The ideology of non-ideology

Image: Anirudh Bhatnagar
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By ELISIO ESTANQUE*

The way is opening for a new “witch hunt” in which gypsies, immigrants, blacks, Arabs, etc., and any day “communists” and “socialists”, can be identified as targets to be slaughtered

Ideology is no longer what it used to be. Therefore, I invite the reader to question everything they know about the notion of “ideology”. Although it is a familiar topic, it ceases to be so if I tell you that I am not going to talk about party politics in general, nor about our current domestic situation. We know that the world is turning to the right, while democracies have eroded.

Before our eyes, a new cycle of growth of authoritarian forces at a global level is gradually advancing. We also know that the structural reasons that triggered this process were multiple and complex, but they have their genesis in the nature of the capitalist economic system itself. The oil crisis of the seventies of the last century was just a symptom of a change that was already underway.

Faced with the reduction in economic growth and profit margins, the Fordist model of accumulation came to an end, to the extent that, from the perspective of capital, the holding back of its surplus values ​​had to be contained, meaning it was necessary to transcend this model , as he allowed too many rights and negotiating power to the working class (at least in Europe).

In this context, mechanisms and expedients – formal and informal – have multiplied to reverse this trend, favoring new so-called “flexible” management models and encouraging more precarious, unstable employment relationships and new forms of subcontracting capable of generating “consent”. of workers and save social expenses for employers. The productive system has changed, the Keynesian horizon of full employment has become a mirage, the era in which a dignified and stable profession, a “career”, was within anyone’s reach is over.

Thus, the accumulation strategy began to shift from the sphere of industry to services in an economy interconnected in the broader sphere of the global market, where production, flexibility and consumption began to be part of the same predatory logic of plundering resources and workforce. Therefore, the enrichment of the very rich continued to increase, while wages stagnated or fell. Capital and work remained linked but through multiple mediations, but work continued to be the main source of wealth creation. With globalization, both began to be guided by mobility and fluidity.

This strategy was based on three main factors: (i) technological innovation and the development of new ICT helped to recover productivity gains and break up companies, accelerating new value chains; (ii) the ease of global trade stimulated relocations and investments to countries in the southern hemisphere in search of cheap labor; and, finally (iii), the gains obtained from financial transactions and speculation became more profitable than productive investments.

But it is clear that the neoliberal model did not fall from the sky. Behind it were important decisions of a political nature. First, within the framework of Thatcherism-Reganism, the narrative of prioritizing competitiveness and competition served as justification for the euphoric discourse of globalization, which was presented as synonymous with success and opportunities for individual enrichment. The idea was sold that “there is no society, only individuals”, placing the entrepreneur at the center and theories even emerged announcing “the end of work”.

Second, the implosion of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to be proven proof that there is no alternative to capitalism. The euphoria with competitiveness and the illusion of “opportunities for all” paved the way for the new El Dorado, and the Washington Consensus started the engines.

What I have just mentioned is, in itself, an expression of the dominant ideology. This means that the ideology that is important to debate today is not that of political common sense. It is sociological: a concept inspired by thinkers such as Louis Althusser, Terry Eagleton, Pierre Bourdieu or Göran Therborn, among others. In other words, ideology is a type of symbolic power, a narrative at the service of privileged groups, capable of promoting acceptance or apathy among the masses, shaping the mentality of a large part of citizens and popular classes. It is the set of social mechanisms that – in addition to intentions – objectively contribute to shaping behaviors through subtle mechanisms for manufacturing consent.

The people are seduced by the siren songs of consumption, futile entertainment, television folklore, news item, fake news, of news and programs that are alienating and empty of content. And when the essential material needs are missing and expectations are abruptly broken, resentment grows, from the most abandoned sectors, which offers itself as fuel where the excited voices of the would-be saviors of the country burn. They scream against “ideology” while promoting their own ideology: it’s the politicians’ fault, it’s corruption, it’s the State, it’s the bureaucracy, it’s the system that “lives off our taxes” (sic), etc. , etc. This is the germ of salvific nationalism.

Today the expanding common sense is what refuses thought, under the pretext of the danger of “ideologies”. There is a deliberate preference for alienation – multiple “fetishes” are available to everyone, even those without resources – which is confused with the direct path to finding the “truth”. The Beatic predisposition for “salvation” is not exclusive to churches, although they also help.

We have entered a phase in which invoking “ideology” or pointing out a voice, a speech or a political actor as “ideological” has become a serious accusation. According to the neoliberal current, the only truth is markets, business, the power of money and the entrepreneurship of individuals and companies, essentially seen as competitors to each other. According to the neo-fascist current, good customs, the old nationalist morality, the purity of the “race”, the “nation”, order and authority are the sacred elements of their political creed.

What they have in common is hatred of the left, contempt for the emancipation of the poor (although always speaking in their name), the refusal of effective and universal public policies and services (health, education, justice, social security, etc.), the rejection of solidarity, internationalism and ultimately democracy in its deepest sense. This climate, currently expanding, seems to pave the way in the short term for a new “witch hunt” where gypsies, immigrants, blacks, Arabs, etc., and any day also “communists” and “socialists” can be singled out for fingers on public roads like targets to be shot down. It is no longer about thinking in terms of a Daniel Bell (The end of ideologies, 1960) or one Francis Fukuyama (The end of the story, 1992); This is another dimension that seems to flourish in the face of the passivity of thinking political elites and the applause of the mainstream media, themselves subjected to the ideology of non-ideology.

*Elísio Estanque is a researcher at the Center for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra and visiting professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). He is the author, among other books, of Middle class and social struggles: Essay on society and work in Portugal and Brazil (Unicamp Publisher). [https://amzn.to/4dOKCAE]

Originally published in the newspaper Public, on December 14, 2023.


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