Neoliberalism rose to prominence by representing the subsequent crisis of the 1970s as a crisis of Keynesianism, against which the neoliberal project could be advanced as the return to the natural order of market society. The introduction of trickle-down economics was expected to bring about a new age of economic growth for all, but is now associated with increasing income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of society. The neoliberal model insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification, and now people are technically free but powerless. At the individual-level, neoliberalism insists that rationality, individuality and self-interest guide all actions. Neoliberalism sees the new normal as empowering individuals, and the shifting economy as a valid reason for underemployment with its increased insecurity. However, claims of freedom and equality can be used as tools of manipulation. In this system, the source of profit in exploitation is concealed, economic value is an expression of subjective preferences, rather than a measure of labour time.
A set of shared beliefs within a group is an ideology which influences the way individuals think, act and view the world. Neoliberalism is an ideology – that an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth. Cultural hegemony – the domination or rule achieved through ideological means – functions by achieving the consent of the masses to abide social norms and rules of law by framing the worldview of the economic elite, and the social and economic structures that go with it as just, legitimate, and designed for the benefit of all, even though they may only benefit the wealthy. Postmodernists believe that the West’s claims of freedom and prosperity continue to be nothing more than empty promises and have not met the needs of humanity. They believe that truth is relative, and truth is up to each individual to determine for himself. With a lack of objectivity we are not able to objectively discern factual reality from cultural fiction.
One analyses ideologies in terms of opposition, discontinuities and contradictions rather than in terms of cohesion and continuity. In a 1989 essay Fukuyama declared the ‘end of history’ – he was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed the rapidly expanding ideology – neoliberalism – appeared to be providing a balance of liberty and equality post cold war, that could not be bettered. He claimed that ideological evolution led to universalization of western liberal democracy, and all others should end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society. According to Foucault ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ are created by those in power. What we take to be true is the dominant worldview that we have been provided with: it is received wisdom, not truth. Foucault rejected the idea that society was progressing. The world is not getting better or getting closer to truth, it is just moving through different worldviews.
The ideas of the 19th century: Nietzsche saw nihilism as the most extreme form of pessimism, something that comes from weariness and an alienation from values. When one can recognize the existing value systems as meaningless and empty, and not replace it with anything, they become nihilistic. Mikhail Bakunin’s ideas produced a coherent defense of individual freedom and its basis in a free society. Bakunin believed that political freedom without economic equality is a pretense – a fraud, a lie. He believed that real freedom was possible only when economic and social equality existed. Freedom is a product of connection, not isolation. Bakunin insisted it is society which creates individual freedom through social interaction. Equality for the 19th century anarchists means social equality such as quality of condition, or equal opportunity. An anarchists’ society recognizes the differences in ability and need of individuals but does not allow their differences to be turned into power.
Bakunin recognized that the ruling classes blindly and stubbornly opposed even the slightest social reform and accordingly he saw a federation of free worker’s associations as an important part of the solution to ensure the requirements of daily life. Bakunin stressed anarchists should take an active part in the labour movement, as the strike was “the beginning of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.” On May 3, 1886 violence broke out at the McCormick Reapers Works in Chicago between police and strikers. The next day about 3000 showed up at Haymarket Square, but as the police moved to disperse the angry crowd a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. Enraged the police fired into the civilian ranks killing seven or eight and wounding about forty. The jury at the trial was composed of business leaders. Lacking credible evidence that the defendants threw the bomb or organized the bomb throwing, prosecutors focused on their writings and speeches (their political and social beliefs). Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government triggered a heightened anti-labour movement. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing, and socialism became un-American.1
The arguments of political economy were based on intuition and assertion rather than on rigorous analysis, but their strength rested on their ideological appeal rather than on their analytical rigour. Modern neoliberal economics is no less dogmatic than its nineteenth century predecessor in resting on a set of simplistic assertions about the character of the market and the behaviour of market actors. However, to argue that the neoliberal model is unrealistic is somewhat to miss the point, since the neoliberal model does not purport so much to describe the world as it is, but the world as it should be. The point for neoliberalism is not to make a model that is more adequate to the real world, but to make the real world more adequate to its model. This is not merely an intellectual fantasy, it is a very real political project to realise, which neoliberalism has conquered the commanding heights of global intellectual, political and economic power, all of which are mobilised to realise the neoliberal project of subjecting the whole world’s population to the judgement and morality of neoliberal capitalism.
However, modern economics is not a scientific discipline but the rigorous elaboration of a very specific social theory, which has become so deeply embedded in western thought as to have established itself as no more than common sense, despite the fact that its fundamental assumptions are patently absurd. Marx and Engels showed that the sole purpose of capitalist production is not the production of things to meet human need, but the constant thirst for profits to maintain the accumulation of capital. The market is, therefore, by no means the beneficent sphere in which social production is subordinated to social need as consumers exercise their freedom of choice, rather it is the arena in which capitalists desperately seek to dispose of their surplus product at a profit. Far from responding to the needs of consumers, capitalism thrives on the constant creation of unsatisfied needs; far from generalising prosperity, capitalism generalises want; far from relieving the burden of labour, capitalism constantly intensifies labour, to the extent that a growing proportion of the population are unable to meet the demands of the neoliberal system while being continually besieged with false promises.2
The idea is simple: the more money the people on top make, the more opportunities for the people below from the dripping down of that prosperity. The hidden agenda here, of course, is the rationalization of inequality. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. It is no coincidence that the current attacks on the welfare state and public sector are accompanied by attempts to undermine core cultural and institutional freedoms such as rights of trade unionists and media freedom. These activities are undermining the freedoms and opportunities that had been achieved over the years through working-class, progressive struggle against the bitter opposition of the ruling class. The way to enhance individual freedom and bring about progressive change is to concentrate efforts at the local level.
It is not about a political party, rather a critique of the existing neoliberal systems of power, such as the identification of the workers who have been left behind since 2008, and how to challenge the maintenance of the existing power structure. There is no right way to approach politics, since there is no unifying story that is true for life or politics. With destruction of the grand narrative – trickle down economics – there is no longer any unifying identity for individuals or society. Instead the focus is on individuals – the sites where ranges of conflicting moral and political codes intersect, and the social bond is fragmented. It is much easier to be critical than to present a positive vision – many believe solidarity of the left has been fragmented by identity politics. We must not give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by an ideology that limits our opportunities.
The economic elite demand a dressed-up sophisticated economic theory be applied to society regardless of the outcome which has nothing to do with economics but everything to do with power. We now live in a world where those who can afford to spend the most money to have their version of it advertised widely define truth. If there is no single truth that is acknowledged by all the people, then one is able to question the action of the government. This is the greatest strength of the postmodern political landscape, as people are able to create their own form of truth and choose actions and politics to support it.3 We must promote changes that strategically accomplishes what needs to be accomplished – dismantle the neoliberal socio-economic system. It is necessary to focus on factors that affect the social determinants of health, associated with the healthcare reform and budget legislation that supports progressive taxation at the local level – then remember to vote. This change requires a great deal of effort from all citizens.
1 Part 2 of 2. The Rise of the new Anarchists (10 Oct 2014) https://questioningandskepticism.com/part-2-of-2-the-rise-of-the-new-anarchists/
2 Clarke, Simon. (16 May 2013) The Neoliberal Theory of Society: The Ideological Foundations of Neo-Liberalism http://www.heathwoodpress.com/the-neoliberal-theory-of-society-the-ideological-foundations-of-neo-liberalism/
3 Postmodernity http://www.philosopherkings.co.uk/postmodernity.html