Nietzsche (1844-1900) rejected the power of reason, and the belief that science would automatically lead to progress. He claimed there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. For Nietzsche the values (culture and traditions) of the dominant society (with an ideology consistent with its interests) were oppressing the emergence of a new generation of stronger individual and a more vigorous society and culture. Darwin has effectively shown that searching for a true definition of species is not only futile but unnecessary since the definition of a species is something temporary, something which will change over time, without any permanent lasting and stable reality. Nietzsche strived through his philosophical work to do the same for cultural values. He substituted Darwin’s adaptive fitness with creative power – for Nietzsche everything is in flux. Ideas should change as soon as information and inputs change.
Neoliberalism happens to be the ideology that has the fortune of coinciding with technological change on a scale that it makes its penetration into every realm of being – redefining the state, institutions of society and the self. Globalization has been facilitated by numerous technical developments and the spread of economic neoliberalism. Neoliberals like to focus on public debt, while private debt makes individuals more disciplined while narrowing the scope of opportunities further. What explains the neoliberal preference for private debt and aversion to government debt? Private indebtedness, unlike government deficit expenditure, binds the majority of individuals more tightly to the wage labour system. Workers with mortgages and other debt obligations will be more subservient in relation to their employers, and less likely to risk their present positions in negotiating over wages and conditions.
The neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, user pays principle, and austerity all played their parts in weakening the position of the vast majority relative to the corporate capitalists, while pushing the general population into indebtedness. The labour market deregulation assisted corporations in the defeat of organized labour. Financial deregulation opened the way for credit fueled private consumption, the real estate bubble, and interest and service charges for rentiers. The user pay principle has loaded students with debt; lifestyles other than wage slavery are deliberately made less viable. Austerity plays a role, intentionally creating joblessness and insecurity for many. This process creates unemployment that is higher than before, and this is used as evidence that wages were too high, legitimizing stagnant wages, particularly minimum wages. In addition, to control unemployment, neoliberal principles dictate cutting unemployment benefits to remove disincentives to work. Neoliberals are intent that persistent high unemployment exist alongside stagnant wages and weaker safety net.
The scale of and reasons for the global financial meltdown are posing questions that are every bit as intense as those posed to economists at the time of the Great Depression, and the 1970s oil shock. In both those instances, the inability of the dominant paradigm (of society) to accommodate the new realities led to major changes in ways people organized their societies around the world. Today, the fact that the economic crisis is coinciding with an unprecedented ecological crisis raises the stakes even higher. The rise of Trump and Sanders in the US prompts further skepticism in neoliberal market fundamentalism.
Many countries were running a budget deficit in the aftermath of the financial crisis. In Britain, neoliberals claimed an immediate risk for the country becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Such action, neoliberals declared, creates business-boosting confidence. In actual fact, with the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer – with the depth of suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity. In 2012, the IMF chief economist, Oliver Blanchard, admitted the IMF now believes it massively understated the damage that spending cuts inflict on a weak economy. Even economic research that allegedly supported the austerity plan has been discredited. However, George Osborne and David Cameron boasted that their policies saved Britain from a Greek-style crisis of soaring interest rates.1
P. Thompson, among others, promoted the bottom-up approach to history – begin with the needs of society then build upwards to construct the economic climate that will provide for needs of the people. Top-down systems like fundamental neoliberal economics deal with the abstract while bottom-up systems deal with ‘facts on the ground’. Democracy is a bottom-up political system designed to displace dictatorships, theocracies, and oligarchies. The driving force is people want to be free and have opportunities to reach their potential. Economic systems are the result of human action, not human design. Neoliberalism’s task, from this point on, is to mask and manage inequalities that are likely to befall humanity, and increasingly deflect issues on environmental degradation.
The Brexit vote has challenged the principles of globalization. Many Britons wanted to take back control of the country from the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. However, the Brexit debate wasn’t about economics, it was about zenophobia triggered by an immigration surge. EU rules restrict the ability of a member state to bar immigration from other EU member states. The ‘Leave’ camp would have workers believe that uncontrolled emigration reduced job opportunities and suppressed wages in Britain. The ‘Leave’ campaign claimed Britain does not get enough benefits in return for monies paid into the EU system. David Cameron debated from the weakness of the abstract concept of trade advantages of a larger marketplace, while Boris Johnson appealed to the elemental fear in the country, torn apart by the abstraction of the market. Brexit became a proxy plebiscite on immigration.
