Philosophical Conversations Public Opinion Junk for code
"When philosophy paints its grey in grey then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk." -- G.W.F. Hegel, 'Preface', Philosophy of Right.
Links - weblogs
Links - Political Rationalities
Links - Resources: Philosophy
Public Discussion
Cafe Philosophy
Philosophy Centres
Links - Resources: Other
Links - Web Connections
'Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainity and agitation distinquish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones ... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.' Marx

a neo-liberal mode of governance « Previous | |Next »
November 28, 2005

I've been listening to the Senate debates on the industrial relations legislation during this afternoon and the evening on Sky News television.

If you dig beneath the standard rhetoric Liberal and Labour Party polemics and partionship to what lies underneath then what is disclosed is significant and rarely addressed in the speeches. The legislation, and the accompanying welfare-to-work legislation that will be debated next week, signify a radical break with welfare/social state of the 20th century, a big shift in governance and a new way of thinking about the targets, mechanism and limits of government. It is a shift market by neo-liberalism.

'Neo-liberalism' is used purposefully. This legislation not a return to the liberalism of the nineteenth century as some have claimed: ie a 'freeing' an existing set of market relations from the social shackles and allowing the market as a quasi-natural reality to operate competitvely. It is more an organizing everyday life to enable a market to exist and to provide what the market needs to function efficiently. There is a rethinking of the social and economic where all aspects of social conduct are being reconceptualized along economic lines--as calculative actions undertaken by enterprising agents exercising their choice.

"Choice' is dismissed by many in the ALP as propaganda but they are missing the significance of the shift in governance. The neo-liberal mode of governance reworks our condict as free subjects: we are being shaped as rational and enterprising who are active (not relying on trade unions) in making choices to further our own interests.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 07:49 PM | | Comments (5)


"There is a rethinking of the social and economic where all aspects of social conduct are being reconceptualized along economic lines--as calculative actions undertaken by enterprising agents exercising their choice."

I agree with you that these are significant changes. The talk is about choice, but it really isn't. They are enforcing their view of Economic Man on everyone else.

This is some of the worst of the shadow of the Enlightenment. People become merely machines and everything is instrumentalised. The neo-liberals try to make up for the dehumanising understanding of a person by trying to TACK on 'values', nearly as an afterthought. It is all the more insulting by punishing and humiliating people who do not conform to their ideal - by taking welfare for instance - with the punitive welfare-to-work changes.

Its nearly as if these politicians who lie as a matter of course in their worklives and are shamelessly self-promoting, are trying to mold the whole community to their way of working and living. How could it be wrong, they say?

The changes are being imposed, that is for sure and the justification is an Enlightennment one.

I do not agree with the machine bit as we are dealing with the goverenance of free subjects. So it is more a case of shaping conduct the free subjects.

What does it mean to be a free agent, or subject? This goes to question of how a person is conceptualised.

A computer program operates as a purely calculative mechanism. By contrast, a person can evaluate the worth of something in many different ways. But to force social conduct to be only along economic lines, as you suggested above, is to severely limit in a fundamental way our very identities and selves.

I believe that we are primarily social creatures. Language can only be social [Wittgenstein]. We can only mature into adults after years of socialising. Markets can only be social - they are about shared values. Our identites are social, and even the people that go off into secluded retreat for extended amounts of time are still afforded a social place - we still have a word for them - hermits.

Yet, neo-liberalism posits a world of individuals only. [They would even like to have corporations classed as individuals.] I would claim that an 'individual' is a social construct. I don't think that the neo-liberal idea of what a person is matches reality, but it is an effective strategy to try to limit what is considered to be admissible behaviour and topics for dicussion - for Economic Man.

These changes by the Howard Government are a kind of coercion, and are actually quite violent. Some interesting topics here to discuss...

I mean it in a very basic sense. In a liberal society we are free subject not slaves. Hence governments need to shape our conduct in terms us being liberal subjects not as indentured labour or convicts.

You can see the mechanisms most clearly in terms of a neo-liberal mode of governance that shapes out conduct through creating markets where none existed before, there making us act as entrepreneurs our own being or life and shape us to become responsible for ourselves health, welfare, education, employment etc etc.

Neo-liberalism, as a mode of governance, shapes the realities we live and ensures that we as subjects are obliged to act in terms of the ethos and logic of the deregulated market.

I see what you mean from your last comment.
In theory this sounds like neo-liberalism expands the options for free agents. In practice I think that what it does is create something a plutocracy, where the wealthy can act as free agents, but the vast majority actually find their life choices are diminishing. Disposable income is limited. When essential services are turned over from the state to the 'free' market, those services may no longer be available to most people, at least with the same quality of service that a Commonwealth may try to maintain. I am thinking of health and education here. Over time this could entrench an underclass. Only the wealthy have the luxury in a neo-liberal regime to be able to act as free agents, and deliberate on 'values'.

But I see your point that in theory it may be justified as enabling choice. They used to also say that Communism worked in theory, but not in practice...