Why does neoliberalism in crisis reproduce itself?

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By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES*

The new neoliberal state regime leads to a shrinking of public law, the public sphere, public goods in favor of an unprecedented expansion of private law

In the midst of a systemic crisis, globalization and the hegemon North America, of successive financial bankruptcies and short circuits in its economic dynamism, of political instability and loss of credibility of its reasons, neoliberal capitalism has managed to survive and reproduce itself in the XNUMXst century. Why?

One explanation, certainly, concerns a correlation of forces still largely unfavorable to the working classes at the international level, from a great capitalist offensive that began in the eighties of the last century and that until today has not been reversed. Another would point out that an alternative to neoliberal capitalism has not yet been produced with credibility, legitimacy and a minimum of stability, remembering that a paradigm in crisis remains as long as it is not overcome and not just criticized.

But there is another reason, which weighs on the very change in the correlation of forces and on the production of alternatives to neoliberalism, which concerns the very limit of understanding what neoliberalism is. This limit has a central relationship with the very genesis of studies on neoliberalism, which came from a matrix of criticism of neoliberal political economy and the seminars given by Michael Foucault at the France secondary school in 1978 and 1979. Both lacked a political concept of neoliberalism, in particular the profound changes it brought about in the regime of liberal states.

Achievements and limits of Michael Foucault

Studies on neoliberalism owe to Michael Foucault's critical, free and savage reason the identification of an ongoing mutation within the liberal field itself, still invisible and in the process of expanding towards the center of this tradition. There, an alteration was taking place in the very concept of freedom, now thought of as ontological the very formation, development and reproduction of commercial life, displacing the classic concept of freedom in liberalism. Now it was not a question of negatively regulating the expansion of the State for the rights of the homo economicus liberal, delimiting and interdicting its intervention space, but creating a new expansive reason that should organize not only the State itself, but all of social life. This new reason sought to model society itself from a business modality and the very personality of individuals, their education and ways of life, from their understanding as human capital in accumulation.

Another great merit of Michael Foucault lies in historicizing the formation of German ordoliberalism since the XNUMXs, based on its relations with the Vienna School, as a liberal reaction to the emergence and impasses of the Weimar Republic. This tradition, created by German economists and jurists such as Walter Eucken, William Ropke, Alexander Rustow and Franz Bohm, criticized the laissez-faire, the conception of a functioning market economy without a strong State that would regulate it, guarantee its rules and act on its dynamics hostile to competition.

Prevailing in post-war Germany, it would constitute an alternative to the dominant Keynesianism at the time and would lead to a subordination of the German Social Democratic Party to its paradigm, constituting an important and decisive chapter for the future history of Europe. It would be exactly this German neoliberal tradition that would be at the center of the process of European unification in the following decades.

Michael Foucault rightly differentiates this ordoliberalism, associated with the Freiburg School, from the emergence of neoliberalism in the United States, where there is a less statist tradition and where a new mercantile reason can develop more fully as a regulator of the state and as an organizer of life. Social.

The North American neoliberalism, would be formed in the critic to the New Deal, and in the XNUMXs it incorporated a vision that attributed a virtuous meaning to the very formation of monopolies, as a result of competitive gains in technology and productivity. What Michael Foucault, then, registers is the tension between these two traditions that converge on the need for a refoundation and updating of the liberal tradition against social or Keynesian liberalism and the threats of socialism.

In this effort to produce a study of the genealogy of the relations between knowledge and power, we can identify a serious conceptual flaw, a still incomplete reading of the mutation of the concept of freedom in the liberal tradition, the still absence of a history of how these ideas were linked to the formation of political powers with global geopolitical dimensions. And, still, the barrier of a vulgar criticism of Marx that prevents him from seeing how neoliberalism is organic to the dynamics of capitalism in its time crisis and in its updates.

Michael Foucault's main conceptual deficit, expressive of his trajectory from structuralism to a conception of the microphysics of power, is the absence of a concept of the State, decisive for the understanding of what neoliberalism is. Michael Foucault works centrally with the concept of governmentality, even defining in the seminar of January 31, 1979 the State as being “the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentality”. Neoliberalism would then be, for him, a new regime of governmentality.

Now, the classic distinction of political philosophy between the State (which centrally involves the dimension of sovereignty and a principle of legitimation of this sovereignty), the regime (which concerns the different modes of exercise and reproduction of political power, of the various possible combinations) is missing here. between coercion and consensus) and government (which concerns the updated exercise of power within the rules and pacts constituted by a regime). Certainly neoliberalism is more than a governmentality, a rationality of government: it is an alteration of the liberal State regime itself, a change in the patterns of exercise and reproduction of political power, in particular, a regressive alteration of its democratic and republican dimensions.

