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“What does Christianity mean today? National Socialism is a religion. All we lack is a religious genius capable of uprooting outmoded religious practices and putting new ones in their place. We lack traditions and ritual. One day soon National Socialism will be the religion of all Germans. My Party is my church, and I believe I serve the Lord best if I do his will, and liberate my oppressed people from the fetters of slavery. That is my gospel.”
― Joseph Goebbels
There is something similar between struggle of the Papal regime with Reformation and the current attack of neoliberal MSM on alternative media. That raises the question to what extent Neoliberalism as an ideology can be viewed as "secular religion". Pope Francis attacked neoliberalism as an idolatry of money (see Pope Francis on danger of neoliberalism)
We can also can talk about neoliberal jihad -- the idea of world domination:
"Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam." "Marx has taught that Communism is fatally predestined to come about; this produces a state of mind not unlike that of the early successors of Mahommet." Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.
Perhaps it was Charles Watson who first described Islam as totalitarian in 1937, and proceeded to show how: "By a million roots, penetrating every phase of life, all of them with religious significance, it is able to maintain its hold upon the life of Moslem peoples. "Bousquet, one of the foremost authorities on Islamic Law, distinguishes two aspects of Islam which he considers totalitarian: Islamic Law, and the Islamic notion of Jihad which has for its ultimate aim the conquest of the entire world, in order to submit it to one single authority.
The question can political philosophy became a civic religion was previously extensively studied in regard to Marxism-Leninism. See, for example, Does Marxism/Socialism Qualify as a Religion? (November 05, 2009):
One of the results of the establishment of the Church of England was the official persecution by use of government force of other religions, especially Jews and Roman Catholics. One of the main reasons that people from Europe settled in the Colonies was to flee the government-imposed Anglican Church.
The people who settled the Colonies and established the United States recognized that a government-imposed religion was contrary to free religious thought. The 1st Amendment that was eventually ratified provides not only for religious freedom, but freedom from this government-imposed religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...
The first clause became known as the "Establishment Clause" and the second the "Free Exercise Clause."
I raise this issue because I (and others) believe that the imposition of Marxism and Socialism (Marxism "light") in America, constitutes the establishment of a civil religion that is violative of the Establishment Clause.
Is Marxism and/or Socialism a religion? In Malnak v. Yogi, 592 F.2d 197, 212 (C.A.N.J., 1979), a federal District Court in New Jersey raised this very question:A more difficult question would be presented by government propagation of doctrinaire Marxism, either in the schools or elsewhere. Under certain circumstances Marxism might be classifiable as a religion and an establishment thereof could result.
Unfortunately, the Court did not answer this question. The Court did, however, leave us with this dicta upon which to ponder:
Such signs might include formal services, ceremonial functions, the existence of clergy, structure and organization, efforts at propagation, observation of holidays and other similar manifestations associated with the traditional religions. Of course, a religion may exist without any of these signs, so they are not determinative, at least by their absence, in resolving a question of definition. But they can be helpful in supporting a conclusion of religious status given the important role such ceremonies play in religious life.
Webster’s defines Marxism as:the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx; especially : a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society "Marxism." (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009.)
Webster’s defines ‘dialectical materialism’ as:"the Marxist theory that maintains the material basis of a reality constantly changing in a dialectical process and the priority of matter over mind." (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009.)
Because Marxism proclaims that “reality” is “constantly changing” then dialectical materialism is a Marxist theory that promotes an “ultimate reality” (See Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 819, (U.S.Va.,1995)) or an “ultimate concern” for believers and followers which occupies a place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons according to the C.A. 7 in 1994.
A general working definition of religion for Free Exercise purposes is any set of beliefs addressing matters of “ultimate concern” occupying a “ ‘place parallel to that filled by ... God’ in traditionally religious persons.” See Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 340, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 1796, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970).
In TOWARD A CONSTITUTIONAL DEFINITION OF RELIGION from the Harvard Law Review 91 HVLR 1056 it is clear that political philosophies can become civic religions.
Even political and social beliefs may be religious. Tillich suggests: “If a national group makes the life and growth of the nation its ultimate concern … [e]verything is centered in the only god, the nation ….” [FN91] This point has been variously made about “civil religion in America,” [FN92] Communism, [FN93] Marxism, [FN94] Nazism, Italian Fascism, and Japanese militarism. [FN95]
[FN91]. P. TILLICH, supra note 66, at 44. [FN92]. Bellah, Civil Religion in America, 96 DAEDALUS 1, 1-9 (1967). See also Cousins, La Politique Comme Religion aux Etats-Unis, in RELIGION ET POLITIQUE: ACTES DE COLLOQUE ORGANISÉ PAR LE CENTRE INTERNATIONAL D'ETUDES HUMANISTES ET PAR L'INSTITUT D'ETUDES PHILOSOPHIQUES DE ROME, JANVIER 3-7, 1978 (forthcoming, 1978).
[FN93]. J. BENNETT, CHRISTIANITY AND COMMUNISM 87-88 (1970). See also J. MURRY, THE NECESSITY OF COMMUNISM (1932) (arguing that Communism is the world's one living religion).
[FN94]. See L. DEWART, THE FUTURE OF BELIEF 56-58 (1966).
[FN95]. See E. SHILLITO, NATIONALISM: MAN'S OTHER
Is there anyone who would disagree that Marxists believe (1) there is no God, and (2) that people should believe in Marxism rather than in a God? If so, then Marxism certainly qualifies as a "religion." Accordingly, because the people have freedom to believe or not to believe in any particular religion, should we not be free to believe in Marxism or not? I personally would not bemoan the right of a Marxist to believe in Marxism. Otherwise, I would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..."
The next question (to be addressed tomorrow) is whether the imposition, by use of government edict, of Marxism upon those of us who do not believe in Marxism would violate the "Establishment Clause."
Pope Francis aptly called neoliberalism as "idolatry of money". In other words a cult. Here is a direct quote:
No to the new idolatry of money
55. One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.
56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.
From preview of: Amazon.com Neoliberalism's Demons On the Political Theology of Late Capital by Adam Kotsko
NOTE: The author names New Deal Capitalism model as Fordism.
Every academic critique of neoliberalism is an unacknowledged memoir. We academics occupy a crucial node in the neoliberal system. Our institutions are foundational to neoliberalism's claim to be a meritocracy, insofar as we are tasked with discerning and certifying the merit that leads to the most powerful and desirable jobs. Yet at the same time, colleges and universities have suffered the fate of all public goods under the neoliberal order. We must therefore "do more with less," cutting costs while meeting ever-greater demands. The academic workforce faces increasing precarity and shrinking wages even as it is called on to teach and assess more students than ever before in human history—and to demonstrate that we are doing so better than ever, via newly devised regimes of outcome-based assessment. In short, we academics live out the contradictions of neoliberalism every day.
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On a more personal level it reflects my upbringing in the suburbs of Flint, Michigan, a city that has been utterly devastated by the transition to neoliberalism. As I lived through the slow-motion disaster of the gradual withdrawal of the auto industry, I often heard Henry Ford s dictum that a company could make more money if the workers were paid enough to be customers as well, a principle that the major US automakers were inexplicably abandoning. Hence I find it [Fordism -- NNB] to be an elegant way of capturing the postwar model’s promise of creating broadly shared prosperity by retooling capitalism to produce a consumer society characterized by a growing middle class—and of emphasizing the fact that that promise was ultimately broken.
By the mid-1970s, the postwar Fordist order had begun to breakdown to varying degrees in the major Western countries. While many powerful groups advocated a response to the crisis that would strengthen the welfare state, the agenda that wound up carrying the day was neoliberalism, which was most forcefully implemented in the United Kingdom by Margaret Thatcher and in the United States by Ronald Reagan. And although this transformation was begun by the conservative part)', in both countries the left-of-center or (in American usage) “liberal”party wound up embracing neoliberal tenets under Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, ostensibly for the purpose of directing them toward progressive ends. With the context of current debates within the US Democratic Party, this means that Clinton acolytes are correct to claim that “neoliberalism” just is liberalism but only to the extent that, in the contemporary United States, the term liberalism is little more than a word for whatever the policy agenda of the Democratic Party happens to be at any given time. Though politicians of all stripes at times used libertarian rhetoric to sell their policies, the most clear-eyed advocates of neoliberalism realized that there could be no simple question of a “return” to the laissez-faire model.
Rather than simply getting the state “out of the way," they both deployed and transformed state power, including the institutions of the welfare state, to reshape society in accordance with market models. In some cases creating markets where none had previously existed, as in the privatization of education and other public services. In others it took the form of a more general spread of a competitive market ethos into ever more areas of life—so that we are encouraged to think of our reputation as a “brand," for instance, or our social contacts as fodder for “networking.” Whereas classical liberalism insisted that capitalism had to be allowed free rein within its sphere, under neoliberalism capitalism no longer has a set sphere. We are always “on the clock,” always accruing (or squandering) various forms of financial and social capital.
Why Political Theology ?
Thus neoliberalism is more than simply a formula for economic policy'. It aspires to be a complete way of life and a holistic worldview, in a way that previous models of capitalism did not. It is this combination of policy agenda •and moral ethos that leads me to designate neoliberalism as a form of political theology. As with the term neoliberalism, my fully articulated view of die latter term will unfold over the course of the entire argument of this book, and so 1 will again limit myself to addressing some initial sources of confusion.
Here the term theology is likely to present the primary difficulty, as it seems to presuppose some reference to God. Familiarity with political theology as it has conventionally been practiced would reinforce that association. Schmitt’s Political Theology and Kantorowicz’s The King's Two Bodies both focused on the parallels between God and the earthly ruler,3 and much subsequent work in die field has concentrated on the theological roots of political concepts of state sovereignty'. Hence the reader may justly ask whether I am claiming that neoliberalism presupposes a concept of God.
The short answer is no. I am not arguing, for example, that neoliberalism “worships” the invisible hand, the market, money, wealthy entrepreneurs, or any other supposed “false idol,” nor indeed that it is somehow secretly “religious” in the sense of being fanatical and unreasoning. Such claims presuppose a strong distinction between the religious and the secular, a distinction that proved foundational for the self-legitimation of the modern secular order but that has now devolved into a stale cliché. As I will discuss in the chapters that follow, one of the things that most appeals to me about political theology as a discipline is the way that it rejects the religious/secular binary.
That binary conditions the way people think about theology, leading them to view it as a discourse that, in contrast with rational modes of inquiry like philosophy and science, is concerned exclusively with God, is based on faith claims as opposed to verifiable facts, and is ultimately always dogmatic and close-minded. Yet attempts to establish a qualitative distinction between theology' and philosophy or science on these grounds fail completely. If discourse about God is the defining feature, then Aristotle, Descartes, and Newton must be dismissed as mere theologians. If unverifiable premises mark the difference, then Euclidean geometry is the vilest form of fundamentalism.
Coming at the problem from the other direction, theology' has always been about much more than God. Even the simplest theological systems have a lot to say about the world we live in, how it came to be the way it is, and how it should be. Those ideals are neither true nor false in an empirical sense, nor is it fair to say that believers accept them blindly.
Every' such theological ideal ultimately comes to depend on cultural inertia, but it could not take root and spread in the first place if it were not appealing and persuasive. It is this world-ordering ambition of theology, which relies on people s convictions about how the world is and ought to be, that for me represents a more fruitful distinction between theological discourse and philosophical or scientific discourses, at least as the latter tend to be practiced in the contemporary world.
It is in this sense that I consider neoliberal ideology a form of theology—it is a discourse that aims to reshape the world. But here another question arises: why not simply call it an ideology? Why court misleading preconceptions about theology when an alternative exists? I answer that the term ideology carries its own preconceptions with it, which I am even more concerned to avoid.
The term necessarily evokes the Marxist theory of ideology, which in its most simplistic forms maintains that ideology is merely a secondary effect of the development of the economic mode of production. This reductionism carries with it the implication that ideology, as an illusion propagated by the bourgeoisie, can be replaced by the true view of things, namely Marxist science. While the Marxist tradition has consistently tried to break free of this one-sided reductionism—an attempt that has often involved an engagement with theology', most famously in Althusser’s evocation of Pascal in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”4—it remains an inescapable center of gravity' for the theory of ideology. Moreover, as I will show in subsequent chapters, this reductionism has made it very' difficult for Marxist critics to grasp the distinctiveness of neoliberalism. Hence I chose a different path.
I will begin to lay out my own account of political theology in the first chapter, but I hope it is already dear that I conceive of the discipline as more than simply the study of parallels between political and theological concepts. On the most fundamental level, I regard political theology as the study of systems of legitimacy, of the ways that political, social, economic, and religious orders maintain their explanatory power and justify the loyalty of their adherents. I maintain that we have misunderstood neoliberalism if we do not recognize that it, too, is a system concerned with its own self-legitimation. In this respect the account of neoliberalism that comes closest to my approach is Will Daviess The Limits of Neoliberalism, which he describes as “a piece of interpretive sociology." This means that his study “starts from the recognition that neoliberalism rests on claims to legitimacy, which it is possible to imagine as valid, even for critics of this system. .. . The book assumes that political-economic systems typically need to offer certain limited forms of hope, excitement, and fairness in order to survive, and cannot operate via domination and exploitation alone."5 Davies’s sociological approach takes him into territories I am not trained to explore, including the internal culture of regulatory agencies tasked with implementing neoliberal policies. In my view he provides an irrefutable demonstration of the fact that neoliberalism really is a consciously embraced ideology that has worked its way through concrete institutions of governance, while at the same time accounting for the developments and apparent contradictions in neoliberal thought and practice over the last several decades.
The obvious difference in scope and approach between our respective projects, despite our similar starting point, highlights another feature that is central to my vision of political theology: its genealogical character. Simply put, political theology always takes the long view—indeed, to such an extent that other academic disciplines could rightly portray it as speculative and even irresponsible. In the case of the current study, for instance, I must confess that I am unable to empirically document the connection that I am positing between late medieval theology and contemporary neoliberal practices. But neither could anyone else, and that is because the types of large-scale narratives that political theology constructs arc neither true nor false on a strictly empirical basis. Political theology seeks not to document the past, but to make it available as a tool to think with. It docs not aim merely to interpret the present moment, but to defamiliariac it by exposing its contingency. In other words, political-theological genealogies are creative attempts to reorder our relationship with the past and present in order to reveal fresh possibilities for the future.
The Plan of the Work
So far, I have offered only provisional sketches of neoliberalism and political theology and the relationship I see between them. They should not be regarded as firm definitions but as points of reference to help orient the investigation. In the chapters that follow, I will not merely be filling in more detail on neoliberalism and political theology; rather, I will gradually redefine each in terms of the challenge presented by the other.
For this pairing is anything but obvious. On the one hand, most accounts of neoliberalism leave little room for the conventional themes of political theology—above all of the notion of state sovereignty, which has supposedly been eclipsed in the neoliberal order/’ On the other hand, Schmitt's initial formulation of political theology omits and even denigrates the economic concerns that are ostensibly the sole concern of neoliberalism. In order to bring together neoliberalism and political theology, my first step is to show that the conventional themes of political theology emerge persistently in the existing accounts of neoliberalism, but are always viewed as an extrinsic and even surprising element that theorists tend not to account for in any systematic way. Then, coming at the problem from the other direction, I attempt to show that Schmitt s presentation of political theology is artificially narrow and to provide grounds in his text for a broader vision of the field that could include a phenomenon like neoliberalism. Without leaving aside political theology’s traditional focus on the homologies between theological and political systems, this more general political theology would ask more explicitly about the source of those homologies—namely, the ultimately unanswerable question that is expressed theologically as the problem of evil and politically as the problem of legitimacy.
Thus a political-theological approach to neoliberalism would not ask about the role of the state or sovereignty so much as the ways that the neoliberal
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CHAPTER I: THE POLITICAL THEOLOGY OF LATE CAPITAL
Neoliberalism loves to hide. On the increasingly frequent but still rare occasions when the term appears in the mainstream media, it is always in the context of an introductory treatment.1 Strangely, one can never assume that the educated public is already acquainted with the force that has deeply shaped public policy and economic outcomes for a generation or more in the major Western countries and much of the developing world. For its advocates, as for those shaped by the “common sense” of mainstream political discussion, it is not a particular ideology nor even an ideology at all. It is simply the way things are, the set of “realistic” policies that “work.”'ll»is very invisibility is a measure of its power, and the fact that the word can now be uttered in public is a sign that its planetary sway is growing less secure.
The term itself is slippery. It is first of all a periodizing concept that names the political-economic model that grew out of the crisis of the postwar settlement known as Fordism; hence it is in principle purely descriptive. At the same time it is a conceptual weapon for left-wing critics who take aim at all that is oppressive and alienating in our present world. So on the one hand, one might observe, seemingly neutrally, that whereas Fordism favored high taxation to limit inequality, energetic regulation of industry to make sure it serves social goals, strong labor unions that help workers claim their fair share, and careful control of international trade to protect domestic industry, neoliberalism has tended to pursue the reverse in all these areas: reducing taxes to increase the capital available for investment, deregulation to subject firms to market discipline rather than bureaucratic control, flexible labor markets that maximize efficiency and profitability, and free trade that breaks down arbitrary national boundaries to prosperity. Yet even though I have attempted to present it in positive terms that neoliberals themselves would accept, the very designation of the latter agenda as “neoliberal” implies a negative judgment of those developments.
This halo of negativity results partly from the fact that neoliberal is almost never used as a term of self-designation—though here, as with seemingly every generalization about neoliberalism, there arc exceptions. Most notably, one of the movement’s greatest theorists and propagandists, Milton Friedman, used the term in something like its contemporary sense in his 1951 essay “Neo-Liberalism and Its Prospects.”2 In this short text Friedman laments that in his time “legislation is still largely dominated by the trend of opinion toward collectivism” (3) and that even where the right manages an electoral victory, its leaders are still “infected by the intellectual air they breathe” (4). Yet the collectivist faith has encountered undeniable obstacles, and Friedman is confident that a new trend in public opinion is beginning to develop, one that makes room for a return to the tenets of classical nineteenth-century laissez-faire liberalism but without that movement’s naive antistatism. What Friedman describes in this lecture is identifiable as the contemporary neoliberal agenda, in which the state actively cultivates and maintains the conditions necessary for vigorous market competition, trusting in the price mechanism to deliver more efficient outcomes than direct state planning ever could. Hence his use of the term neo-liberalism: it is not a question of simply “returning” to traditional laissez-faire by getting the state out of the way, but of using state policy as a means to actively create a new version of classical liberalism.
Much in Friedman’s text appears prophetic in retrospect, but one detail in particular is simply uncanny. In an offhand remark, he notes that “some twenty years or more may elapse between a change in the underlying current twenty years or more may elapse between a change in the underlying current of opinion and the resultant alteration in public policy” (3). Right on schedule, one of the signal events in the transition from Fordism to neoliberalism happened twenty years after Friedman wrote his article: Nixon's decision in 1971 to go off the gold standard, which broke with the Bretton Woods settlement that had governed international finance throughout the postwar era and inadvertently cleared the space for the fluctuating exchange rates that proved so central to the rise of contemporary finance capitalism. Only two years later, the oil crisis ushered in the period of “stagflation,” a combination of slow economic growth and high inflation that should not have been possible in terms of the regnant Keynesian economics of the time and that proved unresponsive to the standard mix of policies Keynesianism prescribed.
The moment for a new economic model had arrived, and the theorists and propagandists of neoliberalism — the group that Philip Mirowski calls the Neoliberal Thought Collective — were ready to seize the opportunity.3 And once they gained ascendancy, they set up a self-reinforcing system that not only persisted but expanded for decades. Even the Global Financial Crisis, far from toppling the neoliberal order, strengthened its stranglehold on the terms of debate, despite the fact that no major economist had predicted it and most neoliberal policy prescriptions actually worsened the economic slump they were meant to solve. Admittedly, this amazing prescience and persistence is difficult to square with the tenets of neoliberal theory, which in popular presentations appears to amount to a simplistic libertarianism that would seem more at home in a college dorm room than in the most prestigious economics departments in the world. But in another turn of the screw, the neoliberal order has given rise to financial engineering of mind-boggling complexity, deploying the expertise of PhD physicists and massive computing power to gain a competitive edge in the market.
Thus neoliberalism is both a descriptive and a polemical term to describe an ideology whose adherents mostly refuse to admit that it exists, which is at once stunningly foresighted and vulnerable to unpredictable crises and which was masterfully implemented by Machiavellian geniuses who often appear to be as intellectually sophisticated as a teenager who has just discovered Ayn Rand. Clearly, we arc dealing with a strange phenomenon, and the academic literature surrounding neoliberalism reflects the contradictions in its elusive object. While the basic content of neoliberalism—both its ideological agenda and the results that follow from it—is not subject to serious dispute, no settled agreement exists on how to articulate those features into a coherent whole. To illustrate my point, I will briefly present a few of the most influential approaches to this question.
David Harvey’s strategy, in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, is to put forward the concrete results as the key to interpreting neolibcralism.4 From Harvey’s Marxist perspective, neoliberalism is the latest front in the class struggle, undoing the postwar gains of the working class through the formation and enrichment of a new capitalist class and the immiseration of workers. Although Harvey does draw attention to the fact that neoliberalism has “become hegemonic as a mode of discourse” and has been thoroughly “incorporated into the common-sense way many of us interpret, live in, and understand the world,”’ he ultimately dismisses the policy agenda as incoherent and the ideology as essentially irrelevant. Indeed, it is only the class clement that is definitive of neoliberalism for Harvey, so that China—which is far from embracing the Washington Consensus on an ideological or policy level, as shown by the fact that it still promulgates communist-style five-year plans that imply a level of direct state planning completely incompatible with neoliberalism—can appear as an exemplar of neoliberalism due solely to the emergence of a new capitalist class in recent decades.'’ Yet if neoliberalism is simply the bourgeoisies revenge, then how can Harvey account for the fact that it is precisely a new capitalist class that is created?' And how can he find a place for neoliberal thinkers like Friedman, those strange “organic intellectuals” who preexisted, and contributed to the creation of, the very class that their ideas came to serve?
