Capitalist realism is a term referring to capitalism's status as the default socioeconomic system for which viable alternatives do not exist and, more importantly, cannot be imagined. It has been used by theorists such as Mark Fisher and Slavoj Zizek to describe society's modern order, where capitalism is assumed to be the most natural, humane, sustainable, etc., socioeconomic system developed thus far, and movements to replace this system have been intentionally marginalized or otherwise failed to adapt their critiques and platforms.
It is a form of hyperreality or false consciousness, wherein the subjects of capitalist realism regard capitalism as an integral part of reality itself rather than as a contingent and impermanent system whose development is comparatively recent in human history. Indeed, people were saying that the divine right of kings would last forever, but we now know that it didn't last forever, since we no longer live in a feudal society. In the same vein, it is folly to think that capitalism will last forever, and according to the theory of "late stage capitalism," we are already in the end stages of the capitalist era.
Capitalist realism therefore describes the inter-subjective "reality" for subjects within capitalist cultural hegemony. As subjects are interpellated by what Louis Althusser identifies as state apparatuses, their social reality appears to them as that of the superstructure. But the superstructure itself is not just the result of the economic base, but justifies and reinforces it as necessary and permanent, or otherwise obfuscates it (unbeknownst to the subjects). This is necessary for the system in question to develop as a working class aware of its condition and rejecting the capitalist mode of production would constitute an existential threat to capitalism. Class consciousness, the awareness of the class relation and one's position within it, is not just rejected in capitalist realism as one would expect from something like the anti-communist filter of Noam Chomsky's propaganda model, but is largely unknowable and unintelligible to the masses. In other words, they cannot willfully reject something they have no awareness or understanding of. Thus, an alternate ontology required to imagine another form of social organization is unlikely to exist. This condition is capitalism realism. If Marx's theory of social change is regarded as one of technological determinism, then not until capitalism has reached a certain level of development and unrecoverable crisis would an alternate mode of production (socialism) and a new, resultant subjectivity emerge.
In Marxist historical theory there exists a concept called a "bourgeois revolution," which is essentially the takeover of society by so-called "bourgeois" or capitalist elements at the expense of the feudal nobility, a la the aristocracy, and the replacement of feudalism by capitalism. Marxist theoreticians place a distinction between "classical bourgeois revolutions," which involve the mass mobilization of popular elements a la the French Revolution or the American Revolution, and the so-called "passive bourgeois revolution," such as the Italian Risorgimento unification process, or the Meiji Restoration that overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, or the American Civil War, that involve the capitalist takeover of society from top-down rather than bottom up.[notes 1] Passive bourgeois revolutions involve active participation of the state or by state actors to initiate the capitalist takeover of society and government, which all three of the aforementioned events did. Classical bourgeois revolutions are typically pitted against the feudal state, at least in its initial phases.
This is relevant because it shows how societal structures do not last forever, and as how feudalism was overtaken by capitalism, capitalism shall be overtaken by something else, what that something is remains to be seen. The current troubles of the modern day era are arguably construable as the death throes of capitalism, but what replaces it is something that is up to the denizens of society to determine, hopefully for the better, but possibly for the worse.
- Naturalistic fallacy
- Laissez-faire capitalism — An extreme implementation of capitalism, with its proponents adhering to the strict belief that the less government, the better.
- The name of the "passive bourgeois revolution" is something of a misnomer, since not all of these top-down bourgeois revolutions proceeded nonviolently, just take a look at the American Civil War for an example of a violent bourgeois revolution.