A new “cold war”

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By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES*

Neoliberalism is a far-right political language

In the last four decades in which it has been the central political language of the ruling classes, neoliberalism has embraced a wide spectrum ranging from the center-right experiences of Blair and Clinton to neo-fascist right-wing formations. But its roots, its deep dynamics and its projection push the field of politics to the extreme right.

The drift to the right of politics in the world in the last four decades can and should be explained in terms of geopolitics and changes in the correlation of forces. That is, through the dynamics of US imperialist power, strengthened after the dissolution of the USSR and its impact on the various regional conjunctures, and by the loss of strength of the main parties and organizations of the traditions of the working classes. This explanation centered on the dynamics of the power of power, however, is insufficient or partial if one does not understand that the program and the historical meaning of the action of the dominant classes, deeply financialized, moved to the extreme right with the transition from a social or Keynesian liberalism to neoliberalism. This transition even precedes and organizes this alteration in the global and national correlation of forces.

Those forces of the left in crisis or of the center-left that adhered to a neoliberal program were destroyed or placed on the sidelines. Neoliberal center-right parties, such as the Brazilian PSDB par excellence, were dragged to the right of the spectrum. And far-right political forces began to grow and occupy the center of polarization.

There is today, mainly at the international level, a vast literature that links neoliberalism to the extreme right and the phenomena of growth of proto-fascist policies in the XNUMXst century. This relationship is not external or of the cause-consequence type: neoliberalism at its origin is a far-right language. Although certainly not fascist as it does not defend a state with autocratic powers of intervention in the economy and society.

Understanding this is fundamental now, when a programmatically neoliberal media keeps a certain distance from political Bolsonarism while radicalizing an opposition discourse to the recently sworn in Lula/Alckmin government. Because it will only be possible to defeat Bolsonarism as a resilient political phenomenon in Brazilian society if the conditions are built for a historic overcoming of the neoliberal far-right program.

five reasons

There are five reasons for characterizing neoliberalism as a far-right political language.

The first is that he organizes his political theory by denouncing the 1948 Human Rights Charter. In the magna work of Friedrich Hayek, considered the main author of neoliberalism, this denunciation is clearly made in volume 2 of Law, Legislation and Freedom (1973), which is called The mirage of social justice. In the appendix to chapter 9, “Justice and individual rights”, the UN Charter is denounced for seeking to merge the western liberal tradition with revolutionary Russian Marxism, that is, civil rights and social and economic rights. It cites as a document the preparatory works of the debates promoted by UNESCO. He especially criticizes the generic nature of the articles and their alleged universalism. It points out its similarity with the documents of the tradition of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

This denunciation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in fact already made by Hayek in an article from the mid-XNUMXs, is not on the sidelines, but is at the heart of his argument. The claim to universalize social and economic rights would necessarily legitimize a growing intervention by the State in the “spontaneous order of the market”. On a national and international level, the demand for equal or greater dignity for all would produce a true destabilization of the “justice” inherent to the rules of the mercantile game. The very separation and opposition between freedom and equality, which is at the heart of Hayek's theory, would lose its meaning.

In this sense, the virulent attack on human rights is not the creation of Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro, but is in line with the origins of neoliberal theory.

A new “cold war”

Since the thirties, when he publicly polemicized with Keynes, Hayek has been deepening and making more rigorous, in terms of his theory, the criticism of social liberalism. This is particularly revealed in his initially ambiguous relationship with the most important liberal of the XNUMXth century, John Stuart Mill, who renovated English utilitarianism and formed the tradition of “social liberalism” or “egalitarian liberalism”, and, in the end, strongly criticized (Mill is called a “traitor to liberalism”).

If the central enemy has always been socialism, in its revolutionary traditions, Hayek's thinking since "The Road to Serfdom", in 1943, has identified the various hybrid forms of liberalism with laborism, social democracy and the dynamics of planning and the Welfare State, an enemy from within the liberal tradition, dissolving its historical identity. The language he addresses to social liberals is not exactly adversarial or oppositional, but one of execration and impugnment: they are accused of organizing another historical, progressive and inevitable path towards totalitarianism! So totalitarian Keynes, totalitarian Roosevelt!

What neoliberalism thus promotes is an extension and deepening of the “cold war” polarization, now waged not only against historical socialism, but within the very liberal citadels of the core capitalist countries. It even seeks to give a theoretical historical treatment to this polarization, contesting the non-Anglo-Saxon traditions of liberalism formation, in particular the French political culture.

In the matured and radicalized critique of his political language, in his eagerness to criticize the common sense of the time of Social Welfare, Hayek goes so far as to say at the end of the third volume of “Law, Legislation and Liberty” that “90% of the population of the West they are socialists!”

If today the so-called Western democracies are characterized by a high degree of political polarization, this is largely due to the far-right political language of neoliberalism. Again, when Trump accuses Biden or Bolsonaro accuses Fernando Henrique Cardoso of being “socialists”, this is not exactly due to political ignorance or rusticity, although they are undeniable, but because they are part of a political tradition that for decades was centered on denouncing of its liberal opponents as enemies and proto-totalitarians.

a fundamentalist theory

Unlike the classical liberals who conceptualized freedom mainly from the limitations to interventions considered arbitrary by the State in the sacred ground of rights guaranteed by mercantile property and its dynamics, Hayek conceptualizes freedom itself as being immanent or organic to the market dynamics itself. To be free is to be inserted in the dynamics of the market and adjusted to its procedural rules. This central concept organizes the entire historical narrative, the entire diagnosis of the impasse of the times, the entire program for the future of neoliberal theory.