It is this group that Mirowski highlights with his notion of the Neoliberal Thought Collective. One could walk away from Harvey's account viewing the major figures of neoliberalism as dispensable figureheads for impersonal political and economic forces. By contrast, the most compact possible summary of Mirowski s book would be: “It’s people! Neoliberalism is made out of people!” In this reading there was nothing inevitable about neoliberalism's rise, which depended on the vision and organization of particular nameable individuals.
For Mirowski, the apparent incoherence in neoliberal ideology and policy making is the product of the political strategy of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, which feeds the general public a simplified version of neoliberal dogma, providing its agenda with a veneer of popular legitimacy, while a more flexible and realistic esoteric doctrine guides the actual policy implementation. In other words, the discursive elements that Harvey tends to dismiss are an integral part of neoliberalism's initial political success and its ongoing self-reproduction. For Wendy Brown, by contrast, the results that Harvey and Mirowski attribute to a political struggle are precisely the death of politics.8 Inspired by Hannah Arendt’s articulation of Aristotle’s distinction between the political and the economic realms, Brown portrays neoliberalism as an attempt to extinguish the political—here represented by the liberal democratic tradition of popular sovereignty and self-rule—and consign humanity to a purely economic existence. In the end Brown calls us to take up a strange kind of metapolitical struggle against the economic enemy, in defense of politics as such. Meanwhile, Jodi Dean, who agrees that neoliberalism has a depoliticizing tendency, argues that this depoliticization actually depends on the notion of democracy and that appeals to democracy against neoliberalism arc therefore doomed in advance.9
As ever, the Protean slipperiness of neoliberalism seems to defy analysis. Is neoliberal ideology a smokescreen for a political agenda, or is it integral to the whole? Is neoliberalism actually properly political at all, or does it instead spell the death of politics? Docs neoliberalism undermine democracy, or docs it rely on it for its own legitimation? What exactly arc we dealing with here?
This situation is very strange. As I have already noted, for academic commentators, in stark contrast to the sometimes willful ignorance found in mainstream debate, the attributes and effects of neoliberalism appear more or less self-evident; that is to say, there should seemingly be no dispute about what neoliberalism is. Yet in what almost amounts to a parody of the atomistic individualism of our contemporary order, there sometimes seem to be as many concepts of neoliberalism as there are commentators. There is, however, a broad consensus on which theoretical tools are most helpful in this regard, insofar as the dominant perspectives for dealing with neoliberalism are Marxism (an obvious fit for a critique of contemporary capitalism) and Foucauldianism (equally obvious in light of Foucault’s shockingly prescient account of the formative stages of neoliberalism in The Birth of Biopolitics)10
Other approaches, such as psychoanalysis, have made themselves felt in this debate, but Marxism and Foucauldianism remain the key points of reference in essentially ever) major treatment of neoliberalism.12
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...as when Obamacare effectively created a market in individual health insurance plans, an area where the market was previously so dysfunctional as to be essentially nonexistent.
The example of Obamacare also highlights the peculiar nature of neoliberal freedom. One of its most controversial provisions was a mandate that all Americans must have health insurance coverage. From a purely libertarian perspective, this is an impermissible infringement on economic freedom— surely if i am free to make my own economic decisions, I am also free to choose not to purchase health insurance. Yet the mandate fits perfectly with the overall ethos of neoliberalism. On a practical level this aspect of the plan was a necessary complement to the rule forbidding insurers from rejecting applicants with a preexisting medical condition, which would allow people to wait until they were sick to purchase insurance, leading to a collapse of the market by either bankrupting insurers or leading to out-of-control premium increases. In this respect the mandate represented the states attempt to set up and preserve a functioning market in individual health insurance plans. At the same time, it expressed a deeper truth of neoliberalism. Within the market created by Obamacare, I was free to choose whichever health plan I might want, but I was not free to opt out of the market altogether. If I am not inclined to express my economic freedom in that sphere, then 1 must be forced to be free.
This same logic of constraint appears throughout neoliberalism at every level. At the global scale, if states attempt to “opt out" of the neoliberal order, they will lose out on investment and jobs as companies move to more compliant (or, to use the term of art, "competitive") countries. On the individual level there is an even harder constraint: the sheer necessity for survival. Though even neoliberals recognize the need for some base-level protection against abject poverty, the social safety’ net is set up to “incentivize” work as much as possible. Meanwhile, the erosion of job security through deunionization and other measures to maximize "flexibility" in labor markets means that workers arc forced into a perpetual competition. Even when they succeed in finding a steady job, they have to fight continually to keep it. And in between, at the level of the individual firm, deregulation on the governmental level does not mean companies can simply do whatever they want. Instead, they are subjected to the more comprehensive and inescapable constraint of market discipline. If we ask why a particular company cannot choose to treat its workers better and offer them job security' (in the hopes of better productivity', for instance), the answer is that the market would never allow it: a shareholder revolt or hostile takeover would lead to the removal of any management team that made such a scandalous proposal.
Overall, then, in neoliberalism an account of human nature where economic competition is the highest value leads to a political theory where the prime duty of the state is to enable, and indeed mandate, such competition, and the result is a world wherein individuals, firms, and states are all continually constrained to express themselves via economic competition. This means that neoliberalism tends to create a world in which neoliberalism is “true.” A more coherent and self-reinforcing political theology can scarcely be imagined—but that, I will argue, is precisely what any attempt to create an alternative to neoliberalism must do.
Thus far, I have distinguished two forms of political theology at work in Schmitt s foundational text. The first is a restricted form focused on sovereignty and the transition from the medieval to the modern, which has largely set the agenda for research in the field. The second is a more general form of which the restricted form is only a narrow subset, which would study the parallels between political and theological or metaphysical discourse as rooted in the interminable struggle with what can be variously called the problem of evil or the problem of legitimacy. I have also provided a broad overview of what it would mean to view neoliberalism as a political-theological paradigm in the broader sense and some initial indication of the advantages such an approach might have over the dominant Marxist and Foucauldian interpretations of neoliberalism.
At the same time, I have identified a major obstacle to any attempt to view neoliberalism through a political-theological lens: the field’s deeply polemical relationship to the economic realm. My task in this chapter will be to show that this bias against the economic, just like the bias in favor of sovereignty and medieval-to-modern genealogies, is an arbitrary one that leads the field into unnecessary contradictions and aporias. At bottom, my argument is based on my conviction that one of the most attractive things about political theology is the way it overcomes — or, perhaps more accurately, shows a principled disregard for — simplistic binaries. In connection with the political-economic binary in particular, a political-theological account promises a nonreductionist account of the role of economics in the neoliberal order.
If all I wanted was a theoretical apparatus for interpreting the economic dynamics of the neoliberal order, of course, I should look no further than Marxism. David Harvey's influential account is a case in point: virtually no other interpreters of neoliberalism show anywhere near the same confidence and rigor in their handling of economic material. At the same time, I have already pointed out that Harvey seems to have difficulty specifying what is unique about neoliberalism. His Marxist approach leads him to view political institutions and ideology as superstructures that ultimately only reflect the more fundamental economic base or mode of production—but once we leave aside neoliberalism’s explicit ideology and political ambitions, what is left but die same old story of capitalism? In Dardot and Laval’s words, “Trapped in a conception that makes the ‘logic of capital an autonomous motor of history, [Marxists] reduce the latter to the sheer repetition of the same scenarios, with the same characters in new costumes and the same plots in new settings.”1 This economic reductionism “presupposes that the ‘bourgeoisie’ is an historical subject which persists over time; that it pre-exists the relations of struggle it engages in with other classes; and that it was sufficient for it to apprise, influence, and corrupt politicians for them to abandon Keynesian policies and compromise formulas between labor and capital.”2
Such a simplistic narrative is belied by Harvey’s own “recognition of the fact that classes have been profoundly changed during the process of neo-liberalization”— meaning that the beneficiaries cannot have planned the neoliberal push in any straightforward way.1 More than that, an economic-reductionist account ignores the decisive role of the state in the development of the neoliberal order: “To believe that ‘financial markets’ one fine day eluded the grasp of politics is nothing but a fairy talc. It was states, and global economic organizations, in close collusion with private actors, that fashioned rules conducive to the expansion of market finance.”'' In other words, politics are not epiphenomcnal to economic structures but directly transform them.
Dardot and Laval are far from the first to notice a problem here. Marxists have always had an ambivalent relationship with the tendency toward economic reductionism in their intellectual tradition, by turns embracing it as the only possible basis for a scientific Marxism and distancing themselves from its more extreme implications. The most popular version of the latter strategy can be encapsulated in the notion that the economy is “determinative in the last instance,” which seems to provide some breathing room for a relative autonomy of the political-ideological “superstructure” over and against the economic-material “base.” As Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffc argue, however, such a threading of the needle ultimately fails: if the economy is determinative in the last instance, it is always determinative.5 Working in the wake of Laclau and Mouffe’s intervention, Slavoj Zizek has reconceived the material “base” more abstractly as the existence of an insoluble deadlock or obstacle that Jacques Lacan designated as “the Real.”
On this basis Zizek puts forth a new vision of Marxism in which ideology critique took on an unexpectedly central role as a Hegelian critique of the Marxist tradition allowed him to move past conventional reductionism. Zizek has proven to be a helpful interlocutor for many working in political theology (including Eric Santner and myself),7 and that dialogue has been reciprocal insofar as Ziiek has engaged extensively with theological themes in many of his writings. Yet his attempt at a synthesis of Hegel and Lacan (two thinkers who are surely already complex enough on their own) has grown more and more self-referential and unresponsive to changing political and economic realities.8
If this increasingly baroque—and still incomplete— system is what it takes to overcome Marxist reductionism, why not simply start from the nonreductionist standpoint of political theology?
Here I may seem to be knocking at an open door, however, insofar as Foucauldianism already represents a nonrcductionist approach to the interplay of discursive, political, and economic forces. Foucault starts from the position that both knowledge and institutional practices contribute equally to networks of power, and in contrast to conventional political theology’s animus against the economic, he includes economic practices and techniques alongside the many other modes in which power is exercised. With respect to the political-economic dyad that is my quarry in this chapter, then, Foucauldianism provides a model for my general theory of political theology. In the next chapter, I hope to demonstrate that political theology’s focus on the sources of legitimacy—which carries with it a focus on moral agency, responsibility, and obligation—can help supplement the
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Where the political for Aristotle is the place for equality and contestation, the household, by contrast, displays a harmonious hierarchical order. None of these distinctions is absolute or exclusive—for instance, the city is also “natural” in the sense of being the goal toward which human associations do or should tend—but they underwrite a harmonious social order in which every important aspect of human experience is represented and the highest human aspirations find space and support. Yet even on its own terms, Aristotle’s idyllic polis is menaced from within by a binary that emerges from the household itself: the distinction between legitimate household management (oikonomia) and out-of-control acquisition by means of money and market exchange (cbrimatistiki, which Joe Sachs translates as “provisioning"). Whereas the former is bounded by the goal of “living well,” the latter is completely “unlimited” and hence unnatural.'1 Ihough it cannot be eliminated entirely, the drive for acquisition must not be allowed free rein, lest it completely displace the pursuit of “living well.” It was on the basis of this distinction that one of the greatest theorists of the Fordist order, Karl Polanyi, declared Aristotle’s Politics “certainly still the best analysis of the subject we possess" because it acknowledges the dangers associated with markets, and particularly with money, but nevertheless recognizes that “as long as markets and money were mere accessories to an otherwise self-sufficient household, the principle of production for use could operate.”54 In other words, Polanyi views Aristotle as an early exponent of his own project of preserving what he calls “society” from the corrosive effects of market forces. Much the same could be said of Arendt, for whom Aristotle represents a critic of mass consumer society avant !a lettre.
While one could accuse Arendt or Polanyi of misreading Aristotle on a detailed level, there is nonetheless something appropriate about their gesture. A genealogical perspective invites us to recognize that just as they attempt to borrow Aristotle’s cultural authority to advance their political agendas, so also was Aristotle himself intervening politically in a cultural context where increased reliance on foreign trade and greater emphasis on monetary wealth threatened to undermine traditional social hierarchies and institutions. Aristotle’s text, in other words, does not so much reflect or discover a norm as attempt to impose one on a changing world. And at least in his distinction between legitimate household management and out-of-control acquisition, he was more successful than he ever could have imagined, as his authority backed up a millennium and more of usury bans and trade restrictions in the Christian and Islamic worlds alike. If that authority no longer functions as an effective weapon in the neoliberal order, it is because the advocates of out-of-control acquisition have recruited the forces of family and morality to their side. It is to that disturbing development that we now turn.
CHAPTER 3: NEOLIBERALISM’S DEMONS
Polanyi famously characterized the interplay between market forces and society as a “double movement”: when market relations threaten to undermine the basic foundations of social reproduction, society (most often represented by state institutions) intervenes to prevent or at least delay the trend set in motion by the market. Compared with Aristotle’s distribution of categories between the political and economic realms, Polanyi’s account is itself a “great transformation” on the conceptual level. Where Aristotle distinguished state and household and placed both legitimate economic management and unrestrained accumulation in the latter, Polanyi’s “society” combines the household and the state, leaving only out-of-control acquisition in the purely economic realm. And in this schema, society represents the spontaneous and natural, while the economic force of the market is what is constructed and deliberate.
This latter point may appear initially contradictory, since the “double movement” portrays the state primarily as reactive to market forces. As Polanyi points out, however, markets do not simply spring up naturally but have historically been created and cultivated by state actors—something that is above all true of the global market of the nineteenth century. At the same time, by creating the conditions for a worldwide, self-regulating market, governments were unleashing forces that they would later be forced to contain. Polanyi neatly captures this paradox: “While laissez-faire economy was the product of deliberate State action, subsequent restrictions on laissez-faire started in a spontaneous way. Laissez-faire was planned; planning was not."1 Writing in 1944, Polanyi’s account of the relation between society and the market reflected the deep presuppositions that would shape the emerging postwar order known as Fordism. And as Melinda Cooper points out, Polanyi’s analysis has proven quite durable in the post-Fordist era, as his “thesis of the 'double movement's pervasive and well-nigh uncontested in contemporary left-wing formulations of anticapitalist critique.”2
One of Cooper’s primary ambitions in her bold reexamination of the interplay between neoliberalism and social conservatism in the last forty years of American politics is to displace Polanyi’s theory. At the heart of her critique is the observation that "Polanyi imagines the countcrmovcmcnt [of society against market corrosion] as external to the dynamics of capitalism and yet historically inevitable and indeed necessitated by the free market itself” so that within his framework “resistance can only be imagined as conservative” (14).
The legacy of Polanyi should already be familiar to us in the many analyses of neoliberalism that see the state, nationalism, and other similar forces as extrinsic “leftovers” that precede or exceed neoliberal logic. Normally such interpretations first point out the supposed irony or hypocrisy that neoliberalism comes to require these exogenous elements for its functioning while claiming that those same “leftover" institutions can be sites of resistance. Hence, for instance, one often hears that the left needs to restore confidence in state power over against the market, that socialism can only be viable if a given country isolates itself from the forces of the global market, or in Wendy Brown’s more abstract terms, that the left must reclaim the political to combat the hegemony of the economic.
The goal of the previous chapter was to demonstrate that critiques of neoliberalism based on binaries between the political and the economic arc ultimately self-undermining. Cooper’s argument shows that the same can be said for the other institutions that make up Polanyi’s “society”: above all the family, but also race and religion. Her guiding assumption is that “what Polanyi calls the ‘double movement' would be better understood as fully internal to the dynamic of capital” (15). While capitalism is undoubtedly corrosive of traditional institutions, Cooper asks rhetorically, “is it not also compelled to reassert the reproductive institutions of race, family, and nation as a way of ensuring the unequal distribution of wealth and income across time? Isn’t it compelled, in the last instance, to reinstate the family as the elementary legal form of private wealth accumulation?” (18). And we can adapt this notion to specific phases of capitalism: neoliberalism does not simply destroy some preexisting entity known as “the family,” but creates its own version of the family, one that fits its political-economic agenda, just as Fordism created the white suburban nuclear family that underwrote its political-economic goals.
Neoliberalism achieves this transformation of the family not by deploying economic as opposed to political tools, nor by setting unfettered Aristotelian acquisition over against “natural” household management. Rather, neoliberalism carries out its own “great transformation" by reconfiguring the relationship between the political and the economic and reimagining the household precisely as a site of indefinite accumulation. As Cooper points out, the explosion of inherited wealth, in the wake of an era in which its importance had declined precipitously, was not an accidental or unforeseen result of neoliberal policy' but an explicit attempt to create greater incentives for capital accumulation. Nor indeed were cuts to welfare programs motivated solely or even primarily by a desire for an abstractly “smaller" and less costly government. Rather, neoliberals recognized that “the dismantling of welfare represents the most effective means of restoring the private bonds of familial obligation" (60), as those deprived of an impersonal public safety net will be forced to rely on a familial private safety net. Hence, in this political moment, both neoliberals and neoconservatives can “seize upon the necessity of family responsibility as the ideal source of economic security and an effective counterforce to the demoralizing powers of the welfare state” (73).
Cooper’s revisionist history also highlights a factor that rarely receives extended attention in accounts of neoliberalism: race. The Fordist nuclear family that the state subsidized both directly (through welfare provisions) and indirectly (through subsidies encouraging homcowncrship) was figured explicitly as white, and in Cooper’s telling, the definitive transition from Fordism to neoliberalism can be traced to the reaction against a demand to extend the guarantee of the “family wage” for a male breadwinner to black families.3 That the legacy of slavery should prove decisive will come as no surprise to any student of American history. Nor should readers of Aristotle be taken aback, since in his account, home economics are deeply entwined the same logic of constrained agency (demonization), competition (in which there must be both winners and losers), and conformity (“best practices”) at every level: from the individual to the household to the racial grouping to the region to the country to the world. Neoliberalism is, in sum, a totalizing world order, an integral self reinforcing system of political theology, and it has progressively transformed our world into a living hell. This is felt most acutely by those who have been fully demonized by an economically rapacious and brutally violent prison system. From a political theological perspective, we can see that this infernal system is far from being some merely particular “issue” or “cause”—it is the most extreme expression of the logic of our neoliberal order. The rest of those of us excluded from the elect t percent arc not so thoroughly demonized, but our lives arc increasingly hemmed in by a logic of entrapment and victim blaming. '
The psychic life of neoliberalism, as so memorably characterized by Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism, is shot through with anxiety and shame. We have to be in a constant state of high alert, always “hustling” for opportunities and connections, always planning for every contingency (including the inherently unpredictable vagaries of health and longevity). This dynamic of “responsibilization,” as Wendy Brown calls it, requires us to fritter away our life with worry and paperwork and supplication, “pitching”ourselves over and over again, building our “personal brand”—all for ever-lowering wages or a smattering of piece-work, which barely covers increasingly exorbitant rent, much less student loan payments.
The vulgar libertarianism that neoliberalism presents as its public face is an integral part of this victim-blaming dynamic. Its atomistic individualism attempts to cover up the existence of systemic forces beyond any individuals control. Its naturalization of the invisible hand of the market and rejection of the meddling influence of the state combine to obscure the fact that the economy is not a realm of unrestrained freedom but of governance and control—one that has been intentionally constructed in a certain way by human beings who, as Mirowski forcefully points out, can often be named individually. Libertarianism does not describe the actual workings of the neoliberal economy, but it does perfectly capture its moral dynamic of using freedom as a mechanism to generate blameworthiness. If you fail, it is your fault, and yours alone. You are in control of your destiny, and if your destiny is miserable, then misery must be what you deserve, because the market is always right. If Job’s friends were alive today, they would be libertarians. This dynamic of demonization entraps us emotionally. If wc buy into the narrative of personal responsibility and agency, then our financial insecurity and underemployment must be our own fault—leading to a feeling of shame when we prove persistently unable to overcome them. If we recognize the systemic forces at work, it can be difficult to avoid a feeling of utter despair. And meanwhile, not even the system's ostensible beneficiaries seem to be enjoying themselves, as our ruling classes—most notably the billionaire who has reached the pinnacle of power and fame—continually complain of being unappreciated and unfairly attacked.
The neoliberal order increasingly spreads only misery, but in this very misery there may be a paradoxical glimmer of hope. Even though there really is no “leftover” institutional form that automatically escapes the logic of neoliberalism, there are still desires and demands—including among those, such as myself, who have known nothing but the neoliberal order for our entire lives—that reject it and potentially exceed it. Already, those desires and demands are beginning to place a major strain on the neoliberal order. The question that remains for us is whether they can be harnessed to form a genuine alternative. As the next chapter will show, the early indications arc mixed at best.
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CHAPTER 4: THIS PRESENT DARKNESS
In 1989 Francis Fukuyama published an essay entitled “Тhe End of History?”1 Though the 1992 book-length version of the argument is better-known, the shorter essay is an interesting document in its own right. Coming before the fall of the Berlin Wall (which would happen in November of that year), much less the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself (which would endure through 1991), it is more cautious than one would expect from the book’s subsequent reputation. Where the latter appeared in the context of triumphalism, as Americans came to believe that they had “won” the Cold War, the shorter essay focuses more on “the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” On the basis of this ambiguous victory in an ideological war of attrition, Fukuyama claims that “we may be witnessing . . . the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” (1).
