From neo-liberalism to neo-barbarism

June 26, 2015 at 8:56 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

As we know, one of the key instruments of contemporary power is control of language. That is why we need to contest the key discursive terms designed to construct our social ‘reality’.

We could start with the master signifier itself – Neo-liberalism. Surely, we should begin to describe this as Neo-Barbarism?

Neo-Barbarism doesn’t operate with swords and axes or with tanks and guns. Instead it uses economic instruments such as capital and debt. But its effect is the same – control over the many by the few through means of fear and constraint. It’s all slightly more subtle of course and more ‘civilised’. It remains however a mode of exercising raw power.

Crucial to its functioning is its claim to legitimacy. This is achieved by controlling the very mechanisms of thought, primarily in the media and education. Thus, people are constrained to think within its categories and internalise its worldview. Hence the language of markets, competitiveness, efficiency, choice and so on.

But if we can think outside its assumptions and categories we can see its inherent barbarism. At its heart is a deep contempt for the poor and the vulnerable and those in social need. These are blamed for their circumstances as though poverty and marginalisation are personal, moral failures not consequences of economic systems that are no longer viable.

Look at the war on welfare. The appalling indifference to our global migration crisis. The wanton destruction of our shared ecology. The grotesque levels of poverty and inequality.

Alas, look at Europe. Look at the increasingly desperate desire to punish Greece, to topple its elected government, to destroy the imaginative possibility that there is any alternative to neo-barbarism. Neo-barbarism functions on the claim that it is not necessarily pretty but the alternative is far worse.

The neo-barbarians serve money and capital and openly want the poor and old of Greece to suffer even more. They no longer hide this, no longer finesse it. It is widely supported, including by our own Irish government. This is why I say this is neo-barbarism – an open, overt assertion that the poor should be poorer and democracy set aside as a technical anomaly disrupting the smooth logic of capital functionality.


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