In the 2016 US presidential primaries both Trump and Sanders are capitalizing on US citizens discontent with the inequalities resulting from neoliberalism. Sanders organized along the lines of political polarization between big business and the working class. Trump promises to dismantle the so-called destructive free trade deals which have enabled many companies to move their production facilities to other countries to exploit cheap labour and make exorbitant profits under neoliberalism. Trump brushes aside how he amassed a personal fortune based on the very economic system he is criticising. He casts himself as a shrewd deal-maker who will get a much better deal for common Americans within a global economy (which US policies have themselves been instrumental in shaping).
Donald Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism. For him this creates facts on the ground to incorporate into his speeches. Trump continues the unorthodox, controversial and successful campaign used to secure the nomination – target globalization and free trade in his speeches. To unify the social conservatives along with his supporters, Trump combines attacks on Clinton’s character with promises to appoint judges who reflect their values such as pro-life, and to reduce immigration threats to American security, customs and values. America is losing its independence through globalization, Trump claims, and he will vigorously go after trade violations to protect the jobs of American workers. Trump claims he is the change agent, in contrast to Clinton who he says represents the status quo.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is presented as calm and steady in times of uncertainty compared to Trump who comes across as a hot-headed demagogue. Clinton debates from weakness of abstract concepts of her economic plan, such as expanding employment opportunities, support for education, fund breakthroughs in scientific and medical research – essentially manage trickle-down economics more effectively. Clinton’s policies only tinker with the neoliberal economic system. Workers voting in the primaries declared a need for change – neoliberalism is not working for them. In short, she needs to avoid defending abstract concepts and introduce a bottom-up economic plan describing changes that people can relate to. The message from Brexit: belief in the ideology that supports the EU created a barrier to understanding the extent of the backlash among workers bypassed by globalization.
Nietzsche claimed facts cannot be separated from interpretations. Objectivity is beyond human capability because the mind cannot know ‘truth’ in an objective sense. Minds are useful, but according to Nietzsche invariably flawed because they cannot separate facts from human error and moral values, which inevitably are subjective. If all perspectives are subjective and hence flawed, what perspective is society to follow? Nietzsche’s perspective was that no source of knowledge was authoritative. Sources of knowledge won ascendancy based on which ones were backed by holders of power. Thus, perceived truth depended on power. Real truth, if it existed, was not bestowed by princely or divine power, but was relative and subjective. It depends on circumstances.
Recognition that moral values are subjective and that rights can only be interpreted in their social context frees the observer to break from the bondage of false views to see society more clearly, if still subjectively. In this system, with no absolute truth, one must evaluate one moral position in relation to other moral positions.
Nietzsche considered nihilism a transitional stage that accompanies human development. It arises from frustration and weariness. When people feel alienated from values, and have lost the foundation of their value system but have not replaced it with anything, then they become nihilists. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values, and science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves as xenophobia.
Donald Trump is employing populist nihilism in his 2016 presidential campaign. The ideology of the dominant society, fundamental neoliberal economics, has alienated his followers from values such as the American dream. With this strategy he does not need a detailed jobs program before the election. Trump’s strategy is countered by evaluating one economic position in relation to another economic position. Hillary Clinton must describe the economic and environmental positions that she seeks to provide for the needs of the people in terms of countering the excesses of neoliberal economics. For example, to close the inequality gap, increase the minimum the wage and implement significant education reform. Clinton needs a VP who can communicate these messages effectively to students and the working class. Elizabeth Warren battled the neoliberals over Americans’ retirement security. Warren knows the country should be run for the people not the corporations, and as unions weaken, the chances of getting progressive social policy also weakens. These are the type of ideas that excite Bernie Sanders’ followers. This is why Hillary Clinton needs Elizabeth Warren.
1 Krugman, Paul (29 April 2015) The Austerity Delusion http://www.theguardian.com/business/ng…/2015/apr/29/the-austerity-delusion