The Mouse That Roared, or “Yes, Margaret. There IS a Society”.

I am very disappointed in the media coverage of the reasons why the Walloons rejected the Canada-EU Trade Deal (the Comprehensive European Trade Agreement or CETA). Even this morning the press is still chewing on the bone of “isolationism” when the Premier of Wallonia, Paul Magnette, has specifically stated that it is not about isolationism, nor even especially some protectionist sentiment about their cows and pigs.

Damn it! But neo-liberal ideology has become so hegemonic that no one, it seems, can think in any other way but in its terms, and can only conclude that any rejection of neo-liberal economics and globalisation must necessarily be synonymous with reactionary nationalism or “isolationism” therewith concluding that Mr. Magnette must be merely the Walloon version of Trump or Farage. This dualistic “either/or” logic is dangerous because it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy inasmuch as it persuades people that the only opposition to neo-liberal globalisation is necessarily a extreme right-wing, nationalistic one. The liberal press, far from being oppositional, is actually aiding and abetting the rise of reactionary nationalism by this dualistic logic.

So, once again we need a crash course in clarifying the origins and meaning of neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberal economics emerged in the 70s as a response to the breakdown of Keynesianism in the malaise of “stagflation”, indicating the logic of the Keynesian consensus (as for example the “New Deal” in the United States) had run its course into an intractable self-contradiction of what was deemed an improbability according to economic theory: economic stagnation with inflation. Governments threw up their hands and turned to the “private sector” in a bid for revival, and so began the process of “privatisation” and “deregulation” and auctioning off the commonwealth following the ideological programmes laid out as “neo-liberalism” in the works of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, (who was a particular favourite of an up and coming conservative politician named Margaret Thatcher).

Margaret Thatcher summarised her understanding of neo-liberalism and her antipathy to Keynesian economics in two memorable phrases that are like two sides of one coin: “There is no such thing as society” and “there is no alternative” (sometimes called the TINA principle). So, the “choice”, as such, was cast as one between a Keynesian welfare state economics or a utopian project of private enterprise (everyone an entrepreneur!), and since Keynesianism had broken down, the only choice left was the other one — individualism and free market fundamentalism.

It should be apparent to any thinking person that this double-principle at the roots of neo-liberalism — a) no such thing as society and b) no alternative, which culminated in Fukuyama’s “end of history” — contains its own inescapable, eventual crisis and self-contradiction. If there is no society (and no such thing then as a “public”) and no alternative to neo-liberalism, then republicanism or liberal democracy are both useless forms of political organisation, since they deal precisely with political and economic choice and alternatives. In Margaret Thatcher’s formula, therefore, there is contained an implicit nihilism. And it is a nihilism that culminates in the market meltdown of 2008 and in the subsequent trends towards an authoritarian “corporatocracy” or “techno-fascism”, as it has been called, or as a “managed democracy” or “Democracy Inc” as an “inverted totalitarianism” as described by Sheldon Wolin. This “managed democracy” is what Algis Mikunas refers to as “technocratic shamanism” in his essay on “Magic and Technological Culture”. In this nihilistic dynamic we see the prescience of Nietzsche in his conclusion that the “triumph of liberal institutions would simultaneously be their self-annihilation”. And the seed of that self-contradiction was planted by Thatcherism and Reaganism.

It is the doctrine of acquisitive individualism or possessive individualism — of “rational self-interest” — carried to an extremity of hubris and which terminates in the “culture of narcissism”, as Christopher Lasch once named it. It ends in Nemesis — the point of reversal — where the implicit self-contradiction in the dynamic of neo-liberalism asserts itself as an “inverted totalitarianism” — the ideology of “the one best way”, sometimes referred to as “Washington Consensus” (but which I hold is just groupthink).

This is what the Walloons have rejected and it just won’t do to confuse this with reactionary nationalism or isolationism which are aspects of narcissism. Mr. Magnette is simply rejecting and repudiating the foundational principles of neo-liberalism, that there is no such thing as society or that there is no alternative to its hegemony. The mouse that roared has simply refused to accept the ideological hegemony of neo-liberalism.

