Thursday, January 02, 2014

This machine produces neoliberal subjects

The profound error made by those who have announced the ‘death of liberalism’ is to confuse ideological representation accompanying the implementation of neoliberal policies with the practical normativity that specifically characterises neoliberalism. As a result, the relative discredit surrounding the ideology of laissez-faire today in no way prevents neoliberalism from prevailing more than ever as a normative system possessed of a certain efficiency - that is, the capacity to direct from within the actual practice of governments, enterprises and, in addition to them, millions of people who are not necessarily conscious of the fact. For this is the crux of the matter: how is it that, despite the utterly catastrophic consequences in which neoliberal policies have resulted, they are increasingly operative, to the extent of pushing states and societies into ever graver political crises and social regression? How is it that such policies have been developed and radicalised for more than thirty years without encountering sufficient resistance to check them?
The answer is not, and cannot be, confined to the ‘negative’ aspects of neoliberal policies - that is, the programmed destruction of regulations and institutions. Neoliberalism is not merely destructive of rules, institutions and rights. It is also productive of certain kinds of social relations, certain ways of living, certain subjectivities. In other words, at stake in neoliberalism is nothing more, nor less, than the form of our existence - the way in which we are led to conduct ourselves, to relate to others and to ourselves. Neoliberalism defines a certain existential norm in western societies and, far beyond them, in all those societies that follow them on the path of ‘modernity’. This norm enjoins everyone to live in a world of generalised competition; it calls upon wage-earning classes and populations to engage in economic struggle against one another; it aligns social relations with the model of the market; it promotes the justification of ever greater inequalities; it even transforms the individual, no called on to conceive and conduct him- or herself as an enterprise. For more than a third of a century, this existential norm has presided over public policy, governed global economic relations, transformed society, and reshaped subjectivity…
The thesis defended in this book is precisely that neoliberalism, far from being an ideology or an economic policy, is firstly and fundamentally a rationality, and as such tends to structure and organise not only the action of rulers, but also the conduct of the ruled. The principal characteristic of neoliberal rationality is the generalisation of competition as a behavioural norm of the enterprise as a model of subjectivation. … Neoliberalism is a rationality of contemporary capitalism, freed of its archive references and fully acknowledged as a historical construct and general norm of existence … Neoliberalism can be defined as the set of discourses, practices and apparatuses that determine a new mode of government of human beings in accordance with the universal principle of competition.
— Pierre Dardot & Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, Verso, London & New York, 2013, pp. 2-4