Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The (welfare) state is dead. Long Live the (neoliberal) state.

Another Thomas Lemke quote below, which helps me to get a better grip on Neoliberalism as a political rationality:

For Foucault the state itself is a "technology of government"; since it is "the tactics of government which make possible the continual definition and redefinition of what is within the competence of the state and what is not, the public versus the private, and so on, thus the state can only be understood in its survival and its limits on the basis of the general tactics of governmentality." The perspective of governmentality makes possible the development of a dynamic form of analysis that does not limit itself to stating the "retreat of politics" of the "domination of the market," but deciphers the so-called "end of politics" itself as a political program. The crisis of Keynesianism and the dismantling of welfare state forms of intervention lead less to a loss of the state's capacity to govern than to a reorganization or restructuring of technologies of government. This theoretical stance allows for a more complex analysis of neoliberal forms of government that feature not only direct intervention by means of empowered and specialized state apparatuses, but also characteristically develop indirect techniques for directing and controlling individuals. The strategy of rendering individual subjetcs (and also collectives, such as families, associations, etc.) "responsible" entails shifting the responsibility for social risks such as illness, unemployment, poverty, etc. and for life in society into the domain for which the individual is responsible, transforming it into a problem of "self-care." This form of individualization is therefore not outside the state. Likewise, the differences between the state and civil society, national regulation, and transnational agencies do not represent the basis and limits of practices of government, but rather function as their elements and effects.

Thomas Lemke

So, in contrast to political theories and projects which position, so as to critique and oppose, economic rationalism as the abandonment of supportive and social justice roles of the regulative state through deregulation and privatisation, the advantage of Foucault's 'governmentality' concept is that it explains what always seemed to be the contradiction of a deregulating and privatising government (I'm referring here to the Liberal-National Party Australian Federal Government - 1996-2007), increasing in size and increasing its regulatory regimes (eg. The phone book thick deregulatory industrial relations legislation: Workchoices) while presenting itself as the party of freedom from state interference.

Foucault understood neoliberal technologies of government as a transformation of the social rather than its end. The concept of governmentality allows us to call attention to the constitution of new political forms and levels of the state such as the introduction of systems of negotiation, mechanisms of self-organization, and empowerment strategies . . . [O]n the basis of the concept of governmentality, it can also be shown that privatization and deregulation do not follow economic imperatives so much as political strategies. Paradoxically, the critique of neoliberalism itself most often falls back on economic models of argumentation. The concept of governmentality proves to be useful in correcting the diagnosis of neoliberalism as an expansion of the economy into politics which takes for granted the separation of the state and market. The argument goes that there is some "pure" and "anarchic" economy that has to be "regulated" or "civilized" by a political response by society. Marx already demonstrated that such a position is untenable in his critique of political economy. Foucault's "critique of political reason" takes up the lines of this tradition. The transformation of the relations of economics and politics are therefore not to be investigated as the result of objective economic laws, but from the perspective of a transformation of social power relations. In short, instead of the power of the economy, the analytic of governmentality returns the focus to the "economy of power."

The key point here is that Lemke is distinguishing between the social democratic critique of neoliberalism which figures a monolithic economic and financial machinery that forces nation-states to comply to its demands for labour flexibility and minimal environmental and capital controls, and a critique of neoliberal governmentality which figures the state (and citizen-subject) as constituted by techniques of market political reasoning and rationality. For example, within the current Federal Opposition leadership team, the Leader - Brendan Nelson - and shadow treasurer - Malcolm Turnbull, were referred to on ABC radio as the Opposition's key salesmen. The rationality, or logic, of this figuring of political technique in market terms is that the sphere of publicness in which these two representatives of the Opposition political party in Australia's Westminister-based Constitutional democracy are performing is actually a market-place where the citizenry are actually customers buying brands and goods. As Wendy Brown argues neoliberalism as political rationality is profoundly de-democratizing.

Critiques that seek to re-regulate what has been painted as de-regulation miss the extent to which neoliberalism's "economy of power", as Lemke puts it, is also operated through the semantics of not just "flexibility", but everyday "risk-assessment", "fitness", and "self-management." These are terms of 'mentality' in Foucault's 'govern-mentality', and comprise modes of subject-formation, or Bildungs, under neoliberalism.

We need a semantics and discourse, narratives too, that make claims on states, including the coming transnational ones, to regulate and govern without resorting to justifications in terms of market rationalities and without being always measured against the chronotope of the perfect commodity exchange with its atopian model of instantaneous, transparency under conditions of exact equality. But perhaps we first have to experience such forms of claim-making as rhythms, and follow Jaques Attali's lead in considering that music is prophecy.

I'd like to think that after neoliberalism there is the possibility of sustained sequences of eurhythmia - when social temporalities harmonise - which sounds like the Necks.


Anonymous said...

Lemke's neoliberalism sounds like an iron cage - inescapable. Does he see any way out of this?

I can't quite see how music can be a way out either?


Travis Bickle

Michael C said...

Are you talking to me? Are you?