Wednesday, October 13, 2010

David Harvey on Neoliberalism and Identity Politics

Not only do I argue with neoliberals about antiracism and identity politics, I argue with neomarxists, people I think of as hyphenated marxists: feminist-marxists, antiracist-marxists, etc. I'm old school; I think if you hyphenate "marxist", you're probably being redundant (Marx was about as egalitarian as they come) or you're missing the point.

Mind you, I still dunno if I'm a marxist. Maybe I'm a hyphenate too, a christian-marxist, which certainly isn't what Marx or Engels were. I just like Marx's tools for analyzing power.

Anyway, after some discussion about Adolph Reed Jr. and Walter Benn Michaels, two of my favorite leftist critics of antiracism, at Lenin's Tomb and pink scare, I decided I needed to read David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism to discuss this more knowledgeably.

So far, I'm quite enjoying it. He's a good writer, and while I had a rough idea of the beginnings of neoliberalism, I hadn't connected it to US aid to Pinochet.

Much of the reason I'm enjoying it is Harvey's providing ammo for my side. This is from his second chapter:
Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them.
ETA, from the same chapter:
Civil rights were an issue, and questions of sexuality and of reproductive rights were very much in play. For almost everyone involved in the movement of '68, the intrusive state was the enemy and it had to be reformed. And on that, the neoliberals could easily agree. But capitalist corporations, business, and the market system were also seen as primary enemies requiring redress if not revolutionary transformation; hence the threat to capitalist class power. By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interest could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. But it had to be backed up by a practical strategy that emphasized the liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices. Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'post-modernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as a both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s.

David Harvey defines neoconservatism

From A Brief History of Neoliberalism:
US neoconservatives favour corporate power, private enterprise, and the restoration of class power. Neoconservatism is therefore entirely consistent with the neoliberal agenda of elite governance, mistrust of democracy, and the maintenance of market freedoms. But it veers away from the principles of pure neoliberalism and has reshaped neoliberal practices in two fundamental respects: first, in its concern for order as an answer to the chaos of individual interests, and second, in its concern for an overweening morality as the necessary social glue to keep the body politic secure in the face of external and internal changes. 

David Harvey anticipated Obama's reaction to economic crisis

"...in the event of a conflict, neoliberal states typically favour the integrity of the financial system and the solvency of financial institutions over the well-being of the population or environmental quality." --David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 2005

your David Harvey on neoliberalism moment

This is the conclusion of the fourth chapter, which discusses neoliberalism in a number of countries, including Mexico, Argentina, South Korea, and Sweden: "The incredible concentrations of wealth and power that now exist in the upper echelons of capitalism have not been seen since the 1920s. ... It has been part of the genius of neoliberal theory to provide a benevolent mask full of wonderful-sounding words like freedom, liberty, choice, and rights, to hide the grim realities of the restoration or reconstitution of naked class power, locally as well as transnationally, but most particularly in the main financial centres of global capitalism."

Yeah, the metaphor is mixed. Hmm. Unless the mask broadcasts sounds, which a modern mask could do. So, uh, nevermind. The sentiment is very, very true.