Saturday, January 8, 2011

the difference between neoliberals and neoconservatives

The glib answer: What difference? David Harvey's book, probably the best on the subject, is titled A Brief History of Neoliberalism; there isn't even a subtitle mentioning neoconservatism. But Harvey addresses neoconservatism:
US neoconservatives favour corporate power, private enterprise, and the restoration of class power. Neoconservatism is therefore entirely consistent with the neoliberal agenda of elite governance, mistrust of democracy, and the maintenance of market freedoms. But it veers away from the principles of pure neoliberalism and has reshaped neoliberal practices in two fundamental respects: first, in its concern for order as an answer to the chaos of individual interests, and second, in its concern for an overweening morality as the necessary social glue to keep the body politic secure in the face of external and internal changes.
In the US, the difference seems greater than it does in countries with a wide range of political parties: Barack Obama and most Democrats since Bill Clinton are neoliberals; George Bush and most Republicans since Ronald Reagan are neoconservatives.

The neoliberal relationship to identity politics is complex. David Harvey notes:
Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them.
In the US, neocons tend to reject identity politics, with a significant exception: Christian and Jewish neocon Zionists will claim critics of Israel are antisemitic, even when those critics are Jewish. (For example, see Stéphane Hessel.) Otherwise, this is how neocon identity politics tend to play out:
  • If you're X: "Stop whining and get a job."
  • If you're not-X: "Why do you care? You're not-X."
Neoliberals are more amenable to identity politics, so their approach is more likely to be along these lines:
  • If you're X: "We want to make a world where being X won't keep anyone out of the ruling class."
  • If you're not-X: "We want to make a world where everyone in the ruling class can feel like they earned their privilege fairly."
It's true that some of the strongest advocates of identity politics claim they aren't neoliberals, but their tactics serve neoliberalism. Here's David Harvey again:
Civil rights were an issue, and questions of sexuality and of reproductive rights were very much in play. For almost everyone involved in the movement of '68, the intrusive state was the enemy and it had to be reformed. And on that, the neoliberals could easily agree. But capitalist corporations, business, and the market system were also seen as primary enemies requiring redress if not revolutionary transformation; hence the threat to capitalist class power. By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interest could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. But it had to be backed up by a practical strategy that emphasized the liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices. Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'post-modernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s.
Doing a little googling, I came across Neoliberalism: Neoconservatism Without a Smirk, which has a great title and makes some good points, like:
Both neolibs and neocons are authoritarian statists each with their own definition of political correctness.  Politically correct neolibs are expected to be pro-abortion, pro-gay-lesbian, pro-affirmative action, pro-Israel, pro-gun control, anti-clerical, pro-big government, and pro-American Empire.  Anyone who does not conform to this litany or who associates with those who do not, is at risk of being attacked by a left wing truth squad such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and accused of the likes of homophobia, racism, anti-semitism, religious fundamentalism, or even hate crimes.  Politically correct neocons are more likely to be pro-life, anti-gay-lesbian, anti-affirmative action, pro-Israel, anti-gun control, pro-clerical, pro-big government, and pro-Empire.  Both are vehemently opposed to secession.

Above all, what neoliberals and neoconservatives have in common is that they are technofascists.  Benito Mussolini defined fascism as “the merger of state and corporate power.”  Technofascism is the melding of corporate, state, military, and technological power by a handful of political elites which enables them to manipulate and control the population through the use of money, markets, media and the Internet.
ETA: Tweaked the middle section about identity politics.