Bourdieu on neoliberalism ANNOTATED

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Wed Dec 9 13:11:26 PST 1998

Annotations below

>>> Doug Henwood sends:



The essence of neoliberalism


What is neoliberalism? A programme for destroying collective

structures which may impede the pure market logic.



(Sure, the basic contradiction of capitalism is that production is social (collective) and appropriation is private (as in a market). Neo-liberalism's programme aggravates this contradiction . Production is more social than ever. People from thousands of miles apart working on the same car, for example. Yet, a smaller elite is appropriating a larger and larger amount of the product, and this goal dictates production, not the needs of the "Collective"-C.B)


Thus the absolute reign of flexibility is established, with employees

being hiring on fixed-term contracts or on a temporary basis and

repeated corporate restructurings and, within the firm itself,

competition among autonomous divisions as well as among teams forced

to perform multiple functions. Finally, this competition is extended

to individuals themselves, through the individualisation of the wage

relationship: establishment of individual performance objectives,

individual performance evaluations, permanent evaluation, individual

salary increases or granting of bonuses as a function of competence

and of individual merit; individualised career paths; strategies of

"delegating responsibility" tending to ensure the self-exploitation of

staff who, simple wage labourers in relations of strong hierarchical

dependence, are at the same time held responsible for their sales,

their products, their branch, their store, etc. as though they were

independent contractors. This pressure toward "self-control" extends

workers' "involvement" according to the techniques of "participative

management" considerably beyond management level. All of these are

techniques of rational domination that impose over-involvement in work

(and not only among management) and work under emergency or

high-stress conditions. And they converge to weaken or abolish

collective standards or solidarities (3).

(Capitalist production makes alienation rife. It creates a dog eat dog society. The greatest division of the working class "collectives" capitalism makes is into individuals. The above described pattern is not new - CB)

In this way, a Darwinian world emerges - it is the struggle of all

against all at all levels of the hierarchy, which finds support

through everyone clinging to their job and organisation under

conditions of insecurity, suffering, and stress.

(Marx and Engels noted that Darwin found Hobbes war of all against all in the animal kingdom. Social Darwinism reprojects this back onto bourgeois society. The struggle of all against all, dog eat dog, the rat race has always been an "essence" of capitalism - CB)

Without a doubt, the

practical establishment of this world of struggle would not succeed so

completely without the complicity of all of the precarious

arrangements that produce insecurity and of the existence of a reserve

army of employees rendered docile by these social processes that make

their situations precarious, as well as by the permanent threat of

unemployment. This reserve army exists at all levels of the hierarchy,

even at the higher levels, especially among managers. The ultimate

foundation of this entire economic order placed under the sign of

freedom is in effect the structural violence of unemployment, of the

insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The

condition of the "harmonious" functioning of the individualist

micro-economic model is a mass phenomenon, the existence of a reserve

army of the unemployed.

( With real full employment ( not 4% "un" as "full") and the right to a job, capitalism wouldn't last long, because there would be no scabs and all strikes would be won by the workers. Thus, capitalists are irreconcilably opposed to full employment and the fundamental right to a job - C.B.)

This structural violence also weighs on what is called the labour

contract (wisely rationalised and rendered unreal by the "theory of

contracts"). Organisational discourse has never talked as much of

trust, co-operation, loyalty, and organisational culture as in an era

when adherence to the organisation is obtained at each moment by

eliminating all temporal guarantees of employment (three-quarters of

hires are for fixed duration, the proportion of temporary employees

keeps rising, employment "at will" and the right to fire an individual

tend to be freed from any restriction).

(Abolition of the "at will" employment doctrine is part of my draft 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for a right to a decent job)

Thus we see how the neoliberal utopia tends to embody itself in the

reality of a kind of infernal machine, whose necessity imposes itself

even upon the rulers.

(Capitalism is a SYSTEM, not a policy of individual capitalist. Capitalists have always had to act as capitalist under penalty of ruin if they didn't -CB)

Like the Marxism of an earlier time, with which,

in this regard, it has much in common, this utopia evokes powerful

belief - the free trade faith - not only among those who live off it,

such as financiers, the owners and managers of large corporations,

etc., but also among those, such as high-level government officials

and politicians, who derive their justification for existing from it.

For they sanctify the power of markets in the name of economic

efficiency, which requires the elimination of administrative or

political barriers capable of inconveniencing the owners of capital in

their individual quest for the maximisation of individual profit,

which has been turned into a model of rationality. They want

independent central banks. And they preach the subordination of

nation-states to the requirements of economic freedom for the masters

of the economy, with the suppression of any regulation of any market,

beginning with the labour market, the prohibition of deficits and

inflation, the general privatisation of public services, and the

reduction of public and social expenses.