This one-sided emphasis on liberal democracy as a political ideal is strange, given the primary evidence Fukuyama adduces for the global triumph of Western thought is precisely the spread of Western commercial culture: experimentation with markets in the Soviet Union, the popularity of Western classical music in Japan, “and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran." And though he attempts to obscure it somewhat through his idiosyncratic descriptions, the narrative arc he supplies for the twentieth century is one in which politics and economics arc deeply intertwined:The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism Ы and fascism, and finally to an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an “end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism, (1)
In terms of the main events, this is a narrative that critics and exponents of neolibcralism would recognize. Yet both would equally object to the idea that “economic and political liberalism” was somehow passively waiting for the various alternatives to exhaust themselves. As we have seen, the return to a new version of classical liberalism at the end of the twentieth century was not the simple reemergence of something that had always been lurking in the background but the result of an aggressive political movement. Fukuyama knows this very well, because he had not only witnessed that transformation—as a member of the Reagan administration, he actively participated in it.
Hence Marika Rose is right to connect Fukuyama’s “end of history" thesis to the triumph not of liberal democratic political institutions but of neoliberalism.2 And Fukuyama is actively contributing to the “end of history” that he claims to be documenting, insofar as he is hard at work naturalizing neolibcralism as what is left over once its ideological opponents have exhausted themselves. From this perspective his argument marks a turning point in the history of the ncoliberal “end of history,” the shift, in Will Davies’s terms, from “combative neoliberalism” to “normative neoliberalism.”-* The former period, which Davies defines as lasting from 1979 through 1989, was the Hence Marika Rose is right to connect Fukuyama's “end of history” thesis to the triumph not of liberal democratic political institutions but of neoliberalism.2 And Fukuyama is actively contributing to the “end of history” that he claims to be documenting, insofar as he is hard at work naturalizing neolibcralism as what is left over once its ideological opponents have exhausted themselves. From this perspective his argument marks a turning point in the history of the ncoliberal “end of history,” the shift, in Will Davies’s terms, from “combative neoliberalism” to “normative neoliberalism.”* The former period, which Davies defines as lasting from 1979 through 1989, was the Reagan-Thatcher era, when neoliberalism “was a self-conscious insurgency, a social movement aimed at combating and ideally destroying the enemies of liberal capitalism” (126). The latter, ranging from 1989 to 2008, was the era when ostensibly progressive parties took the lead, responding to the new political terrain in which “a single political-economic system” had emerged victorious by embracing the “explicitly normative” project of “how to render that system ‘fair1” (127).
In retrospect, the 1990s and early 2000s were the classical era of neoliberalism, the period when the project shifted from its one-sidedly polemical emphasis toward a more positive and constructive stance. Embracing the ethos of omnipresent competition, center-left ncolibcrals like Clinton and Blair attempted “to ensure that ‘winners' were clearly distinguishable from ‘losers,’ and that the contest was perceived as fair” (127). Under normative neoliberalism “neoclassical economics becomes a soft constitution for government, or ‘governance’ in its devolved forms.
Normative questions of fairness, reward, and recognition become channeled into economic tests of efficiency and comparisons of' excellence. Coupled to markets and quasimarket contests, the ideal is that of meritocracy, of reward being legitimately earned, rather than arbitrarily inherited” (128). In other words, where the combative stage had been content to secure the actual victory of neoliberalism, the normative stage undertook to legitimate it. And they were largely successful, as rising income inequality did not become a major political issue as long as economic growth continued and the various economic and quasi market testing regimes appeared to be fair and evenhanded. 'the mantra of “there is no alternative"—which under Thatcher and Reagan had been at once an aspiration and a threat—fell aside as meritocratic metrics took on an “a priori status" throughout all levels of society. Only with the Global Financial Crisis was the spell truly broken, when “it emerged that systems of audit and economic modeling could potentially serve vested political and economic interests.” This means that massive income inequality, “which had been rising in most of the Global North since the 1980s, returned as a major concern only once the tests of legitimate inequality had been found to be faulty” (129).
In the wake of the crisis, Davies believes we moved into a new stage: punitive neoliberalism. Where normative neoliberalism had witnessed an explosion of credit at every level, justified as a motor for creating economic opportunity, punitive neoliberalism marks the moment when the bill comes due: “The transfer of banking debts onto government balance sheets, creating the justification for austerity, has triggered a third phase of neolib
end of fragmented of (p99)
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THIS PRESENT DARKNESS
...drones who have forgotten how to want political change, our contemporary experience shows that it is precisely the generation that has known nothing but ncolibcralism that is most likely to reject it. The order that strove to shape the entire world in its image—nay, to reshape human nature itself!— appears to be failing spectacularly in the core task of any political-theological paradigm: ensuring that it is accepted and reproduced by the next generation. If our present political moment teaches us anything, then, it teaches us that neoliberalism is not sustainable. This is not because it is economically inefficient (though it is), nor is it because it embraces an inherently fragile political strategy (though it does). The root problem is at the level of political theology: its approach to self-legitimation is self-undermining. The very strategies that it uses to justify itself and its outcomes inevitably create subjects who arc anxious, ashamed, resentful, and exhausted. It may well hold out through inertia or through presenting itself as a lesser evil compared to the right-wing reaction, or it may attempt to convert itself into a more overtly coercive order. But neoliberalism will never again appear as the righteous insurgent of the combative period or as the self-evident order of the normative period.
The spell has been broken—or rather, it has collapsed, and therein lies the difficulty. Neoliberalism has lost its aura of inevitability, but at the same time no comprehensive alternative has presented itself.
Though I cannot pretend to know in detail what that alternative will look like if and when it arises, in the time that remains I will attempt to sketch out some indications of how we might recognize it when it comes.
My goal in this book has been not only to offer an analysis of neoliberalism, but to think through the ways that political theology would have to change in order to be equal to the task of such an analysis. While conceding that neoliberalism would not count as a paradigm of political theology in strict Schmittian terms, I argued in the first chapter that we can sec in Schmitt s own work a broader vision of political theology, of which the standard Schmittian model would be only a narrow subset. This general theory of political theology would be defined not by particular classic themes—such as the homology between divine and human sovereignty and the problem of the transition from medieval Christianity to secular modernity—but as an inquiry into the ways that human communities try to justify their structures of governance (the political problem of legitimacy) and make sense of their experience of suffering and injustice (the theological problem of evil). With this expanded notion of political theology in mind, 1 went on to challenge the conventional understanding of its constituent terms. In my second chapter I argued that the “political” in political theology cannot be understood in terms of “Arcndt’s axiom," according to which there is (or at least should be) an absolute qualitative distinction between the political and the economic. And in the following chapter I made the case that the most salient theological theme for understanding neoliberalism is not divine sovereignty but creaturely free will—reflecting my view that the “theology” My goal in this book has been not only to offer an analysis of neoliberalism, but to think through the ways that political theology would have to change in order to be equal to the task of such an analysis. While conceding that neoliberalism would not count as a paradigm of political theology in strict Schmittian terms, I argued in the first chapter that we can sec in Schmitt s own work a broader vision of political theology, of which the standard Schmittian model would be only a narrow subset.
This general theory of political theology would be defined not by particular classic themes—such as the homology between divine and human sovereignty and the problem of the transition from medieval Christianity to secular modernity—but as an inquiry into the ways that human communities try to justify their structures of governance (the political problem of legitimacy) and make sense of their experience of suffering and injustice (the theological problem of evil). With this expanded notion of political theology in mind, 1 went on to challenge the conventional understanding of its constituent terms.
In my second chapter I argued that the “political” in political theology cannot be understood in terms of “Arcndt’s axiom," according to which there is (or at least should be) an absolute qualitative distinction between the political and the economic. And in the following chapter I made the case that the most salient theological theme for understanding neoliberalism is not divine sovereignty but creaturely free will—reflecting my view that the “theology” in political theology cannot be understood solely as a discourse about God. Finally, I characterized ncolibcralism’s strategy of self-legitimation as an apocalyptic one and interpreted the contemporary right-wing reaction as a heretical variation on neoliberalism rather than a comprehensive break with it, insofar as the right-wing reaction still embraces the neoliberal conception of the sources of legitimacy.
Now, as I turn to the question of what might make for a genuine alternative to neoliberalism, my first step will be to consolidate my general theory of political theology by way of a definition: Political theology is a holistic, genealogical inquiry into the structures and sources of legitimacy in a particular historical moment. Political theology in this sense is political because it investigates institutions and practices of governance (whether they arc defined as state-based or economic, public or private), and it is theological because it deals with questions of meaning and value (regardless of the form the answers take). And it is both simultaneously because the structures of governance are always necessarily caught up with questions of meaning and value and because the answers we offer to questions of meaning and value always have direct implications for how the world should be governed—in other words, the structures and sources of legitimacy tend to correlate conceptually.
It is holistic in the sense that it tends toward a total account of the structures of legitimacy, both institutional and discursive, in a given time and place, and it is genealogical in that it sees those structures not as static givens or abstract doctrines, but as a result of strategy and struggle. That it is both at once means that its holism does not lead to something like a “systematic political theology” but instead serves as a heuristic device for uncovering sites of breakdown and contradiction within any given political theological paradigm. And it is assured of finding such sites because every political theological paradigm represents a contingent strategic outcome within a particular historical moment—never a universal or final answer, because both the problem of legitimacy and the problem of evil are ultimately insoluble.
That political theology seeks after sites of breakdown and contradiction does not mean that it is always on the lookout for superficial hypocrisy, such as a difference between ideological proclamations and concrete practice. Take, for example, the frequent observation among critics of neoliberalism that neoliberals say they want to let the free market work, but actually they rely on the state—an accusation that appears to be well-nigh irresistible, even for critics who are well aware of the central role of the state in constructing the neolibcral order. This attack is highly suspect from a political theological perspective because it takes for granted the neoliberal distinction between state and market.
Against such an acceptance of the neoliberal terms of debate, I have argued from the beginning that one of the distinctive traits of political theology is its refusal of seemingly commonsense binaries. This commitment is announced in its very name, which breaks down secular modernity’s division between the political and the religious, and I argued in the second chapter that it should be just as critical of the dyad of the political and the economic. One benefit of this broad vision of political theology is that it would allow for a broader view of the core texts of the discipline. Indeed, one of the most curious aspects of political theology as presendy understood is that Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is not considered a foundational document alongside Schmitts and Kantorowicz’s work.1 What ultimately motivates this breaking down of the political-economic binary, however, is not simply a desire to expand the purview of political theology, but rather a recognition that political theological paradigms legitimate themselves precisely by means of the core conceptual distinctions they set up.
In the case of neoliberalism, the distinction between state and market— which has functioned in different ways at different moments in the history of modem capitalism—is articulated in such a way as to reinforce neoliberal hegemony by forestalling the emergence of power centers guided by non-neoliberal priorities. Libertarian clichés play into this process by simultaneously naturalizing the market and painting the state as an incompetent blunderer at best and a proto-totalitarian oppressor at worst. Within this framework, any autonomous action on the part of the state, uninformed by the economic imperatives formulated by neoliberal technocrats, is illegitimate. And the irresistible hypocrisy attack ironically echoes this logic, insofar as it presents state action as something shameful that must be hidden.
Political theology cannot accept any static, normative distinction between the political and the economic because it recognizes that every political theological paradigm represents a transformation and redistribution of authoritative categories.T his means that political theology is always necessarily
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...were living realities, and though their movements have also attracted more radical elements, both Sanders and Corbyn arc essentially promising a return to some version of the Fordist welfare state.
Such an outcome would be far preferable, in my view, to cither the normative neoliberal status quo ante or the right-wing reactions cruel parody of punitive neoliberalism. And I would postulate that such an outcome is possible in principle: the material resources necessary to achieve it clearly exist, and although the political obstacles are considerable, it would be shortsighted to assume that political conditions cannot change, especially at a time when we are witnessing so many unexpected events. That being said, however, here as in the previous chapter, I do not aspire to prognostication or punditry. My task is to assess the prospects for a return to Fordism on the level of political theology. What are its prospects for effecting the profound conceptual and moral changes needed to create a genuine new paradigm to replace neoliberalism? More than that, can we reasonably expect a renewed Fordism to represent a robust and durable alternative to neoliberalism? On both fronts there are grounds for ambivalence, if not pessimism. First and foremost, the original Fordist settlement arose under vastly different circumstances. All the major Western countries had mobilized for total war, and most had witnessed untold destruction. In the latter countries it made sense for the state to take the lead in repairing the damage, while in the United States, which had escaped virtually unscathed, the shift from the Second World War to the Cold War meant that the state maintained a heavy' hand in economic development for military reasons. These circumstances contributed to the legitimacy of the Fordist paradigm, as private industry and the general public not onhf accepted but expected state support and leadership on economic matters.
Both material conditions and the political consensus are radically different today. For a generation and more, state institutions have essentially “outsourced” industrial policy to the financial sector and the neoliberal technocrats who serve their priorities. A more assertive, autonomous role for the state in directing investment and development has become unthinkable. Even in the emergency circumstances of the Global Financial Crisis, direct state ownership or management of financial firms—where state and capital have been most tightly intertwined throughout the neoliberal era—was never seriously considered as an option. The bailouts of the US auto industry featured a larger role for the state in brokering the deal, but here again, the goal was to get things “back to normal,” not to assert a greater independent role for the state in guiding industry, much less owning and operating firms.
Similarly, the experience of wartime rationing and mass conscription in the United States made it much easier to justify an aggressive tax policy and great generosity to the working and middle classes—after all, they had sacrificed a great deal. Meanwhile, greater controls over capital movement and a broad consensus in favor of higher taxes among developed nations made it harder for the wealthy to flee taxation.
Neoliberalism has broken down the kind of social solidarity enjoyed in the immediate postwar era, and now countries compete to lower their tax rates to attract wealthy investors. Recognition of this latter challenge has led many proponents of a return to Fordism to find unexpected common ground with the right-wing reaction in proposing trade restrictions, with Sanders going so far as to say that he would happily work with Trump on that issue.3
Yet the act of restricting foreign imports will not in itself cause domestic replacements to arise and could hurt existing domestic producers who rely on global supply chains. Free trade promised that cheap consumer goods would make up for American losses in wages and job security', and trade restrictions could take away the former without restoring the latter. The idea of seizing control of the nation’s economic destiny holds real popular appeal across the political spectrum, but it risks being an empty gesture with adverse economic consequences, undermining the legitimacy of a Fordist-style program going forward.
Even leaving aside the issue of trade, under a neo-Keynesian regime government spending would still be pumped into an economic system wired for neoliberalism. Obama’s stimulus measure was a case in point. Though the stimulus arguably saved the United States from the deeper recession experienced in Europe, it did so at the price of expanding inequality even further relative to pre crisis levels. This is because, while it was Keynesian to the extent that it started from the assumption that state spending could boost economic growth, it was operating within a neoliberal economic system—meaning that the very wealthy were in fine to receive die lion’s share of the benefits of that growth, it was operating within a neoliberal economic system—meaning that the very wealthy were in line to receive the lions share of the benefits of that growth. One could anticipate perverse outcomes of other Fordist-style policies proposed by Sanders. Universal health care, for instance, could reduce resistance to the so-called gig economy by ameliorating one of the most serious consequences of unstable employment, namely uncertainty of access to health insurance. Free college tuition could also accelerate the process whereby a college degree, far from being a guaranteed path to class mobility, is increasingly a baseline expectation for any entry-level job. I would still support both policies, but they would not represent the kind of paradigm shift that the anti-neoliberal left is calling for.
I bring up these obstacles not to join the chorus of neoliberals proclaiming any return to Fordism impossible but to suggest the inadequacy of the framework within which such changes arc typically advocated.
That framework is a broadly Polanyian one in which the state (as representative of society) needs to push back against the excesses of the economy. On a superficial level it could appear to be the most radical possible reversal of neoliberalism's privileging of the economy over the state. Yet it strangely respects the division of labor established by neoliberal ideology, in which the economy maintains its autonomy and the state takes post hoc, indirect actions such as getting foreign competition out of the way, taxing away excessive incomes, or providing funding to give people access to the necessities of life. Again, such an agenda would doubtless be beneficial in many ways, but it would fail to match the ambition of neoliberal practice, which did not simply remove state interference from the economy, but transformed the state in order to enable it to support and cultivate new market forms.
Hence, though there are doubtless many beneficial reforms that could arise from such a framework, simply reversing neoliberalism's privileging of economy over state docs not represent a paradigmatic shift. In fact, it risks simply deploying the neoliberal state over against a neoliberal economy, both of which were designed from the ground up to undo Fordism and render a return to it impossible. One cannot expect to rebuild Fordism using the instruments of its demolition—and among those instruments is the very division of labor between state and economy that shapes our contemporary common sense.
In terms of the question of durability, any attempt to reestablish something like the Fordist model would have to come to terms with that model’s demise. In the previous chapter I remarked that neoliberalism appears to be in the process of failing to reproduce itself for the next generation. Essentially the same thing happened with Fordism. In fact, if we define Fordism as beginning at the end of the Second World War, then it proved even less durable, lasting approximately thirty years as compared to neoliberalism’s forty or so (and counting). Doubtless, a major factor in its decline was the onset of an economic crisis caused by factors both exogenous (the oil crisis) and endogenous (the need to absorb the baby-boomer generation into the workforce), but neoliberalism has endured multiple crises of comparable magnitude. And though the shift to neoliberalism may appear all but inevitable in retrospect, there were also very plausible proposals to save the Fordist system by expanding the welfare apparatus rather than dismantling it.
There was, again, no historical necessity dictating that Fordism be replaced by neoliberalism. Yet just as the emergence of the right-wing reaction, while equally contingent, nonetheless gives us insight into the weaknesses and internal contradictions of neoliberalism, so too docs the emergence of neoliberalism shed light on the vulnerabilities of Fordism. Peter Frase has recently articulated one major weakness of the Fordist system in terms of a Marxist critique of Polanyi.4
From Polanyi’s perspective, “Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society. It is the solution natural to industrial workers who see no reason why production should not be regulated directly and why markets should be more than a useful but subordinate trait in a free society.”5 In other words, in the long run the conflict between state (as representative of society) and market will settle into a steady equilibrium where social needs take the lead over market imperatives.
Coming from a Marxist perspective, Frase asks, “Is that a stable equilibrium, acceptable to both capitalists and workers? Or is it an inherently unstable situation, one which must break toward either the expropriation of the capitalist class, or the restoration of ruling-class power?” The answer, he believes, is the latter. Though there is a convincing case to be made that “putting unemployed workers back to work would be good for capitalists too, in the sense that it would lead to faster growth and more profits,” such purely economic arguments miss the point that the relationship between boss and worker is not solely economic but political—it is not just about making money, but about power and control.
Here Frase is drawing on the predictions of Michal Kalecki—who published his classic essay “Political Aspects of Full Employment” in 1943,*’ the tear before The Great Transformation and The Road to Serfdom appeared—that any reform movement to strengthen the hand of workers within the capitalist system will eventually create a dynamic that, in Prase’s words, “calls into question not just profits, but the underlying property relations of capitalism itself.” That prediction came true throughout the Western world in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which witnessed a proliferation of strike actions and the emergence of demands to vastly expand the welfare state. Perhaps most radical, from a Marxist perspective, was the proposal to institute a universal basic income, which would break with the basic premise of the capitalist system by decoupling income from labor for the entire population rather than for the capitalist class alone. Once this critical moment, which Frase calls the “Kalecki point,” is reached, “employers become willing to take drastic action to get workers back into line, even at the expense of short-term profitability,” including “a ‘capital strike’ in which money is moved overseas or simply left in the bank, as a way of breaking the power of the working class.”
To put this argument in the political theological terms of the previous chapter, the Fordist welfare state could be conceived as a restrainer or katechon, holding back the depredations of the market—an analogy that is all the more fitting in that Polanyi so frequently figures the market in demonic terms. The irony, though, is that the very means by which Fordist policy makers believed they were permanently containing the dangers of unrestrained capitalism actually guaranteed that a decisive crisis would emerge, a crisis that the Polanyi an framework rendered all but unthinkable.
And here we come to another irony of the emergence of neoliberalism. In the United States, at least, Fordism was dismantled with the enthusiastic complicity of the very population that most benefited from it: white working and middle-class homeowners, the so-called Reagan Democrats.
As we saw in the previous chapter, Cooper has shown how emergent neoliberalism was able to mobilize anxieties and resentments relating to gender relations, sexual practice, and racial hierarchy in order to recruit such privileged populations into the neoliberal tax revolt. The very “household” norms that had once served to shore up the legitimacy of the welfare state were now turned against it, as the populations who had historically been excluded from its protections were perversely identified as its sole beneficiaries. Here
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A break with the invisible hand would represent a return to the aspirations of the modern world that are most promising, aspirations that were perhaps best recognized, ironically enough, by a Christian theologian. Writing in 1944 from his jail cell in Tegel—where he was imprisoned for his role in a failed assassination attempt against Hitler and where he would be summarily executed by the Nazis just prior to the Allied victory—Dietrich Bonhoeffer embarked on a series of increasingly radical reflections on the place of Christianity in the modern world.8 These fragments have proven durably influential and controversial in postwar theological debates, due in part to Bonhoeflfer's fate as a kind of modern martyr, but in this context, what is most relevant is his interpretation of modernity. In his letter of June 8, 1944, to his friend and acolyte Ebcrhard Bcthgc, Bonhocflfer writes:Tie movement that began about the thirteenth century (I'm not going to get involved in any aigument about the exact date) towards the autonomy of man (in which I should include the discovery of the laws by which the world lives and deals with itself in science, social and political matters, art, ethics, and religion) has in our time reached an undoubted completion. Man has learned to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the “working hypothesis” called “God." (325)Christian polemics against this development have proven fruitless, because they refuse to recognize how much things have changed:The world that has become conscious of itself and the laws that govern its own existence has grown self-confident in what seems to us to be an uncanny way. False developments and failures do not make the world doubt the necessity of the course that it is taking, or of its development; they are accepted with fortitude and detachment as part of the bargain, and even an event like the present war is no exception. (326)
That such a seemingly optimistic reflection on the modem world should be written in a Nazi prison may seem ironic, but as a Christian theologian (indeed, from many perspectives a very conservative one), Bonhoefler is well aware that human autonomy does not necessarily produce positive results. His main goal, however, is not to castigate the modern world for its sins— not even tor the sins that drove him to break with his pacifist principles in a desperate attempt to stop them—but to encourage Christians to embrace the new reality of a “world come of age” rather than fighting a losing battle to return to a world that could not live without God.
