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March 29, 2013



Very glad I found this [via jderbyshire on twitter] and enjoyed reading some of your other work too. So good to see there are people out there on the left who aren't authoritarians of one stripe or another. More power to your elbow [in a decentralised, democratic and mutualist way, of course!]


You define neoliberalism, if I may paraphrase, as the liberty of money. But surely what 2008+ did was lift the veil to reveal the fiction of money. What neoliberalism (or economically-biased liberalism) has always been about is property, a word curiously missing from your post.

There is nothing unusual in a socially illiberal turn when times are hard. What is different today is that we have simultaneously lost our illusions about economic liberalism. Instead, we are increasingly focused on defending property (what we have we hold) rather than expanding opportunity.

Paradoxically this means a return to a purer, Lockean liberalism, which entails less sympathy for the characteristics associated with "fuzzy" liberalism, such as generosity and tolerance. Of course, the latter were arguably always cover for the former.

Perhaps the current irritation with liberalism is the despondent realisation that the "stable basis on which to judge people" remains property. The combination of government subsidies for second-homes and a tax on council house spare bedrooms is telling us something.

Ian C

Very persuasive and interesting - thanks.

I'm with Cruddas, Taylor, Milbank et al, but see what they are offering not as a rejection of classical liberalism as liberality, but of actually existing liberalism as consumerism and the triumph of 'non-judgementalism': 'I'm ok, you're ok, or at least we are as long as we have enough money and cool stuff'. They'd also argue that the common public criteria of worth (equality of respect?) need a religiously transcendental basis, as attempts to come up with an earthly foundation (blood and soil, etc) tend to go horribly wrong, or generate the kind of deeply unequal and money-obsessed society we have had during the Long 1980s.

As for neoliberalism, I think it is fair to want to recover its true sense and find another term for the dominant ideology of the Long 1980s. We don't have the neoliberalism of Hayek as a governing philosophy. We have Oligarchy based on Plutocracy tempered by Media Exposure and Elections. I suppose 'neo-corporatism' fits the bill.

Ralph Musgrave

Labour MPs’ opposition to free speech is nicely illustrated by a survey done by Comres for the reform of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The latter section made it illegal to insult anyone (i.e. it gave politicians and the police the right to arbitrary arrest). The proportion of Labour MPs in favour of retaining Section 5 was double the equivalent proportion for Tories and LibDems. See:


And Max Beloff (former professor of government at Oxford) described New Labour as fascist (Times Comment, February 9, 1999).

Will Davies

Fromarsetoelbow: you make a very important point, which I should have addressed. Yes, property rights become a form of a priori condition of participation under most forms of liberalism, and neoliberalism then extends these in all sorts of intangible directions via concepts of risk and intellectual property. The future itself then becomes 'ownable', via securitisation. However there are left-liberal approaches to this, which introduce common ownership, asset transfers and vigorous inheritance taxes, in order to maintain a more realistic notion of political equality.

Ian: Thanks. I guess another way of trying to get at this is that liberalism is a critique of arbitrariness in the exercise of power, wherever it is found.

Ian C

Thanks Will.
Yes, there is an indispensable critical liberalism that is all about identifying arbitrariness and remedying it; and a 'foucaldian' aspect to that is the exposure of alleged eternal verities as arbitrary exercises of special interests.
But we also need a positive liberalism, and that needs a foundation that can be presented as non-arbitrary. You don't get any more foundational than God, but although that is where Cruddas and Macintyre et al would ground their kinds of liberality, it can't work for everyone. The doctrine of human rights is the closest we can come, perhaps, in trying to identify a secular transcendental foundation for positive liberalism.
Neoliberalism can be seen as a deep claim that there is ultimately nothing arbitrary about the market and money: we get what we deserve when markets are correctly set up and incentives have been purified. Actually existing neoliberalism is the demonstration that this claim is simply a way to justify power and inequalities based on wealth and rank.

Dick Pountain

re FromArseToElbow's point, shifting the emphasis from money to property fits better with the growing shift toward rent extraction. In the IT world all the major players are moving rapidly to a rental model where you must pay them monthly for service rather than buy their products outright. The ferocious wars over patents and IP in telecomms, music, film etc point the same way.

Dave Timoney

@Dick Pountain, software suppliers have always been committed to a rental model. If you check a licence agreement from the 80s, you will find that you've only bought a "right to use".

Of course, exactly the same legal restriction existed with records, hence the need to pay extra for "performing rights" if you wanted to DJ at someone's wedding.

These restrictions were practically uneforceable and widely ignored, at least outside of the commercial domain. If you had physical control of a CD, you could pretty much do what you liked with it.

The irony of the Internet, which appeared to introduce "free" stuff and celebrate piracy, is that it has actually led to the ominous cloud in which we happily cede control of the physical asset for "convenience".

We now buy more but cheaper items, and we do so more impulsively, which is gradually preparing us for micropayments. We will have access to much more, but own much less, and the meter will be constantly running. The rentiers will inherit the Earth.

I expand on this here: http://fromarsetoelbow.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/shoegazing-and-cloud.html

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