This is what is so startling about the myopia and tunnel vision of the liberal press (or the conservative press for that matter) which is identical with “deficient perspectivisation” in Jean Gebser’s terms — the defect in the mental-rational structure of consciousness. In present terms, it is this worldview or outlook that has achieved such complete hegemony over the mind that few seem able to think or reflect effectively outside its frame or perspective. This is what is so outrageous. It’s not because there is some overall “conspiracy” to deceive but because the regime of neo-liberalism has become practically instinct.

And to defeat it, we need to insist, and make plain and real, that society, history, and choice are not empty categories and abstractions, but are real and meaningful, and so lay the spectre and ghost of Margaret Thatcher to rest finally. We also need to retrieve an authentic globalism from the clutches of neo-liberal globalisation. We need to retrieve “civilisation” from its rationalistic-technocratic interpretation.  This is what underlies Mr. Magnette’s refusal of CETA, and it is not isolationism or reactionary nationalism because Mr. Magnette has stated explicitly that it’s just “not the kind of globalisation we want”. There is nothing in that statemet that suggests “isolationism”.

This is the danger of the liberal mass media — that it cannot even conceive of opposition to neo-liberalism, it seems, in anything but dualistic terms — as reactionary nationalism and isolationism, and that there is only one valid form of trade and that is “free trade” — neo-liberal trade, market fundamentalism — and that any opposition to it must be, per force, reactionary. It is very dangerous to cast the controversies in that way because it drives any rising anger about the pernicious consequences of neo-liberal globalisation into the reactionary camp. It actually aids and abets its ascendancy.

If we are going to survive “chaotic transition”, we are going to have to repudiate Thatcher and Reagan. We are going to have to retrieve the meaning of society, history, and even liberalism itself from the nihilistic wreckage wrought by Thatcher and neo-liberalism. And if we don’t succeed, we are going to be in big, big trouble. In fact, we already are in big trouble.



17 responses to “The Mouse That Roared, or “Yes, Margaret. There IS a Society”.”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Scott: I know you’ve done this many times before and are probably tired of it, but is it even remotely possible to sum up in a few paragraphs some of the practical details of the alternative(s)?

    Also, are there any other bloggers you know of who approach social commentary from the kind of symbolic/integral perspective you do?

    • Scott Preston says :

      For me to suggest AN alternative would trap me in the same dualistic logic. That’s why I’ve recast the political dimensions of contemporary society (the liberal, the conservative, the socialist, the environmentalist) within the integral structure represented by Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. We are fourfold beings living in a four-dimensional reality, and our social order should reflect that in an harmonious way, and in ourselves, too, in an harmonious way.

      In their contemporary forms, though, “Big Green”, or neo-liberalism, or neo-conservatism, or neo-socialism are degenerated forms. Each, though, represents a valid truth about some aspect of our existence in physical reality and our implicit human configuration. That core truth must also be retrieved from the wreckage of late modernity within the “higher consciousness” suggested by integralism or holism, or ecologics. The integral “structure” is the quintessential.

      As I’ve noted before, in the present situation, the hyper-partisanship of the four trends representing the logic of the “one best way” is a situation of fragmentation and dissolution. But the truth is not IN any one of them alone, but in the ecodynamics, or relationship, between them, just as our true identitiy or individuality is not to be found in thinking, feeling, willing, or sensing alone, but in the relationships between thes — the glue that holds them in balance and which was called “logos” or “fifth element” or “luminiferous aether” or whatever in antiquity. It’s this that Gebser calls “diaphainon”.

      For the present, though, given the urgency of change, I subscribe to the principles of The Leap Manifesto as an appropriate transitional strategy

      There will, nonetheless, always be the task of balancing and rebalancing the cross of reality and restoring equanimity. This requires wisdom, ecodynamic wisdom, because too much of one thing or the other is destabilising of the whole. Thus, at any particular time, a conservative, or a liberal, or a socialist or an environmentalist ethic may be require to be emphasised to rebalance the cross of reality. The danger lies in getting carried away and forgetting the necessary diversity in one’s partisan enthusiasm for “the one best way”.

      I can’t specify an alternative because the alternative is this diversity of modes itself, although in full consciousness that they belong to the integral structure suggested by the cross of reality and its quadrilateral logic.In fact “society” in its fullest sense, is this quadrilateral structure, and must be. And its because Thatcher didn’t see this, but only saw the “one best way” in her hyperpartisanship, that she couldn’t “see” society at all.

      • donsalmon says :

        This is great, and I probably wrote it awkwardly by implying I was looking for “one” answer. Can you remind us how you connect thinking, feeling, willing and sensing with those four political stances?