Against Christians who react with horror to Nietzsches proclamation of the “death of God," then, Bonhoeffer is asking Christians to find a way to live in a world where God really is dead. And had he lived to see it, he would surely view it as deeply ironic that the modern world would construct its own replacement god. For that is ultimately what happened, as neoliberal technocrats set about the hard work of constructing and maintaining the market mechanism, essentially resurrecting an artificial invisible hand that they passed off as an unquestionable, quasi-divine authority.
If Bonhoeffer was right to detect in modern history “one great development that leads to the world s autonomy” (359), then the victory-by-default of neoliberalism in the early 1990s really did represent the end of history. It was the end of any notion that human beings should or could create their own destiny, the end of any notion of collective deliberation and decision making on ultimate questions. Liberal democracy under neoliberalism represents a forced choice between two fundamentally similar options, betraying its promise to provide a mechanism for rational and self-reflective human agency. The market similarly mobilizes free choice only to subdue and subvert it, “responsibilizing” every individual for the outcomes of the system while radically foreclosing any form of collective responsibility for the shape of society. And any attempt to exercise human judgment and free choice over social institutions and outcomes is rejected as a step down the slippery' slope to totalitarianism. To choose in any strong sense is always necessarily to choose wrongly, to fall into sin.
Yet this end of history, this evacuation of freedom, was in the last analysis collectively chosen, if only passively. This means that—contrary to Wendy Browns vision of a world in which democratic aspirations would be extinguished for good—the option of rejecting the hollow neoliberal vision of human freedom has always been on the table. Our present political moment is the beginning of a struggle to withdraw consent from the neoliberal order by developing a new and more meaningful conception of freedom. This initial gesture of refusal is an absolutely necessary first step, clearing the space to imagine something new. More work is needed, however, because at this early stage, the alternative conceptions of freedom can be characterized more by what they reject than by what they promote. Both demand freedom from neoliberalism (construed in different ways), but neither is quite clear on what they want freedom for.
For the right, freedom means freedom from foreign interference, which ultimately means freedom from the global economic forces that infringe on national sovereignty. Such a conception of freedom clearly holds popular appeal. Yet it is hobbled, not only by its addiction to nostalgia and magical thinking, but even more so by its lack of any positive goal. When these movements do seize power and assert their precious freedom, it is revealed to be an empty gesture of defiance with no program of its own. What is the point of Brexit, for instance, or of Obamacare repeal? There is ultimately no answer aside from the tautology that they must do it because they said they would do it. They have done and will continue to do profound damage, but the right-wing alternative as currently construed is a dead end that does not open out onto any real positive project.
Much more promising are the proposals on the left, where freedom means freedom from exploitation and precarity—which is to say, from the anxiety that has become pandemic in the neoliberal age.
At its most ambitious, contemporary social democracy pictures a world in which a universal basic income will free us from the compulsion to sell our labor power on the market.
Such a world would be very different from the one we live in now, and in my opinion much more desirable. Yet without a positive conception of collective freedom to match its negative conception of individual freedom, it would remain as vulnerable to overthrow as the Fordist paradigm.'Ihis is because neoliberalism, unlike its emerging rivals, actually does have some minimal positive conception of freedom: the freedom to participate in the market. As hollow as it may seem, in a capitalist society market freedom is undeniably a very' important freedom, because the market is where all our material needs arc met. No matter how many institutions we develop to redirect or correct market forces, no matter how big a cut society rakes from market profits, a society that relies on the workings of the invisible hand to supply the most nonnegotiable social goods is still fundamentally a market society'. And that means that, even if the state or some other institutional form can supply a positive alternative, market freedom will remain the tacit foundation of the social order by default, a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode into another neoliberal “end of history.”
This means that any political theological paradigm that desires a real break with neoliberalism must be willing to break with the foundational role of the market. It must be willing to take responsibility for consciously and collectively directing the production and distribution of economic goods. Such a society may have room for a free market in discretionary consumer goods, but it would not allow what it considers to be its nonnegotiable needs and desires to be held hostage to profit-seeking individuals and firms. If some form of production must happen, if some need must be met, if some important cultural touchstone should be preserved, then such a society would mobilize the resources necessary' to make it happen. Market mechanisms may be useful in some contexts,4 but they must be designed to serve social ends directly rather than creating a profit incentive and hoping the social end is served along the way. None of this is to say that total conscious control of the production process is possible or desirable, but the limits to that control must be discovered through experimentation rather than read off of economic models that were designed to naturalize the capitalist system. From that perspective, it does not matter whether the forms of collective action that direct production arc conceived as belonging to the “state” or the “economy”—in fact, the practice of collective deliberation about production would represent the most durable possible break with that foundational binary of the modem world.
Neoliberal ideology has conditioned us all to be suspicious of any prospect for deliberate, conscious social change. It is easy to imagine the objections: “Who decides what must be produced? Who decides who gets what?" When people ask questions like that, they normally do not anticipate any possible answer. “Who decides?” is a rhetorical question, meant to end a discussion, not open one up—as though the idea of collective deliberation and action, in and of itself, is an unthinkable horror.
It is worth reflecting on this reflex reaction, which is a result of ideological formation but cannot be reduced to that. I have claimed that the political theological root of neoliberalism is freedom and have characterized its vision of freedom as hollow. Yet paradoxically', part of the appeal of neoliberalism is precisely the limitation it places on freedom. While from a certain point of view it illegitimately “rcsponsibilizcs” us for outcomes that arc beyond our control, from another perspective it relieves us of collective responsibility— with all the political conflict and struggle that meaningful collective action brings with it. Even beyond the promise of superior economic outcomes, the invisible hand allows us to imagine that we can outsource our collective responsibility' to a machinelike entity' that will deliver outcomes that are no one’s fault because they arc everyone’s fault. On the political theological level, it is a conflict-avoidance mechanism as much as and perhaps even more than an economic mechanism, but like every katechon, it has inevitably generated the very forces of conflict it hoped to stave off indefinitely.
Dismantling the invisible hand is a crucial step toward creating a new political-theological paradigm, but it is not sufficient in itself. We will need to work simultaneously to radically reconcieve the economy in the most ancient sense of die household: the order of race, gender, and sexual practice. We must not assume that a reimagining of the economy will automatically achieve this, as some simplistic forms of Marxism claim. As Polanyi documents, the Fascist social order was in many respects a transformation of the market society, but the structures of race, gender, and sexual practice, far from falling away of their own accord, became unimaginably more virulent and destructive.
Closer to home, we have also seen how the conservative sexual and racial mores of Fordism ultimately allowed most of its social-democratic gains to be undone, paving the way for a neoliberal state devoted to reinforcing racial hierarchy by consigning racialized populations to the hell of the carceral system. The division between economic and social problems is a dangerous illusion—both must be tackled together, without indulging the illusion that there is any' preexisting standard for how either should be arranged.
Clearly, the task of building a new political-theological paradigm to replace neoliberalism is a massive one, for which there are no ready-made formulas. I promised that this conclusion would provide us with ways to recognize a genuinely new political theological paradigm when it comes, but the only infallible sign I can offer is that wc will know that it is a new paradigm when we find ourselves building it.
We will know that something genuinely new is in the offing when we recognize ourselves—in the broadest possible sense, with the full participation and leadership from the groups that neoliberalism subordinates and scapegoats...
Dec 09, 2018 | en.wikipedia.org
[Video] Interview with Kate Bowler on Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel , March 18, 2014 , C-SPAN
According to historian Kate Bowler , the prosperity gospel was formed from the intersection of three different ideologies: Pentecostalism , New Thought , and "an American gospel of pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility".  This "American gospel" was best exemplified by Andrew Carnegie 's Gospel of Wealth and Russell Conwell 's famous sermon "Acres of Diamonds", in which Conwell equated poverty with sin and asserted that anyone could become rich through hard work. This gospel of wealth, however, was an expression of Muscular Christianity and understood success to be the result of personal effort rather than divine intervention. 
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In 2005, Matthew Ashimolowo , the founder of the largely African Kingsway International Christian Centre in southern England, which preaches a "health and wealth" gospel and collects regular tithes, was ordered by the Charity Commission to repay money he had appropriated for his personal use. In 2017, the organisation was under criminal investigation after a leading member was found by a court in 2015 to have operated a Ponzi scheme between 2007 and 2011, losing or spending £8 million of investors' money. 
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The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States featured prayers from two preachers known for advocating prosperity theology.  Paula White , one of Trump's spiritual advisers, gave the invocation. 
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36] Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic argues that prosperity theology contributed to the housing bubble that caused the late-2000s financial crisis . She maintains that home ownership was heavily emphasized in prosperity churches, based on reliance on divine financial intervention that led to unwise choices based on actual financial ability. 
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Historian Carter Lindberg of Boston University has drawn parallels between contemporary prosperity theology and the medieval indulgence trade .  Coleman notes that several pre–20th century Christian movements in the United States taught that a holy lifestyle was a path to prosperity and that God-ordained hard work would bring blessing. 
... ... ...In April 2015, LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated that people who believe in "the theology of prosperity" are deceived by riches. He continued by saying that the "possession of wealth or significant income is not a mark of heavenly favor, and their absence is not evidence of heavenly disfavor". He also cited how Jesus differentiated the attitudes towards money held by the young rich man in Mark 10:17–24, the good Samaritan, and Judas Iscariot in his betrayal. Oaks concluded this portion of his sermon by highlighting that the "root of all evil is not money but the love of money". 
In 2015, well known pastor and prosperity gospel advocate Creflo Dollar launched a fundraising campaign to replace a previous private jet with a $65 million Gulfstream G650.  On the August 16, 2015 episode of his HBO weekly series Last Week Tonight , John Oliver satirized prosperity theology by announcing that he had established his own tax-exempt church, called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption . In a lengthy segment, Oliver focused on what he characterized as the predatory conduct of televangelists who appeal for repeated gifts from people in financial distress or personal crises, and he criticized the very loose requirements for entities to obtain tax exempt status as churches under U.S. tax law. Oliver said that he would ultimately donate any money collected by the church to Doctors Without Borders . 
In July 2018, Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, in the Jesuit journal La Civilità Cattolica , examined the origins of the prosperity gospel in the United States and described it as a reductive version of the American Dream which had offered opportunities of success and prosperity unreachable in the Old World . The authors distinguished the prosperity gospel from Max Weber 's Protestant ethic , noting that the protestant ethic related prosperity to religiously inspired austerity while the prosperity gospel saw prosperity as the simple result of personal faith. They criticized many aspects of the prosperity gospel, noting particularly the tendency of believers to lack compassion for the poor, since their poverty was seen as a sign that they had not followed the rules and therefore are not loved by God .  
Dec 09, 2018 | discussion.theguardian.com
Alan Ritchie , 31 Oct 2018 22:24Neoliberalism, the economic stablemate of big religion's Prosperity Evangelism cult. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology . Dual streams of bull shit to confuse the citizens while the Country's immense wealth is stolen.
Dec 03, 2018 | www.theguardian.comszwalby , 8 Jun 2013 06:03This private good, public bad is a stupid idea, and a totally artificial divide. After all, what are "public spends"? It is the money from private individuals, and companies, clubbing together to get services they can't individually afford.TedSmithAndSon , 8 Jun 2013 06:01
What sticks in the neoliberalism craw is that the state provides these services instead of private businesses, and as such "rob" them of juicy profits! The state, the last easy cash cow!Neoliberalism is a modern curse. Everything about it is bad and until we're free of it, it will only ever keep trying to turn us into indentured labourers. It's acolytes are required to blind themselves to logic and reason to such a degree they resemble Scientologists or Jehovah's Witnesses more than people with any sort of coherent political ideology, because that's what neoliberalism actually is... a cult of the rich, for the rich, by the rich... and it's followers in the general population are nothing but moron familiars hoping one day to be made a fully fledged bastard.fr0mn0where -> CaptainGrey , 8 Jun 2013 05:51
Who could look at the way markets function and conclude there's any freedom? Only a neoliberal cult member. They cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be dissuaded. They cannot be persuaded. Only the market knows best, and the fact that the market is a corrupt, self serving whore is completely ignored by the ideology of their Church.
It's subsumed the entire planet, and waiting for them to see sense is a hopeless cause. In the end it'll probably take violence to rid us of the Neoliberal parasite... the turn of the century plague.@CaptainGrey -jazzdrum -> bullwinkle , 8 Jun 2013 05:51
"Capitalism, especially the beneficial capitalism of the NHS, free education etc. has won and countless people have gained as a result."
I agree with you and it was this beneficial version of capitalism that brought down the Iron Curtain. Working people in the former Communist countries were comparing themselves with working people in the west and wanted a piece of that action. Cuba has hung on because people there compare themselves with their nearest capitalist neighbor Haiti and they don't want a piece of that action. North Korea well North Korea is North Korea.
Isn't it this beneficial capitalism that is being threatened now though? When the wall came down it was assumed that Eastern European countries would become more like us. Some have but who would have thought that British working people would now be told, by the likes of Kwasi Kwarteng and his Britannia Unchained chums, that we have to learn to accept working conditions that are more like those in the Eastern European countries that got left behind and that we are now told that our version of Capitalism is inferior to the version adopted by the Communist Party of China?@bullwinkle - No , when Thatcher and Reagan deregulated the financial markets in the 80s, that's when the trouble began which in turn led to the immense crash in 2008.Eddiel899 , 8 Jun 2013 05:51Neo-liberalism is just another symptom of liberal democracy which is government by oligarchs with a veneer of democracy.WilliamAshbless -> CaptainGrey , 8 Jun 2013 05:49
This type of government began in America about 150 years ago with the Rockefellers, Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Ford etc who took advantage of new inventions, cheap immigrant labour and financial deregulation in finance and social mores to amass wealth for themselves and chaos and austerity for workers.
All this looks familiar again today with new and old oligarchs hiding behind large corporations taking advantage of the invention of the €uro, mass immigration into western Europe and deregulation of the financial "markets" and social mores to amass wealth for a super-wealthy elite and chaos and austerity for workers.
So if we want to see where things went wrong we need only go back 150 years to what happened to America. There we can also see our future?@CaptainGreycpp4ever -> CaptainGrey , 8 Jun 2013 05:41
The beneficial capitalism of the NHS, free education etc. has won
Free education and the NHS are state institutions. As Debbie said, Amazon never taught anyone to read. Beneficial capitalism is an oxymoron resulting from your lack of understanding.@CaptainGrey -ATrueFinn -> SpinningHugo , 8 Jun 2013 05:41
especially the beneficial capitalism of the NHS, free education etc. has won and countless people have gained as a result.
At one and the same time being privatized and having their funding squeezed, a direct result of the neoliberal dogma capitalism of austerity. Free access is being eroded by the likes of ever larger student loans and prescription costs for a start.@ SpinningHugo 08 June 2013 10:02am .succulentpork , 8 Jun 2013 05:36
Nah. They achieved this by copying the west.
I would not go that far. The Western Capitalist Party is only now getting to be as powerful as CCP and China started the "reforms" in the late 1970s.generalelection , 8 Jun 2013 05:26
they avoid their taxes, because they can, because they are more powerful than governments
Let's not get carried away here. Let's consider some of the things governments can do, subject only to a 5 yearly check and challenge:
- force people upon pain of imprisonment to pay taxes to them
- pay out that tax money to whomever they like
- spend money they don't have by borrowing against obligations imposed on future taxpayers without their agreement
- kill people in wars, often from the comfort of a computer screen thousands of miles away
- print money and give it to whomever they like,
- get rid of nation state currencies and replace them with a single, centrally controlled currency
- make laws and punish people who break them, including the ability to track them down in most places in the world if they try and run away.
- use laws to create monopolies and favour special interests
Let's now consider what power apple have...
- they can make iPhones and try to sell them for a profit by responding to the demands of the mass consumer market. That's it. In fact, they are forced to do this by their owners who only want them to do this, and nothing else. If they don't do this they will cease to exist.The state has merged with the corporations so that what is good for the corporations is good for the state and visa versa. The larger and richer the state/corporations are, the more shyster lawyers they hire to disguise misdeeds and unethical behavior.finnkn -> NeilThompson , 8 Jun 2013 05:20
If you support a big government, you are supporting big corporations as well. The government uses the taxpayer as an eternal fount of fresh money and calls it their own to spend as they please. Small businesses suffer unfairly because they cannot afford the shyster lawyers and accountants that protect the government and the corporations, but nobody cares about them. Remember, that Green Energy is big business, just like Big Pharma and Big Oil. Most government shills have personally invested in Green Energy not because they care about the environment, only because they know that it is a safe investment protected by government for government. The same goes for large corporations who befriend government and visa versa.
... ... ...@NeilThompson - It's all very well for Deborah to recommend that the well paid share work. Journalists, consultants and other assorted professionals can afford to do so. As a self-employed tradesman, I'd be homeless within a month.finnkn -> SpinningHugo , 8 Jun 2013 05:17@SpinningHugo - Interesting that those who are apparently concerned with prosperity for all and international solidarity are happy to ignore the rest of the world when it's going well, preferring to prophesy apocalypse when faced with government spending being slightly reduced at home.sedan2 -> Fachan , 8 Jun 2013 05:11@Fachan -KingOfNothing -> 1nn1t , 8 Jun 2013 05:03
Dont see a lot of solutions in this article - as long as our sentiments revolve around envy of the rich, we wont get very far
Yeah, there actually wasn't anything in this article which even smelled of "envy of the rich". Read it again.@1nn1t - That is a point which just isn't made enough. This is the first group of politicians for whom a global conflict seems like a distant event.REDLAN1 , 8 Jun 2013 05:03
As a result we have people like Blair who see nothing wrong with invading countries at a whim, or conservatives and UKIP who fail to understand the whole point of the European Court of Human Rights.
They seem to act without thought of our true place in the world, without regard for the truly terrible capacity humanity has for self destruction.Deborah's point about the illogical demands of neoliberalism are indeed correct, which is somewhat ironic as neoliberalism puts objective rationality at the heart of its philosophy, but I digress...Herbolzheim , 8 Jun 2013 04:49
The main problem with replacing neoliberalism with a more rational, and fairer system, entails that people like Deborah accept that they will be less wealthy. And that my friends is the main problem. People like Deborah, while they are more than happy to point the fingers at others, are less than happy to accept that they are also part of the problem.
(Generalisation Caveat: I don't know in actuality if Deborah would be unhappy to be less wealthy in exchange for a fairer system, she doesn't say)Good critique of conservative-neoliberalism, unless you subscribe to it and subordinate any morals or other values to it. She mentions an internal tension and I think that's because conservatism and neoliberal market ideology are different beasts.NotAgainAgain -> CaptainGrey , 8 Jun 2013 04:47@CaptainGrey -DavidPavett , 8 Jun 2013 04:45
There are different models of capitalism quite clearly the social democratic version in Scandinavia or the "Bismarkian" German version have worked a lot better than the UKs.EllisWyatt -> NotAgainAgain , 8 Jun 2013 04:43
Yet, mealy-mouthed and hotly contested as this minor mea culpa is, it's still a sign that financial institutions may slowly be coming round to the idea that they are the problem.
How is it a sign of that? We are offered no clues.
What they don't seem to acknowledge is that the merry days of reckless lending are never going to return;
Try reading a history of financial crashes to dislodge this idea.
... even if they do, the same thing will happen again, but more quickly and more savagely.
This may or may not be true but here it is mere assertion.
The IMF exists to lend money to governments, so it's comic that it wags its finger at governments that run up debt.
At this point I start to have real doubts as to whether Deborah Orr has actually read even the Executive Summary of the Report this article is ostensibly a response to.
All the comments that follow about the need for public infrastructure, education, regulated markets and so on are made as if they were a criticism of the IMF and yet the IMF says many of those same things itself. The IMF position may, of course, be contradictory - but then that is something that would need to be demonstrated. It seems that Deborah has not got beyond reading a couple of Guardian articles on the issues she discusses and therefore is in no position to do this.
Thus, for example in its review of world problems of Feb 2013 the IMF comments favorably that in Bangladesh in order to boost competitiveness
Efforts are being made to narrow the skills gap with other countries in the region, as the authorities look to take full advantage of Bangladesh's favorable demographics and help create conditions for more labor-intensive led growth. The government is also scaling up spending on education, science and technology, and information and communication technology.
Which seems to be the sort of thing Deborah Orr is calling for. She should spend a little time on the IMF website before criticising the institution. It is certainly one that merits much criticism - but it needs to be informed.
And the solution to the problems? For Deborah Orr the response
... from the start should have been a wholesale reevaluation of the way in which wealth is created and distributed around the globe, a "structural adjustment", as the philosopher John Gray has said all along.
Does anyone have any idea what this is supposed to mean? There are certainly no leads on this in the link given to "the philosopher" John Gray. And what a strange reference that is. John Gray, in his usual cynical mode, dismisses the idea of progress being achieved by the EU. But then I suppose that is consistent from a man who dismisses the idea of progress itself.
... Conservative neoliberalism is entirely without logic.
The first step in serious political analysis is to understand that the people one opposes are not crazy and are not devoid of logic. If that is not clearly understood then all that is left is the confrontation of assertion and contrary assertion. Of course Conservative neoliberalism has a logic. It is one I do not agree with but it is a logic all the same.
