Saturday, November 24, 2007

How do you become a neo-lib?

"Neoliberal Ascendancy

This leads us to the question of how the neoliberals came to power. This was not simply a matter of the elite using the military or manipulating democracy to impose a neoliberal program on a recalcitrant but stunned population, which is the image that Klein's account—wittingly or unwittingly—projects. This was not the case even in Klein's paradigmatic example, Chile. Neoliberalism's coming to ascendancy there involved the elite and the military acting in concert with a counterrevolutionary middle-class mass base that controlled the streets, with Christian Democratic youth joining their more fascist brethren, Fatherland and Liberty, in intimidating and beating up partisans of the left.

In other words, in practically every instance, neoliberalism found a middle class that was disenchanted with the Keynesian or developmental state or felt threatened by the left, or both.

The Construction of Hegemony

This is why to counter Stiglitz's suggestion that she operates with a conspiracy paradigm, Klein's instrumentalist account must be supplemented with David Harvey's notion of the "construction of hegemony," a process by which the elite creates a consensus among the subordinate classes in support of a neoliberal project that principally serves its interests. (David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005])

In the case of the UK, it was not so much the jingoistic atmosphere of the Falklands War as the ideological captivation of the middle class by a conservative leader adept at evoking the themes of freedom, the individual, and property that was the tipping point toward neoliberal reform. Thatcher was an expert at promoting what Harvey calls a "seductive possessive individualism" and she "forged consent through the cultivation of a middle class that relished the joys of homeownership, private property, individualism, and the liberation of entrepreneurial opportunities."

The construction of consent was the main avenue to hegemony in the United States, where neoliberals deftly connected their free market program to the agenda of a middle class-based coalition that was propelled by resentment against minorities that were allegedly coddled by liberal democrats and by an inflamed attachment to religious values that were seen as being under attack from the left. "Not for the first time," says Harvey, speaking of the ascendancy of the Republicans under Reagan, "nor, it is feared, for the last time in history has a social group voted against its material, economic, and class interests for cultural, nationalist, and religious reasons."

Even some blue-collar workers were in danger of being co-opted: "Greater freedom and liberty of action in the labor market could be touted as a virtue for capital and labor alike, and here, too, it was not hard to integrate neoliberal values into the 'common sense' of the work force."

Neoliberalism, in fact, became so "commonsensical" that even where social democratic parties have come to power, displacing the traditional conservative parties of neoliberalism, as they have in Britain, Chile, and the United States, they have not dared to reassemble the interventionist liberal state and have made it a point to pay homage to the "magic of the market." Indeed, it has not been conservatives but social democrats such as the Blairites in Britain, the Clintonites in the United States, and the Socialist-led Concertacion government in Chile, with their rhetoric about "market-oriented social policies," that have consolidated the neoliberal economic regime."

Excellent review of Klein's Disaster capitalism book, raises interesting issues, and makes me wonder whether anyone ever asked: How did Lebanon become a neo-liberal country avant la lettre?

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