“… the continued existence and efficacy of a political order depends upon the cultivation of a sustaining public culture. And, moreover, that central to such a culture is the formation of emotions among the citizenry that give vigour and depth to their allegiance to the principles that define the political order’s conception of justice.
Dry intellectual endorsement of a set of political principles, independently of any emotional attachment to them, is too fragile and brittle a basis for an enduring political order.”
I suppose such commentary on the emotional bases of [neo] liberal projects isn’t especially groundbreaking in the grand scheme of things – or even within the academy – but perhaps it would be wise to return to this as a founding target of critique. Off the top of my head, there seem to be plenty of pointers to a renewed presence of neoliberal love, both in terms of public policy and cultural production in 2015.
Below I embellish this interest in neoliberalism-as-love, through the fairly obvious examples of public policy and identarian “culture wars”. In the case of the former, it has long been recognised that moralism and constructions of justice are frequently utilized to foster support for policy, even if the policy in question guarantees added hardship for an “other” party.
Regarding identarian conflict, a critical Deleuzian analysis helps to reveal how “endless difference” is no guarantor against control. Hopefully, the ostensible juxtaposition of these cases (policy = rationalism, culture = confusion) will be submerged, and so opened up, by an overarching intention to understand the role of love in reproducing the neoliberalisation process. From this, we might be able to conclude not only that the juxtaposition is misleading, but also that the significance of love as a violent justification across neoliberal terrain is a viable category for future critique.
- Public policy
In his 10th January 1979 lecture at the Collège de France, Foucault introduces the basic assumptions for any constructivist analysis of the state, and state policy, as follows:
“The state is not a cold monster; it is the correlative of a particular way of governing. The problem is how this way of governing develops, what its history is, how it expands, how in contracts, how it is extended to a particular domain, and how it invents, forms and developments new practices” (p6)
In rejecting simple historicity, which we are accustomed now to consider fraudulently apolitical – which is to say in line with dominant ideological particulars – Foucault also embellishes two earlier insights from the same lecture. In light of the neoliberal predicament, they represent a useful introduction into how love can operate at the level of policy-making and how a “bottom up regime of control” is still subject to power. Firstly,
“The state is at once that which exists, but which does not yet exist enough… The art of government must therefore fix its rules and rationalize its way of doing things by taking as its objective the bringing into being of the state should be. What government has to do must be identified with what the state should be” (p4)
Followed swiftly by:
“The state is a specific and discontinuous reality.” (p5)
The Deleuzian alternative to this diagnosis of the state as a temporally and spatially located organisation of control, and a self-generative modus operandi of all of its own, focuses on dispersal and fragmentation. Specifically for a critical project such as this, the possibility of fragmentation as a mode of opposition in the post-’68 [Western] environment. While there are limits to this Deleuzian approach which I will note below, in a political climate where “post-democracy” is granted a normative function there is plenty to be gleaned through a fusion of Foucault’s insight regarding the onto- and epistemo- logical existence of the state, and the acknowledgement of transformation across the body politic. As Crouch has spoken about at length, a key constituent of post-democracy is the similarly normalised factor of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The state then is but one regulator/co-ordinator of sovereignty, social and individual, public and private.
The roll-out of Universal Credit in the UK has over the past few years showcased how the “art of government” is closely allied to the construction of “neoliberal love”. As angrily demonstrated over at the void:
“The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) ran the consultation after the DWP warned that the seven day waiting period already introduced for current out of work sickness and unemployment benefits is being extended to Universal Credit. As the SSAC rightly point out this will leave most new claimants without any benefits at all for six weeks due to the monthly payment cycle of Universal Credit. Perhaps most shocking of all, this will include payments intended to cover rents, meaning new claimants will not just face the trauma of losing their job but immediately be plunged into huge rent arrears.
The details make for depressing reading. Also of interest however is how Universal Credit has become emblematic of the neoliberal state’s focus on “fixing” itself – and so what it is meant to be – and its commitment to a “reality” rather than a contingency. The words that flutter around the official press for its implementation have all the markings of pro-neoliberal, facilitator states. “Rationalising”, “streamlining” “simplifying” et al call to mind Birchall’s lucid work on transparency as a tool of power, wherein the concept of openness and visibility as a matter of course and necessity capture the citizenship in a catch-22; in order to be a proper, engaged member of the public, one must familiarise their self with the avalanche of information presented [and lest we forget given blessing by] the state. As per the “reality” that Universal Credit is working towards, it is clearly one predicated foremost on justice – and a “universal” justice at that.
This homogenization of citizenship and freedom (access, transparency etc), of justice, and the justice of those in need of financial welfare particularly, can only be sustained when human experience – its plentitude, to use another Deleuzian term – is subject to power relations across ideational terrain. This much at least is uncontroversial: power rules. But the investment required to believe in such a universalization of justice – and need/want – in turn requires engagement with the dialectic twin of justice: love. When, later in the void’s article, the writer reflects on the duplicity of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by exclaiming:
It is fucking astonishing they can say this stuff with a straight face. What is perhaps of most concern is that they might actually believe it.
They inadvertently hit the nail on the head: support for such a proposal relies on precisely such a belief. The emancipatory, exceptional role of love is also present, in the Žižekian sense, by virtue of the justificatory framework that is being propagated by the state: X policy will grant this population hardship, but X policy remains necessary because the alternative is not worth contemplating (it will be either love-less, or dictated by love – and so irrational, crazy, open to abuse etc.)
