The terror of neo liberalism

Fred Jameson had argued that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. He goes on to say that we can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world.

As the latest stage of predatory capitalism, Giroux sees neoliberalism as part of a broader economic and political project of restoring class power and consolidating the rapid concentration of capital, particularly financial capital. As a political project, it includes “the deregulation of finance, privatisation of public services, elimination and curtailment of social welfare programmes, open attacks on unions, and routine violations of labour laws” (Yates 2013). As an ideology, it casts all dimensions of life in terms of market rationality, construes profit-making as the arbiter and essence of democracy, consuming as the only operable form of citizenship, and upholds the irrational belief that the market can both solve all problems and serve as a model for structuring all social relations. As a mode of governance, it produces identities, subjects, and ways of life driven by a survival-of-the fittest ethic, grounded in the idea of the free, possessive individual, and committed to the right of ruling groups and institutions to exercise power removed from matters of ethics and social costs. As a policy and political project, it is wedded to the privatisation of public services, the dismantling of the connection of private issues and public problems, the selling off of state functions, liberalization of trade in goods and capital investment, the eradication of government regulation of financial institutions and corporations, the destruction of the welfare state and trade unions, and the endless marketisation and commodification of society.

 Neoliberalism has put an enormous effort into creating commanding cultural apparatus and public pedagogy in which individuals can only view themselves as consumers, embrace freedom as the right to participate in the market, and supplant issues of social responsibility for an unchecked embrace of individualism and the belief that all social relation be judged according to how they further one’s individual needs and self-interests. Matters of mutual caring, respect, and compassion for the other have given way to the limiting orbits of privatisation and unrestrained self-interest, just as it has become increasingly difficult to translate private troubles into larger social, economic, and political considerations.

As the democratic public spheres of civil society have atrophied under the onslaught of neoliberal  regimes of austerity, the social contract has been either greatly weakened or replaced by savage forms of casino capitalism, a culture of fear, and the increasing use of state violence. One consequence is that it has become more difficult for people to debate and question neoliberal hegemony and the widespread misery it produces for young people, the poor, middle class, workers, and other segments of society — now considered disposable under neoliberal regimes which are governed by a survival-of-the fittest ethos, largely imposed by the ruling economic and political elite. That they are unable to make their voices heard and lack any viable representation in the process makes clear the degree to which young people and others are suffering under a democratic deficit, producing what Chantal Mouffe calls “a profound dissatisfaction with a number of existing societies” under the reign of neoliberal capitalism.  Under the reign of neoliberalism, space, time and even language have been subject to the forces of privatisation and commodification. Public space has been replaced by malls and a host of commercial institutions. Commodified and privatised, public space is now regulated through exchange values rather than public values, just as communal values are replaced by atomising and survival-of-the fittest market values. Time is no longer connected to long-term investments, the development of social capital and goals that benefit young and poor people and the public good.

 Under neoliberalism, time presents itself as a form of tyranny, an unquestioned necessity, and in speeding up the flows of work, leisure, knowledge and everyday life it spawns a new kind of violence in which the flow of capital replaces the flow of thoughtfulness, atomisation replaces a notion of shared solidarity, the spectacle undermines historical memory, privatization seeks to erase all notions of the public good, and manufactured precarity replaces any sense of security and long-term planning.

Since the 1970s neoliberalism or free-market fundamentalism has become not only a much-vaunted ideology that now shapes all aspects of life in the United States but also a predatory global phenomenon “that drives the practices and principles of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and World Trade Organisation, trans-national institutions which largely determine the economic policies of developing countries and the rules of international trade.”

With its theatre of cruelty and mode of public pedagogy, neoliberalism as a form of economic Darwinism  attempts to undermine all forms of solidarity capable of challenging market-driven values and social relations, promoting the virtues of an unbridled individualism almost pathological in its disdain for community, social responsibility, public values, and the public good. As the welfare state is dismantled and spending is cut to the point where government becomes unrecognisable—except to promote policies that benefit the rich, corporations, and the defense industry—the already weakened federal and state governments are increasingly replaced by what João Biehl has called proliferating “zones of social abandonment” and “terminal exclusion.”

In the age of casino capitalism, time itself has become a burden more than a condition for contemplation, self-reflection and the cultivation of thoughtful and compassionate social relations. The extended arc of temporal relations in which one could imagine long-term investments in the common good has given way to what Giroux sees as a notion of time in which the horizon of time is contained within the fluctuating short-term investments of the financial elite and their militant drive for profits at any price.

What is lost in this merging of time and the dictates of neoliberal capital are the most basic elements of being human along with the formative culture and institutions necessary to develop a real, substantive democracy.

*Solly Rakgomo is a graduate student of International Relations

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