I’ve got ninety-nine problems and the fact that I’m so obsessive I actually count them is definitely one of them. Another, more pressing one, is this permanent sense of an ending that I cannot shake, it sticks like kindling. Political correctness may not be over until the fat lady sings, but the familiar left-right equilibrium of post-Marxist political ideologies, the cornerstone of government for so long, and the lives we’ve built around it, seems to be in its death throes.
Far more than the hand wringing after the financial crash or the fatalism of the millennial bug, a sense of “end of days” is pervading. If I had a pound for every time a politician used the phrase, “a time of uncertainty” since the Brexit vote I’d be a millionaire or, if you like, the proud owner of the equivalent of 3 euros. It is all uncertainty because we voted against something, not for anything else. No one painted our future, we just scribbled a great big “Could do better” over our past.
In the void, the abstract of Brexit and the messianic rise of Trump are being hailed as precursors of a new world order. The ever victimised sub-prime proletariat will finally rise up and put the world to rights. With appalling table manners, they’ll eat the “elite”, even if there really aren’t enough to go around, before being subjugated under the jackboot of Trumputin. The one percent definitely need to get tooled up for the coming armageddon.
But luckily it is not the end of the liberal ideology and all its jolly nice tolerant, equality, vicar-round-for-tea, social consciousness. What apparently is really over, according to a number of intellectuals and Guardian writers (not that they are entirely mutually exclusive), is Neoliberalism.
Really. Neither had I.
Luckily a chap who definitely keeps smarties in his pants, Guardian writer George Monbiot, explained why.
“Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in … the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, … the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?
“So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.”
But this all seems a little convenient. Have the good honest working class of this country really stood up to end something which nobody has heard of? Or has an evil doppleganger of liberalism just been created so we don’t have to question the efficacy of the real thing? Not that Neoliberalism is brand new, but certainly obscure and now seems somewhat after the fact.
Neoliberalism was, apparently, the philosophy guiding Thatcher and Reagan and every western leader since, even if few of them would have heard of it. I mean liberalism is about liberty and against regulation so deregulating the financial markets was definitely kind of liberal… but that all turned tits up so let’s call it Neoliberalism and we can cheer seeing the back of it.
I’m a liberal with a small ‘L’ (I try not to advertise my other small bits). I love the ideas that liberalism champions. It’s something I’d fight for. But I am starting to fear it’s too weak, too ethereal, too nice to survive against the omnipotence of angry gods and the raging impotence of global poverty.
To scapegoat “Neoliberalism” is to tilt at windmills and fight with shadows. It is a chimera to help avoid the truth: that we have been living in a self-satisfied fog of our own “enlightenment”, languishing in a stupor of privilege that can afford rights and humanity, a dizzying mist which has blinded many of us to the rising tide of dissatisfaction and the thrilling potency of hatred. What we’re really ending, is this daze.
First published in