- Identarian conflict
The following remarks stem from observations that are necessarily anecdotal, and focus as much on the recent popularity of what remains derided as “identity politics”, as the radicalism of the debate’s current manifestation. I would like to posit, however, that a reassessment of this debate, possibly best understood here as an internecine disjuncture, particularly on the left, over inclusivity in opposition, has, under the guidance of “neoliberalism-as-love”, the potential to be a trans-political weapon of critique and future analysis.
Examples of identarian conflict gaining notoriety have in recent years mushroomed. From “incidents” (#cancelcolbert, #gamergate, #solidarityisforwhitewomen) to individual examples of supposedly controversial transition and accordant emphasis on the peripheral treatment cross-identity has long had in mainstream discourse (Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner) – and right up to heterogeneous examples of [non/] exclusionary imbroglios (Rachel Dolezal, the “terf wars”), identarian conflict has been big news.
As might appear obvious, the term “identity” itself requires reassessment. This is demonstrated by the highly problematic conversations regarding, in the case of Dolezal, the plausibility of trans-racial “discrimination”. This wasn’t a dialogue limited to the “illegitimate” realm of tumblr and twitter either – BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour held an in depth conversation on the topic. It is not my intention – or within my capacity! – to reassess identity here, nor to navigate the very serious questions (check out the link for “Slave of the Passions” – an articulate, engaged and knowledgeable if, to my mind, flawed source of several articles discussing the intricacies of identity politics and feminism) over whether or not certain trans-inclusive praxis’ have epiphenomenal dangers for other women. What I would like to draw attention to is the role that love plays in forming identity, and how this should not be forgotten when we are attempting to extricate meaning from the various disputes which have characterised the current situation, and which have involved vicious criticism leveled as much from progressive as from conservative perspectives. In quoting hooks:
“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
I think we are given a succinct introduction to how our sense of self is also bound to our capacity to love. Self-love, and societal love (to be free of judicial and ideational oppression) are clearly imbricated in the examples alluded to above – see, for instance, the backs and forths that greeted the “overt” femininity of Jenner’s Vanity Fair shoot. Was Caitlyn an empowering example? Was she benefiting from her whiteness? Her financial well-being? Was her “submissive” pose a reproduction of patriarchal ideals long established in a binary-normative society? The question could also be asked: does any of this matter, if Caitlyn can now “be” herself? And it is this question that points to the most interesting aspect of identity politics and neoliberalism: it is the left-wing, en masse, which has struggled hardest to coalesce around a shared approach.
On first glance this is surprising. It had been my assumption, perhaps naively, that the political spectrum could be demarcated reasonably easy. Those of an economically progressive/socialist persuasion were more likely to follow suit when it came to issues of society; the economically conservative would be more temperamental, but broadly speaking less inclined to lend vocal support to the more peripheral corners of erasure (transgender, genderqueer rights etc.). How little I knew. What has struck me as especially fascinating is the transformation of “political correctness” as a straw-man and basis for attack/ridicule mostly associated with the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and the tabloid press, to one used ever more frequently by those who identify as left-wing. The natural retort, offered here by Brittney Cooper, is to ask for some belated self-reflection:
“Rather than threatening people of color into capitulation, why don’t those on the liberal left see these incursions and schisms as a call to put their big-girl panties on and get their shit together? Accusing us of being divisive in left politics is a classic silencing tactic. Unchecked racism and the white liberal sanctimony that makes it possible are divisive.”
But there are still discernible factors underpinning this development, and which strike to the core of why we should recast love as a neoliberal category. The most pressing, as far as I can make out, is a belief that the left has lost its way organisationally, and so has succumbed to the splintered – and splintering – sideshow of identity politics. One of the more impressive and rewarding exponents of this theory is Jodi Dean. Her writing often highlights the compatibility of identity politics with neoliberal processes, and the structural adjustment to “communicative capitalism” in the West more generally. The aforementioned example of Facebook boldly introducing multiple options under users’ “Gender” category brings to the fore how consumer choice is more than happy to adapt to subaltern currents, so long as the profit-margin is not damaged. This was fertile ground for mockery, but the most bitter (if amusing) denunciations again seemed to come from the left:
“…Whenever anyone finds out I identify as an ogre, they very hurtfully and condescendingly accuse me of just making things up. Such blatant double-standards cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. For centuries bigots and fools refused to acknowledge the existence of leprechauns”
And yet, the rebuttal which these leftists often use – “a demise of class-based analysis has driven us to ridiculous identity politics!” – holds within it an important truth: the fight for political economy has been lost, and was lost a long time ago. If identity politics, as popular as they have become, are to be deemed illegitimate, where do we go?
My [emerging] answer is, of course, love. The radical, violent love which – as Žižek points out – is now more attuned to manufacture, as opposed to a falling in to. The role of love in both public policy and identity politics is unquestionable, and is the terrain most readily and covertly weaponised by neoliberal processes, which consistently reach out to the state-of-exception nexus of which love is always immanent. It is a justificatory framework which deserves a much deeper, contemporary analysis, and one which would acknowledge the failure of the left in terms of political economy, while looking towards new techniques for opposition. Maybe this would involve bringing the “fall” back into love – in a political sense at least.
To do so, the Deleuzian concept of “yes, and -” (as opposed to “either/or”) must be rescued from its demotion to an antiquated “endless deconstructive” effort, and utilized as a means of accepting and moving on from the echo chamber that the Western left has found itself in. In any case, this would surely be an essentially Marxist endeavour anyway; the seeds of capitalist destruction lie permanently in its own processes: what is more integral now than the new subjectivity – the new neoliberal love?