        • Scott Preston says :

          That, I think, will require some time and probably a series of carefully planned postings to put it all together, which I will do beginning tomorrow, perhaps.

          But right now, I have to fix my Jeep, which has broken down… again.

          • Scott Preston says :

            Success! Jeep is running again. Word of advice,though. Never buy a vehicle where the starter assembly is positoned underneath the engine where it is exposed to corrosion from slush and splash and mud. That’s just dumbass engineering. You won’t believe how much trouble this has caused to people with Vortec V-6 engines who don’t know why their vehicle won’t start and who have spent oodles of money trying to fix the wrong problem.

      • Dwig says :

        Scott, good reply to Don’s request. I’ve come up with a proposed principle that might apply here: “Any human system that can be conceived by a human mind, can be corrupted or degraded by other human minds.” Yes, we need to have systems, but always on a provisional basis, subject to continual evolution/revolution. I see the cross of reality, Holling’s panarchy, and Odum’s energy hierarchy and pulsing paradigm as ways to understand and guide that process.

      • Dwig says :

        I like the Leap Manifesto. The only concern I have is one that crops up often with such proposals: that little word “we”. There’s a strong tendency to assume that one is speaking for a large class of people when describing one’s own feelings and ideas. A possible way to deal with that is to stop and ask oneself “who’s ‘we’?”.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    The language of permanency and survival and the absence of addressing the spiritual dryness behind all human ills, which the manifesto is trying to address, make me in doubt to see this initiative as a basis for a universal manifesto to address the wounds the west inflicted on the world not only the wounds the british-french have inflicted on the original people of the land of canada. Nothing can be accomplished without honest spiritual empathy and forgiveness. When some people think that they are not inhibiting and living in the same divine single field of shared consciousness and try to give themselves more privileges than others, the ugly tree of hatred start to flourish. We are living under the shadows of such tree of separation. Rumi has written about the distinction between acquired and instinctual intelligence and warned against the danger of the subjection to the acquired, on the expense of the innate intelligence which is the fountainhead from the within of which we move out. Spiritual awareness is our real game changer which helps us to cohere between the different fields of information ( the major energy source and the three subsidiary energies ). It is the full awareness of such energies and the interaction with them. It is my sense that we are living in an era of wider gnosis that leads many people to feel their connection to the divine source. It is time of urgency and necessity, as Rumi puts it a new aspects of perception come into being as a matter of necessity, that push the humans to increase their necessity in order to increase their perception in alignment with the time. It is time to realize that the intellectual and spiritual progress made by mankind is not the result of the human efforts but the result of the divine evolutionary forces which made it a promise to show the humans the domineering force of the divine intelligence across the horizon and the human self. The divine living intelligence that permeates every human and everything. In the quran we read, and I have created you and created what you dd and what you know, save what I allow, pay attention. The days of the single prophet speaking to people are over, now its group to group and culture to culture to show the new understanding reaching down to humanity. There is no upper ceiling to the divine knowledge and wisdom., there is always more. We are also in time of exposure and clearing the hidden contradictions that will bring us to higher degree of integrity as was expressed by Eisenstein in his last post on reality sand.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The post by Charles Eisenstein that abdulmonen is referring to on Reality Sandwich is called “The Lid is Off”, and it’s located at

      Very good article. Actually “the lid is off” refers to the apocalyptic (which means “uncovering”) and I suppose that is his intent in writing about the Shadow and transparency here. It’s a pretty good characterisation of “chaotic transition” from the psychological side of things. Gebser would, I think, agree with Eisenstein.

      • donsalmon says :

        Abdulmonem – a beautiful reply. I had the same response and was going to say something but you said it perfectly: ”

        Nothing can be accomplished without honest spiritual empathy and forgiveness. When some people think that they are not inhibiting and living in the same divine single field of shared consciousness and try to give themselves more privileges than others, the ugly tree of hatred start to flourish. We are living under the shadows of such tree of separation.


        Y’all might enjoy this site, which is rooted in Sufism. I studied with Llewellyn for 2 years. I can only say this of very very few people, but he is definitely the “real deal.”

