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How “neoliberalism” unmasks totalitarians

I was not only surprised but also as much appalled by the fact, that it has become common to understand neoliberalism as phenomena that has nothing in common with liberalism from the very first encounter with this tag. How come that many of those that understand themselves as liberals attack neoliberalism as vigorously as Nazis attacked Jews (and I am not exaggerating here). If “neo” is understood as a prefix denoting something more recent than the core attached to, than neoliberalism should be nothing but new version of liberalism. And new version of liberalism should by definition not contradict liberalism. Neo-classicism does not contradict classicism.

What has been attributed to neo-liberalism after 1960’, in the period when this term started to denote something bad, was a notion that neoliberalism represents a terror of capital. Neoliberalism is now commonly understood as a total submission of individual to the capital. The original laissez-faire connotation of liberalism as explained by Hayek, von Mises and Friedman shifted unnoticeably into a connotation of a devil in the form of capital that grabs helpless individuals into a contemporary slavery.

How it is possible that in mere decade or two after Hayek provided us such a vivid picture of serfdom emerging from anti-liberal socialistic economy , similar serfdom was attributed to effects of liberal economy under the name of neoliberalism?

There are two possible explanation of this apparent paradox.

First explanation is traditional. If I was keen supporter of planned economy and would be at the same time afraid to appear as one that opposes individual freedoms, I would coin a term that would indirectly discredit original term. And that word is neoliberalism.

Let us go step by step. After Stalinism and Nazism unmasked its totalitarian faces, no sane person on earth declares himself as direct opponent to universal freedoms of individuals. It is not possible but for few extremists not to be liberal in this respect. So you cannot directly attack liberal values and a term “liberal”. For that reason a new term, neoliberal was introduced. New term has to be used to fill it with desired negative connotations. Language is arbitrary, meaning that you can in theory use whichever sign to denote whatever meaning at the beginning of usage. After such link is established (through frequent usage) it is though very hard to unlink it. Language is arbitrary in principle, but highly un-arbitrary in practice.

So those that wanted to discredit economic principles of liberalism cleverly devised neoliberalism denoting with it capital as totalitarian, anti-liberal power. They fully succeeded. Nowadays even liberals fear to use term neoliberalism in positive connotation. Even liberals take neoliberals as bad guys as much as not only Aryan Nazis hated Jews but all Germans and not only Germans at that time.

Following this first explanation we see that neoliberalism cleverly hides its totalitarian values.  What is appalling is that under this new conception the prophet of hate towards neoliberalism masks his conscious or more often subconscious desire to suppress liberal values. He explains himself as liberal but acts (with words) as totalitarian. He attacks liberal values indirectly by denunciation of constructed negative values attached to neoliberalism. He lives in cognitive dissonance, but is unable to understand or feel this dissonance. Why: because majority of western society and especially intellectuals live in this dissonance.

But in fact I prefer second explanation. This explanation does not contradict the first one but upgrades it.

It was not by chance that I mentioned subconscious desire of majority for totalitarian values. Why? Because following above path of reasoning we start to understand the real and practical power of memes. We can see in practice that memes are not fictitious, but existing second replicators on duty in each moment of human civilization.

The first explanation of neoliberal paradox shows us clearly that a meme “neoliberal” (denoting something bad, anti-liberal, devilish…) lives on its own. It is not me, or you, or Peter or whoever that powers the concept. It is the meme as meme that uses us for the purpose of its own replication. We do not have to understand it and in fact we do not understand original connection between liberal and neoliberal.  We just spread neoliberalism with its memetic package like we do not understand viruses but we spread them around. And yes: memes are viruses of the mind that live on their own using us for their replication. A vast ecosystem of memotypes originating from neoliberal meme developed in last 50 years though.

Memes do not care if we as humans live in cognitive dissonance. As long as we feel happy in such dissonance they are safe. And more a meme of neoliberalism is safe, more it will replicate and more we will live happy in explained dissonance.

Although I alone have no power to disrupt deep comfort zone of neoliberal meme, I will not cease to fight against. It is a deadly virus and we should all fight against. Not to fight against neoliberalism, but about utterly false, misleading and threatening connotation of this term.

Andrej Drapal

One Comment

  1. The fact that people will pigeon hole themselves by defining themselves into one label is mind boggling and limiting. It leaves no room for our complex nature of being. We have been shaped by everything that has ever been. I myself refuse to label myself or others as to not stunt our growth or limit our potential.

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