Saturday, March 21, 2015

Making Australia Great or Unbecoming-of-Age

With George Megalogenis' TV history Making Australia Great: Inside our Longest Boom now being shown, questions concerning how to periodise and narrativise the boom's span of time are worth posing. Rarely, explicitly articulated as such, there is a body of hegemonic texts that use the tropes and structures of the coming-of-age narrative to tell the 1970s and 80s span of the national story. Given that Making Australia Great already appears to be taking its bearings from the text that did the most to embed a finance capitalist coming-of-age structure into Australian textuality--Paul Kelly's The End of Certainty--I think it's time to share my PhD as these issues are at the core of my work. You can access it here

Megalogenis' documentary is a political-cultural history that spans the period of around 1950 to 2013. As a history of politics and of culture interested in prime ministers, political economy and rock music,  I'm very interested in the sorts of methods and arguments it will make, as this is common terrain to what I read, worked with and on.

The first episode of three looked at the period spanning the pre-Whitlam era (c1965) and took us up to around 1986/7. Megalogenis had interview access to those Prime Ministers that were alive during filming (one, Malcolm Fraser PM 1975-1983 Liberal Party, passed away yesterday and Whitlam earlier this year), as well as a Reserve Bank Governor and other key political figures. This is a history from above, in one sense, as it is told largely through the understandings, and apparent consensus, of the main political leaders. The consensus mirrors the main narrative line of Paul Kelly's The End of Certainty: that Australian modernity was stillborn in the early twentieth century due to a five pillar Australian Settlement: protection in (white) race, (local manufacturing) tariffs and (white male) wages combined with state paternalism and imperial benevolence. The crumbling of this protectionist settlement, so this hegemonic national narrative goes, was due to the new global economic conditions that started to emerge in the late 1960s with the US de-coupling from the gold standard and the OPEC oil shocks. These shifts in global, post-war capitalism called out for new forms of political-economy, and a new political culture. It was during this situation that neo- or hyper- or turbo-liberalism gained a foothold. Kelly's narrative is not just about the changing world: it is also about the need for Australia to grow up, come of age and be economically mature and independent. My thesis challenges this orthodoxy.

The other interesting element of Megalogenis' political cultural history, and the one that makes it resonate with my work on a similar period, albeit one that finishes in around 1998, is his use of 'culture'. With only one episode broadcast, it is perhaps too soon to tell how this cultural element will be handled overall, but the initial cultural emblems chosen--redundant cars, heavily unionised workforce, 'political' pub rock, and sporting successes--were, unfortunately, given a 'content' reading: their historical meaning was tied back to blunt sociological understandings of the 'times'. An example: Midnight Oil had an angry style that voiced youth opposition to Fraser's punitive government. This sort of sociological content analysis is fair enough on one level for a 1 hour show that needs to move quickly, but it illustrates the conclusion you have already reached without going through the music-cultural field or through the form of the songs, which is a much more interesting historical journey and much more revealing of what was at stake at the time. The documentary's focus on music is directed into a soundtrack, crystallising what political journalists refer to as 'the atmospherics' rather than as cultural phenomena that each have embedded historical information about how its aesthetics interacts with the culture of the time and the content inscribed in the lyrics.

And yet the cultural analysis is interesting all the same, because there is a suggestion (maybe in the unconscious of the doco's choice of music and cultural artefacts) that the post-war (post-1945) culture had adhered around the post-war political-economy. Peter Beilharz has cheekily suggested we call this male, white, wage-earner culture Holdenism: a dry reference to Gramsci's concept of Fordism. In choosing the Leyland P76--this oversized, petrol guzzling, poorly engineered car--as one of the first episode's central tropes of the failed old ways of the Menzies period, Megalogenis' team have landed on a potent emblem of the forces acting on what I call the Labourist-social-liberal armature. Over the 1970s and 80s, this armature unwound, burnt-out, ceased to act as a force-field against which minority social movements defined themselves, was unable to support the fashioning of industrial citizens, failed to provide protection.