In this theory, the foundation is its normative field. A closed circuit is formed, self-reported and immune to controversy and even historical evidence that contradicts it. Neoliberalism is a fundamentalist, anti-pluralist political language that is averse to democratic debate.

The plethora of citations in Hayek's work convey an image of an erudite author. Greeks, Latins, Renaissance, authors of classical and modern liberalism, contemporaries of the last generation, from different areas from economics to politics, from anthropology and the studies of civilizations, from the philosophy of science to the controversies of the different schools of law, are quoted to confirm , by convergence or polemic, his thesis. Socialist and Marxist authors are always cited in counterpoint. But there really isn't a frank and methodologically appropriate dialogue to an intellectual history conceived in a pluralistic and dialogical way: quotations are always arbitrarily collected, despite a more integral vision of the author's work. They are used to confirm an assumption.

The assumption is that the winning civilizations are those that organize themselves based on the “spontaneous market order”, not because of a constructive political will, but because of a pragmatic approach of success and error, of a permanent openness to adapt to changes without losing the foundation of its mercantile organization. History is thus conceived from its end: the winners are right! A kind of natural selection acts in history, pushing aside or dissolving inferior civilizations. Thus, if poverty has decreased in England in relation to past centuries, this is due to the productive virtues of the capitalist mercantile order. If England went into decline as a power in relation to the XNUMXth century, it is because there, classical liberalism was mixed with the anti-liberal theses of laborism and Keynesianism.

The flexible, dynamic, creative, progressive sense of capitalism finds its expression in theory in Hayek's historical indeterminist vision. The illusion of public planning stems from an arrogant bet by an Enlightenment reason that wants to predict and control the future. History is open… but there is no civilizing alternative to capitalism. One must trust its self-transformative and adaptive sense thought in a cosmopolitan and global dimension. To deterministic reason Hayek opposes blind trust in the capitalist order. If a neoliberal reform has not yet produced its effects, it is because the market order works for a long time or because the reform has not been carried out with the necessary intensity or breadth. It is not possible to prove, even with experience, that the mercantile order in its potency does more harm than good.

In Brazil, this is par excellence the editorial order of the main newspaper Economic value, as well as virtually all corporate media. Its columnists, the choice of headlines, the agenda, the reframing of the news, the editorials, the language is all Hayekian.

De-democratization and de-republicanization

Hayek's statement is well known that if a democracy means systematic and expanded intervention in the “spontaneous market order”, there can be more freedom under an autocracy that guarantees the foundations and validity of market rules. That is, neoliberalism would be more liberal than always democratic. It reminds the newspaper “Valor Econômico” which, in the face of the frustrated coup attempt of the 8th of January, published an article stating that the biggest investors were more concerned with maintaining a good market environment than with the future of the democratic order. Brazilian.

But beyond conditioning his defense of democracy, Hayek changes its meaning. It is preferred by him as a peaceful method for changing governments, bringing his definition of democracy closer to a procedural technique and moving it away from a citizen constitutional regime formed from the will of the majorities. In “Law, Legislation and Freedom”, Hayek says he prefers the term “demarchy” to the already saturated term “democracy”, proposing an institutional alternative in which fundamental decisions are strategically designed to guarantee, preserve and improve the functioning of market dynamics .

This is the fourth reason for characterizing neoliberalism as an extreme right-wing political language: its program proposes a radical de-democratization and de-republicanization – shrinking public law to a minimum and maximizing the mercantile privatist sphere – of life in society. The institutional, political, social and cultural dimensions of democracy suffer a profound erosion, as an entire international literature has been denouncing, even before Wendy Brown's famous book “The Deconstruction of the demos. The quiet revolution of neoliberalism” (2015).

cultivation of violence

By operating with a political language of strong polarization, anti-pluralism, promoting social inequality and societies of separation, by undermining cultures of mediation, agreement or negotiation of interests proper to a democratic order, even if structurally limited by the validity of liberal values , neoliberalism is a vector of political violence, whether institutionalized or not.

The institutional record of this cult of violence is, par excellence, the public security policy where the culture of punitivism, massive imprisonment, suspicion of the poor and degradation of human rights prevails. Beyond it, neoliberalism operated, first in the US itself and then internationally, in a culture structured around hate speech, legitimized by an anti-pluralist conception of freedom of expression. Anti-pluralist because it anathematizes the opponent and proposes his neutralization. This cultivation of violence is, therefore, intrinsic to neoliberal dynamics and confirms its status as a language of the extreme right.

Brazilian political culture, with its experience of resistance to Bolsonarism, has already characterized this far-right movement as fascist and incompatible with the democratic order. When the journalist Cristina Serra writes “The extremists of the market” (Folha de S. Paul, 10/02) or when the brilliant jurist Lenio Streck asks “Is the autonomy of the Central Bank compatible with the Constitution?” (Conjur, February 2023), they converge to the same opinion formulated in this essay. It remains to build awareness among the majority of the Brazilian population that neoliberalism as a political language is incompatible with a citizen democratic order.

*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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