The last 2 weeks I have been reading Naomi Klein’s book, ‘The shock doctrine’. It is an extraordinary book in which the author makes a daring link between the economic shocks the neoliberals theorists argue are essential for the transformation of a country’s economy and the shock therapy many psychiatrists used during the 50’s and the 60’s to destroy the mind of psychotic or schizophrenic and re-program them without their psychosis. This treatment uses cruel methods to de-structure the identity of the patient so in the end to reconstruct the mind of the patients.
Naturally these practices attracted the attention of the CIA. The agency went on to use these ‘shock treatments’ as interrogation methods to obtain the information they needed from their prisoners they regarded as ‘enemies of the state’. The main idea is that if you deprived from a person every significant identity or personality factors then you open up the person’s brain to obtain any information you. The details and documented facts the book provides on how these methods were applied, and still are practiced, against different groups and persons all over the world are honestly shocking.
This book highlights the incredible influence ideas have when the find the right circumstances and support from powerful interest groups.
What we are now experiencing as modern capitalism is the expression of a specific string of capitalist theory as it is described in the theory of neoliberalism. The interesting bit is that neoliberalism on its own cannot generate all the elements that constitute our modern society. After all neoliberalism as an economic model is merely a theory about the production process, that is in other words a theory about the production and distribution of wealth. Modern society that has gradually come into being since the late 70’s is the result of the adoption and use of neoliberalism as their economic model by the powerful political group of neoconservatives who again adhere to the ideas of theorists of neoconservatism.
The even more extraordinary and interesting thing is that the leading scholars whom set up the stage for this global play that is dominated by the political and economic philosophy of neoconservatism and neoliberalism both came from the University of Chicago. They are Prof Leo Strauss and Prof Milton Friedman.
Leo Strauss has long been a cult figure within the American academy. And even though he had a profound antipathy to both liberalism and democracy, his many powerful students have succeeded to conceal it. Even more than that they manage to paint an image of Strauss as the great American patriot, who was a lover of freedom and democracy.
As Shadia Drury put it:
The trouble with the Straussians is that they are compulsive liars.
Strauss was convinced that the truth is too harsh for any society to bear; and that the truth-bearers are likely to be persecuted by society – specially a liberal society – because liberal democracy is about as far as one can get from the truth as Strauss understood it.
The Straussians today are the most powerful, the most organised, and the best-funded scholars in Canada and the United States with control of right-wing think tanks, foundations, and corporate funding. They fulfilled exactly the role that their mentor prepared them for as he believed that intellectuals have an important role to play in politics but should avoid to attempt to rule directly because the masses are inclined to distrust them.
To understand Straussian neoconservatism one must understand Strauss distinction between the ancient and the modern philosophers. According to Strauss, ancient philosophers (such as Plato) were wise because they thought the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty and so society needs an elite of philosophers or intellectuals to manufacture “noble lies” for the consumption of the masses. On the other hand the modern philosophers like Locke were foolish and vulgar because they believed in the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as human beings were born free and could be legitimately ruled only by their own consent.
For the ancients and Strauss the natural human condition is not one of freedom, but of subordination. And in Strauss’s estimation, there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior. Now keep this in mind when we see how neoliberalism has been practised over the decades and all over the world.
Praising the wisdom of the ancients and condemning the folly of the moderns was the whole point of Strauss’s most famous book, Natural Right and History.
Strauss referred to the right of the superior to rule as “the tyrannical teaching” of the ancients which must be kept secret to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals. Strauss believed that the wise would not abuse their power. The goal of the wise is to make the people be thankful to live their lives not in the pursuit of personal happiness but to live in perpetual sacrifice to God and the nation.
Strauss’s students complain that they are persecuted in the academy because they are illiberal. But the truth is because they are ill-equipped to handle philosophical debate. Strauss’s had taught them anyway that there can be no disagreement among the wise. They even fool themselves into thinking that they are the exclusive few who see the unadulterated truth, which is concealed from the eyes of the uninitiated.
So, what is neoconservatism? Again as Shadia Drury briefly explains; the new conservatism ‘inspired by Strauss’s hatred for liberal modernity, its goal is to turn back the clock on the liberal revolution and its achievements.’ For many neoconservative writers argued in their books that the new found freedoms of the sixties are the root of all evil. The main idea is to turn the people against their own liberty. By whatever means necessary. Usual and effective means are fear and terror that are injected to the public in the form of various political and economic shocks. They use whatever happens to be the enemy of the moment, terrorism, communism etc. And if you can convince the people that liberty undermines their security, then, you will not have to take away their liberty; they will gladly give it away.