This period then was marked by a war of times--of rhythms. The Bildungsroman (coming of age narrative form) offers a temporal solution to the arrhythmia of finance capitalism, the breakdown of the armature's regular beats, but this narrative solution relies on abjecting--deferring and displacing--a range of valuable social forms. How Making Australia Great deals with this war of times will be fascinating.

I look forward to the next 2 episodes. The first can be viewed an ABC iView here

Unbecoming-of Age: Australian Grunge Fiction

In recent years the term Neoliberalism, although increasingly contested,  has been central to understanding changes in global political life. Neoliberalism has been generally used to describe and explain the political-economic project that arose out of the Thatcher and Reagan governments in the UK and USA, and has come to be a defining concept with which to account for the Global Financial Crisis. In Australia, however, Neoliberalism is associated with the putatively left wing Australian Labor Party Bob Hawke and Paul Keating governments that held power for more than a decade: 1983 to 1996. This period has been termed the long Labor decade by sociologist Peter Beilharz, who argued that the ALP and the labour movement was fundamentally transformed over this period.

In Unbecoming-of-age, this transformation of Labor and Labourism—its primary discourse—is explored through analysis of non-fictional and fictional narratives of the long Labor decade. Unbecoming explores how Australian Labourism was narrativised through three central figures and stories of the period: Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating and Paul Kelly’s The End of Certainty. Analysing Whitlam as a spectre, biographies of Keating and his poetics, and Kelly’s journalistic political history as a Bildungsroman of nation, Unbecoming draws out how Neoliberalism functioned via narrative techniques to become embedded in Australian textuality.  

Unbecoming-of-age then jumps tracks, moving from a literary analysis of political texts, to a political analysis of literary texts. This literary history interprets how the textuality of Neoliberalism functions within key texts of the long Labor decade, looking at the careers of two of Australia’s most political fictional writers: Frank Moorhouse and Amanda Lohrey. Unbecoming then turns to its central focus: Australian Grunge fiction. Through a close reading of Andrew McGahan’s first two novels, Praise and 1988, Christos Tsiolkas’ debut Loaded, and three post-grunge novels: Andrew McCann’s Subtopia, Elliot Perlman’s Three Dollars and Anthony Macris’ Capital, volume one, the analysis hones in on the literary infrastructure of the Bildungsroman narrative form and how each of these novels engages with this form of coming-of-age. The central argument here is that through the introduction of tropes of illness, abject conduct and forms of mobility that are out of time, these novels provide the resources for understanding how Neoliberalism was narrativised in Australia in the long Labor decade and,  importantly, how it might be worked through.

Through this literary analysis of political culture and political analysis of literary culture, Unbecoming-of-age offers a new understanding of the experience of Neoliberalism as it affects everyday life and subjectivity.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Just speculations--because you're worth it

The awareness that early readings of the crisis were above all misreadings has only motivated a further retreat into a style of thought that is singularly incapable of critically penetrating the workings of neoliberalism: the more apparent the tremendous affective force that neoliberalism derives from a politics of ignorance, the more progressive scholarship and commentary retreat into a fantasy of social critique as a kind of neutral, depoliticized fact-checking exercise. That is, the more neoliberalism is capable of making productive use of the limits of knowledge, the more its critique becomes invested in the notion of positive knowledge and of uncertainty as an external limit to it, thereby foreclosing the possibility of critically engaging neoliberalism’s ability to make speculation productive. This is what accounts for the paradoxical sense in which the progressive– liberal attachment to objective facts and neutral debate is so moralistic: it disavows the very speculative operations from which neoliberalism derives its strength. That is Hayekian agnotology at work.

'Hoodwinked by Hayek' Martijn Konings book review of Philip Mirowksi Never Let a Serious Crisis go to Waste. Journal of Cultural Economy March 2014

Is the basis of a revived left a project to make speculation just and equitable? Michel Feher is building a case for Investee Activism in his Goldsmith lectures on the Neoliberal Condition. What real opportunities can there be for all people to be who and what they have reason to value? (Sen's capability maxim). If speculation is just and equitable, then will it need to take account of the real opportunities that it produces?