The neoliberalism that the IMF still preaches pays no account to any of this [the need for public investment and a recognition of the multiple roles that individuals have].
It insists that the provision of work alone is enough of an invisible hand to sustain a market.
This stuff can't be made up as you go along on the basis of reading a couple of newspaper articles. You actually have to do some hard reading to get to grip with the issues. I can see no signs of that in this piece.@NotAgainAgain - We are going off topic and that is in no small part down to my own fault, so apologies. Just to pick up the point, I guess my unease with the likes of Buffet, Cooper-Hohn or even the wealthy Guardian columnists is that they are criticizing the system from a position of power and wealth.NotAgainAgain -> mountman , 8 Jun 2013 04:43
So its easy to advocate change if you feel that you are in the vanguard of defining that change i.e. the reforms you advocate may leave you worse off, but at a level you feel comfortable with (the prime example always being Polly's deeply relaxed attitude to swingeing income tax increases when her own lifestyle will be protected through wealth).
I guess I am a little skeptical because I either see it as managed decline, a smokescreen or at worst mean spiritedness of people prepared to accept a reasonable degree of personal pain if it means other people whom dislike suffer much greater pain.
Again off topic so sorry about that@mountman -ATrueFinn -> SpinningHugo , 8 Jun 2013 04:42
The critical bit is this
"There is a clear legal basis in Germany for the workplace representation of employees in all but the very smallest companies. Under the Works Constitution Act, first passed in 1952 and subsequently amended, most recently in 2001, a works council can be set up in all private sector workplaces with at least five employees."
The UK needs to wake up to the fact that managers are sometimes inept or corrupt and will destroy the companies they work for, unless their are adequate mechanisms to hold poor management to account.@ SpinningHugo 08 June 2013 9:26amATrueFinn -> CaptainGrey , 8 Jun 2013 04:40
More people lifted out of poverty in China over the last 25 years than the entire population of South America.
Maybe we need the Chinese Communist Party to take over the world?@ CaptainGrey 08 June 2013 8:43amirishaxeman , 8 Jun 2013 04:40
Capitalism, especially the beneficial capitalism of the NHS, free education etc. has won
There would not be NHS, free education etc. without socialism; in fact they are socialism. It took the Soviet-style socialism ("statism") 70 years to collapse. The neoliberalistic capitalism has already started to collapse after 30 years.I'm always amused that neoliberal - indeed, capitalist - apologists cannot see the hypocrisy of their demands for market access. Communities create and sustain markets, fund and maintain infrastructure, produce and maintain new consumers. Yet the neolibs decry and destroy. Hypocrites or destructive numpties - never quite decided between Pickles and Gove, y'see.EllisWyatt -> JamesValencia , 8 Jun 2013 04:38@JamesValencia - Actually on reflection you are correct and I was wrong in my attack on the author above. Having re-read the article its a critique of institutions rather than people so my points were wide of the mark.bullwinkle -> bluebirds , 8 Jun 2013 04:38
I still think that well heeled Guardian writers aren't really in a position to attack the wealthy and politically connected, but I'll save that for a thread when they explicitly do so, rather than the catch all genie of neoliberalism.@bluebirds -snodgrass , 8 Jun 2013 04:36
@CaptainGrey - deregulated capitalism has failed. That is the product of the last 20 years. The pure market is a fantasy just as communism is or any other ideology. In a pure capitalist economy all the banks of the western world would have bust and indeed the false value "earned" in the preceding 20 years would have been destroyed.
If the pure market is a fantasy, how can deregulated capitalism have failed? Does one not require the other? Surely it is regulated capitalism that has failed?97% of all OUR money has been handed over to these scheming crooks. Stop bailing out the banks with QE. Take back what is ours -- state control over the creation of money. Then let the banks revert to their modest market-based function of financial intermediaries.EllisWyatt -> 1nn1t , 8 Jun 2013 04:35
The State can't be trusted to create our money? Well they could hardly do a worse job than the banks! Best solution would be to distribute state-created money as a Citizen's Income.@1nn1t - Some good points, there is a whole swathe of low earners that should not be in the tax system at all, simply letting them keep the money in their pocket would be a start.1nn1t -> Uncertainty , 8 Jun 2013 04:34
Second the minimum wage (especially in the SE) is too low and should be increased. Obviously the devil is in the detail as to the precise rate, the other issue is non compliance as there will be any number of businesses that try and get around this, through employing people too ignorant or scared to know any better or for family businesses - do we have the stomach to enforce this?
Thirdly there is a widespread reluctance to separate people from the largesse of the state, even at absurd levels of income such as higher rate payers (witness child tax credits). On the right they see themselves as having paid in and so are "entitled" to have something back and on the left it ensures that everyone has a vested interest in a big state dipping it hands into your pockets one day and giving you something back the next.
Broken systemBruceMullinger , 8 Jun 2013 04:31The only group of people in he UK to see that need were the generation that faced WW2 together. It's no accident that, joining up at 18 in 1939, they had almost all retired by 1984.
@Uncertainty - Which is why the people of the planet need to join hands.To promote the indecent obsession for global growth Australia, burdened with debt of around 250 billion dollars, is to borrow and pay interest on a further 7 billion dollars to lend to the International Monetary Fund so as it can lend it to poorer nations to burden them with debt.
It is entrapment which impoverishes nations into the surrender of sovereignty, democracy and national pride. In no way should we contribute to such economic immorality and the entire economic system based on perpetual growth fuelled by consumerism and debt needs top be denounced and dismantled. The adverse social and environmental consequence of perpetual growth defies all sensible logic and in time, in a more responsible and enlightened era, growth will be condemned.
Dec 03, 2018 | discussion.theguardian.comTedSmithAndSon -> theguardianisrubbish , 8 Jun 2013 12:24@theguardianisrubbish -Jacobsadder , 8 Jun 2013 11:35There is not a shred of logical sense in neoliberalism. You're doing what the fundamentalists do... they talk about what neoliberalism is in theory whilst completely ignoring what it is in practice.
Unless you are completely confused by what neoliberalism is there is not a shred of logical sense in this.
In theory the banks should have been allowed to go bust, but the consequences where deemed too high (as they inevitable are). The result is socialism for the rich using the poor as the excuse, which is the reality of neoliberalism.
Savers in a neoliberal society are lambs to the slaughter. Thatcher "revitalised" banking, while everything else withered and died.
Neoliberalism is based on the thought of personal freedom, communism is definitely not. Neoliberalist policies have lifted millions of people out of poverty in Asia and South America.
Neoliberalism is based on the thought that you get as much freedom as you can pay for, otherwise you can just pay... like everyone else. In Asia and South America it has been the economic preference of dictators that pushes profit upwards and responsibility down, just like it does here.
I find it ironic that it now has 5 year plans that absolutely must not be deviated from, massive state intervention in markets (QE, housing policy, tax credits... insert where applicable), and advocates large scale central planning even as it denies reality, and makes the announcement from a tractor factory.
Neoliberalism is a blight... a cancer on humanity... a massive lie told by rich people and believed only by peasants happy to be thrown a turnip. In theory it's one thing, the reality is entirely different. Until we're rid of it, we're all it's slaves. It's an abhorrent cult that comes up with purest bilge like expansionary fiscal contraction to keep all the money in the hands of the rich.Bloody well said Deborah!iluvanimals54 , 8 Jun 2013 07:58
Why, you have to ask yourself, is this vast implausibility, this sheer unsustainability, not blindingly obvious to all?
We all probably know the answer to this. In order to maintain the consent necessary to create inequality in their own interests the neoliberals have to tell big lies, and keep repeating them until they appear to be the truth. They've gotten so damn good at it.Today all politicians knee before the Altar that is Big Business and the Profit God, with his minions of multinational Angels.TedSmithAndSon , 8 Jun 2013 06:01Neoliberalism is a modern curse. Everything about it is bad and until we're free of it, it will only ever keep trying to turn us into indentured labourers.
It's acolytes are required to blind themselves to logic and reason to such a degree they resemble Scientologists or Jehovah's Witnesses more than people with any sort of coherent political ideology, because that's what neoliberalism actually is... a cult of the rich, for the rich, by the rich... and it's followers in the general population are nothing but moron familiars hoping one day to be made a fully fledged bastard.
Who could look at the way markets function and conclude there's any freedom? Only a neoliberal cult member. They cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be dissuaded. They cannot be persuaded. Only the market knows best, and the fact that the market is a corrupt, self serving whore is completely ignored by the ideology of their Church.
It's subsumed the entire planet, and waiting for them to see sense is a hopeless cause. In the end it'll probably take violence to rid us of the Neoliberal parasite... the turn of the century plague.
Dec 03, 2018 | www.bradford-delong.com
Thatcher (aka "Milk Snatcher" ) pushed neoliberalism and globalization as the solution of New Deal Capitalism problems. Now the UK arrived at the dead end of this "1 Neoliberal Road" and now needs to pay the price. So much for TINA.
From a pure propaganda standpoint, Neoliberalism is just a sanitized-sounding expression, to cover-up the fact that what we really see here is re-branded corporatist ideology.
That's why the crisis of neoliberalism created Renaissance for far-right movements in Europe, which now threaten to destroy its "globalization" component and switch to "national neoliberalism" (aka Trumpism) as the solution to the current crisis of neoliberalism ( aka "secular stagnation" which started in 2008).
Ideology is as dead as Bolshevik's ideology became in early 60th. And I see Trump as a somewhat similar figure to Khrushchev. An uneducated reformer with huge personal flaws, but still a reformer of "classic neoliberalism." Which was rejected by voters with Hillary Clinton, was not it ?
As financial oligarchy is pretty powerful and, as we now see, have intelligence agencies as a part of their "toolset", the trend right now is to rely on "patriotic military" and far-right nationalism to counter neoliberal globalization.
We will see where it would get us, but with oil over $100 Goldman employees might eventually really find themselves under fire like in Omaha beach.
Hayek, while a second rate economist, proved to be a talented theologian, and he managed to create what can be called "civil religion" not that different from Mormonism or Scientology.
It was mostly based on Trotskyism rebranded for financial elite instead of the proletariat and the network of think tanks instead of "professional revolutionaries" of the Communist Party ("Financial oligarchy of all countries unite", "All power to Goldman Sacks and Bank of America," etc.).
Pope Francis did a pretty good theological analysis of this secular religion in his Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, 2013. Rephrasing Oscar Wilde, we can say that "objective analysis is the analysis of ideologies we do not like".
He pointed out that neoliberalism explicitly rejects the key idea of Christianity -- the idea of equal and ultimate justice for all sinners as a noble social goal. The idea that a human being should struggle to create justice ( including "economic justice") in this world even if the ultimate solution is beyond his grasp. "Greed is good" is as far from Christianity as Satanism.
As Reinhold Niebuhr noted a world where there is only one center of power and authority (financial oligarchy under neoliberalism) "preponderant and unchallenged... its world rule almost certainly violate the basic standard of justice".
Here are selected quotes from Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, 2013
... Such a [neoliberal] economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a "disposable" culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its fringes or it's disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the "exploited" but the outcast, the "leftovers."
54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.
Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
cgoodwood 19 Sep 2015 11:40
Do not contradict the memories of all the old teabaggers who desperately need the myth of Saint Ronnie to justify their Greed is Good declining mentality and years.
When Reagan cut-and-ran on Lebanon he showed rare discretion. A lot of the puffery stuff was B-Movie grade, but there was a lot of cross-the-aisle ventures, too.
He was a politician. The current GOP is just a bunch of white Fundie bullies, actually and metaphorically (e.g., Carson).
Zepp -> thedono 19 Sep 2015 11:37
Well, compared to Cruz, or Santorum, or Huckabee, he's a moderate. Of course, compared to the right people, you can describe Mussolini or Khruschev as moderates...
mastermisanthrope 19 Sep 2015 11:37
LostintheUS -> William J Rood 19 Sep 2015 11:36
Reagan underwent a political conversion when Nancy broke up his marriage with Jane Wyman and married him.
LostintheUS 19 Sep 2015 11:33
Here is the Reagan administration in a five second video clip:
LostintheUS -> inchoateruffian 19 Sep 2015 11:32
Here is the video clip where Don Regan (former CEO of Merrill Lynch) tells PRESIDENT Reagan to "speed it up".
RightSaid -> ID3732233 19 Sep 2015 11:31
The cold war ended while Reagan was president, but he did not win the cold war. His rhetoric and strategy was wishful thinking - there's no way he could have had the definitive intelligence about the entire military-political-economic that would have justified the confidence he projected. He merely lucked out, significantly damaging the US economy by trying (and luckily succeeding) to out-militarize the soviets.
pretzelattack -> kattw 19 Sep 2015 11:31
both clinton and obama have showed a willingness to "reform social security". try naked capitalism, there are probably a number of articles in the archives.
LostintheUS -> piethein 19 Sep 2015 11:29
And that the emergency room federally funded program that saved his life was soon after defunded...by him.
LostintheUS -> pretzelattack 19 Sep 2015 11:28
Many of us saw through him...I noted the senility during his speeches during his first campaign...as did many people I knew.
pretzelattack -> 4Queeen4country 19 Sep 2015 11:27
thatcher said of reagan "bit of a dim bulb..."
Jim Loftus 19 Sep 2015 11:26
Dementia masquerading as politics.
But you can't say anything negative about Saint Ronald!
Peter Davis -> Peter Davis 19 Sep 2015 11:22
I believe Reagan also is responsible for creating the Hollywood notion in American politics and political thinking that life works just like a movie--with good guys and bad guys. And all one needs is a gun and you can save the world. That sort of delusional thinking has been at the heart of the modern GOP ever since.
loljahlol -> ID3732233 19 Sep 2015 11:21
Reagan did not end the Cold War. Brezhnev rule solidified the Soviet death. Their corrupt, inefficient form of capitalism could not compete with the globalization of Western capitalism.
John78745 19 Sep 2015 11:21
There's not much nuance to Reagan. He was a coward, a bully and a loser. He got hundreds of U.S. Marines killed then he ran from the terrorists in Beirut and on the Archille Lauro personally creating the seeds of the morass of terrorists we now live with. He fostered the republican traditions of sending U.S. jobs overseas at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and of invading helpless, hapless nations, a tradition so adeptly followed by Bush I & II. He also promised that there would never be a need for another amnesty.
I guess it's true that he talked mean to the Russians, broke unions, and helped make the military industrial complex into the insatiable war machine that it is today. Remember murderous Iran-Contra (a real) scandal where he and his minions worked in secret without congressional authorization to overthrow a democratically elected government while conspiring to supply arms to the dastardly Iranians!
We could also say that he bravely fought to save the U.S. from socialized medicine and to expunge the tradition of free tuition for California students. Whatta hero!
thankgodimanatheist 19 Sep 2015 11:19
Reagan, the acting President, was the worst President since WWII until the Cheney/Bush debacle.
Most of the problems we face today can be directly traced to his voodoo economics, huge deficit spending, deregulation, and in retrospect disastrous foreign policies.
LostintheUS 19 Sep 2015 11:17
"these days everyone seems to love Ronald."
Absolutely, not true. The farther along we go in time, the more Americans realize the damage this man and his backers did to America and the world. The inversion of the tax tables, the undoing of union laws, the polarization of Americans against each other so the plutocrats had no real opposition and on and on. His camp stole the election in 1980 through making a back door deal with the Iranian government to hold onto the American hostages until the election when Jimmy Carter had negotiated an end to the hostage crisis, which was the undoing of Jimmy Carter's administration.
"Behind Carter's back, the Reagan campaign worked out a deal with the leader of Iran's radical faction - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini - to keep the hostages in captivity until after the 1980 Presidential election." This is, unquestionably, treason. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/20287-without-reagans-treason-iran-would-not-be-a-problem
No, Reagan marks the downward turn for our country and has resulted in the economic and social mess we still have not clawed our way back out of. No, Reagan is no hero, he is an American nemesis and a traitor. Reagan raised taxes three times while slashing the tax rate of the super rich...starting the downward spiral of the middle-class and the funneling of money toward the 1%. Thus his reputation as a "tax cutter", yeah, if you were a multi-millionaire.
Check this out for a synopsis of the damage: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/10/942453/-How-Ronald-Reagan-s-Policies-Destroyed-the-United-States#
namora -> nogapsallowed 19 Sep 2015 11:15
Never thought of Reagan as the first Shrub but it fits. I wonder if future pundits will sing the Dub's praises as well. I think I'm gonna be sick for a bit.
kattw -> namora 19 Sep 2015 11:10
Pretzel is maybe talking about the 'strengthen SS' bandwagon? Perhaps? Not entirely sure myself, but yeah - one of the major democrat platform planks is that SS should NOT be privatized, and that if people want to invest in stocks, they can do that on their own. The whole point of SS is to be a mattress full of cash that is NOT vulnerable to the vagaries of the market, and will always have some cash in it to be used as needed.
SS would be totally secure, too, if congress would stop robbing it for other projects, or pay back all they've borrowed. As it is, I wish *I* was as broke as republicans claim SS is - I wouldn't mind having a few billion in the bank.
William J Rood 19 Sep 2015 11:08
Reagan was former president of the Screen Actors' Guild. Obviously, he thought unions for highly educated workers were great. Meatpackers? Not so much.
RealSoothsayer 19 Sep 2015 11:04
This article does not mention the fact that in his last couple of years as President at least, his mental state had seriously deteriorated. He could not remember his own policies, names, etc. CBS' Leslie Stahl should be prosecuted for not being honest with her everyone when she found out.
Peter Davis 19 Sep 2015 11:04
Reagan was a failed president who nonetheless managed to convince people that he was great. He was a professional actor, after all. And he acted his way into the White House. Most importantly, he changed American politics forever by demonstrating that style was more important than substance. In fact, he showed that style was everything and substance utterly unimportant. He was the figurehead while his handlers did the dirty work of Iran-Contra, ballooning deficits, and tanking unemployment.
nishville 19 Sep 2015 11:03
For me, he was a pioneer. He was the first sock-puppet president, starting a noble tradition that reached its climax with W.
mbidding -> hackerkat 19 Sep 2015 11:03
In addition to:
Treasonous traitor when, as a presidential candidate, he negotiated with Khomeini to hold the hostages till after the election.
Subverter of the Constitution via the Iran-Contra scandal.
Destroyer of social cohesion by turning JFK's famous admonishment of "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" on its head with his meme that all evil emanates from the government and taxation represents stealing rather than a social obligation for any civilized society that wishes to continue to develop in a sound fashion that lifts all boats.
Incarcerator in Chief through his tough on crime and war on drugs policies, not to mention defunding mental health care.
Pisser in Chief through his successful efforts to imbed trickle down economics as the economic thought du jour which even its original architects, notably Stockman, now confirm is a failed theory that we nonetheless cling to to this day.
Ignoramus in Chief by gutting real federal financial aid for higher education leading to the obscene amounts of student debt our college students now incur.
Terrorist creator extraordinaire not only with the creation of the Latin American death squads you note, but the creation, support, trading, and funding of the mujahedin and Bin Laden himself, now known as the Taliban, Al Qa'ida, and ISIS, only the most notable among others.
namora -> trholland1 19 Sep 2015 10:59
That is not taking into account his greatest role for which he was ignored for a much deserved Oscar, Golden Globe or any of the other awards passed out by the entertainment industry, President of The United States of America. He absolutely nailed that one.
William J Rood 19 Sep 2015 10:58
Conservatives used "bracket creep" to convince the middle class that reducing marginal rates on the top tax brackets along with their own would be a good idea, then with the assistance of Democrats replaced the revenue with a huge increase in FICA so that the Social Security Trust Fund could finance the deficit in the rest of the budget. The result was a huge boon to the richest, little difference for the middle class, and a far greater burden for the working poor.
Tax brackets could have been indexed to inflation, but that wouldn't have been so great for Reagans real supporters.
Doueman 19 Sep 2015 10:55
What sad comments by these armchair experts.
They don't gel with my experiences in North America during this period at all. When Reagan ran for the presidency he was generally ridiculed by much of the press in the US and just about all of the press in the UK for being a right wing fanatic, a lightweight, too old, uninformed and even worse an actor. I found this rather curious and watched him specifically on TV in unscripted scenarios to form my own impression as to how such a person, with supposedly limited abilities, could possibly run for President of the US. I get a bit suspicious when organisations and individuals protest and ridicule too much.
My reaction was that he handled himself well and gradually concluded that the mainly Eastern liberal press in the US couldn't really stomach a California actor since they themselves were meant to know everything. He actually was pretty well read ( visitors were later astonished to read his multiple annotations in heavy weight books in his library). He was a clever and astute union negotiator dealing with some of the toughest Hollywood moguls who would eat most negotiators for dinner. He had become Governor of California and had done a fine job. I thought it was unlikely he was the simpleton many portrayed. He couldn't be easily categorised as he embraced many good aspects of the Democrats and the Republicans. Life wasn't so polarised then.
The US had left leaning Republicans and right wing Democrats. A political party as Churchill noted was simply a charger to ride into action.
In my view, his presidential record was pretty remarkable. A charming, fair minded charismatic man without the advantage of a wealthy background or influential family. The world was lucky to have him.
raffine -> particle 19 Sep 2015 10:50
Reagan's second term was a disaster. But as someone below mentioned, conservative pundits and their financers engaged in a campaign to make Reagan into a right-wing FDR. The most effective, albeit bogus, claim on Reagan's behalf was that he had ended the Cold War.
jpsartreny 19 Sep 2015 14:22
Reagan is the shadow governments greatest triumph. After the adolescent Kennedy, egomaniacs Johnson and Nixon , they needed front guys who followed orders instead .
The experiment with the peanut farmer from Georgia provided disastrous to Zebrew Brzezinski and the liberals. The conservatives had better luck with a B- movie actor with an great talent to read of the teleprompter.
