Hegel believed in a freedom of action that included struggle through rational deliberation – when we cease to strive to realize a potential then we live by habit, by rote. The light of progress spreads and can be generated by individuals who have the freedom and opportunities to grow and reach their full potential Hegel affirmed. Today’s dialectic would be the tension between the present minimal government of economic austerity and a system that decreases the economic gap and creates more choices and opportunities for individuals to reach their full potential. The neoliberal ideological project or hegemony is geared to making itself invisible – is almost never mentioned in the mainstream political world. Today, the neoliberal state is the extension of the economic elite – propagated by elected officials, government bureaucrats, military officials, technocrats who can speak no other language than that of the privileged status of capital, and who hold the belief they are serving the greater good.
Ideological hegemony theorizes the way in which relationships of domination and exploitation are embedded in the dominant ideas of society. According to Gramsci, hegemony locks up a society even more tightly because of the way ideas are transmitted by language. The words we use to speak and write have been constructed by social interactions through history and shaped by the dominant ideology of the times. Thus they are loaded with cultural meanings that condition us to think in particular ways, and to not be able to think very well in other ways. A key hegemonic claim is that the market provides a natural mechanism for rational economic allocation, however we have witnessed a permanent global crisis in our political systems. There is an open crisis in neoliberal hegemony – should we not interpret the results of Brexit vote in Britain and the US federal election in 2016 as confirmations of this diagnosis?
The West enjoyed a period of economic equality from the end of the Second World War to 1970 when the rate of economic gains was equivalent between the wealthy and workers. Subsequently, forty-five years of tax cuts for the rich have been linked to income inequality, a shrinking middle class and the loss of freedom to make choices they desire (social mobility). What is the most powerful political force in the world one could tap into for change? Many might nominate the resurgence of religion or the advance of democracy or human rights. Or maybe it’s digital technology, as symbolized by the Internet and all that comes with it. None of the above – it’s nationalism. As Orwell said, a nationalist can justify anything in the cause of “protecting” his construct of the state. During the 2016 election Donald Trump exploited racist myths and stereotypes to instil fear in working-class Americans who have genuine economic problems.
Professor Rappard observes: if we wish to define economic nationalism by its underlying purpose, we should say that it was a doctrine destined to serve the nation by making it not richer, but freer, by promoting not its material welfare, but its independence of foreign influences. However, the economic nationalism promoted by Bannon and Trump is about returning well-paying jobs to the US that the neoliberal economic model otherwise directed overseas. Orwell further explained the dangers of nationalism. The way a nationalist “thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige.” The way a nationalist’s “thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs, and humiliations.” Nationalism, Orwell explained, “is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also – since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself – unshakeably certain of being in the right …”1
The long-term sustainability of global market capitalism is a primary concern of many economists and business leaders. The present disruptive force of capitalist competition undermines the working class, weakening the hold of neoliberals as it fails to deliver. Steve Bannon clearly recognized the negative consequences of the present market system and incorporated a systematic approach to nationalism – immigration control, border wall – while pursuing a pro-capitalist agenda. Even with the departure of Bannon from the Trump White House, it does not mean the end of economic nationalism as it is serves to distract working-class Americans from very real questions about the domestic distribution of economic resources by casting dispersions on foreigners. Basically, neoliberalism with its combination of market anarchy and work place despotism – where discipline and conformity in the office or factory are counterbalanced by a potpourri of gratifying and pleasurable consumer choices – further destabilizes the social order by promising and then dashing any hopes of individuals reaching their potential.
The economic elite recognize that nationalism has a function – fill the gap that consumerism can never fill, providing psychic compensation for the atomization of modern life, social cohesion beyond the fragmentation of the market place, and encouraging allegiance to one’s nationalist leader on the world stage. As neoliberal capitalism fragments social experience, nationalism becomes ever more important in gluing the working class to the political elite. In the end, it only serves to reinforce the existing social order and the interests to the economic elite. This failure of neoliberal policies has created opportunities for others. The alt-right has taken advantage of the widespread anger over growing economic problems (of neoliberalism) and directed that rage at migrants, outsiders and multiculturalism. However, IMF representatives have now noted that the economic deliverables that the neoliberal policies are designed to foster are difficult to discover, while the inequality caused by austerity is palpable.
The 2008 economic crisis was exploited by ruling classes to strengthen disciplinary mechanisms through increased austerity. It is time to challenge the lie of austerity. Neoliberal policies around austerity increase inequality, which in turn, hurt long-term growth and stability in the economy. As more and more citizens become aware of the economic damage of inequality, policy makers will become more open to redistribution. While the structure and agency of neoliberalism furnished the conditions for global capitalist expansion they did not provide a function to address inequality. There is sparse evidence for the role of neoliberal capitalism in supporting and extending personal liberty. Indeed, the workings of capitalism are usually subtle, and its effects on the range of human choice have generally been unintended by those bringing them about. That is, they often occur as a by-product of actions motivated by quite other ends-in-view (i.e. making a profit).
Remember, a key hegemonic claim is that the market provides a natural mechanism for rational economic allocation. Thus, attempts to regulate capital via political decisions produce suboptimal outcomes. This thinking is used to undermine the mechanics of popular engagement in determining policy. The actual individuals – the economic elite – who control the decision-making undermine other associations, like unions, under the rhetoric of personal freedom. The economic elite remove decision-making out of hands of the working class and rely on the politicians they own and the media they control to provide explanations of reductions in social programs like Obamacare and Medicaid in order to cover the tax cuts for the wealthy. The proposed GOP tax cuts for all is window-dressing to make the offer ‘look’ attractive, while in reality smoke and mirrors to obscure the fact that it is a giveaway to giant corporations, and does not provide long-term relief for the working class.
Since the early 1980s, the adoption of neoliberalism has seen the systematic transfer of power from the public to private sectors. Economies are ultimately the collective activities of groups of people, and many of the people can get hurt – inequality goes upward as the benefits accrue to the wealthy. And the increased inequality undercuts real growth because a relatively small group of people who get the majority share of benefits cannot spend and consume enough to drive overall growth, and the mechanism creates a positive feedback loop, which means things get driven further and further in an ‘adverse’ direction. In 2007, real wages of American workers were actually lower than they were in 1979 when the neoliberal plan began.2 For decades, it now appears that public policies have been driven by people who didn’t really know what they were doing (because if they had known, things would have turned out the way they predicted) and who couldn’t see the raft of unexpected consequences of their suggestions.
At the heart of neoliberal economic policies is the insulation of both capital and state from democratic control. The Hegelian dialectic consists of a thesis in which one group wants more control over the system in order to reduce economic inequality. This activity would cause an antithesis or reaction from the economic elite who receive significant benefits from the existing system. The final stage would be the synthesis in which the group seeks progress – a process that results in the synthesis or solution to the problem – that is very close to what that most individuals wanted to begin with. The response to the nationalist neoliberal hegemony: return democratic control or decision-making to the working class. This requires steps to reverse the power now in the hands of the oligarchs: address gerrymandering, counter vote suppression gimmicks, reverse 2010 Supreme Court decision in favour of Citizens United removing the restriction on how much money corporations can spend on US federal elections.3
1 Astore, William. (6 August 2017) Beware The Blinding Power Of Nationalism https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/beware-the-blinding-power-of-nationalism_us_5987352fe4b00833d1de28e2
2 Desilver, Drew. (9 October 2014) For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/
3 The Role of Nationalism in Supporting Economic Neoliberalism (11 August 2017) https://questioningandskepticism.com/role-nationalism-supporting-economic-neoliberalism/