Is there a second way? Responses to the neoliberal

The blog, Artisans for a New Humanity, argues that the usual framing of neoliberalism as a coherent project is wrong:

Rather, I am tempted to follow Foucault’s characterisation of ‘neoliberal’ in his 1979 Collège lectures as denoting a modern art of government that allows for the strategic coordination of multiple points of power in apparently liberal capitalist societies:

Il s’agit au contraire d’obtenir une société indexée non pas sur la marchandise et sur l’uniformité de la marchandise, mais sur la multiplicité et la différenciation des entreprises. … Société d’entreprise et société judiciaire, société encadrée par une multiplicité d’institutions judiciaires, ce sont les deux faces d’un même phénomène.

[It involves, on the contrary, obtaining a society that is not orientated towards the commodity and the uniformity of the commodity, but towards the multiplicity and differentiation of enterprises…An enterprise society and a judicial society, a society orientated towards the enterprise and a society framed by a multiplicity of judicial institutions, are two faces of a single phenomenon. Birth of Biopolitics, pp. 149-150. Trans: Graham Burchell]

What this means therefore is that:

by targeting neoliberalism as the Big Enemy, we attack a phantastic entity. What exists is often a pragmatic and impure concatenation of “neoliberal” rhetoric (from Hayek, Friedman, etc) with a mish-mash of instutitional and cultural path dependencies that produce “actually existing neoliberalism”. This why I prefer the term ‘neoliberal’ over ‘neoliberalism‘: it is one paradigm of state policymaking for dealing with global capitalism… We all believe that liberal capitalism is the shiz, the only problem is how to manage it – neoliberal or third-way social democracy.

Is there a second way?
David Harvey argues in his book that historically we experienced merely ’embedded capitalism’ in the post-war period, even at the height of Keynesianism. That is, capitalism with rules or (some) constraints. Even that is given grudgingly in the USA (regulation is deemed anti-profit and thus anti-American).
So I would be doubtful there is a second way, beside lib-dem or the neoliberal. The decision if you grant that is whether to work within social-dem or for something better but unlikely. And this cannot be a general decision, surely, but rather a tactical one.
I spoke a bit about the relationship of geographers to power in a special panel on foreign policy at the AAG recently. Where the premise of the panel (convened by the Office of the Geographer at the State Department) was how to get geographers more involved in the state’s foreign policy-making, my question was rather whether to be, or if so, in what way. I suggested two things: the academic as critique (in Alec Murphy’s phrase to “problematize the spaces we study” eg., Israel-occupied, etc.). Second, the academic constructing new alliances that perform oversight on government (given that the press and Congress don’t seem able to do this any more). I cited the good work of Wikileaks here, and also public geographies.
Foucault’s own somewhat flexible relationship to state government (refusing a position in Mitterand’s government, but getting his fingers burnt by reporting on Iran) is a case in point of this “tactical” positioning.

3 Responses

  1. whoa! someone actually read my longer blog posts; now I am wracked by paranoia, especially given i had just read and cited from your book for my thesis yesterday afternoon! No seriously, thanks for your rejoinder.

    I spent a good part of last night reading Nicos Poulantzas’ State, Power, Socialism after expunging the blog post, perhaps in a desperate attempt to answer my own question. He’s got some interesting thoughts and the spectre of Foucault leaves its traces in the book. One of his arguments is that struggle occurs not in exteriority to the state, but is rather

    “inscribed in the institutional materiality of the state, but not concluded in it; it is a materiality that carries the traces of these muted and multiform struggles. Just like any struggle involving the apparatuses of power, political struggles that bear upon the state are not in a position of exteriority with regard to it, but are bound up with its strategic configurations. As with every power mechanism, the state is a material condensation of a relationship.” (144-145)

    I guess my big question is one of posture rather than whether to work with or without the bureau: granted social-democracy arose as a compromise position that forsook radical institutional change for ‘inclusion’, are we (who work within the organs of ‘government’) limited to its horizons?

  2. Please find some references by an author who stated unequivocally that the past two or three decades were easily the worst and darkest times in human history.

    And that the eight years of the Bush administration were, again, by far, the worst and most destructive period in USA history.

    This was of course when the world-wide neo-psychotic project was in its ascendency.

    The second essay also points out that this now collective psychosis has deep historical roots.

    • Um… Ok. John, I’m pretty sure you’ve had this rant elsewhere before. Will you actually be engaging in discussion over important issues? Or will we be seeing more of your hysterical discourses?

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