RealSoothsayer -> semper12 19 Sep 2015 14:19
How? By talking? Gobachev brought down the USSR with his 'Glasnost' and 'Perestroika' policies. His vision was what communist China later on achieved: mixed economy that flies a red flag. Reagan was just an observer, absolutely nothing more. Tito of Yugoslavia was even more instrumental.
Marc Herlands 19 Sep 2015 14:17
IMHO Reagan was the second most successful president, behind FDR and ahead of LBJ. Not that I liked anything about him, but he moved this country to the right and set the play book. He lowered taxes on the wealthy, the corporations, capital gains, and estate taxes. He reduced growth in programs for the poor, and made it impossible to increase their funding after his presidency because of he left huge federal deficits caused by lowering taxes and increasing outlays on the military. This Republican playbook still is their way of making sure that the Democrats can't give the poor more money after they lose power. Also, he enlarged the program for deregulating industries, doing away with antitrust laws, hindering labor laws, encouraged anti-union behavior, and did nothing for AIDS research. He was a scoundrel who did a deal with Iran to prevent Carter from being re-elected. He directly disobeyed Congressional laws not to intervene in Nicaragua. He set the tone for US interventions after him.
bloggod 19 Sep 2015 14:17
Obama, Clinton, and the Bushes all hope to be forgiven for their unpardonable crimes.
Popularity is created. It is not populism, or informed consent of the pubic as approval for more of the same collusion.
It is a One Party hoe down.
bloggod -> SigmetSue 19 Sep 2015 14:12
the indicted Sec of Defense Weinberger; the indicted head of the CIA Casey who "died" as he was due to testify: Mcfarlane, Abrams, Clair George, Oilyver North, Richard Secord, Albert Hakim
Reagan had no genius, he had Bush-CIA and the Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, and the "immoral majority" of anti-abortion war profiteers.
Marios Antoniou Lattimore 19 Sep 2015 13:52
I agree with everything you mentioned, and I intensely dislike Reagan YET the point of the article wasn't that Reagan was good, it rather points to the fact that Republicans have shifted so far to the right that Reagan would appear moderate compared to the current batch.
Rainer Jansohn pretzelattack 19 Sep 2015 13:52
Interesting had been his speeches during the Cold War.Scientists have subsumed it under "Social Religion",a special form of political theology.Simple dialectical:UDSSR the incarnation of the evil/hell on the other side USA :the country of God himself.A tradition in USA working until now.There is no separation between government and church as in good old centuries sincetwo centuries resulting from enlightening per Philosophie/Voltaire/Kant/Hume/Descartes and so on.Look at Obamas speeches/God is always mixed in!
talenttruth 19 Sep 2015 13:49
Any conversation about who the fantasy-projection "Reagan" was, misses an important reality: He was a hologram, fabricated by a kaleidoscope of various sorts of so-called "conservative" handlers and puppeteers. It was those "puppeteers" who ranged from heartlessly, stunningly "conservative" (destroya-tive), all the way further right to the kind of militaristic, macho, crackpots who have finally emerged from under their rocks at this year's "candidates."
The fact that Reagan was going ga-ga – definitely in his second term, and likely for part of the first – was entirely convenient for his Non-Human-Based-Crackpot-Right-Holographers, since he had was not actually "driven" to vacuousness by a tragic mental condition (dementia) – THAT change was merely a "short putt" – from his entire previous life.
Regarding his Great Achievement, the collapse of the Soviet Union? After decades of monstrous over-spending by the USA's Military-Industrial-Complex, the bogus and equally insane USSR finally bankrupted itself trying to "compete" and fell. Reagan (and his puppeteer handlers), always excellent at Taking Credit for anything, showed up with exquisite cynical timing, and indeed Took Credit.
Lest anyone forget, Reagan got elected in 1980, via a totally illegal and stunningly immoral "side deal" with the Iranians, in which they agreed to not release our hostages to make Carter look like a feeble old man. Then we got Reagan who WAS a "feeble old man" (ESPECIALLY intellectually and morally). Reagan "won," the hostages were "released" and he of course took credit for that too.
So all these so-called "candidates" ARE the heirs of all the very worst of Ronald Reagan: they are all simpleminded, they are totally beholden to Hidden Sociopathic Billionaires hiding behind various curtains, and they all have NO CLUE what the word "ethics" means. Vacuous, anti-intellectual, scheming, appealing only to morons, and puppets all. Perfect "Reaganites."
Bill Ehrhorn -> semper12 19 Sep 2015 13:32
It seems that the teabaggers and their ilk give only Reagan credit.
SigmetSue 19 Sep 2015 13:16
They called him the Teflon President because nothing ever stuck. It still doesn't. That was his genius -- and I'm no fan.
Lattimore 19 Sep 2015 13:13
The article seems to present Reagan as an theatrical figure. I disagree. Reagan, President of the United States, was a criminal; as such, he was among the most corrupt and anti democratic person to hold the office POTUS. The fact that he tripled the national debt, raised taxes and skewed the tax schedules to benifit the wealthy, are comparitively minor.
Reagan's crimes and anti democratic acts:
1. POTUS: CIA smuggling cocaine into the U.S., passing the drug to wholesalers, who then processed the drug and distributed crack to Black communities. At the same time Reagan's "War on Crime" insured that the Black youth who bought "Central Intelligenc Agencie's" cocaine were criminalized and handed lengthy prison sentences.
2. POTUS supported SOUTH AMERICAN terrorist, and the genocidal atrocities commited by terrorist in Chili, Guatamala, El Mazote, etc.
3. POTUS supported SOUTH AFRICAN apartheid, and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela as well. Vetoing a bill that would express condemnation of South Africa.
4. POTUS sold Arms to Iran.
5. POTUS used taxpayer dollars to influence election outcomes.
6. POTUS rigged government grants to enrich his cronies.
7. POTUS thew mental patients onto the streets.
8. POTUS supported McCarthyism, witch hunts, etc.
9. POTUS created and supported Islamic terrorist--fore runners of al Queada, ISIS, etc.
Niko2 LostintheUS 19 Sep 2015 13:12
I don't have much love for Nancy, but she did not break up this marriage, to be fair. And she actually got rid off the extreme right wingers in Reagan's administration, like Haig and Regan, whom she called "extra chromosome republicans". Surely she was a vain and greedy flotus with no empathy whatsoever for people not in her Bel Air circles (I can easily imagine her, "Do I really have to go and see these Aids-Babies, I'd rather shop at Rodeo Drive, lose the scheduler") but she realized at an early stage that hubbies shtick-it-to-the-commies policies would do him no favour. Maybe she's the unsung heroine of his presidency.
tommydog -> MtnClimber 19 Sep 2015 13:04
The principle subsidies to big oil are probably the strategic oil reserve and subsidies to low income people for winter heating oil. You can choose which of those you'd like to cut. After that you're arguing about whether exploration costs should be expensed in the year incurred or capitalized and amortized over time.
WilliamK 19 Sep 2015 13:03
He was one of J Edgar Hoover's red baiting fascist admiring boys along with Richard Nixon and Walt Disney used to destroy the labor unions, control the propaganda machine of Hollywood and used to knuckle under the television networks and undermine as much as possible the New Deal polices of Franklin Roosevelt. An actor groomed by the General Electric Corporation and their fellow travelers. "Living better through electricity" was his mantra and he played the role of President to push forward their right wing agenda. Now we are in new stage in our "political development" in America. The era of the "reality television star" with Hollywood in bed with the military industrial complex, selling guns, violence and sex to the fool hardy and their children and prime time television ads push pharmaceutical drugs, children hear warnings of four hour erections, pop-stars flash their tits and asses and a billionaire takes center stage as the media cashes in and goes along for the ride. Yeah Ronnie was a second tier film star and with his little starlet Nancy by his side become one of America's greatest salesman.
Backbutton 19 Sep 2015 12:57
LOL! Reagan was a walking script renderer, with lines written by others, and a phony because he was just acting the part of POTUS. His speeches were all crafted, and he had good writers.
He was no Abraham Lincoln.
And now these morons running for office all want to rub off his "great communicator" fix.
Good help America!
Milwaukee Broad 19 Sep 2015 12:49
Ronald Reagan was an actor whom the depressingly overwhelming majority of American voters thought was a messiah. They so believed in him that they re-elected him to a second term. Nothing positive whatsoever became of his administration, yet he is still worshiped by millions of lost souls (conservatives).
Have a nice day.
Michael Williams 19 Sep 2015 12:48
The US was the world's leading creditor when Reagan took office. The US was the world's leading debtor by the time Bush 1 was tossed out of office.
This is what Republicans cannot seem to remember.
All of the other scandals pale in comparison, even as we deal with the blowback from most of these original, idiotic policies.
Reagan was an actor, mouthing words he barely understood, especially as his dementia progressed.
This is the exact reason the history is so poorly taught in the US.
People might make connections....
Jessica Roth 19 Sep 2015 12:46
Oh, he had holes in his brain long before the dementia. "Facts are stupid things", trees cause pollution, and so on.
A pathetic turncoat who sold out his original party (the one that kept his dad in work throughout the Great Depression via a series of WPA jobs) because Nancy allegedly "gave the best head in Hollywood" and who believed that only 144,000 people were going to Heaven, presumably accounting for his uncaring treatment of the less-well-off.
His administration was full of corruption, from Richard Allen's $1000 in an envelope (and three wristwatches) that he claimed was an inappropriate gift for Mrs. Reagan he had "intercepted" and then "forgotten" to report to William Casey trading over $3,000,000 worth of stocks while CIA director. (Knowing about changes in the oil market ahead of time sure came in handy.) You had an attorney general who took a $50,000 "severance payment" (never done before) from the board of a corporation he resigned from to avoid conflict of interest charges and this was William French Smith; his successor, Edwin Meese, was the one with real scandals (about the sale of his home).
Hell, Reagan himself put his ranch hand (Dennis LeBlanc) on the federal payroll as an "advisor" to the Commerce Department. I didn't know the Commerce Dept needed "advice" on clearing wood from St. Ronnie's ranch, but LeBlanc got a $58,500 salary out of the deal. (Roughly £98,000 at today's prices.) Nice work if you can get it.
Meanwhile, RR "talked tough" at the Soviets (resulting in the world nearly ending in 1983 due to a false alarm about a US nuclear attack) while propping up any rightwing dictator they could find, from the South African racists to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (after they had Aquino assassinated at the airport) to Roberto "Death Squad" D'Aubuisson in El Salvador (the man who masterminded the assassination of Archbishop Romero while he was performing Mass).
Oh, and while Carter did a nice job of shooting himself in the foot, Reagan benefited in the election not only from his treasonous dealings with the Iranian hostage-takers (shades of Nixon making a deal with North Viet Nam to stall the peace talks until after the 1968 elections, promising them better terms) but through more pedestrian means such as his campaign's stealing of Carter's briefing book for the campaign's only debate, Reagan being coached for the debate by a supposedly neutral journalist (George Will, of ABC and The Washington Post), who then went on television afterwards (in the days when there were only three commercial channels) and "analysed" how successful Reagan had been in executing his "game plan" and seeming "Presidential" without either Will or ABC bothering to mention that Will had coached Reagan and designed the "game plan" in question. The "liberal bias" in the media, no doubt.
Always a joke, only looking slightly better by the dross that has followed him. (Including Bill "Third Way" Clinton and his over-£50,000,000 in post-Presidential "speaking fees" graft, and Barack Obama, drone-murderer of children in over a dozen countries and serial-summary-executioner of U.S. citizens. When Gordon-effing-Brown is the best that's held office on either side of the Atlantic since 1979, you can see how this planet is in the state it's in.)
pretzelattack DukeofMelbourne 19 Sep 2015 12:45
his stand on russia was inconsistent, and he didn't cause it to collapse. his economic programs were a failure. his foreign policy generally a disaster. he set the blueprint for the current mess.
pretzelattack semper12 19 Sep 2015 12:38
a total crock. reagan let murdering thugs run rampant as long as they paid lip service to democracy, the world over from africa to central america. the ussr watched this coward put 240 marines to die in lebanon, and then cut and run, exactly the pattern he was so ready to condemn as treason in others, and was so ready to portray as showing weakness, and you think the ussr was terrified of him. he was a hollywood actor playing a role, and you bought it.
Tycho1961 19 Sep 2015 12:13
No President exists in a political vacuum. While he was in office, Reagan had a large Democrat majority in the House of Representatives and a small Republican majority in the Senate. The Supreme Court was firmly liberal. Whatever his political agenda Reagan knew he had to constructively engage with people of both parties that were in opposition to him. If he didn't he would suffer the same fate as Carter, marginalized by even his own party. His greatest strength was as a negotiator. Reagan's greatest failures were when he tried to be clever and he and his advisors were found to be rather ham handed about it.
RichardNYC 19 Sep 2015 11:57
The principal legacy of Ronald Reagan is the still prevalent view that corporate interests supersede individual interests.
Harry Haff 19 Sep 2015 11:45
Reagan did many horrible things while in office, committed felonies and supported murderous regimes in Central America that murdered tens of thousands of people with the blessing of the US chief executive. he sold arms to Iran and despoiled the natural environment whenever possible. But given those horrendous accomplishments, he could not now get a seat at the table with the current GOP. He would be considered a RINO, that most stupid and inaccurate term, at best, and a closet liberal somewhere down the line. The current GOP is more to the right than the politicians in the South after the Civil War.
Dani Rodrik:Trade within versus between nations: ...economics does not offer unconditional policy prescriptions. Every graduate student learns that depending on the background specifications, any policy x can be good or bad. A minimum wage can lower or raise employment (depending on whether employers have monopsony power); a natural resource discovery can raise or lower growth (depending on the likelihood of the Dutch disease); fiscal consolidation can expand or contract output (depending on the respective strengths of expectational versus Keynesian effects). And yes, the dictum that free trade benefits a nation depends on a long list of qualifying conditions.So the proper response to the question "is free trade good?" is, as always, "it depends." When an economist says "I support free trade" s/he must mean that s/he judges the circumstances under which free trade would not be desirable to be very rare or unlikely to obtain in the context at hand.Many of the conditions under which free trade between nations is guaranteed to be desirable are unlikely to hold in practice. Market imperfections, returns to scale, macro imbalances, absence of first-best policy instruments are ubiquitous in the real world, particularly in the developing world on which I spend most of my time. This does not guarantee that import restrictions will be necessarily desirable. There are many ways in which governments can screw up, even when they mean well. But it does mean that a knee-jerk free trader response is faith-based rather than science-based. ...
[He goes on to answer a question about differential support for trade within nations versus trade between nations.]
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, September 18, 2015 at 10:50 AM in Economics, International Trade, Market Failure | Permalink Comments (16)
"economics does not offer unconditional policy prescriptions. Every graduate student learns that depending on the background specifications, any policy x can be good or bad."
Thank you Dani! This statement holds in general but in particular on the issue of free trade. I've loved his old post where he admitted he had to endure a class taught by William Kristol and Kristol gave this brilliant man only a C.
All conservative economics is faith based (along with everything else they believe). Delusional is another good descriptor.
DrDick -> Paine ...
Fair trade might actually be a good thing, but that is not what "Free trade" generally means. Mostly it means freedom for capital, chains for labor, and devastation for the environment.
About the fact that economists do not offer unconditional policy prescriptions, especially when it comes to free trade and "the dictum that free trade benefits a nation depends on a long list of qualifying conditions". One thing I have to strenuously say about that: BULLSHALONEY!
All I heard in my econ classes were the benefits of free trade. EVERYONE drank the kool aid! I even had a prof who had worked in the Council of Economic Advisors and his role was to review trade policies. He told us flat out he would ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS support any and all free trade agreements that came up, without ANY regard to damage done to domestic firms and/or workers. Paul Krugman wrote one of our text books which, like many econ textbooks at the time, had WHOLE chapters dedicated to debunking free trade myths! Now you are going to tell me that economists never take a stand on a policy position as being good or bad?! ARE YOU KIDDING?
Pgl I have seen you post and have agreed with you many times, but not on this one, hell no!
MacAuley -> Stubborn1...
You are so right, Stubborn1. I have taken at least six international econ courses, and in every case the prof was strongly in favor of "free trade", usually the more the merrier. Last year, as a refresher I took an internet Int'l Econ course at "Marginal Revolution University", which was surprisingly good except for the relentless free-trade propaganda.
Friday, May 15th, 2015, "Details of President Barack Obama's proposed trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership, have been kept secret, and the deal itself is kept in a locked room guarded by men with guns, with members of Congress having to schedule an appointment and jump through hoops just to actually read the massive proposed treaty.
Let me tell you what you have to do to read this agreement. Follow this: You can only take a few of your staffers who happen to have a security clearance, because - God knows why - this is secure. This is classified. It's nothing to do with defense," said Boxer.
Boxer then described how she was forced to turn over her cell phone and was prevented from even taking notes while looking over the 800-plus page trade treaty.
"So I go down with my staff that I could get to go with me, and as soon as I get there, the guard says to me, 'Hand over your electronics. Okay. I give over my electronics. Then the guard says, 'You can't take notes.' I said, 'I cannot take notes?'" said Boxer.
Some have taken to calling the TPP treaty "Obamatrade," in reference to the secretive nature in which Obamacare was written and how then-House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi infamously claimed, "We have to pass it to find out what's in it."
At the heart of the TPP is something referred to as a "living agreement provision," which means the treaty can be amended or changed at any time after it is ratified, without congressional approval, essentially handing over U.S. sovereignty and subjugating U.S. businesses and workers to international laws, according to CNS News.
While this treaty is being promoted as being about FREE TRADE, it is really just a massive corporatist agreement that gives increased authority to major international corporations, which will hurt both American labor unions and small businesses.
Conservatives need to look past the pleasant sounding platitudes put forward by the Establishment Republicans who are supporting this massive secret deal that only benefits major international corporations, and (gulp) team up with socialists like Sen. Elizabeth Warren to kill this deal, which will only hurt America in the long run.
It's sole purpose is to "level the playing field" - which means taking America down to the same level as everyone else."
Second Best -> Kenneth...
'At the heart of the TPP is something referred to as a "living agreement provision," which means the treaty can be amended or changed at any time after it is ratified, without congressional approval, essentially handing over U.S. sovereignty and subjugating U.S. businesses and workers to international laws, according to CNS News.'
what's new, this is SOP in the U.S., don't bother to read the fine print, it's out of date before the ink is dry, like hospitals that don't accept same day payment on site, then submit individual bills showing up months later from every damn person within 50 ft of the patient and refuse to confirm if there's more
and Scott Walker is busting up unions with right to work laws so labor can have the same power under a 'living agreement' as hospitals to charge for services provided.
MacAuley -> Kenneth...
It's not accurate to call TPP "Obamatrade" since the concept was developed and fleshed out in 2007 and 2008 under the Bush Administration. Most of the work was managed at the SES level, since the Bush Administration was pretty lame-duck by then and most of the political appointees were looking for jobs. But the Bush Administration at the cabinet level gave approval for the exploratory discussions and conceptual analysis of a TPP.
By the time Obama arrived in 2009 there was a coherent TPP initiative ready for the Obama Administration to consider. I doubt that Obama had heard of TPP before he came to Washington, but it wasn't long before the Obama Administration decided to go forward with it.
Dani is a source of wisdom and shrewdness
A combo rarely combined in one head
... ... ...
Dani Rodrik:Trade within versus between nations: ...economics does not offer unconditional policy prescriptions. Every graduate student learns that depending on the background specifications, any policy x can be good or bad. A minimum wage can lower or raise employment (depending on whether employers have monopsony power); a natural resource discovery can raise or lower growth (depending on the likelihood of the Dutch disease); fiscal consolidation can expand or contract output (depending on the respective strengths of expectational versus Keynesian effects). And yes, the dictum that free trade benefits a nation depends on a long list of qualifying conditions.So the proper response to the question "is free trade good?" is, as always, "it depends." When an economist says "I support free trade" s/he must mean that s/he judges the circumstances under which free trade would not be desirable to be very rare or unlikely to obtain in the context at hand.Many of the conditions under which free trade between nations is guaranteed to be desirable are unlikely to hold in practice. Market imperfections, returns to scale, macro imbalances, absence of first-best policy instruments are ubiquitous in the real world, particularly in the developing world on which I spend most of my time. This does not guarantee that import restrictions will be necessarily desirable. There are many ways in which governments can screw up, even when they mean well. But it does mean that a knee-jerk free trader response is faith-based rather than science-based. ...
[He goes on to answer a question about differential support for trade within nations versus trade between nations.]
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, September 18, 2015 at 10:50 AM in Economics, International Trade, Market Failure | Permalink Comments (16)
Economist Paul Krugman recently decried "zombie economics," policies advocated by "free-market fundamentalists [who] have been wrong about everything yet now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever." I share his chagrin, but suggest that the problem is that Krugman was wrong to also assert that "economics is not a morality play." In fact, I believe that defeating the zombie-like resilience of laissez faire capitalism will require directly refuting the moral belief in the inherent fairness of free market outcomes.
Consider a recent suggestion by Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, former Chairman of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, that tax policy should be based on a "Just Deserts Theory" under which "people should get what they deserve." This principle, a restatement of Equity Theory, proposed by psychologist John Adams in 1963 to explain how people evaluated distributional fairness, has long played a central role in tax debates, and is one that I, like many liberals, heartily endorse. Indeed, I think that widespread support for free markets is based more on belief in their inherent morality than on belief that they promote economic growth, potentially explaining the religious fervor of free-market fundamentalists defending their faith despite the considerable counter-evidence provided by recent events.
Mankiw concisely summarizes the theory underlying the ethical argument for market capitalism: "under a standard set of assumptions... the factors of production [i.e., workers] are paid the value of their marginal product... One might easily conclude that, under these idealized conditions, each person receives his just deserts." Mankiw's long-standing opposition to higher taxes on the wealthy suggests that he thinks these conditions usually pertain in the real world, too.