( "Like the Marxism of an earlier time" ??? Marxism is the least like a religion of any ideologies. It is the essence of anti-relgion. Some people have treated it uncritically. But Marxism is not the main example of uncritical thinking. All of the bourgeois ideologies are equally or more uncritical. The stereotype of Marxism as more like religion than liberalism or existentialism or postmodernism benefits the bourgeoisie and the neo-liberals in exactly the project Bourdieu is analyzing in this essay. This is definitely true in the U.S. France may have a slightly different history. Even post-modernism with its branches of anti-naturalism founds a sort of new supernaturalism- C.B)

And yet the world is there, with the immediately visible effects of

the implementation of the great neoliberal utopia: not only the

poverty of an increasingly large segment of the most economically

advanced societies, the extraordinary growth in income differences, ________

(This has always been an "essence" of capitalism. -CB)

the progressive disappearance of autonomous universes of cultural

production, such as film, publishing, etc. through the intrusive

imposition of commercial values, but also and above all two major

trends. First is the destruction of all the collective institutions

capable of counteracting the effects of the infernal machine,

primarily those of the state, repository of all of the universal

values associated with the idea of the public realm. __________

(The "collective" institutions won't counteract the effects of the infernal machine if they are not organized and class and socialist conscious. In other words, to get rid of the infernal machine , we still need a revolutionary organization of the working class, a party of some type, no doubt a new , new type.- CB)

Second is the

imposition everywhere, in the upper spheres of the economy and the

state as at the heart of corporations, of that sort of moral Darwinism

that, with the cult of the winner, schooled in higher mathematics and

bungee jumping, institutes the struggle of all against all and

cynicism as the norm of all action and behaviour.

(Is the essence of this new ? -C.B.)

Can it be expected that the extraordinary mass of suffering produced

by this sort of political-economic regime will one day serve as the

starting point of a movement capable of stopping the race to the

abyss? Indeed, we are faced here with an extraordinary paradox. The

obstacles encountered on the way to realising the new order of the

lone, but free individual are held today to be imputable to rigidities

and vestiges. All direct and conscious intervention of whatever kind,

at least when it comes from the state, is discredited in advance and

thus condemned to efface itself for the benefit of a pure and

anonymous mechanism, the market, whose nature as a site where

interests are exercised is forgotten. But in reality, what keeps the

social order from dissolving into chaos, despite the growing volume of

the endangered population, is the continuity or survival of those very

institutions and representatives of the old order that is in the

process of being dismantled, and all the work of all of the categories

of social workers, as well as all the forms of social solidarity,

familial or otherwise.

(The problem, the paradox of reforms in relation to revolution: we've heard of that before. What is to be done ?-C.B)

But these same forces of "conservation", which it is too easy to treat

as conservative, are also, from another point of view, forces of

resistance to the establishment of the new order and can become

subversive forces. If there is still cause for some hope, it is that

forces still exist, both in state institutions and in the orientations

of social actors (notably individuals and groups most attached to

these institutions, those with a tradition of civil and public

service) that, under the appearance of simply defending an order that

has disappeared and its corresponding "privileges" (which is what they

will immediately be accused of), will be able to resist the challenge

only by working to invent and construct a new social order. One that

will not have as its only law the pursuit of egoistic interests and

the individual passion for profit and that will make room for

collectives oriented toward the rational pursuit of ends collectively

arrived at and collectively ratified.

( He's counting on "left conservatives" of a sort. -CB)

How could we not make a special place among these collectives,

associations, unions, and parties for the state: the nation-state, or

better yet the supranational state - a European state on the way

toward a world state - capable of effectively controlling and taxing

the profits earned in the financial markets and, above of all, of

counteracting the destructive impact that the latter have on the

labour market. This could be done with the aid of labour unions by

organising the elaboration and defence of the public interest. Like it

or not, the public interest will never emerge, even at the cost of a

few mathematical errors, from the vision of accountants (in an earlier

period one would have said of "shopkeepers") that the new belief

system presents as the supreme form of human accomplishment.

(Here's a new idea. the public interest will emerge from the vision of communists when it seizes the consciousness of the working class masses - KM)

Maybe Bourdieu thinks people need the same old ideas (Marxism) but won't listen unless they are in a new vocabulary.Especially in France, Marxist lingo is old hat, "religious" dogma. That's not the problem in the U.S. where Marxism is the "Devil's" dogma.

Charles Brown



* Professor at the Collhge de France

Translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro

(1) Auguste Walras (1800-66), French economist, author of De la nature

de la richesse et de l'origine de la valeur ("On the Nature of Wealth

and on the Origin of Value")(1848). He was one of the first to attempt

to apply mathematics to economic inquiry.

(2) Erving Goffman. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of

Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

(3) See the two journal issues devoted to "Nouvelles formes de

domination dans le travail" ("New forms of domination in work"), Actes

de la recherche en sciences sociales, nos. 114, September 1996, and

115, December 1996, especially the introduction by Gabrielle Balazs

and Michel Pialoux, "Crise du travail et crise du politique" [Work

crisis and political crisis], no. 114: p.3-4.


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ) 1998 Le Monde diplomatique


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