From: “The Accidental Neo-liberal”

The termneo-liberalism” has been mainstream in Europe and among Third World intellectuals since the early 1990s. It seems to have replaced “late capitalism” to describe our current global political economic conjuncture. It has not caught on in the states except among tone deaf leftists who are not typically speaking (certainly not communicating) with disagreeable sorts. The problem is that in USA political discourse the policy goals of neo-liberals : privatization of the public sector services and assets, reduced taxation on income and wealth, weakening of unions,   global free trade, free movement of investment capital, de-regulation of industry, finance, and natural resource exploitation, and the end of New Deal safety net and the social democratic European welfare state, are associated, rightly, in the public mind, with a conservative agenda. 

In USA we think of the 20th century move from Progressive era to the New Deal as the first liberal ascendency.  So why have the neo-liberals, since the 1990s, been tying to undo what the liberals did in the 1930s?  Doesn’t make sense– to Americans it remains liberal v. conservative.    In European common thought the first liberalism was not in the 20th century, but was centered in 18th century bourgeois revolutions that took sovereignty from kings to the people, and ended the mercantilism of Navigation Acts, privateering, and landed aristocratic control of trade and investment.  Todays neo-liberals, then, see themselves as re-enacting the 18th century liberation (liberty, liberal) of rational, economic man’s “innate propensity to truck, trade, and barter for individual gain.” 

Maybe we are near ready to usefully adopt the critical terminology used by the rest of the world. Maybe not. In any case the essay excerpted below by Jedidiah Purdy in the summer 2014 volume of n+1 brings the term to a “fullness” that my sleepy list of neo-liberal policy symptoms above can not achieve. 

What a writer he is!

 “Neoliberalism is not so much an intellectual position as a condition in which one acts as if certain premises were true and others unspeakable. It is not doctrine but a limit on vitality of practical imagination. Acquiescing to it means accepting a picture of personality and social life that pivots on consumer style choice and self-interested collaboration. This is the basis of the realism, so called, that is the neoliberal trump card. It implies that market modeled activity—ticking off the preferences, going for the ask—is the natural form of life…..

 The neoliberal condition gently enforces an anti-politics whose symptoms are often in what doesn’t get said or heard: nationalizing banks, nationalizing health care payments, proposing to arrange work differently, naming class interests and class conflict as a reality every bit as basic as ‘opportunity cost’. At a time when financial capitalism is palpably endangering so many people, places, and things, you know neoliberalism by the silence it induces…..

 Thomas Hobbes describes the job of thinking as the untying the superstitious knots that enmesh the mind. The superstition I realized was neoliberal realism, which sets and polices the boundaries of the possible while pretending to map them objectively.”

Jedediah Purdy 2014 N+1

“Is this real life?” Snowpiercer or Saadiyat Island?

I managed to sneak a couple hours from my real life for a wild ride in art house apocalypse flick Snowpiercer. Old school talent John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Tilda snowpiercer-poster-italia_midSwinton, Ed Harris share leads with up and coming Hollywood A-listers Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and several Korean film stars– all under the direction of Bong Joon-Ho in his first English language film. Wow.  Fredric Jameson is credited with the observation, one he denies authorship of while confessing to memory loss of the source, “that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”   Snowpiercer doesn’t quite do it either.. but not for lack of the radical imagination that is absent our current politics.

AO Scott of the NYTimes, long a favorite film critic writes that:  “Snowpiercer” recalls Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” both in its steampunk décor and in its grimly satirical look at the workings of power and privilege in a totalitarian corporate future. Its lessons about human movies-snowpierce-062714-videoSixteenByNine540nature are thought-provoking, but perhaps not as memorable as its motley, eccentric display of humanity in extremis. And though the movie is playfully postmodern in its pastiche of styles and its mingling of sincerity and self-consciousness, there is also something solidly old-fashioned about the way it tells its story. Long, crowded and ambitious almost to the point of hubris, it reminded me a little of “The Poseidon Adventure” and other 1970s-vintage action allegories full of great actors struggling to survive. That’s a compliment, by the way. Disaster has become a matter of routine at the movies (in more ways than one). Planetary destruction and human extinction happen a half-dozen times every summer. It’s rarely this refreshing, though.

Also today read in Dissent of this monstrous “cultural acropolis for the global elite” or what Jameson in 2003 essay warned of : “junk space” where “in the end, there will be little else for us to do but shop.”


Saadiyat Island Cultural District Gugenheim Abu Dhabi

“Slated for completion in 2017, the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be the crown jewel of Saadiyat Island, a $27-billion luxury property development on a once-uninhabited sandbar just off the Abu Dhabi coastline. A cultural acropolis for the global elite, Saadiyat Island—or “Island of Happiness” in Arabic—will also house an offshore satellite of the Louvre Museum, an NYU campus, a performing arts center, a maritime museum, and the British Museum–affiliated Zayed National Museum, consecrated to the Emirati unifier. Like the Guggenheim, these institutions will be housed in slick postmodern buildings bearing the brands of international starchitects Jean Nouvel, Rafael Viñoly Beceiro, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando, and Norman Foster. Sprinkled among these bastions of liberal arts and culture will be two golf courses, three yacht-friendly marinas, and several shopping centers, as well as luxury apartment complexes, “elite villas,” and twenty-nine hotels—including a “seven star” resort—to house visitors to the island.”

Final word: Jameson from “Future City” in New Left Review 21 (2003)

Does this not reflect an extraordinary expansion of desire around the planet, and a whole new existential stance of those who can afford it and who now, long since familiar with both the meaninglessness of life and the impossibility of satisfaction, construct a life style in which a specific new organization of desire offers the consumption of just that impossibility and just that meaninglessness? Indeed, perhaps this is the right moment to return to the Pearl River Delta and Deng Xiaoping’s postmodern socialism, in which ‘getting rich’ no longer means actually making the money, but rather constructing immense shopping malls—the secret of which lies in the fact that to shop does not require you to buy, and that the form of shopping is a performance which can be staged without money, just as long as its appropriate spaces, or in other words Junkspace, have been provided for it.