Consider me skeptical. The list of "standard assumptions" open to question is long, but two are particularly problematic (Northwestern economist Jonathan Weinstein has critiqued several others). First, how can we be sure that marginal productivity is the same as social contribution? A safe cracker in a criminal gang may indeed receive loot equal to his marginal productivity, but this doesn't mean that he is creating social wealth. Thus, financial industry profits accounted for over 40 percent of all corporate profits in 2004-5, but does anyone seriously contend that Wall Street created (rather than redistributed) 40 percent of wealth during that period?
The second problem is one that Mankiw himself acknowledges when he comments that the dramatic growth in income at the very top of the economic pyramid might be thought of as a lottery, with a few lucky winners reaping the lion's share of rewards. As economists Robert Frank and Philip Cook point out in their book The Winner Take All Society, technological change and ever-larger markets have caused small differences in ability, effort or luck to translate into large differences in income. Economic theory says that such "tournament rewards" create an incentive for individuals to exert maximal effort, consistent with just deserts as long as you don't mind that "losers" get much less despite trying nearly (or just) as hard. But theory also says that tournament rewards create an incentive for people to sabotage the efforts of others and to take on as much risk as possible. Given the role that excess risk played in Wall Street's meltdown, this is hardly a ringing endorsement for the fairness (or efficiency) of free market outcomes.
So Mankiw's "easy" conclusion that markets deliver just deserts depends critically on his own moral intuition about what is just. Given humanity's well-known ability to convince ourselves that what is in our own self-interest is fair, it is hardly surprising that wealthy conservatives like Mankiw would believe that free market capitalism delivers fair outcomes. But it is noteworthy that in one real-world situation with tournament rewards -- lotteries -- society typically imposes taxes in excess of 50 percent, since winners pay regular income taxes on earnings already halved by the governmental sponsor's share of the pot.
Moreover, a large body of laboratory research investigating moral intuitions regarding the division of a pool of money has demonstrated the powerful appeal of an equal split, a preference consistent with anthropological evidence that hunter-gatherer groups are remarkably and consistently egalitarian. While a handful of studies have demonstrated that preferences for equality in the laboratory are (slightly) reduced when subjects have to earn the money at stake, this involves experimenters (who provide the money in the first place) making it clear that they consider the earner to have made a commensurate contribution in the laboratory setting.
So, sure, people like just deserts when there is compelling evidence that they are indeed just. But the egalitarianism of hunter-gatherers, whose groups undoubtedly included considerable and obvious variation in individual abilities, suggests that the standard of proof for justifying inequality can be quite high.
I therefore think it likely that conservative icon Joe the Plumber favors lower taxes not simply because his own personal experience suggests that smarter and harder-working plumbers (granted, he isn't actually a plumber) tend to provide better services and to have proportionately higher incomes as a result, but also because authorities like Mankiw assert that a complicated mathematical theory says that this intuition is true throughout the economic system. To be sure, populist Joe might claim to disdain elite theory, but as Keynes once observed, "practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."
Thus, Tea Party advocates sustain their belief in the market's fairness by blaming the government for bailing out Wall Street and interfering with the market's ethical magic, explaining why their initial targets were Republicans who supported the bailout (like Mankiw). Meanwhile, Democrats have completely failed to link higher taxes on the wealthy to populist anger at those who prospered while driving the economy into a ditch. To regain the initiative, I believe, progressives must directly challenge the claim that unfettered markets create just deserts. This won't be easy. Free market fundamentalists have the advantage of a simple message -- ending bailouts will deliver just deserts -- and of nearly limitless funds from rich folks who benefited from the bailout but are happy to claim that it should never happen again.
Let me therefore suggest one way to start: replace the estate tax with an inheritance tax. Republicans use the term "death" tax to imply that society is confiscating a lifetime of just deserts wealth. But if taxes are to be based on Mankiw's proposal that those "who contribute more to society deserve a higher income that reflects those greater contributions," then inheritors who have contributed nothing themselves should pay substantially higher rates (full disclosure: I am myself an inheritor).
I believe a debate about inheritance taxes will allow us to distinguish two arguments that appear similar but are critically different. The claim that people should get their just deserts is tricky to implement, but offers a valid moral principle to guide public debate. But the closely related argument that government should "keep its hands off my money" represents pure selfishness by people who refuse to acknowledge that public goods like education and defense are essential for the creation and protection of private wealth. Progressives have to make clear that the attempt to eliminate taxes on inheritors suggests that conservatives believe that all-you-can-eat socialism is fine for the rich as long as there is just-deserts capitalism for everyone else.
"Hackworth's study begins to remedy the absence of attention to religion within the critical scholarship on neoliberalism, and it will push this literature in a new and much-needed direction. Faith Based is very accessible and interesting, and it moves along nicely. It's a great book."-Jason Dittmer, author of Popular Culture, Geopolitics, and Identity
"Faith Based explores how the Religious Right has supported neoliberalism in the U.S. offering case studies of gospel rescue missions, religious charities in action in post-Katrina New Orleans, and more. . . . The result is a fine guide that discusses coalition building on the right as it relates to faith-based alternatives to welfare: a fine pick for any spirituality collection."- Midwest Book Review
"This insightful book explains the partial fusion of religious conservatism and libertarian economies in the US. . . . [It] will be valuable for research libraries, graduate students, and upper-level undergraduate students interested in religion and politics, social welfare, and nonprofit organizations."-D. B. Robertson, Choice
"This is an interesting study of the interplay of religion, economics and politics."-Al Menendez, Journal of Americans for Religious Liberty
Josie E. Davis on September 27, 2012
A welcome guidebook to the world of conservative politics
Those of us who watched in mild confusion as the Tea Party became a significant political force in a matter of two years--despite its angry and, at times, incoherent blend of libertarian ethos and quasi-religious placards--will find in Faith Based a welcome guidebook to the wilderness of conservative politics. At once a critical history of the more conservative arm of the contemporary Right; a penetrating sociopolitical analysis of the party's dismantling of social programs, particularly welfare; and a theoretical exploration of the ramifications thereof, Jason Hackworth's study is a timely and welcome addition to the crowded field of political tomes.
This conference aims to promote and strengthen interdisciplinary dialogue about the changing role and place of religious discourses and practices in the wake of the transformations wrought by neoliberal globalization upon communities, societies and polities across the Hemisphere. This event is part of a multi-year project on 'Religion and Politics in the Americas' funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. Starting from the understanding that conceptions and models of "pluralism" or "secularism" vary across national contexts and regional geographies, we want to focus our attention on the ways in which the retraction of the state and the unrestrained acceleration of economic forces and market logics-neoliberal globalization-have transformed the experience of religiosity as well as the role and influence of religion across the Americas.
As religious life has become increasingly channeled through the complex mechanisms of a neoliberal marketplace, the market has increasingly taken on roles and functions previously occupied by the state across broad social arenas. These transformations have not only affected discrete areas of social and economic policy, such as health care, education and security, but have also given rise to new private-public interfaces such as faith-based initiatives and discourses of volunteerism that have supplanted the discourses of rights. This shift has also required the production of new kinds of subjects, emblematized by the shift from citizen to consumer.
We are particularly interested in the ways in which religious diversity has been variously enabled, foreclosed, harnessed and even commodified by the neoliberal state. In this context, we also wish to explore how public debates over gender and sexuality serve as flashpoints illuminating the wider workings of the state's ongoing negotiation with religion and religious difference. Sexuality and sexual life more broadly connect individuals to the state as citizens, to the market as consumer-laborers, and to the supposedly traditional values represented by religion. But how this happens, and with what policy implications on a range of issues, will not be the same in every national context.
The transformation of the Turkish state is examined here in the context of globalized frames of neo-liberal capitalism and contemporary schemes of Islamic politics. It shows how the historical emergence of two distinct yet intertwined imaginaries of state structuring, secularism (laiklik) and Islam, continue to influence Turkish politics as strongly today as they did in the nineteenth century. The Ottoman integration into the nineteenth century market economy produced a secular state-restructuring project. Mid-twentieth century statism produced the laik Kemalist state. Late twentieth and early twenty-first century neoliberalist capitalist ideas, emanating from the EU and the IMF-World Bank, are shaping the current Islamic state-restructuring project. Nowhere is this more evident than in the context of Turkey's EU membership bid.
It is contingent, at the national level, on the political mobilization of various social groups who uphold Islamic ethical principles of justice and embody globalized, interpretive frames of referencing. Although this demonstrates how power relations in the state have been reconstituted under domestic and world-historical conditions, the outcome is, nonetheless, by no means certain.
Islam is not merely a religion. It is also - and perhaps, foremost - a state ideology. It is all-pervasive and missionary. It permeates every aspect of social cooperation and culture. It is an organizing principle, a narrative, a philosophy, a value system, and a vade mecum. In this it resembles Confucianism and, to some extent, Hinduism.
Judaism and its offspring, Christianity - though heavily involved in political affairs throughout the ages - have kept their dignified distance from such carnal matters. These are religions of "heaven" as opposed to Islam, a practical, pragmatic, hands-on, ubiquitous, "earthly" creed.
Secular religions - Democratic Liberalism, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Socialism and other isms - are more akin to Islam than to, let's say, Buddhism. They are universal, prescriptive, and total. They provide recipes, rules, and norms regarding every aspect of existence - individual, social, cultural, moral, economic, political, military, and philosophical.
At the end of the Cold War, Democratic Liberalism stood triumphant over the fresh graves of its ideological opponents. They have all been eradicated. This precipitated Fukuyama's premature diagnosis (the End of History). But one state ideology, one bitter rival, one implacable opponent, one contestant for world domination, one antithesis remained - Islam.
Militant Islam is, therefore, not a cancerous mutation of "true" Islam. On the contrary, it is the purest expression of its nature as an imperialistic religion which demands unmitigated obedience from its followers and regards all infidels as both inferior and avowed enemies.
The same can be said about Democratic Liberalism. Like Islam, it does not hesitate to exercise force, is missionary, colonizing, and regards itself as a monopolist of the "truth" and of "universal values". Its antagonists are invariably portrayed as depraved, primitive, and below par.
Such mutually exclusive claims were bound to lead to an all-out conflict sooner or later. The "War on Terrorism" is only the latest round in a millennium-old war between Islam and other "world systems".
Such interpretation of recent events enrages many. They demand to know (often in harsh tones):
- Don't you see any differences between Islam on the one hand and Judaism and Christianity on the other?
Islam is a young religion, less than 1400 years old. When Judaism and Christianity were at this phase of their development, they resembled Islam today: they were rife with militancy, obscurantism, misogyny, missionary belligerence, and all-pervading, dogmatic intolerance.
- Don't you see any difference between terrorists who murder civilians and regular armies in battle?
Both regulars and irregulars slaughter civilians as a matter of course. "Collateral damage" is the main outcome of modern, total warfare - and of low intensity conflicts alike.
There is a major difference between terrorists and soldiers, though:
Terrorists make carnage of noncombatants their main tactic - while regular armies rarely do. Such conduct is criminal and deplorable, whoever the perpetrator.
But what about the killing of combatants in battle? How should we judge the slaying of soldiers by terrorists in combat?
Modern nation-states enshrined the self-appropriated monopoly on violence in their constitutions and ordinances (and in international law). Only state organs - the army, the police - are permitted to kill, torture, and incarcerate.
Terrorists are trust-busters: they, too, want to kill, torture, and incarcerate. They seek to break the death cartel of governments by joining its ranks.
Thus, when a soldier kills terrorists and ("inadvertently") civilians (as "collateral damage") - it is considered above board. But when the terrorist decimates the very same soldier - he is decried as an outlaw.
Moreover, the misbehavior of some countries - not least the United States - led to the legitimization of terrorism. Often nation-states use terrorist organizations to further their geopolitical goals. When this happens, erstwhile outcasts become "freedom fighters", pariahs become allies, murderers are recast as sensitive souls struggling for equal rights. This contributes to the blurring of ethical percepts and the blunting of moral judgment.
We must bear in mind that Islam is a relatively young religion, at a stage of its development similar to 11th century Christianity: belligerent, missionary, exclusive, and committed to Jihad (doing battle with one's frailties, foibles, and weaknesses in order to get closer to God). In the Medieval Church, the various orders of ascetic monks reified this ideal of attaining goodness and holiness by suppressing one's humanity and renouncing the world and its temptations. In this sense, they were a mirror image of today's Islamic militants. Many of them indeed went on to participate in the Crusades (warrior-monks such as the Knight Templars and the Hospitaliers).
- Would you rather live under sharia law? Don't you find Liberal Democracy vastly superior to Islam?
Superior, no. Different - of course. Having been born and raised in the West, I naturally prefer its standards to Islam's. Had I been born in a Muslim country, I would have probably found the West and its principles perverted and obnoxious.
The question is meaningless because it presupposes the existence of an objective, universal, culture and period independent set of preferences. Luckily, there is no such thing.
- In this clash of civilization whose side are you on?
This is not a clash of civilizations. Western medieval culture is inextricably intertwined with Islamic knowledge, teachings, and philosophy – the direct descendants of antiquity.
Christian fundamentalists have more in common with Muslim militants than with East Coast or French intellectuals.
Muslims have always been the West's most defining Other. Islamic existence and "gaze" helped to mold the West's emerging identity as a historical construct. From Spain to India, the incessant friction and fertilizing interactions with Islam shaped Western values, beliefs, doctrines, moral tenets, political and military institutions, arts, and sciences.
This war is about world domination. Two incompatible thought and value systems compete for the hearts and minds (and purchasing power) of the denizens of the global village. Like in the Westerns, by high noon, either one of them is left standing - or both will have perished.
Where does my loyalty reside?
I am a Westerner, so I hope the West wins this confrontation. But, in the process, it would be good if it were humbled, deconstructed, and reconstructed. One beneficial outcome of this conflict is the demise of the superpower system - a relic of days bygone and best forgotten. I fully believe and trust that in militant Islam, the United States has found its match.
In other words, I regard militant Islam as a catalyst that will hasten the transformation of the global power structure from unipolar to multipolar. It may also commute the United States itself. It will definitely rejuvenate religious thought and cultural discourse. All wars do.
Aren't you overdoing it? After all, al-Qaida is just a bunch of terrorists on the run!
The West is not fighting al-Qaida. It is facing down the circumstances and ideas that gave rise to al-Qaida. Conditions - such as poverty, ignorance, disease, oppression, and xenophobic superstitions - are difficult to change or to reverse. Ideas are impossible to suppress. Already, militant Islam is far more widespread and established that any Western government would care to admit.
History shows that all terrorist groupings ultimately join the mainstream. Many countries - from Israel to Ireland and from East Timor to Nicaragua - are governed by former terrorists. Terrorism enhances social upward mobility and fosters the redistribution of wealth and resources from the haves to haves not.
Al-Qaida, despite its ominous portrayal in the Western press - is no exception. It, too, will succumb, in due time, to the twin lures of power and money. Nihilistic and decentralized as it is - its express goals are the rule of Islam and equitable economic development. It is bound to get its way in some countries.
The world of the future will be truly pluralistic. The proselytizing zeal of Liberal Democracy and Capitalism has rendered them illiberal and intolerant. The West must accept the fact that a sizable chunk of humanity does not regard materialism, individualism, liberalism, progress, and democracy - at least in their Western guises - as universal or desirable.
Live and let live (and live and let die) must replace the West's malignant optimism and intellectual and spiritual arrogance.
Edward K. Thompson, the managing editor of "Life" from 1949 to 1961, once wrote:
"'Life' must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all or a Peeping Tom."
The West has grossly and thoroughly violated Thompson's edict. In its oft-interrupted intercourse with these forsaken regions of the globe, it has acted, alternately, as a Peeping Tom, a cynic and a know it all. It has invariably behaved as if it were holier-than-thou. In an unmitigated and fantastic succession of blunders, miscalculations, vain promises, unkept threats and unkempt diplomats - it has driven the world to the verge of war and the regions it "adopted" to the threshold of economic and social upheaval.
Enamored with the new ideology of free marketry cum democracy, the West first assumed the role of the omniscient. It designed ingenious models, devised foolproof laws, imposed fail-safe institutions and strongly "recommended" measures. Its representatives, the tribunes of the West, ruled the plebeian East with determination rarely equaled by skill or knowledge.
Velvet hands couched in iron gloves, ignorance disguised by economic newspeak, geostrategic interests masquerading as forms of government, characterized their dealings with the natives. Preaching and beseeching from ever higher pulpits, they poured opprobrium and sweet delusions on the eagerly duped, naive, bewildered masses.
The deceit was evident to the indigenous cynics - but it was the failure that dissuaded them and others besides. The West lost its former colonies not when it lied egregiously, not when it pretended to know for sure when it surely did not know, not when it manipulated and coaxed and coerced - but when it failed.
To the peoples of these regions, the king was fully dressed. It was not a little child but an enormous debacle that exposed his nudity. In its presumptuousness and pretentiousness, feigned surety and vain clichés, imported economic models and exported cheap raw materials - the West succeeded to demolish beyond reconstruction whole economies, to ravage communities, to wreak ruination upon the centuries-old social fabric, woven diligently by generations.
It brought crime and drugs and mayhem but gave very little in return, only a horizon beclouded and thundering with vacuous eloquence. As a result, while tottering regional governments still pay lip service to the values of Capitalism, the masses are enraged and restless and rebellious and baleful and anti-Western to the core.
The disenchanted were not likely to acquiesce for long - not only with the West's neo-colonialism but also with its incompetence and inaptitude, with the nonchalant experimentation that it imposed upon them and with the abyss between its proclamations and its performance.
Throughout this time, the envoys of the West - its mediocre politicians, its insatiably ruthless media, its obese tourists, its illiterate soldiers, and its armchair economists - continue to play the role of God, wreaking greater havoc than even the original.
While confessing to omniscience (in breach of every tradition scientific and religious), they also developed a kind of world weary, unshaven cynicism interlaced with fascination at the depths plumbed by the locals' immorality and amorality.
The jet-set Peeping Toms reside in five star hotels (or luxurious apartments) overlooking the communist, or Middle-Eastern, or African shantytowns. They drive utility vehicles to the shabby offices of the native bureaucrats and dine in $100 per meal restaurants ("it's so cheap here").
In between kebab and hummus they bemoan and grieve the corruption and nepotism and cronyism ("I simply love their ethnic food, but they are so..."). They mourn the autochthonous inability to act decisively, to cut red tape, to manufacture quality, to open to the world, to be less xenophobic (said while casting a disdainful glance at the native waiter).
To them it looks like an ancient force of nature and, therefore, an inevitability - hence their cynicism. Mostly provincial people with horizons limited by consumption and by wealth, these heralds of the West adopt cynicism as shorthand for cosmopolitanism. They erroneously believe that feigned sarcasm lends them an air of ruggedness and rich experience and the virile aroma of decadent erudition. Yet all it does is make them obnoxious and even more repellent to the residents than they already were.
Ever the preachers, the West - both Europeans and Americans - uphold themselves as role models of virtue to be emulated, as points of reference, almost inhuman or superhuman in their taming of the vices, avarice up front.
Yet the chaos and corruption in their own homes is broadcast live, day in and day out, into the cubicles inhabited by the very people they seek to so transform. And they conspire and collaborate in all manner of venality and crime and scam and rigged elections in all the countries they put the gospel to.
In trying to put an end to history, they seem to have provoked another round of it - more vicious, more enduring, more traumatic than before. That the West is paying the price for its mistakes I have no doubt. For isn't it a part and parcel of its teachings that everything has a price and that there is always a time of reckoning?
Note - Globalization - Liberalism's Disastrous Gamble
From Venezuela to Thailand, democratic regimes are being toppled by authoritarian substitutes: the military, charismatic left-wingers, or mere populists. Even in the USA, the bastion of constitutional rule, civil and human rights are being alarmingly eroded (though not without precedent in wartime).
The prominent ideologues of liberal democracy have committed a grave error by linking themselves inextricably with the doctrine of freemarketry and the emerging new order of globalization. As Thomas Friedman correctly observes in "The Lexus and the Olive Tree", both strains of thought are strongly identified with the United States of America (USA).
Thus, liberal democracy came to be perceived by the multitudes as a ruse intended to safeguard the interests of an emerging, malignantly narcissistic empire (the USA) and of rapacious multinationals. Liberal democracy came to be identified with numbing, low-brow cultural homogeneity, encroachment on privacy and the individual, and suppression of national and other idiosyncratic sentiments.
Liberal democracy came to be confused and confuted with neo-colonial exploitation, social Darwinism, and the crumbling of social compacts and long-standing treaties, both explicit and implicit. It even came to be associated with materialism and a bewildering variety of social ills: rising crime rates, unemployment, poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, organ trafficking, monopolistic behavior, corporate malfeasance, and other antisocial forms of conduct.
The backlash was, thus, inevitable.
Note - Exclusionary Ideas of Progress
Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and Religious Fundamentalism are as utopian as the classical Idea of Progress, which is most strongly reified by Western science and liberal democracy. All four illiberal ideologies firmly espouse a linear view of history: Man progresses by accumulating knowledge and wealth and by constructing ever-improving polities. Similarly, the classical, all-encompassing, idea of progress is perceived to be a "Law of Nature" with human jurisprudence and institutions as both its manifestations and descriptions. Thus, all ideas of progress are pseudo-scientific.
Still, there are some important distinctions between Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and Religious Fundamentalism, on the one hand, and Western liberalism, on the other hand:
All four totalitarian ideologies regard individual tragedies and sacrifices as the inevitable lubricant of the inexorable March Forward of the species. Yet, they redefine "humanity" (who is human) to exclude large groups of people. Communism embraces the Working Class (Proletariat) but not the Bourgeoisie, Nazism promotes one Volk but denigrates and annihilates others, Fascism bows to the Collective but viciously persecutes dissidents, Religious Fundamentalism posits a chasm between believers and infidels.