Here is where actually the link between the neoconservatives and the neoliberalists lies. The neoconservative theorists from their political policy making posts, use democracy to defeat liberty. The neoliberalists theorists, also from their powerful policy making posts use neoliberal economics and policies, based on the theories of Milton Fiedman, to defeat the ideals and values that support the civil society and the welfare state.
Historically, neoliberalism was conceived as a counter-movement to the Keynesian school of state intervention and a reaction to the Soviet model of socialism. The neoliberals suggested that to overcome the economic crisis of the 70’s public spending should be cut, global trade and investment liberalized and the state sector privatized to promote the market provision of public goods.
For Milton Friedman economic freedom is prerequisite to political freedom and competitive capitalism promotes political freedom. It is therefore surprising enough that the first full-fledged experiments of neoliberalism were not carried out not in democratic states but by overthrowing democratic governments and replacing them with various totalitarian regimes in many South American countries like Chile, Brazil, or Argentina. Naomi Klein in her book The shock doctrine sees a direct link between the ideas of the use of the economic shocks by the neoliberal model to restructure a country’s economy and the use of oppressive and violent tactics from totalitarian regimes and dictatorships which aim to give such a shock to the society that will not be able to collectively resist to their economic reforms.
To understand the importance of political force in setting and executing the neoliberal economic agenda one needs to know that when Friedrich von Hayek, one of neoliberalism most early proponents, wrote to Margret Thatcher, after traveling to Chile in 1981 to witness the so called Neo-liberal miracle, to urge her to follow the Chilean model more faithfully, Thatcher replied, ‘In Britain with our democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent, some of the measures adopted in Chile are quite unacceptable. Our reform must be in line with our traditions and our Constitution.’ And exactly how did Pinochet’s regime managed to push these measures? Simple, by using force and spreading fear.
As a matter of fact, it should be obvious that despite Mr Friedman’s beliefs neoliberalism is a breeding ground for totalitarian tendencies, not free will and democracy.
Neoliberalism’s ascendancy, according to The Crisis of Neoliberalism by Dumenil Gerard, as a new stage of capitalism since the 1970s expresses the strategy of the capitalist classes in alliance with financial managers to establish their hegemony and expand it globally. The neoliberal fixation on profits embodies the free movement of goods, resources and enterprises to find cheaper resources to maximize profits worldwide.
Neoliberalism values market exchange as an ethic in itself, which means in short the financialization of everything and represents a great power shift away from production to the world of finance. The greatest victory though for the neoconservatives was not that they highjack the theories of neoliberalism and use them to promote their own political global agenda but the fact that they managed to make the world to see their ideas as necessary or even the best way, perhaps the only way, for the social order to be regulated.
This has become since a sort of moral absolution for all the terrible crimes regimes in countries like China in the late 80’s, Russia after the fall of communism, Poland or even the countries in South America that have been mentioned above, have committed against their own people. There is the great contribution of the shock doctrine. Oppressive regimes were instructed by the gurus of neoliberalism to inflect such shocks to the society in terms of magnitude and number all at once so that the society will feel such a shock that the mazes will be unable to react and form a resistance to their plans to restructure the economic reality of their country and give all power, resources and capital to the selected few.
Furthermore in the event of conflict, neoliberal states favour the integrity of the financial system and solvency of the financial network over the well being of the population and over the integrity of the environment, contrary to the best interests of its citizens. The U.S.’s massive bailout of the banks in 2008-09 at taxpayer expense is a great proof of the above statement.
What is evident is the fact that Mr Friedman was not wrong. The economic liberalization will lead to political liberalization… What is evident though by the theories of the neoconservative scholars since both groups are part of the elite group the liberalization will be guided and directed to the sort of ethics, values and principles that the political power groups will deem appropriate and necessary to allow themselves to consolidate more power and control to their hands.
Neoliberalism in all horrible reality is a significant disruptive force that dominates policy, politics, and culture to the advantage of the select few, enabling concentration of wealth and power to breed totalitarian nation-states. The scariest part of all is that the totalitarian regimes won’t even admit they are oppressive because they consider themselves, as every good neoconservative does, as part of the enlightened selected few that know the truth and have the responsibility to guide the ignorant many down the road of moral virtue. Welcome to DISNEYLAND!!