Eugene McCarraher reviews Philip Mirowski's 'How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown'

The double-truth doctrine’s effectiveness depends on what Mirowski dubs “everyday neoliberalism,” an ensemble of attitudes and practices that turns all of life into a never-ending market. In the neoliberal imagination, the human person is an “entrepreneurial self,” a package of vendible talents and qualities: “a product to be sold, a walking advertisement…a jumble of assets to be invested…an offsetting inventory of liabilities to be pruned, outsourced, shorted, hedged against, and minimized.” Promulgating a “catechism of perpetual metamorphosis,” neoliberalism denies the existence of a “true,” invariant self, and celebrates the “eminently flexible” personality always ready and willing to submit to the Market. Averse to solidarity, the neoliberal self erases class from its political lexicon. Inoculated against empathy, it espouses a punitive sado-moralism toward the poor, the weak, and the unsuccessful. (American Idol, The Apprentice, and other “reality shows” are, in Mirowski’s words, “an unabashed theater of cruelty,” reflecting neoliberalism’s unforgiving attitude toward “losers.”)

Loudly proclaiming its autonomy, the neoliberal self is often cheerfully entrapped in “an invisible grid” of state and corporate gradients. Even its conceits of rebellion are fraudulent: because the line between commodities and everyday life is ever more steadily obscured or erased, dissent or resistance is expressed through purchases that reinforce the authority of consumer culture. Through “murketing”””the art of convincing consumers that they’re savvier than the marketers who manipulate them””we reach the highest stage of what Thomas Frank has called the “conquest of cool,” where everyday neoliberalism eviscerates the meaning of apostasy, insurrection, or revolution.

Although Mirowski appears to be a social democrat, his bleak account of neoliberal hegemony suggests that opposition is futile where it isn’t counterfeit. If political discourse has been so thoroughly cleansed of antagonism to the market, and if marketization itself has seeped into every crevice of our lives, then Thatcher’s ominous ukase””“there is no alternative”””becomes true by reason of default. Mirowski’s trenchant critique of the Occupy movement concludes with the judgment that “protest has been murketed.” In his view, populists such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren are naïve””too square to realize the supple and enormous dimensions of neoliberal guile. Mirowski’s harrowing portrayal of everyday neoliberalism implies that, as Slavoj Zi̬zek often says, it is now easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

Read it all from America.


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2 comments on “Eugene McCarraher reviews Philip Mirowski's 'How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown'

  1. Terry Tee says:

    Kendall – and elves – what on earth is this doing on your site? Way back in the early 80s when I was teaching philosophy of religion in college, Marxism was still in vogue and I read up on it. There is a Marxist concept of ideology in a quite specific meaning unique to Marxistm: ideology is the way that capitalist society operates spontaneously to give the illusion of choice, while actually trapping all people in an implacable economic system. I began reading this piece thinking that it provided a critique of the neo-liberal concept of the human person, an interesting one, but as I read on I became uneasy and the Marxist red light began flashing in my mind. It sounds like the Marxist concept of ideology, I thought, the more I read. Then I noticed the publisher, Verso, and the penny dropped. Verso emerged out of the ‘progressive Marxism’ associated with the New Left Review and its associates. This does not render the argument in the book under review meaningless; but it should be read with a health warning. There are interesting thoughts that might speak to Christians as offering a different account of the human person, different from that constructed by the market-place, and asking us to look again at the consumerism in which all of us now figure these days. It points, in fact, to our need for ongoing conversion, metanoia. But I doubt if that is the intention of the author. And yes we should take his socio-political critique with a pinch of salt.

  2. Terry Tee says:

    And oh by the way the review is not from America but from that other progressive Catholic publication, Commonweal.