  3. InfiniteWarrior says :

    What if we don’t have to salvage or repudiate or retrieve anything? What if the beautiful, real and meaningful didn’t cease to be just because a dying breed of technocrats said it had or couldn’t see it? What if the process of transition, transformation, transcendence, evolution — whatever one chooses to call it — is occurring spontaneously in its own good time and of its own accord?

    The evidence is all around us. Movements are afoot worldwide. Movements that weren’t suggested by or forced on anyone of whom I’m aware. Slow down; simplify; declutter; divest; consume with compassion; connect; co-create…ordinary, everyday things.

    But what of the more impactful? The percentage of renewable energy sources in use around the world is steadily increasing. Hybrid, electric, solar and human-powered transportation is making its way in as well. Climate change denial doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of that. Permaculture, organic and other alternatives to industrialized agriculture and bioengineering are being explored and gaining traction just as fast as “fair trade”.

    I’m actually a little less concerned with the hegemony of neoliberalism than I am with the hegemony of its mirror image: neoconservatism. It’s losing traction as well, but it would seem not nearly fast enough to guarantee that the joint North American-European forging of an alliance between China and Russia; interventionist policies; and “no fly zones”, which Clinton and her ilk whole-heartedly support, won’t inadvertently or otherwise ignite WWIII.

    I’m sure everyone is aware the Russian fleet sailed to Syria this week and tensions have escalated exponentially between the US, Russia and China the past few months over everything from territorial disputes in the South China Sea to “interference” in the US elections.

    And right now, there doesn’t seem to be any practical way to stop this new march of folly.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I started preparing something for posting about that last night — an interpretation of the Entrepreneur and entrepreneurialism as a way of life. This actually has its roots in Tom Paine. Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man are the two poles of the contending forces of conservatism and liberalism that have been handed down to us, today, as neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism. Blake was opposed to both men in his day, even though he is often identified with the republican and liberal radicals of his time (he once saved Tom Paine’s life, as it turns out). But this is not the case.

      Actually, neo-conservatism looks positively civilised compared to the Alt-Right. But it’s clear we have something akin to a progressive neurological disorder in the trajectory of conservatism from Burke, to neo-conservatism, to Alt-Right which is, I think a symptom of a broader decadence of commercial civilisation. Tom Paine’s liberalism, on the other hand, has degenerated into the technocrat.

      I found this passage last evening from Tom Paine’s Rights of Man as I was doing some research on the roots of entrepreneurialism as a way of life, and it explains the project of neo-liberalism as a utopian capitalism

      If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable of, it would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilized state of governments. The invention of commerce has arisen since those governments began, and is the greatest approach toward universal civilization, that has yet been made by any means not immediately flowing from moral principles.

      I don’t want to steal my own thunder here in a comment, but this explains the project of global “free trade” as universal commercial civilisation.

      Blake was completely opposed to this project of universal commercialism, which he knew would become “Universal Empire”, so he was at odds with both Burke’s conservatism and Tom Paine’s liberalism.

      When nations grow old, the Arts grow cold,
      And Commerce settles on every tree


      Commerce is so far from being beneficial to Arts or to Empire, that it is destructive of both, as all their History shows, for the above Reason of Individual Merit being its Great Hatred. Empires flourish till they become Commercial & then they are scattered abroad to the four winds

      For Blake, it’s the Artist and not the Entrepreneur who is the heart and soul of any civilisation worthy of the name, and as far as Blake is concerned, a purely commercial civilisation eventually ends in dust. And needless to say, too, a commercial civilisation can’t be a Christian civilisation either.

      But I’ll be posting more on this today sometime, when I finish up and tidy up my prepared post on entrepreneurialism (or commercial civilisation) as a way of life. For Blake, it wasn’t the Aristocrat or the Entrepreneur as ideals, but the Artist.

  4. Charles Leiden says :

    Scott I agree about the Artist Gibson Winter wrote about the “artistic root metaphor’ that is emerging in contrast to the machine metaphor. It imagines society as a work of art, flowing from the creativity of rooted communities in solidarity with each.

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    InfiniteWarrior says : 24 October, 2016 at 02:21
    What if we don’t have to salvage or repudiate or retrieve anything? What if the beautiful, real and meaningful didn’t cease to be just because a dying breed of technocrats said it had or couldn’t see it? What if the process of transition, transformation, transcendence, evolution — whatever one chooses to call it — is occurring spontaneously in its own good time and of its own accord?

    Good insight. It could be.

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