Feher is also making an argument that Neoliberal governmentality has embedded a new human condition. This new human condition is both the object of and presupposes that people, as human capital, need to be empowered to appreciate themselves: to grow their credit. Are there then just limits to self-appreciation? Do some forms of self-appreciation/ self-esteem over-extend the credit one is due, or demands, via excesses of self-speculation? Do the real opportunities some people have to be and do what they have reason to value diminish the stock of real opportunities that others could draw on?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Neoliberal Condition and its predecessors: Redemption, Fulfilment, Appreciation--Michel Feher--Notes

My notes from Lecture 1 ‘The Neoliberal Condition and its predecessors: Redemption, Fulfilment, Appreciation’ 2013
Michel Feher lectures—The Neoliberal Condition Goldsmiths London

Outline of lectures
1.     The precursors of the Neoliberal Condition
·      The Augustinian Condition and Pastoral Power C5th AD to C17th AD.
o   Good disposition=charity.
o   Bad disposition=cupidity/ desire
·      The Liberal Condition C18th AD.
o   Good disposition=yearning to pursue one’s interests rationally and be recognised as praiseworthy.
o   Bad disposition=Passions- violent, rash, inconsistent
2.     Shift from Liberal to Neoliberal economy. From profit to credit
3.     Shift from Liberal to Neoliberal psychology
a.     Liberal subject seeks to optimize satisfaction: from want to fulfilment
b.     Neoliberal subject seeks to maximize self-esteem: from self-hatred to self-appreciation, making the NLS (Neoliberal subject) vulnerable, opposed to the ‘wanting’ Liberal subject.
4.     Social and love life of L and NL subject. Shift in sociality
a.     Liberal subject is subject of exchange: interested and disinterested
b.     NLS is subject of sharing: credit and (debt?) ‘Credit is bound to self-esteem in same way that profit is bound to satisfaction’
(Lectures 5 + 6 not outlined)

The NLC (Neoliberal Condition)

2 central propositions put forward in the lectures:
1.     Ascertaining the existence of the NLC
·      Past 30 yrs transformed statecraft/ coporate governance and personal motivation and conduct
2.     Embracing the NLC as means to resist and fight current NL policies. Turn key practices and concepts to social aims. Must recognise how resilient Neoliberalism has been, even after 2008 financial crash.

The terms belongs to the foes and critics of Neoliberalism
Alexnader Rustov coined term c1938 Walter Lippmann Conference
Key NL figures did not use term to identify their approaches/ theories:
·      Milton Freidman saw himself as laissez faire, old style classical Liberal
·      von Hayek saw himself as an old whig

Term reappeared with Balir/ Clinton 3rd way—indicates they didn’t know its history

Neoliberalism as term only used today by critics, yet amongst these critics there is no agreement about what it is:
1.     A return to pre-welfare state capitalism. Dismantlement of post-war Fordism
2.     ‘Neo’ refers to a set of new practices and concepts (Feher identifies with this approach). 4 major changes:
a.     Financialisation
Rise of financial markets
Deregulation of these markets—FK (Financial Capital) circulates globally and across institutions
Innovative financial engineering eg derivatives
b.     Transformation in corporate governance
Creating value for shareholders—new phenomenon late 1970s/80s
c.     New Public Managament
Transformation in statecraft: state is managed the way corporations are managed now.
As sharholders are for corporations, the bondholders are for states. State is accountable, in final instance, to bondholders as corporations are to shareholders.
d.     Workfare
Replaced/ replacing welfare
Social programs to help people ‘return’ to work
Aim no longer full employment but employability. From being employed to being employable
3.     Our condition has changed —subjective form, personal motivation and conduct.
Foucault BOBP (Birth of Biopolitics 1979): Neoliberalism is radically new—a subjective transformation—self-entrepreneur: entrepreneur of oneself

Feher will lean heavily of Foucault in the lectures but his (Feher’s) view is informed by dominance of Financialization: self as entrepreneur is obselete replaced by self as portfolio manager (portfolio of conducts)