The incomplete reading of the mutation of the concept of freedom that is under way in the genesis of neoliberalism concerns the absence of a more detailed analysis of the opening chapters of the book The Constitution of Liberty (1960) by Friedrich Hayek. If it is true that the identification of freedom as only ontologically possible in the mercantile world is central to Friedrich Hayek, it is no less important his detachment from the notion of self-government or popular sovereignty, which marks the anti-democratic and anti-republican sense of root of neoliberalism. Still, if nineteenth-century liberalism already expressed the tension between freedom and equality, in Friedrich Hayek the liberal language already openly praises inequality as intrinsically linked to the adventure of freedom in the mercantile world.

Michael Foucault's important step in studying and demonstrating the genesis of neoliberal ideas and the way in which they formed the political tradition of post-war Germany was completed in a decisive way with the book The Road from Mont Pelérin; The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, edited by Philip Mirowski & Dieter Plehwe in 2009. This book identifies the centrality of Friedrich Hayek and the Mont Pellèrin society in constructing a possible historical convergence between North American neoliberalism and ordoliberalism, in the formation of a unified tradition in its pluralism. This book still lacks, however, an identification of how this collective thought became organic to political power, having the US State as its epicenter.

Finally, the vulgar way in which Michael Foucault refers to Marxism in the Final Seminar on April 4, 1979 also marks the limit of this important author. For whoever makes vulgar criticism, vulgarizes his own thinking. A whole rich field of analysis of Marx's critique of capital, unavoidable for the study of neoliberalism, is sterilized by this vulgar critique of Foucault.

A new regime of the liberal state

When Joseph Stiglitz in 2008 - at the outbreak of the great international financial crisis – predicted the end of neoliberalism, he probably departed from a common sense that attributed to it the meaning of being a certain orientation of government policies. But the crisis of neoliberalism was faced from the means of regulation, through institutions and new rules for the exercise of power created by neoliberalism itself. The crisis of neoliberal capitalism led, then, to a deepening of the neoliberal regime itself, of its anti-democratic and anti-republican sense, as became clear in the following decades.

When Wendy Brown wrote her references Undoing the demos. The quiet revolution of neoliberalism (2015) and In the ruins of neoliberalism. The Rise of Authoritarian Politics in the West (2019), books originally inspired by Foucault and which seek to map the political macro-dimensions of neoliberal development, she still lacks a conceptual treatment of neoliberalism as a new neoliberal state regime. If it is true that neoliberalism destroys the democratic demos, it builds a new anti-democratic and anti-republican regime. It is not exactly in the ruins of neoliberalism that authoritarian and proto-fascist phenomena develop, but as an expression of its development.

This new regime of the liberal State, which is neoliberalism, is fundamental to explain why it is resilient and reproduces itself even in its crisis. And it could be so characterized.

Firstly, the construction of a goal of legality not subject to democratic control, such as independent or autonomous central banks, fiscal austerity regimes that impose themselves on electoral scrutiny, creation of contractual regimes regulated by higher bodies, bureaucratic insulation of decisive decision-making bodies economic, adherence to treaties or international organizations that are imposed on national sovereignties.

This political regime, as proposed by Bob Jessop, organizes a new regime of capitalist accumulation, centered on the hegemony of the financial sectors of capital, imprinting a global dimension of financialization on capitalist cycles.

The new neoliberal State regime leads to a severe shrinkage of public law, the public sphere, public goods in favor of an unprecedented expansion of private law, privatization of information, opinion formation and democratic debate, in addition to privatizing the ownership and management of public services. It inevitably leads to a crisis of the republican dimensions of democracy, of the very capacity of democracies to institutionalize and process conflicts.

Finally, this new neoliberal State regime expands its coercive and repressive dimensions in the same proportion that it impedes development and erodes the expansion of democratic and social rights.

When candidates with anti-neoliberal platforms win elections, it is against this neoliberal state regime that they have to govern. And the degree to which they face or are capable of transforming, and not conforming to, these regimes, defines the very application of their programs legitimized by the majority vote and, ultimately, their own identity and future.

*Juarez Guimaraes is a professor of political science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Democracy and Marxism: Criticism of Liberal Reason (Shaman).


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