them? How can we think about consumer protection law if we reject the ideology of consumer sovereignty?

As I argue in a draft article, consumer protection law should be understood as a variety of moral economy.

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Progressive Democracy and Legislative Form

Blake Emerson

Adrian Vermeule recently made a stir with his proposal for a “common-good constitutionalism.” He argued that originalism had “outlived its utility” now that the right had gained power on the federal bench. Instead it was time for a “substantively conservative approach to constitutional law and interpretation.” We got only a few peaks at the substance, however. It included labeling individual autonomy, including abortion rights, as “abominable,” and jettisoning “the libertarian assumptions central to free speech law.”

Responses have examined whether Vermeule’s constitutional theory is defensible, or rather winks more or less subtly at authoritarian or even fascist ideas. But to me the most striking aspect of the argument was not the substance of the values Vermeule would ascribe to the Constitution, but rather the form of his conservative constitutional structure. Vermeule proposes a version of constitutionalism that, much like the Law-and-Political-Economy framework, goes “Beyond the Twentieth Century Synthesis” in abandoning the liberal separation of the state from the “private” spheres of the market and family. In contrast to the LPE approach, however, Vermeule’s constitution puts hierarchy at the center of its moral universe, with a strong executive at the top. In the mirror of Vermeule’s constitutional frame, we can glimpse the progressive alternative.

Common-good constitutionalism “does not suffer from a horror of political domination and hierarchy,” but rather expects that “[s]ubjects will come to thank the ruler” for fostering “more authentic desires.” Vermeule thus emphasizes a pre- or post-liberal form of government in which the people are rightfully subject to the discretionary authority of political leaders. He prioritizes the executive branch over others, favoring “a powerful presidency ruling over a powerful bureaucracy,” which acts as “the strong hand of legitimate rule.”

These structural commitments are in line with the theory of the “unitary executive,” which can be traced back to Alexander Hamilton’s defense of a “vigorous” presidency in the Federalist. That enlarged conception of the office has continued to influence landmark Supreme Court decisions from Chevron to the Travel Ban Case. But there is another thinker who deeply informs Vermeule’s analysis: Carl Schmitt, the conservative critic of Germany’s Weimar Republic who became the crown jurist of the Third Reich before falling out of favor with the Nazis.

For Schmitt, the Weimar Republic showed that liberalism’s commitment to positive law, rational deliberation, and individual rights was too brittle to withstand serious economic and political crises. Parliamentary democracy gave way to a “governmental state” in which the executive rather than the legislature made the important decisions. Schmitt did not bemoan this transition, but rather envisioned a direct connection between the substantive values of the Volk and the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. Vermeule, of course, disavows Schmitt’s Nazism, and instead fastens onto his critique of liberal legalism, as well as his interest in religious-bureaucratic political form. He follows Schmitt in privileging the executive branch as the best vehicle to carry out a conservative ethical vision.

Some of Schmitt’s most prominent opponents on the left offered up models for an alternative, social-democratic economy of political power. Scholars like Hermann Heller and Franz Neumann endorsed the norms freedom, the rule of law, and the separation of powers that constitute the liberal ideal of the Rechtsstaat. But they argued that those norms could only be preserved under the conditions of twentieth-century capitalism by transforming the bourgeois Rechtsstaat into a social Rechtsstaat. Such a social-constitutional state would infuse economic relations with material equality, and ensure that monopoly power did not undermine individual and collective autonomy. In stark contrast to Schmitt, these thinkers prioritized the legislature over the executive, and bound the latter closely to the norms of the former. Because Heller and Neumann’s hope was to institute general, egalitarian norms through democratic processes, the legislature had to play the lead constitutional role. Momentary decisions of a charismatic leader would not suffice to firmly entrench social equality.