Neoliberal Condition
Neoliberalism brings a representation of the human condition with it
Every mode of government is sustained, is articulated, is predictaed on a certain representation of the human condition
(Leaning heavily of Foucault for the following)

2 kinds of power in the West (Foucault)
1.     Sovereign power—sovereignty
·      Power to take and redistribute—a special right belonging to the sovereign
·      Power to levy and reallocate/ confiscate and redistribute/ take and give back/ kill and give grace/ tax and redistribute
2.     Government power—governmentality
·      Acting on people’s action rather than taking and giving back
·      Modifying people’s conduct to certain ends/ goals eg pastoral power: Priest seeks to modify conduct of faithful to being about their salvation.
·      In Medieval/ early renaissance (C12th) period, power of the church is exceeded. Pastoral power expands beyond the church

1.     Sovereign power: ruler has special quality/ God’s mandate/ popular mandate
2.     Government: is needed because of the special defect(s) of the governed as they are not able to govern themselves. These defects are known because of the ‘natural’ propensities in each historical instance of the human condition—natural, spontaneous propensities in people in their pre-governed state/ condition. This makes government necessary and possible/ justified and effective.

Good and bad dispositions
Forms of government presuppose a human condition, and a human condition presupposes a form of government. Government implies that people have two types of inclinations/ propensities/ dispositions:
1.     Bad propensities
These make it impossible for a subject/ person to govern themselves without help/ governmental intervention
2.     Good propensities
Show governing is possible and necessary. Tells you what good government is and does
Good govt. enhances and stimulatesgood dispositions and wards off bad ones.
If there are only bad propensities then government might be necessary but good government would be impossible.

Representation of the Human Condition (HC)
Not ideologies produced by governments to justify what they do
Rather, govt. and HC are a relationshop of mutual presuppositions: Govt and HC presuppose and lean on each other

A certain representation of the HC can be raised to justify a mode or government and to criticise it—Feher’s strategy throughout the lecture series will be to use key elements of the Neoliberal Condition (the Neoliberal instantiation of the Human Condition) to critique and show a way through Neoliberal Government.

The NLC is a new representation of the Human Condition: the correlative of the Neoliberal mode of government.

Major shifts in representations of the Human Condition

2 major shifts since 5th Century AD
1.     The Augustinian Condition and Pastoral Power C5th to C17th AD.
a.     Good disposition=charity—yearning/ desire to give
b.     Bad disposition=cupidity/ desire
This representation of the HC, challenged and accommodated over this period

2.     The Liberal Condition C18th AD.
a.     Good disposition=yearning to pursue one’s interests rationally and be recognised as praiseworthy.
b.     Bad disposition=Passions—violent, rash, inconsistent

3.     The Neoliberal Condition late 1970s/ 80s
a.     Good disposition=Self-appreciation
b.     Bad disposition=Self-loathing

The Augustinian Condition

Pelagian Controversy
Augustine responding to the Pelagian controvery c411—422 AD
Pelagius (390-418) Christian aristocrats merged Hellenist/classical ideals with Christianity—God Given scriptures + free will. Challenged the pastoral power of the church.

Classical and Hellenistic world
Source of evil is external
Men (and subject=men-citizens) are endangered by fate/ fortuna/ hazzard/ matter the devil.
A pure soul beset by external dangers and internal appetites/ senses/ fantasies.
Kernel of soul remained pure/ rational.
This part needed to dominate the lower, bodily part. Need self-mastery—autonomy from outside attack. Purify the self.
Aim: redemption/ salvation
Augustine’s human condition: cupidity and charity
Reinterprets the Fall: HC is original sin
We are ruled by cupiditas—utterly infected by original sin/ nothing good in us/ nothing that we can save

Only good that is in us is the charity that God has put in our hearts—we can access it, but it’s not ours—it’s his

Cupidity—insatiable, ungovernable and irrepressible desires.
·      Can’t be vanquished—they are too strong
·      Lust—desire for pleasure
·      Greed—desire for possession
·      Pride—desire for domination

