Neo-liberalism is the resurrection of an old ideal — perhaps the core ideal — of classical liberalism — the “universal civilisation of commerce” (as expressed by Tom Paine in his influential The Rights of Man). It expresses an ideal of human unity and solidarity to be pursued through the globalisation of commerce as “free trade”, the “market mechanism”, and the liberty of capital to move around the globe. In many respects, it is the core meaning or value of “the Modern Project” and its “Master Narrative”. In one respect, then, the term “globalism” and the “universal civilisation of commerce” are treated as being pretty much synonymous.
We can question (as William Blake indeed did) whether liberalised “commerce” and capital is an adequate way of realising the ideal of human unity (likewise, Karl Marx had his own ideas about that). But at least we can acknowledge this deeper impulse and ideal behind or within the aspirations of neo-liberal globalisation to realise a “universal civilisation of commerce” however ill-conceived, adequate, or sufficient we might consider the means.
Doubts about the future — or even about the value and viability — of liberal democracy are everywhere these days. The latest that I’ve read is Yascha Mounk’s recent article in The Guardian: “How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy“. There is an extensive mood of moroseness and malaise about its health and its prospects, and we are certainly today a far cry from the happy-face triumphalism of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” — or, at least the end as Fukuyama misunderstood and misinterpreted it.
Still, it’s somewhat of an “own goal”, as they say — just another way of talking about shooting oneself in one’s own foot. The malaise (demoralisation and disillusionment) that besets liberal democracy these days — such that even authoritarianism is seen as a cure for the malaise — is not difficult to understand. Reams of analysis always seem to overlook, or even befuddle, the issue.
I have found, from my experience, that very few people understand the meaning of “the end of the Master Narrative” (or “Grand Narrative”, or “Metanarrative”) and the implications of that dissolution, for it is very much the “prime suspect”, as it were, in our present social chaos and its nervous breakdown. The end of the Master Narrative is also implicated in the dissolution of the ego consciousness and the breakdown of the personality and character structure of Modern Man. It also marks the transition between cosmological ages, implied also in statements like “the future ain’t what it used to be” or “the day the universe changed“.
It is also what Nietzsche meant by “the death of God” and is, in essence, the meaning of W.B. Yeats’ ominous poem “The Second Coming“.
“New Renaissance” (Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna) and an “Age of Diminishing Expectations” (Paul Krugman, Christopher Lasch) are contending and somewhat divergent narratives about the nature of our times. Charles Taylor’s thoughts on “the malaise of modernity” also align with this sense of diminishing expectations, and the sense of diminishing expectations (or sense of contraction) is also connected with post-modernity and “the end of the Master Narrative”.
These contending and seemingly divergent narratives, at least incipiently, reflect Jean Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement”, which he described in terms of an integration with an attendant disintegration. And the best way presently to reflect on that paradoxical dynamic is through these contending narratives of “new Renaissance” and “Age of Diminishing Expectations” or “modern malaise”.
We’ve drawn attention, so far, to the difference between values like the Whole and the Totality, Individuation and Individualism, Truth and Fact (or, more properly, between “the truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter”). To this relationship, that between creativity and productivity must also be included.
If you contemplate this pairing of the values sufficiently, it becomes obvious that there are, here, two distinct orders of value which are, nonetheless. related to one another somehow — paradoxically related. Traditionally, this has provided the basis for a distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal, the spiritual and the material, the “higher” and the “lower” (or the “noble” and the “ignoble” in Nietzsche’s terms), or between the infinite and the finite orders, or eternity and time. The paradox is acknowledged in the popular saying “same but different”. That drives strict logicians, rationalists, and a dualistic logic of the “either/or” variety quite nuts. So, too, what is called “spiritual materialism” arises from mistaking the “lower” value for the higher one, and is connected with Nietzsche’s understanding of nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”, and that is related to Iain McGilchrist’s idea of the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master.
Having raised the issue of an incipient “Fourth Age” in the previous post, it behooves me, I think, to try to delineate (if that’s the right word) what may well be the likely characteristics of this Fourth Age, beginning with something rather fundamental — the “mutation”, if you will, in our cosmological picture.