I suspect that when human beings started gathering in larger groups, creating more complex societies, those who were deemed to be poorer residents became objects of derision and disgust.
Perhaps this is because impoverished persons remind those who are better off of vulnerability and human dependency. In many societies the poor are negatively represented and treated which seems to confirm the idea that as long as the poor are among us there will be people who abhor them. While the people who are poor may be despised by other members of society, I contend that neoliberal politicians are more susceptible to class animus than politicians who hold more humanist and socialist views. This is not to say that neoliberalism causes hatred, but rather provides an epistemic framework for social division based on unstated beliefs in superiority and inferiority, beliefs that lend themselves to despising and dismissing the poor individuals and families. To contend that neoliberalism is the soil that nurtures hatred toward poor persons requires first a brief depiction of this term. Jodi Dean remarks that “neoliberalism is a philosophy viewing market exchange as a guide to all human action”. Similarly, Wendy Brown argues that neoliberalism involves “a peculiar form of reason that configures all aspects of existence in economic terms”. Freedom, rational self-interests, moral autonomy, and the rule of law are conceptualised and lived out in terms of the market. Before explaining why neoliberalism is a milieu that, while not causing hatred, provides the psychosocial fuel for its emergence, I briefly need to identify the behaviors that point to class animus. Sociologist Loïc Wacquant researched government neoliberal policies over many decades, arguing that they are not only deeply racialised, but also aimed at punishing poor persons (carceral state and decline of the welfare state), in part, because they are not entrepreneurial subjects. He argues that neoliberal governing policies and attending institutions are aimed at disciplining poor people, trying to incentivise impoverished people to become entrepreneurial subjects. Whether we call it discipline or punishment, these neoliberal policies and programmes negatively impact poor people. We see increased food insecurity, inadequate and substandard housing, depression, and illness among poorer residents in many countries governed by neoliberal policies. All of this suggests that poverty governance is ruled by an ideology (neoliberalism) that politicians cling to, ignoring facts about the programmes and their negative effects on poor persons. Neoliberal ideology is more like a secular idolatrous faith in that it rejects any facts that are deemed to threaten or undermine cherished, dogmatic neoliberal beliefs. Not surprisingly, neoliberal ideologue politicians are motivated to cling to these beliefs because the economic-political system benefits them and their corporate sponsors.
The ongoing failed neoliberal governing policies vis-à-vis poor citizens represent evidence for the hypothesis that neoliberal politicians despise poor people, a hatred screened by denial. I add here that neoliberal politicians who are indifferent about poor citizens and who have nothing to do with creating legislation aimed at poorer classes of individuals are no less hiding their hatred. Willed indifference to the plight of so many poor people throughout
If we consider politicians enacting policies and programmes towards poor persons and see their negative consequences, then there is ample evidence for neoliberal politicians animus toward poor people, despite what I expect would be their protestations. But another step is needed if we are to understand the role of neoliberalism in this animus. We must chart the cognitive map associated with neoliberalism. Neoliberal politicians positively value economic freedom/success, self-reliance/independence, and individual rational self-interest—ingredients or “virtues” for a market society. These values exist in relation to their opposites or what retains a negative valence, namely economic freedom/success screens the “vice” of economic bondage/failure. Rich people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Mitt Romney are positive examples of economic success and freedom, while a person on welfare is a failed entrepreneurial subject who has very limited economic and political freedom. Self-reliance/independence’s shadow-side is dependence. People who need help from the government are dependent and deemed to be takers, while entrepreneurs are creators. Individual rational self-interest is negatively paired with the irrational, as well as the humanist concern about the needs and interests of others. Gordon Gekko said, “greed is good”, by which any neoliberal will understand as rational, even though there is a streak of insanity at its core. What I contend here is that a key feature of the neoliberal cognitive map is the belief in the superiority of neoliberal beliefs and entrepreneurial subjects. Other belief systems (e.g., socialism) are inferior and those who have a bare life at the bottom of the market society are inferior and despised.