Philip Mirowski: The Entrepreneurial Self

It is predominantly the story of an entrepreneurial self equipped with promiscuous notions of identity and selfhood, surrounded by simulacra of other such selves. It tags every possible disaster as the consequences of risk-bearing, the personal fallout from making “bad choices” in investments. It is a world where competition is the primary virtue, and solidarity a sign of weakness. Consequently, it revels in the public shaming of the failed and the hapless.

– Philip Mirowski,  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown

Philip Mirowski offers us a double vision or double critique of both the Neoliberal world view and of the baffled Left: on the one hand he exposes the underbelly history of the Neoliberal world itself, and on the other hand he gives a subtle critique of the Left who have allowed the neoliberals both the ammunition and the weapons of mass ignorance to be used against themselves. Mirowski over several books has explored the Neoliberal world from different angles of the economic spectrum and incorporates a multivalent view or window onto the dark contours of this powerful antagonist as it has under the cover of secrecy slowly shaped and guided an authoritarian vision of domination that has spread globally. Why? As in all things there is no simple answer to this dilemma, yet there is one central element:  the neoliberal machine slowly coopted the tools of the Left, intervening in funds, foundations, think tanks, academia, public media,  NGO’s, United Nations, and on the surface determined the discourse of the Left toward false projects. The notion that the Left itself has been infiltrated by a tribe of traitorous academics – chameleons of ideology and politics, intellectuals paid to twist and mold false critiques of society and provide instead of truth disinformation has been pointed out by a small subset of journals, writers, intellectuals outside the mainstream for years. Yet, these voices go unheeded for the most part because of the larger and well funded neoliberal machine. Many of the radical Left bewail the fate of public media: radio, television, newspapers, internet, etc. Telling us that the pressure of the financial sector is closing off intellectual thought in our age, etc.

One need not study the whole history of public manipulation or as Chomsky names it, “manufactured consent”, to understand that the neoliberal world has taken years to infiltrate every aspect of society and culture. Edward Bernays in the years just before WWI would realize the power of mass persuasion and propaganda. Later in a book by that name he would suggest that the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” The German propagandist Joseph Goebbels learned from studying the effectiveness of propaganda from people such as Bernays. He once remarked “Propaganda and education prepared the way for the largest social assistance program in history. They were the foundation. Each situation brings new challenges. And each task requires the support of the people, which can only be gained by untiring propaganda that brings the broad masses knowledge and clarity. No area of public life can do without it. It is the never resting force behind public opinion. It must maintain an unbroken relationship between leadership and people. Every means of technology must be put in its service; the goal is to form the mass will and to give it meaning, purpose and goals…”1

As Mirowski explains it the neoliberal world view is a world where competition is the primary virtue, and solidarity a sign of weakness. Consequently, it revels in the public shaming of the failed and the hapless. It replaces the time-honored ambition to “know yourself” with the exhortation to “express yourself,” with everything the bunco shift in verbs implies. It counsels you to outsource the parts of your life you find irksome. The effect of this congeries of technologies, entertainments, mobilizations, and distractions has been first and foremost to reinforce the exoteric version of the neoliberal self, but more important, has served to so addle and discombobulate the populace that they end up believing that adoption of neoliberal notions constitutes wicked rebellion against the powers that be, corporations, and a corrupt political class. The nimble trick of portraying a neoliberal world as an insurgency always on the edge of defeat, a roiling rage against the system, the rebel bloom of dissent from a stodgy cronyism of corporate and government governance , not to mention the epitome of all futuristic hope, is the secret weapon of the Russian doll structure, deflecting the gale-force winds of prolonged economic contraction. It offers more, better neoliberalism as the counter to a sputtering neoliberalism, all the while disguising any acknowledgment of that fact. It is the promotion of ignorance as the neoliberal first line of defense. (Mirowski, 1844-1854)2

Have we all become ignorant children who are controlled and guided by a malicious parental authoritarian elite who see themselves as both the exception and the feudalistic overseers of a mindless or zombified populace? John Gatto who described how this insidious neoliberal system was dumbing us all down through compulsory education recently asked: “Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we would “leave no child behind”? Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up?” Gatto in an article Against School  reminds us that our own educational system was molded on the old Prussian military educational system:  an educational systemdeliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensuredocile and incomplete citizens-all in order to render the populace “manageable.” This notion of the managerial society in which the elite would control the populace through ignorance harks back to what Morowski describes as the “double truth” of Neoliberalism:

Hayek and his comrades hit upon the brilliant notion of developing the “double truth” doctrine of neoliberalism— namely, an elite would be tutored to understand the deliciously transgressive Schmittian necessity of repressing democracy, while the masses would be regaled with ripping tales of “rolling back the nanny state” and being set “free to choose”— by convening a closed Leninist organization of counterintellectuals.(Mirowski, 1741-1744)

As William E. Scheurman tells us Friedrich A. Hayek was heavily influenced by Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt and would incorporate much of the authoritarian and reactionary program of Schmitt into the neoliberal agenda.

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 As Mirowski adds, speaking of Hayek: “If it had been apparent to his audience that he was effectively advocating an authoritarian reactionary despotism as a replacement for classical liberalism, it would certainly have not gone down smoothly in the West right after World War II.” (Mirowski, 1738-1740) Ultimately Neoliberalism would become an authoritarian anti-liberal platform in which freedom was for the elite and those financially capable, while the other 99% of the world populace was to become indoctrinated by a false freedom enforced by the La trahison des clercs.

As one of the Mont Pèlerin Society members, Christian Arnsperger said of the neoliberal stance to its members: “Let’s be clear, I don’t believe in democracy in one sense. You don’t believe in democracy. Nobody believes in democracy.” (Mirowski, 1749-1751) Little wonder that the undermining of social and personal freedom, along with democratic values for the past forty to fifty years has had such odd effects on not only American but all democratic cultures.

I’ll take up this thread in my next post.

1. Goebbels, Joseph (2009-05-31). Goebbels on the Power of Propaganda (Kindle Locations 157-158). Shamrock Eden Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2. Mirowski, Philip (2013-07-09). Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (Kindle Locations 1844-1854). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

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