How to access charity when cupidity is overwhelming?
2 ways—realise we are slave to desires:
1.     Pride of Adam
·      try to control=libertine response
·      try to eliminate=ascetic response
2.     Humility
·      Realise you are a slave and humbled before desires. In this state of humiliation, God’s love can enter from the outside. God loves you for the desire soaked, wretch you are. You are awed and humbled.
·      You cultivate your humilityàgratitudeàaccess to charity
·      Charity is gift of God—countervailling power to give—giving to others with no regard for own satisfaction
Charity expresses piety and love neighbour because unlike God, neighbours are very hard to love.
Cultivating humility is core of Augustinian ethics—how to access charity

Augustinian Pastoral Government
Priests govern flock via cultivating humility to escape nature
Becomes general mode of ethics by C12th
Because most people too fallen to being to be humble, only clergy to have access

Late C11th to early C            12th economic development à everyone can be charitable. Can turn lust, greed and pride into charity

What matters in your act is your intention—true charity, which earns salvation, requires true intention
Merchants satisfying self=sin  satisfying others=charity influenced by Luke’s gospel

Adaptations of the Augustinian Condition (AC)
From C12 onwards—appropriations of the AC as ethics and mode of government

2 profane appropriations:
1.     Development of Charity
Aristocratic ethics
Largesse of lords is reciprocated by loyalty, creating a virtuous circle. Lord give fiefàloyalty.
A profane treatment of pride
NOT an exchange
2.     Development of lust (Christianizing nobility)
Courtly love
Noble man wants a lady’s mercy/ gift

Not greed (?) usury is not charity but its opposite antidora (?)

The Liberal Condition (LC)
Full bloom market Km (Capitalism) doesn’t arrive until early C20
Development of LC—mostly associated with Scottish Enlightenment of C18-David Hume and Adam Smith

Rehabilitation of INTEREST as a form of greed
2 canonical books addressing this topic:
·      Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
·      Albert Hirschman’s The Passions and the Interest

Interest (avarice) rehabilitated by theorists/ proponent of Reason of State (Hirschman and Foucault)
Post-Machiavellian advisors to absolutist monarchs

Reason of State
C17=time when states accept they are here to stay/ sustainable and in competition with other states

Governmentality moves out of pastoral domain and becomes a way of reinforcing the state which needs to be strong by mobilizing its populationà
secular governmentality
·      People to become more disciplined, work harder, commit to prosperity of the state, maximise their docility and utility
à Problem, because people still dominated by their cupidity—passsions—desires which are volient and inconstant

Reason of State advisors: people have passions and interests
Interests are passions informed by reason—thinking about how to get what you want abd thinking about the risk and the relationship between rick/ rewards—costs/ benefits

State needs to stimulate and cultivate these interests to make population more productive and controllable because interests are calculated and calculations can be strimulated and reproduced à
Absolutist monarchs’ mercantilist/ protectionist policies in C17. Develops manufacturing and wealth and glory of the state.

Liberals—intervene in this  in name of the merchant middle class—Scottish Enlightenment.
·      They accept the representation of the human condition (subect of passions and interests) BUT
·      Argue that because of these elements to the HC the state should leave us alone (Fouc’s we are governed too much)
·      Because these intereste are rational and productive, YOU should not govern us too much.
·      Liberal appropriation of subject of interests is turned against absolutist state/govt.
·      Give us what we need to pursue our interests, then leave us aloneàdevelop interests of nation + state

Moral Anthropologies—Hume and Smith
1.     David Hume
·      We are motivated by our passions/ desires
·      Basic orientation is to max. pleasure/ min. pain
·      Anti-Augustinian—not a sin
·      We also have instrumental reasonàthink on best way to satisfy passion/ desires
·      Interest = passion informed by reason
·      Society? Comes from sexual attractionà pleasure, which creates benevolence between lovers and within familie/ kin and small local groups—extended families
·      Sex makes for benevolent kin groups but these are too atomistic as basis for Society which requires the development of interestsà systems of exchange and forms of justice—3 rules:
                                                                                                i.         Right to private propertyu (protected)
                                                                                               ii.         Right to alienate/ sell what is yours
                                                                                             iii.         Obligation to respect/ honour contracts
·      Society is based on Justice—rule of law—alongside which runs a slow process of optimizing interests.

