Tag Archives: individualism

The soft discipline of neoliberalism.

The hallmark of the neoliberal thought collective was that they more or less accepted the inherited image of an addled and befuddled populace, but thoroughly rejected any appeals to a scientific technocracy to instill some discipline in the masses. For them, the discombobulation of the masses was not a reason for despair, but rather the necessary compost out of which a spontaneous order might blossom. The primary way this would come to pass was through acknowledgement that “the market” was an information processor more powerful and more efficacious than any human being was or could ever be. The cretinous and nescient would propose; the market would dispose. In effect, the NTC believed if only the masses could learn to subordinate their ambitions and desires to market dictates, then their deficient understandings and flawed syllogisms could be regarded as convenient expedients smoothing the path to order, rather than as political obstacles to be overcome, as in the technocratic orientation of postwar social sciences. And, conveniently, the neoliberals would mobilize numerous institutional structures to nudge the people down that path.

Hence, when it came to the simple matter of bamboozling the masses with ripping tales of government as the very embodiment of evil, as Friedman did, there were never any qualms expressed about their simultaneous drive to take over the Republican Party, and then the U.S. government, in order to impose a strong state and an even stronger set of state-instituted novel markets. The neoliberals often had to disguise their true allegiances from the masses: as Friedman once claimed, “the two groups that threaten the free market the most are businessmen and intellectuals.” Yet Friedman promoted the destruction of state education and the privatization of universities to put the intellectuals out of business; he never attacked the businessmen to any equivalent degree. Indeed, he openly preached the doctrine that corporations had no responsibilities to society other than to maximize their profits; if corporations were persons, they were of the purest strain of self-interested creatures, free from all surly bonds of obligation. The demonization of the state relative to the corporation was the epitome of the short-term tactic; the usurpation of power to the extent of reregulation (not deregulation) and extension of state power both at home and abroad were the long-term goals. No matter what Grover Norquist might rabbit on about, no neoliberal in government has ever actually shrunk the size of the state, much less drowned it in a bathtub. That was merely red meat for the groundlings. While in power, neoliberals may have subcontracted out parts of government, but that rarely makes a dent in bureaucracy. The coercive power of government inexorably grows.

–Philip Mirowski, “Neoliberalism: The Movement That Dare Not Speak Its Name”


The pure subject, if he existed

Let us pause for a moment to let the weirdness of all this sink in. Notice that we have moved (very quickly, in this compressed treatment) from an argument about the illegitimacy of certain established political authorities of the seventeenth century to the illegitimacy of the authority of other people in general to the illegitimacy of the authority of our own experience.

In telling the story of the Enlightenment in this sequence, I want to suggest that the last stage (on this telling), the somewhat anxious preoccupation with epistemology, grows out of the enlighteners’ political project of liberation, and that we should view it in this light. Their organizing posture against authority compelled the enlighteners to theorize the human person in isolation, abstracted from any pragmatic setting in which he might rely on the testimony of others, or, indeed, on his own common sense as someone who has learned how to handle things. The pure subject who is posited as the beginning point for the Cartesian/Lockean account of knowledge is a person who has been shorn of those practical and social endowments by which we apprehend the world. If such a creature actually existed, we can well imagine that he would be gripped by the question of how we can know anything.” — Matthew B. Crawford, “How We Lost Our Attention.” The Hedgehog Review 16.2 (Summer 2014): 18-27