This correlation between the left and the legislature, on the one hand, and the right and executive, on the other, also has purchase for us in America today. Conservatism of Vermeule’s and Schmitt’s variety is grounded on authority, discretion, and hierarchy. It relies on the obedience of subordinates to the commands of superiors who know better, have keener judgment, or who command greater allegiance. That vision runs like a red line through reactionary models of both economic and political structure. While the rhetoric of freedom, choice, and competition pervades the American right, its legal interpretations and policies often function to preserve various kinds of concentrated power, exercised by some persons and groups over others. The last forty years of conservative ideological dominance has generated stark social hierarchies: employers now exercise arbitrary power over employees, monopolists control consumers and smaller firms, capital accrues the gains from labor; status hierarchies surrounding religion, sex and gender, and race are conceived to reflect a “natural” ranking of superior and inferior.

Executive-centered constitutional structure works in parallel to such legally sanctioned social domination. It subjects the hitherto “independent” civil service to the strong hand of presidential leadership, displacing various forms of disciplinary competence, administrative due process, and public input with assertions of value by the “Chief Executive.” This affinity for an “unbound” executive has animated conservative constitutional scholarship since Reagan. As Bill Barr claimed in his strident criticism of the Mueller Investigation, the president “alone is the Executive branch,” and subordinate executive officers are merely “his hand.”

Progressives, by contrast, should be steadfastly committed to legislative constitutional forms. That is because democracy is concerned not with the command of a single person but with reaching a decision amongst a plurality of persons. That process respects the equal worth of each participant. It models a form of human association that recognizes autonomy and yet brings people together to identify shared goals and values.

Legislation should be viewed as an iterative process of popular will-formation. David Grewal and Jedediah Britton-Purdy have shown how democratic constitution-making is a legislative act of the sovereign people to erect a government that acts on their behalf. Ordinary legislation replicates this process within the government, as it brings together the several representatives of the people to reach binding agreements and empower marginalized groups. Maggie Blackhawk, for instance, has shown how the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 helped to “foster power and to promote collective action” by sovereign Native peoples. Legislative rulemaking within the executive branch takes this democratic empowerment one step deeper down, giving affected groups a role in deciding how economy and society are regulated. As Matthew Cortland and Karen Tani have documented, progressives have used the public comment process during the Trump Administration to thwart unjust and arbitrary executive actions ranging from approval of Medicaid work requirements to narrowing the definition of sex harassment in education. Kate Andrias has unearthed precedents in the New Deal for establishing workplace democracy in and through the administrative process. I’ve explored in my own scholarship how this legislative version of agency procedure stretches back to the institutions and ideologies of the Progressive Era.

The legislative left therefore does not ignore or sideline the executive branch, but rather aims to recreate parliamentary values, processes, and organizations within the executive. A corollary to this vision is that the president should not be able to fire executive officers at will, as the unitary executive theory would hold. The scope of the president’s removal power is currently before the Court in Seila Law v. CFPB. An executive branch that honors democratic principles should recognize a qualified equality amongst officials. Officers whom Congress has given rulemaking powers should not be subject to implied direction by the president, but rather should lead a broader deliberative process that incorporates affected publics.

Such a legislative constitutional structure, it should be noted, runs counter to strong tendencies and historical traditions amongst American Progressives. From Teddy Roosevelt and FDR to LBJ and Obama, egalitarian programs have often relied on an empowered presidency. And I don’t wish to malign the important persuasive role the president can play as a spokesperson for the people, nor the movement building potential of executive action. But much is lost in pinning our hopes on a particular presidential candidate and what she or he can accomplish once in office. That approach is particularly likely to fail with a conservative Supreme Court that will strike down “novel” administrative actions, or deny deference on “major questions.”

Progressives and social democrats are concerned with freedom, equality, and solidarity. While there might be temporary victories for such values in the hands of a capable and charismatic president, a durable democratic future must take a form that mirrors democratic substance. If we want to recognize and institute the equality of persons, we must all become legislators.

Blake Emerson is Assistant Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law.