2.     Adam Smith
Takes Hume a step further
WON (Wealth of Nations) + (TMS) Theory of Moral Sentiments are contradictory?
WON—we are all driven by pursuit of interests, But
TMS—we are all driven by pursuit of sympathy

Not a contradiction (or rather, the contradiction is ‘resolved’ in a specific way: via modes of government) because
The source of pursuit of interests to improve conditions comes from SON (State of Nature)
SON is a primitive state ruled by scarcity—survival is hard and atomistic
Best way to improve conditions is by multiplying exchanges, but this is not known in SON, rather there is a dormant propensity to exchange à commerceàinterest is best served by exchanging, in turn à division of labour, increased productivity and specialization

Development of market economy
All pursuing self-interest—guided by invisible handàcreate max. prosperity for all + evenly distributed . . .but Smith asks why is this taking so long? Because there is a residual/ remnant propensity from SON to hoard

The more we exchange the more we live in societyà Sympathy—a new yearning. At best we have ability to simulate the thoughts/feelings of others so that we can increase access to self via gaze of others. Wanting to know whether or not you are liked is beginning of morality

Some want to be praised-to be liked                  but it is better to be likable/ praiseworthyàQ how do you choose the right person to ask if you are praiseworthy?

1.     these are the people you find praiseworthy. You then, abstract the best qualities from these people into an impartial spectator in your mind (super ego?) who monitors own conduct cf panopticon
Only by engaging in exchanges with others do you begin to build up a bank of praiseworthy experiences

These are not commercial exchanges–but exchanges of information—giving receiving judgmentàdevelopment of a disinterested exchange

Liberal Condition
2 propensities
·      Interest—commercial
·      Disinterested praiseworthiness (cf aesthetics of Kant, M. Arnold)—be recognized as likable and praiseworthy
How to combine the 2?
Smith—one of the best ways to be recognized as praiseworthy is to get rich
             But, have to mindful of others who envy you, and watch for the poor who might band together. Smith also has some doubts . . .

Smith applies Hume’s 2 spheres: private/benevolent   --     Public/justice

Victorian Liberal Condition
Men pursue interests in the public sphere where they seek praise and the invisible hand of the market rules
In the private sphere, the realm of disinterested exchanges, the invisible hand of the difference of the sexes rules . . .

Women’s nature is ruled by 2 qualities: modesty and maternal/ motherly love
While some desires can be turned into interest, sex cannot as men are brutes
Women are naturally modest and will resist attacks on their virtueàmen admire women who keep their virtue entact

Men are looking for someone who is worthy of calling him praiseworthy—an admirable person/ impartial spectatoràhe offers marriage to this person. Once married her modesty is replaced by motherly love.
The man respects his wife and makes $ in the public sphere which he brings into the household.

Public sphere dominated by men and a private sphere dominated by morality.
This sketch of the Victorian Liberal Condition (VLC) can be seen Richardson’s Pamela.

Thus VLC= 2 invisible hands:
1.     Realm of interest=market that allows and enable self-interested people to produce collective prosperity—interested commercial exchanges
2.     Realm of disinterest=domestic sphere, based on maternal love—disinterested, domestic-intimate exchanges

Good liberal government is not anarchic, but responsible:
1.     Sustains markets—private property/ freedom of exchange/up holds conracts
2.     Ensures families prosper—encourages women to be modest + maternal + incites men to respect modesty

Liberal Government
Exchanges in both spheres:
·      governs taxpayers—maximizes their interests
·      fosters disinterested relationship between Nation + mother-children of the nation—gives national identity and children given life for war

Different appropriations of the liberal condition:

Evolution and crisis of liberal condition à rise of Neoliberalism.