Neo-Liberalism and the Modern Crisis
In my last post, I noted the irony of how the guardians of the social order of Christendom and the Holy Roman Empire, once they had embarked on the campaign of Inquisition, inadvertently and obliviously became, instead, that social order’s executioners, discrediting by their actions and excesses its very foundations. I suggested that this was also the situation of Late Modernity, and that there were precise parallels between then and now.
A little over a century ago, Friedrich Nietzsche also anticipated the breakdown of the Modern Era. The historical victory of liberal institutions, he opined, would be simultaneously their self-negation. That prophecy came to pass with Margaret Thatcher’s TINA principle and with Mr. Fukuyama’s seconding of that with his declaration of “the end of history”.
Providentially, George Monbiot has an article in today’s Guardian that is of some interest because it does question whether the guardians of liberty haven’t become, rather, liberty’s executioners.
The article is entitled “Neo-liberalism — the ideology at the root of all our problems“. That’s not really the case, but it is certainly a big part of the contemporary crisis of Late Modernity.
You know of my antipathy towards neo-liberalism and the neo-liberal “consensus” exemplified also in neo-conservatism and neo-socialism as being aberrant creeds of the “new normal” in general — one delusion followed by another; one fraud compounded by another fraud; symptoms, not of an innovation or revival that might be suggested by the prefix “neo-“, but formations of degeneration and decadence and the bankruptcy of ideas and ideology. They exemplify the same self-negating dynamic as the late stages of the Middle Ages, but in our terms an “illiberal liberalism”, a conservatism that conserves nothing, and a socialism of and for the rich (Blairite “Third Way” politics or “New Labour”).
Monbiot’s article is of some interest in demonstrating this dramatic inversion and reversal of fortune that goes by the name “neo-liberalism”. Monbiot’s observation, for example, that the ostensible father of neo-liberal economics, Milton Friedman, was comfortable with “the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency”, and that another authority of neo-liberalism, Hayek (and a Thatcher favourite), on a visit to Pinochet’s Chile remarked that “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism” — by which, of course, he meant free-market capitalism and a capitalist dictatorship.
These remarks go a long way in explaining Thatcher, Reagan, Blair and, of course, Fukuyama and the emergence of a global Plutocracy. The guardians of the liberal democratic order ultimately served as that order’s executioners, being quite as much comfortable with a monopoly of ideology and a monopoly of power as their mentors, Hayek and Friedman, and in the name of a technocratic “efficiency”.
This self-negating creed became, in very short order, the “consensus”, very much considered foreordained, and almost as a fate. “There is No Alternative”. The system moved very rapidly towards closure, towards the “end of history”. And the recent announcement that we are now in the “Anthropocene” is the image of that system become a virtual automatism. In those terms, nothing really new — and that means real future — can ever enter the charmed circle of routine existence.
Mr. Fukuyama admitted as much, of course. Only Big “H” History had ended, little “h” history would continue. This ruse, this canard, doesn’t at all hide the fact that this little ‘h’ history is routine existence, and in fact, Mr. Fukuyama admitted as much in his End of History and the Last Man. But routine existence is tautological existence and ends in ennui, a general malaise.
Neo-liberalism, then, ultimately negates itself and subverts its own foundations. It becomes, in effect, a form of nihilism, and all the more so in its presumption to be the process of perpetual “creative destruction“. Creative destruction has no other meaning, in economic terms, than the perpetual substitution of human and natural processes by artificial and technical ones. This is essentially what is today called “progress”.
This is the deficient aspect of the mental consciousness structure which Jean Gebser calls “rationality”, instrumentalising rationality being the deficient aspect of reason and the reasonable. Rationality is primarily concerned with efficiency, and efficiency aims for the “one best way” of doing anything (as Jacques Ellul put in in The Technological System). And so, there you have your justification for monopoly and for monologic and monoculture. Neo-liberalism thus becomes the ideological equivalent of a domed city and a completely isolated, enclosed and controlled environment. The domed city is the ultimate fantasy of the narcissistically self-enclosed, tautological mentality, although the Anthropocene is, in some ways, that claustrophobic realisation already. What is this fantasy about except the idea of totally insulating ourselves against what Gebser calls “the law of the earth”?
The guardians have become the executioners, and hardly anybody notices it, even though some cracks are starting to appear in the walls, and the only response so far has been to try and paper them over. Just how far can this process of self-negation actually go?
“Ambling towards the abyss”, as Dr. McGilchrist calls it, invoking the image of The Fool of the Tarot Cards.