In these four intolerant ideologies, the exclusion of certain reviled groups of people is both a prerequisite for the operation of the "Natural Law of Progress" and an integral part of its motion forward. The moral and spiritual obligation of "real" Man to future generations is to "unburden" the Law, to make it possible for it to operate smoothly and in optimal conditions, with all hindrances (read: undesirables) removed (read: murdered).
All four ideologies subvert modernity (in other words, Progress itself) by using its products (technology) to exclude and kill "outsiders", all in the name of servicing "real" humanity and bettering its lot.
But liberal democracy has been intermittently guilty of the same sin. The same deranged logic extends to the construction and maintenance of nuclear weapons by countries like the USA, the UK, France, and Israel: they are intended to protect "good" humanity against "bad" people (e.g., Communists during the Cold war, Arabs, or failed states such as Iran). Even global warming is a symptom of such exclusionary thinking: the rich feel that they have the right to tax the "lesser" poor by polluting our common planet and by disproportionately exhausting its resources.
The fact is that, at least since the 1920s, the very existence of Mankind is being recurrently threatened by exclusionary ideas of progress. Even Colonialism, which predated modern ideologies, was inclusive and sought to "improve" the Natives" and "bring them to the White Man's level" by assimilating or incorporating them in the culture and society of the colonial power. This was the celebrated (and then decried) "White Man's Burden". That we no longer accept our common fate and the need to collaborate to improve our lot is nothing short of suicidal.
That was the cheery yuletide greeting favored by the late English playwright Noël Coward, commemorating the holiday after which he was named. Less contrarian were the words of President Calvin Coolidge: "Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."
Which quotation strikes a chord with you? Are you a Coward or a Coolidge?
If you sympathize more with Coward, welcome to the club. There are many more of us out there than one might expect. A 2005 survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans were bothered "some" or "a lot" by the commercialization of Christmas. A 2013 follow-up confirmed that materialism is Americans' least favorite part of the season.
Call it the Christmas Conundrum. We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season's lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.
On a recent trip to India, I found an opportunity to help sort out this contradiction. I sought guidance from a penniless Hindu swami named Gnanmunidas at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi. We had never met before, but he came highly recommended by friends. If Yelp reviewed monks, he would have had five stars.
To my astonishment, Gnanmunidas greeted me with an avuncular, "How ya doin'?" He referred to me as "dude." And what was that accent - Texas? Sure enough, he had grown up in Houston, the son of Indian petroleum engineers, and had graduated from the University of Texas. Later, he got an M.B.A., and quickly made a lot of money.
But then Gnanmunidas had his awakening. At 26, he asked himself, "Is this all there is?" His grappling with that question led him to India, where he renounced everything and entered a Hindu seminary. Six years later, he emerged a monk. From that moment on, the sum total of his worldly possessions has been two robes, prayer beads and a wooden bowl. He is prohibited from even touching money - a discipline that would obviously be impossible for those of us enmeshed in ordinary economic life.
As an economist, I was more than a little afraid to hear what this capitalist-turned-renunciant had to teach me. But I posed a query nonetheless: "Swami, is economic prosperity a good or bad thing?" I held my breath and waited for his answer.
"It's good," he replied. "It has saved millions of people in my country from starvation."
This was not what I expected. "But you own almost nothing," I pressed. "I was sure you'd say that money is corrupting." He laughed at my naïveté. "There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money." The formula for a good life, he explained, is simple: abundance without attachment.
The assertion that there is nothing wrong with abundance per se is entirely consistent with most mainstream philosophies. Even traditions commonly perceived as ascetic rarely condemn prosperity on its face. The Dalai Lama, for example, teaches that material goods themselves are not the problem. The real issue, he writes, is our delusion that "satisfaction can arise from gratifying the senses alone."
Moreover, any moral system that takes poverty relief seriously has to celebrate the ahistoric economic bounty that has been harvested these past few centuries. The proportion of the world living on $1 per day or less has shrunk by 80 percent in our lifetimes. Today, Bill Gates can credibly predict that almost no countries will be conventionally "poor" by 2035.
In other words, if we are lucky enough to achieve abundance, we should be thankful for it and work to share the means to create it with others around the world. The real trick is the second part of the formula: avoiding attachment.
In Tibetan, the word "attachment" is translated as "do chag," which literally means "sticky desire." It signifies a desperate grasping at something, motivated by fear of separation from the object. One can find such attachment in many dysfunctional corners of life, from jealous relationships to paranoia about reputation and professional standing.
In the realm of material things, attachment results in envy and avarice. Getting beyond these snares is critical to life satisfaction. But how to do it? Three practices can help.
First, collect experiences, not things.
Material things appear to be permanent, while experiences seem evanescent and likely to be forgotten. Should you take a second honeymoon with your spouse, or get a new couch? The week away sounds great, but hey - the couch is something you'll have forever, right?
Wrong. Thirty years from now, when you are sitting in rocking chairs on the porch, you'll remember your second honeymoon in great detail. But are you likely to say to one another, "Remember that awesome couch?" Of course not. It will be gone and forgotten. Though it seems counterintuitive, it is physically permanent stuff that evaporates from our minds. It is memories in the ether of our consciousness that last a lifetime, there for us to enjoy again and again.
This "paradox of things" has been thoroughly documented by researchers. In 2003, psychologists from the University of Colorado and Cornell studied how Americans remembered different kinds of purchases - material things and experiences - they have made in the past. Using both a national survey and a controlled experiment with human subjects, they found that reflecting on experiential purchases left their subjects significantly happier than did remembering the material acquisitions.
I learned this lesson once and for all from my son Carlos. Five years ago, when Carlos was 9 years old, he announced that all he wanted for Christmas was a fishing trip - just the two of us, alone. No toys; no new things - just the trip. So we went fishing, and have done so every year since. Any material thing I had bought him would have been long forgotten. Yet both of us can tell you every place we've gone together, and all the fish we've caught, every single year.
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Second, steer clear of excessive usefulness.
Our daily lives often consist of a dogged pursuit of practicality and usefulness at all costs. This is a sure path toward the attachment we need to avoid. Aristotle makes this point in his Nicomachean Ethics; he shows admiration for learned men because "they knew things that are remarkable, admirable, difficult, and divine, but useless."
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Countless studies show that doing things for their own sake - as opposed to things that are merely a means to achieve something else - makes for mindfulness and joy.
In one famous experiment, college students were given puzzles to solve. Some of the students were paid, and others were not. The unpaid participants tended to continue to work on the puzzles after the experiment was finished, whereas the paid participants abandoned the task as soon as the session was over. And the paid subjects reported enjoying the whole experience less.
FOR those living paycheck to paycheck, a focus on money is understandable. But for those of us blessed to be above poverty, attachment to money is a means-ends confusion. Excessive focus on your finances obscures what you are supposed to enjoy with them. It's as if your experience of the holidays never extended beyond the time spent at the airport on the way to see family. (If you're thinking that's actually the best part, then you have a different problem.)
This manifestly does not mean we should abandon productive impulses. On the contrary, it means we need to treat our industry as an intrinsic end. This is the point made famously in the Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, where work is sanctified as inherently valuable, not as a path to a payoff.
And finally, get to the center of the wheel.
In the rose windows of many medieval churches, one finds the famous "wheel of fortune," or rota fortunae. The concept is borrowed from ancient Romans' worship of the pagan goddess Fortuna. Following the wheel's rim around, one sees the cycle of victory and defeat that everyone experiences throughout the struggles of life. At the top of the circle is a king; at the bottom, the same man as a pauper.
Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" uses the idea to tell of important people brought low throughout history: "And thus does Fortune's wheel turn treacherously. And out of happiness bring men to sorrow."
The lesson went beyond the rich and famous. Everyone was supposed to remember that each of us is turning on the wheel. One day, we're at the top of our game. But from time to time, we find ourselves laid low in health, wealth and reputation.
If the lesson ended there, it would be pretty depressing. Every victory seems an exercise in futility, because soon enough we will be back at the bottom. But as the Catholic theologian Robert Barron writes, the early church answered this existential puzzle by placing Jesus at the center of the wheel. Worldly things occupy the wheel's rim. These objects of attachment spin ceaselessly and mercilessly. Fixed at the center was the focal point of faith, the lodestar for transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame - for moving beyond mortal abundance. The least practical thing in life was thus the most important and enduring.
But even if you are not religious, there is an important lesson for us embedded in this ancient theology. Namely, woe be unto those who live and die by the slings and arrows of worldly attachment. To prioritize these things is to cling to the rim, a sure recipe for existential vertigo. Instead, make sure you know what is the transcendental truth at the center of your wheel, and make that your focus.
So here is my central claim: The frustration and emptiness so many people feel at this time of year is not an objection to the abundance per se, nor should it be. It is a healthy hunger for nonattachment. This season, don't rail against the crowds of shoppers on Fifth Avenue or become some sort of anti-gift misanthrope. Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide. But then, ponder the three practices above. Move beyond attachment by collecting experiences, avoid excessive usefulness, and get to the center of your wheel. It might just turn out to be a happy holiday after all.
I never finished my story about Swami Gnanmunidas. Before I left him that day in Delhi, we had a light lunch of soup and naan. I told him I would be writing about our conversation; many Americans would be hearing his name. He contemplated this for a moment and, modeling nonattachment, responded simply.
"Dude, do you like the soup? It's spicy."
Arthur C. Brooks is a contributing opinion writer who is the president of the American Enterprise Institute.
March 6, 2012There is a terrible rule of war. Whatever new weapon that you introduce onto the battlefield, your adversary will eventually acquire it as well. Indeed, they will often use an industrial-strength version of that very same weapon against you.
Hiram Maxim invented the modern machine gun – automated and oil-cooled – but the British army dismissed the invention. Not so the Germans, who used it with deadly accuracy against the British in World War I. The French, meanwhile, were the first to use modern chemical warfare in 1915 by deploying tear gas against the Germans with little effect. The Germans quickly improved on the innovation by developing chlorine gas, and later mustard gas, with devastating effect. And, of course, Americans invented nuclear weapons and then spent the next half-century trying to forestall their use by others.
The perfect weapon, however, has no odor and makes no sound. It has no half-life. It doesn't require huge factories and production lines. There are no truly effective defenses.
The perfect weapon, of course, is ideology. And the United States, in the nuclear age, believed that it had created just such a perfect weapon. Washington would export the American version of liberal democracy and refashion the world in its own image. In so doing, America would make the world safe not so much for democracy, but for Americans.
But a funny thing happened on the way to hegemony. The very ideology that the United States assumed would defeat all comers has in fact been turned against the United States. Liberal democracy contains within it the very seeds of the American empire's destruction. Call it blowback, TINA-style.
But before tackling the paradox of There Is No Alternative, let's first look at how liberal democracy was supposed to work.
The first component of America's ideology of export is the market. According to the late 17th-century theory of le doux commerce, sweet commerce, trade smoothes the rough edges of human interaction. "There was much talk, from the late seventeenth century on, about the douceur of commerce," writes theorist Albert O. Hirschman. "Sweetness, softness, calm, and gentleness [are] the antonym of violence." Countries that trade together, in other words, are less likely to attack each other.
In the Cold War era, the United States promoted this approach, for instance, by supporting the creation of the European Union, a collection of previously antagonistic countries that turned toward building a cooperative trade organization. Washington might have "wars" with its allies during this period – with Japan, for instance – but these were only trade wars. As the Cold War faded, the World Trade Organization represented the triumph of sweet commerce as China and Russia entered a new international community dedicated to reducing trade barriers. As Francis Fukuyama argued, the great passions that prompted armed struggle and tremendous acts of heroism had been transmuted into the considerably less martial interests of the marketplace. The existential threat of Soviet communism was no more. Not only was capitalism triumphant but it had established a measure of security for the United States. No one would attack the country of the Treasury bond, Morgan Stanley, Apple Computer, and America's Got Talent. No one would see red when there was serious green to be had.
The yin to the market's yang has been, of course, democracy. The corollary to le doux commerce is that cornerstone of modern political theory: democracies don't go to war with one another. According to this theory, democracies are more likely to compromise with one another; democracies inherently respect other democracies; and democratic leaders fear losing elections if they lose wars. During the Cold War, the United States gathered around itself a league of democracies to counter the influence of communism. And when democracies produced leaders that were skeptical of American intentions – Mossadegh in Iran, Allende in Chile – we didn't go to war with those countries. We simply engaged in the more cost-effective techniques of subterfuge and subversion to install more malleable leaders.
The Cold War necessitated alliances with some bad apples, Washington realists contended. But the end of the Cold War unleashed a new wave of democracy – in the former Soviet bloc, in South Africa, throughout Latin America, and most recently in the Middle East. The autocratic rogues that Washington once needed –Hussein, Mubarak, Gaddafi – were no more (though a few, like Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, continue to cling to power). The expanded arsenal of democracy provided another layer of security for the United States. Democrats might get testy with one another, they might bristle at leaders like George W. Bush, but they would never dream of using arms against the United States.
The combination of the market and democracy became the political economy equivalent of peanut butter and jelly: the default combo of simple comfort food for the leaders of the Free World. Margaret Thatcher coined the phrase TINA because she was convinced that the demise of the Soviet Union meant that she and Ronald Reagan had solved all of human history's thorny questions. Market democracies would prevail forever after. A decade later, here in America, the crowd around George W. Bush modified the TINA principle so that it would be our version of market democracy – without the peculiar deformations of capitalism and electoral politics practiced in quasi-socialist Europe – that would occupy the top spot in political economy's greatest hits.
In the same way that the dollar's status as the global currency sustains U.S. economic supremacy, the victory of the U.S. version of market democracy would sustain U.S. geopolitical hegemony.
It hasn't quite worked out this way, however. The United States currently faces the challenge of the "rise of the rest." Countries like China have used market forces to challenge the economic advantages of the United States. And the Arab Spring has demonstrated once again that democracy can easily produce nationalist or religiously inspired parties that steer their countries away from U.S. influence.
Let's begin with China. The once-communist country has ruthlessly used its comparative advantage – cheap labor – to attract an incredible amount of U.S. manufacturing, including the firms that originally relocated across the border in Mexico. The United States could have "broken the rules" and passed laws that would have made outsourcing very difficult. But U.S. corporations were more interested in profit than in helping maintain U.S. geopolitical hegemony. They don't call them "transnational" for nothing. Washington's adherence to laissez-faire capitalism has come back to haunt it. Unfettered markets unleash the forces of "creative destruction." And the United States is currently the epicenter of this tornado, with the 99 percent bearing the brunt of the gale-force winds.
Once China democratizes, so the argument goes, it will gradually come into line with internationally established economic practices. Independent labor unions will drive up wages. The government will respect intellectual property rights. The exchange rate will float into place. This might be true. But by the time these trends materialize, China will have already become the world's largest economy and the United States will already be shrinking in its rear-view mirror.
The spread of democracy worldwide promises a similar blowback, which is why Washington realists fear the spread of popular uprisings against the remaining authoritarian allies of the United States in Bahrain, Yemen, and elsewhere. U.S. post-Cold War anxiety about the geopolitical implications of democracy began in Algeria where, in local elections in 1990, an Islamic party won 62 percent of the vote. In the national elections the following year, the new party Front Islamique du Salut won more seats than any other. The Algerian government took a dim view of this democratic development, however. With French support, it banned the new party, threw its leaders in jail, and sent thousands of activists to detention camps in the Sahara desert. A civil war ensued that left more than 100,000 dead.
"The overturning of an election followed by gross human rights abuses would ordinarily have elicited a strong condemnation from Washington," I write in my new book, Crusade 2.0. "Instead, the United States acquiesced to the changes, just as it did a couple years earlier when the Turkish military's 'soft coup' of 1997 removed an Islamist prime minister. To avoid charges of anti-Islamic bias, U.S. officials couched their 'Islamist exception' in universalist terms. The U.S. government opposed what it called 'one person, one vote, one time.' In common parlance, this translated into a fear that Islamist parties would use democratic means to rise to power and then kick away the democratic ladder beneath them."
Washington once feared that communists would rise to power through democratic means – in Italy, Congo, Guatemala. After the end of the Cold War, Islamists quickly substituted for communists with the Algerian scenario now being replayed today throughout the Middle East. Islamist parties have won majorities in Tunisia and Egypt, as elections have provided an opportunity for these long-suppressed movements to appeal directly to the people. A similar future beckons for Libya and, possibly, Syria as well.
Elections have invariably produced leaders, whether Islamist or nationalist or socialist, who have questioned their country's alliance with the United States. The shift may not be immediate. Yukio Hatoyama in Japan, for instance, lasted less than a year before Washington exerted sufficient pressure to quash him. The Justice and Development Party in Turkey was skeptical about the U.S. war in Iraq and has broken relations with Israel, but it remains a NATO member. Lula in Brazil ultimately presided over a generally amicable relationship with Washington. Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to suddenly reverse all the agreements made under Hosni Mubarak. But in all these countries, the governments have been hedging their bets, cultivating closer ties with China or Russia or Iran. And the United States cannot take for granted any military basing agreement, from Bahrain to Okinawa.
Elections in America's rivals will not necessarily produce liberals. The recent re-coronation of Vladimir Putin in Russia, even acknowledging the widespread voting regularities, testifies to the popularity of the "iron fist," particularly outside the Moscow-Petersburg intelligentsia. The prevailing ideology in China, meanwhile, is remarkably similar. The Chinese people, if elections were held today, would not elect prominent dissidents or human rights lawyers. They would likely elect candidates as nationalist or more so than the Communist Party officials currently in charge. "A more democratic China would be less able to restrain public tendencies toward a kind of aggrieved nationalism," writes Richard Bernstein in The New York Review of Books, "with their components of anti-American and anti-Japanese sentiment."
The center of economic gravity is shifting toward China. The spread of democracy has complicated America's alliance structure and created new challenges to U.S. global leadership. The result of all this political and economic blowback will not likely be a war against the United States. China is not marshalling its strength to attack the Pacific Fleet. Iran is not waiting for the day when it can launch a nuclear-tipped missile at Topeka (much less Tel Aviv). Rather, the American empire will suffer a death of a thousand cuts. It will be like the failure of your computer: one virus, then another, then the inevitable slowing of the operating system, a patch that doesn't work properly, a program that stops responding, and one day it all adds up to the blue screen of death.
The weapons that will destroy the U.S. empire will be weapons of our own fashioning. The Chinese economy only became a threat to the United States when it copied our economic example. The leaders that will create the new international alliances that replace U.S. hegemony will be democratically elected. We will be hoisted by our own TINA. Perhaps only then will the world be able to enter the post-TINA era. Perhaps only then will we find a more nourishing meal than the PB-and-J ideology that has dominated our menu of options since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Torture and Complicity
In 1963, the CIA funded research into psychological techniques to break down potential informants. U.S. interrogators used this KUBARK Manual throughout Latin America and Southeast Asia. After 9/11, KUBARK returned in a different form.
"Although some of the material in KUBARK remained in use, psychologists augmented already-existing material with newer techniques, some of which had been developed from torture resistance protocols used to train U.S. military personnel to survive capture and interrogation themselves," write Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributors Laura Melendez-Pallitto and Robert Pallitto in Psychologists and Torture, Then and Now.
"Discoveries initially applied to help possible torture victims were later used to break interrogation subjects held in U.S. custody. Psychologists were complicit in designing and using techniques to break subjects rather than aid them, and in so doing they made a mockery of their ethical obligation to 'do no harm.'"
The United States and North Korea are on the verge of making nice. A new deal will freeze North Korea's uranium enrichment program and establish a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests. All the United States has to do is fulfill an earlier promise to provide humanitarian assistance.
"As the Obama administration attempts a 'Pacific pivot' to refocus its geopolitical energies from the Middle East to Asia, North Korea has been executing a pivot of its own," I write in North Korea's Pivot. "The centennial of the birth of the country's founder Kim Il Sung, 2012 is also the year that North Korea has pledged to achieve the status of kangsong taeguk: an economically prosperous and militarily strong country. To attract the economic investment necessary to achieve this goal, North Korea has reached out to friend and foe alike."
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, is trying to broker a deal on Somalia. But as FPIF contributor Francis Njubi Nesbitt argues, it will not be so easy to put the pieces of the Somali Humpty Dumpty together again. "It seems the West is still tied to the concept of a unified Somalia with a strong centralized state based Mogadishu," he writes in UK Takes the Lead in Somalia. "This notion, however, is a pipe dream. The Somali people have a long history of decentralized administration based on the traditional clan structure run by councils of elders and Islam. The idea that a centralized government based on the Western model can be transplanted to Somalia is unrealistic at best."
Oil, Cuba, War
The discovery of oil in Ghana promises a future of wealth or a future of discord. "There is a multi-directional tug of war in Ghana's petroleum industry among the Ghanaian government, the multinational oil companies, the citizens of the country, and the environment," writes FPIF columnist Kwei Quartey in Oil Over Troubled Waters. "Like most contests, it is unlikely that they will all be winners. Ghanaians in the homeland and abroad fear that the country and the environment will be the eventual losers and that the dreaded specter of another Niger Delta looms."
FPIF contributor Sam Farber has a new book out on Cuba. FPIF contributor Rebecca Whedon writes that "Farber's analysis leaves no topic uncovered. Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959 is a comprehensive, thoughtful treatment of a topic that has usually generated more heat than light in U.S. coverage in the past."
Our poem this week comes from Jose Padua. Here is a short excerpt from To the Valley in the Morning with Blood and Guts and Fear:
When there's war all the time, there's no such thing as
after the war anymore, no victory over our enemies day,
no victory worth selling tickets for day, just
days to celebrate that we're still the killers and not
Finally, in our Focal Points blog, you can read Paul Mutter on Iraq, Conn Hallinan on Syria, and Michael Walker on Iran.
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