The word “Neoliberalism”, seems to be in and out a fashion every two to three years or so and in 2016 for awhile Dr. Cornel West called everyone or everything he wanted to disparage or disagree with a neoliberal or neoliberalism. Now I’m not here to dismiss Dr. West but he often dropped the neoliberal conversation bomb without giving an explanation as to why he was dropping said bomb and during those moments he never gave a sufficient definition of Neoliberalism. Most notably to me, Mr. West, “scarlet lettered” Ta-Nehisi Coates with the Neoliberal moniker a few times, of which why I’m still trying to figure out.
Cornel West’s attacks on Ta-Nehisi Coates explained even after I read this well-written article by German Lopez I was still perplexed. However, I’ll touch on this more in part 2 and 3.
Neoliberalism, noun, a modified form of liberalism tending to favor free-market capitalism.
Like most definitions this one may leave many wanting
This is the equivalent of saying Donald Trump is a businessman, that saying is of course insufficient, and since he won’t release his taxes we truly don’t know what kind of business man he truly is. So be it with the definition of neoliberalism.
Let’s look at David Harvey’s definition from his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, on page two of his book Harvey defines Neoliberalism this way,…
“Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills with in an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”
….this would sound reasonable, and maybe even wonderful to some but somewhere along the way neoliberalism got bastardized and became something else altogether as there is a wide gap between what Neoliberalism espouses and what neoliberalism does. As so beautifully described by Wendy Brown in her book Undoing the Demos Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution
“Thus the paradox of neoliberalism as a global phenomenon, ubiquitous and omnipresent, yet disunified and nonidentical with itself……This dappled, striated, and flickering complexion is also the face of an order replete with contradiction and disavow, structuring markets it claims to liberate from a structure, intensely governing subjects it claims to free from government, strengthening and retasking states it claims to abjure……”
Whom I dare ask would be the personification of this? Continuing with the quote from Wendy Brown’s book.
“….In the economic realm, neoliberalism aims simultaneously at deregulation and control. It carries purposes and has it’s own futurology (and futures market) while eschewing planning. It seeks to privatize every public enterprise, yet valorizes public-private partnerships that imbue the market with ethical potential and social responsibility and the public realm with market metrics. With its ambition for unregulated and untaxed capital flows, it undermines national sovereignty while intensifying preoccupation with national GNP, GDP, and other growth indicators in national and post-national constellations.” Pure poetry if you ask us.
Many of the paradoxes of Neoliberalism parallel with the person and policies of Donald J. Trump. Trump is now ubiquitous but seems very dis-unified, he and his administration seem to be bumbling idiots but they have done more to systematically erode institutions and norms, more than any other president, including Nixon. He wants everything to be deregulated but he wants to tell women what to do with their bodies. He promotes himself as a paragon of free speech but calls every Black NFL player who kneeled in protest a few seasons ago a son of a bitch. Do you see where I’m going with this.
Our point is that Neoliberalism was fundamentally founded on contradictions, paradoxes, and ambiguity. So if Neoliberalism is the God of capitalism, then Donald Trump would definitely be it’s Jesus.
As of late, we’ve heard many a pundit, politician, and political prognosticator say that Donald Trump was not the cause but the symptom of our current political malaise and dysfunction, of which can be agreed upon by most. But much like Christ in the Bible, the time for his emergence could not have been matched at any other moment. Trump was born for this moment.
However, before we get to the Neoliberal Jesus and as to why he has emerged now let’s go back to Neoliberalism’s old testament days. And much like the Old Testament God, Neoliberalism had, (has, one could argue), certain tenants that are at the foundation of the faith.
“There Shall Be No Other God Before Me….” Hold on before we get into the Commandments of Neoliberalism let’s journey back to the “In the beginning….”
As George Monbiot puts it, “Neoliberalism is a way of defining human beings by the market.” Therefore Neoliberalism is the faith and the market is God, and the practice of Neoliberalism is to get everything out of the way so that the market may prosper. Now the intent was to have those that were willing to participate in the market with their labor or wares to be blessed by the very market they practiced in. However as George Monbiot said in his interview “…this magical thing called the market, which actually turns out not to be this abstract entity they like to talk about as if it were some force of nature, but an entity which is controlled by people, often very rich people very powerful people. So often getting everything out of the way the market is getting everything out of the way for those rich and powerful people.” The market was supposed to be a place where everyone can participate and therefore succeed. Today that no longer seems to be the case, Neoliberalism by espousing that everything must get out of the way of the market, has made it ripe for people, the environment, even faith to be exploited. With out those who benefit from Neoliberalism ever having to truly answer for their actions. If you’re an oil company and you spill some oil in the ocean, don’t worry about it we’ll protect you. If you’re a “rich person” running for president and you get help from a foreign entity we won’t care. Neoliberalism says you’re “…free to maximize your own wealth and power at the expense of everything else.” (George Manbiot)
Which brings us back to our Neoliberal Jesus, Donald J. Trump, Trump has been indecent, dishonest, and lacks integrity but he’s “rich” and he walks on social media water, where every “like” or “click” sanctifies him in the church of The Neoliberal Faith. Trump is rich therefore he must be worshipped. Because nothing is more important to Neoliberalism than an individual with means, they like the cooperation must be protected and never held accountable. When you have significant means you are forgiven for all of your sins from lying to the American public or raping fifteen year old girls. For the faith Neoliberalism will protect those who have enough to pay for forgiveness and freedom. Neoliberalism will protect it’s own from the regulations and checks and balances of democracy.
So America we have the son of the faith Neoliberalism, Jesus himself Donald J. Trump turning over the tables in the temple of American Democracy, you can almost hear him say, “My house is the house of Trump, ye will not keep it a den of Democracy.” which is the true goal of Neoliberalism, to get rid of democracy. Sounds like what the Neoliberal Jesus is trying to do.
(to be continued)
A Brief History of Neoliberalism, by David Harvey
Undoing the Demos by Wendy Brown
& George Monbiot in Conversation With Verso
Tabala Jali Thomas
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