Life in The New Normal
The idea behind free trade was to protect the poor against the rich. Yet neoliberalism and the monopolies it has encouraged have led to the opposite being achieved. — David Boyle, The Guardian
As you know, one of the major themes of The Chrysalis is the claim that the “New Normal” represents a self-devouring, self-negating, self-contradictory dynamic of the Modern Era itself, which is called “nihilism” or devaluation of values. And this devaluation of values is implied in those terms used to describe the “new normal” as “post-modern”, “post-Enlightenment”, “post-rational” or “post-truth society”, or post-democratic, post-Christian and so on and so forth, all of which is subsumed in the phrase “new normal” or even “chaotic transition”.
Befitting this state of affairs, there is a debate going on in many quarters about the death of liberal democracy, even though we might continue to pay lip-service to the zombie as if it were still alive. One might even describe the “new normal” in terms of the phenomenon of self-harm or self-mutilation of the Modern Era.
On the left, you have Chris Hedges’ The Death of the Liberal Class. On the right, you have Robert Kaplan’s “Was Democracy Just a Moment?” (in his book The Coming Anarchy). There are many others and there is an interesting ongoing debate in the pages of The Guardian, too, about the situation. There is Martin Kettle’s article on “our post-liberal age” (“Brexit was a revolt against liberalism“) and David Boyle’s response in today’s Guardian, “Liberalism is still alive — it’s neoliberalism that’s the problem“. So, as you can see, there is quite a bit of confusion and perplexity about our real situation in post-modernity, or even whether we are “post-modern” at all. David Boyle is also the author of a book entitled The Death of Liberal Democracy?
Boyle’s piece is quite interesting because it does describe the self-negating dynamic of liberalism become “neo-liberalism” — which we might describe as overreach or “a bridge too far” (as the popular war movie of yesteryear put it). That is to say, hubris followed by Nemesis, or the process of ironic reversal called “enantiodromia” which describes how processes turn into their contrary or polar opposite. Nietzsche also anticipated this in musing that any final triumph of liberal institutions would simultaneously be their self-destruction. This is called a “Cadmean victory” and all the neos of the “new normal” — neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, neo-socialism (or “New Labour”) represent this, as betrayal or subversion of their own foundational principles through the process of ironic reversal. Boyle, for example, refers to neo-liberalism as a liberal “heresy”.
(It does remind me of a scene from an episode of The Game of Thrones, where the witch Melisandre counsels King Stannis Baratheon with the words “you will betray the men serving you, you will betray your family, you will betray everything you once held dear, and it will all be worth it” — the reward of total betrayal of oneself and others being the chance to sit on The Iron Throne).
What Boyle is calling for in his essay is very similar to what Charles Taylor referred to as “retrieval” in his lectures on The Malaise of Modernity. Retrieval is not return, I hasten to add. This is significant because “retrieval” is an important part of the integrative process, while “return” is not integrative. Retrieval means — “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”.
Mr. Boyle is, in one respect, quite right — neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and neo-socialism are secular “heresies” inasmuch as they each have betrayed their respective core values. That betrayal is their specific form of self-negation or self-contradiction which we call “nihilism”, the specific form of which is called “decadence”. Lip-service is the disease of decadence, the various symptoms of which are referred to as “duplicity”, “hypocrisy”, “dissembling”, “faking it”, “pretense”,”inauthentic”, “insincere”, “B.S. Factor”, and so on, all generally what is subsumed in the phrase “post-truth society” as “new normal”.
We should not confuse the vital core meanings of liberalism, conservatism, or socialism with their “deficient” (ie decadent) forms as neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and neo-socialism. It is also important to insist that the act of “retrieval” is not a return, and is simply consistent with the process of integrating consciousness, since they do each express some truth about the human condition.