Wednesday, May 17, 2006

David Harvey

I had hoped to post at length about David Harvey's excellent book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, but I don't think I'm going to have the time to do it justice any time soon. I will say, however, that I think that this is an essential book. Anyone hoping to make sense of the world today would be well served by reading it. I can't recommend it highly enough.

This is a short interview with Harvey in which he talks about many of the issues discussed in much greater detail in the book. Here's a sample:
Q: Tell me about the ideological dimension of all this, because the ideological thought process is more complicated. You talk about the institutions, the concentration of wealth. But what is neo-liberalism, broadly speaking? And how does that relate not only to the economy but also to ideology and culture?

A: The strength of the neo-liberal ideology, on a popular level, is its emphasis individual liberty, freedom and personal responsibility. Those have all been very important aspects, of what you might call ‘American Ideology’ since the very inception of what the U.S. has been about. What neo-liberalism did was to take the demand for that which was clearly there in the 1950's and the 1960's and say “We can satisfy this demand, but we are gonna do this a certain way, we are gonna do it through the market, and you can only achieve those goals through the market. We are gonna do it in such a way that you have to forget about the issues of social justice.” It seems to me that the movements of the 1960's were about combining individual liberty and social justice. What neo-liberalism did was say “we’ll give you the individual liberty, you forget the social justice.” For that reason it has been very powerful in the United States as an ideology,because it can appeal to this long tradition of individual liberty and freedom.

You can see this in Bush’s rhetoric even before 9/11, although it has escalated since. . How many times did he use the words ‘Liberty’ and ‘Freedom’ in his second inaugural address? It is to that ideological tradition which I think everyone in the US subscribes to some degree, including myself. The only interesting question is, how do we conceptualize individual liberty and freedom in relationship to social obligations? In relationship to social justice? In relationship to real possibilities for everybody to participate in this system? That is a question you cannot ask if you say the only vehicle for which you may realize your dreams of individual liberty and freedom is through the market and through privatization of everything, and through a legal apparatus which is heavily reliant on individual personal rights.

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