No, it wasn’t Reagan who said this. It was the first neoliberal American president Jimmy Carter, inspired by his friend and neoliberal muse Ralph Nader.
Of course, now everybody will tell me this is widely known but I had no idea. I’m only finding this out from Gary Gerstle’s book The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order.
See? It’s what I keep saying. Political parties aren’t that important. There’s no difference between Carter’s words and Reagan’s later quip about the scariest words in the English language being “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” And guess who started the massive deregulation of the airline, trucking and railroad industries? Also Carter. Then Reagan carried on in the same vein.
It goes in waves. Neoliberal Carter, neoliberal Reagan, neoliberal Bush, neoliberal Clinton, and so on.
I’m only on page 67 out of 406 but it’s an excellent book so far. Reads very easily, no academic jargon at all. I’m on pins and needles to find out how the story ends because I’m now really doubting my earlier disagreements with Gerstle.
I received the CVs of my Ukrainian candidates and I don’t know what to do. They are all amazing. One’s from Bakhmut. Another from Gorlovka (my mother’s native region.) One is from Irpin. One is from Mariupol and is studying at my former university. Three have a PhD in literature. All are multilingual, with very interesting languages.
So what is the difference between left-wing and right-wing neoliberalism?
The right-wing kind believes that there needs to be something keeping individuals away from embracing complete cuckoo-bananas freedom. People tend to become addicted, miserable, lonely, mentally unwell and impecunious if they start exercising complete freedom. So they need something that will keep limitless human desires under control. Religion, tradition, morality, something.
Left-wing neoliberalism believes that freedom should not be limited by any of these things because they are unduly oppressive. If individuals freely choose to make themselves addicted, miserable, lonely, mentally unwell, impecunious, and even chopped up into little bits, then that’s fine. Left-wing neoliberalism uses silence to avoid noticing the miserable jetsam of complete freedom. As long as nobody mentions the sad, upsetting detritus of the experiment in freedom, it’s all fine. That’s why cancel culture unleashes its wrath on people who say something about the negative consequences of all that freedom.
Of course, there’s no complete freedom. And no unlimited choice. Both are an illusion but it’s an illusion that has defined how we think about the world for a very long time.
Gerstle believes that the neoliberal order is doomed because if it weren’t, the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump wouldn’t be successful. He says that such a massive and open dislike of the neoliberal rhetoric as witnessed by the support of Sanders and Trump speaks to the weakness of the neoliberal order. I don’t agree, however. I believe that neoliberalism long moved past the stage when it needed a general consensus. In the hierarchy I spoke of yesterday, it doesn’t matter what the masses on the lowest two rungs of the ladder think. It used to matter but that’s all gone. As long as the two highest slots in the hierarchy are with the program, that’s enough.
Neoliberalism is the opposite of conservatism. It’s a truly revolutionary movement in a very literal sense. It thrives on upheaval, change, and movement. The word “liberal” at the root of the term is no accident. The constraints of religion, tradition, custom and unchosen facts of reality are its biggest enemy.
That Reagan championed neoliberal ideas only means that neoliberalism (heavily advanced by the New Left before him and consolidated by Bill Clinton after him) had, by year 1980, become what “anti-racism” is today. It conquered the entirety of the public discourse, and everybody had to pay obeisance to it in some form. It’s strange that the deeply neoliberal Clinton and an even more neoliberal Obama made no dent in the idea that neoliberalism is a right-wing thing when it had very obviously conquered both sides.
If we look at them clearly and unemotionally, many Reagan’s policies are what today we’d call left-wing. That’s because starting from the 1970s, there is no right or left. There are simply slightly different flavors of neoliberalism.
Now, let’s not forget that neoliberalism wasn’t imposed on us against our will by evil Reagans and Clintons. No, it’s the other way round. Reagan had to go heavy into the neoliberal rhetoric because people loved it. They still do. Neoliberalism is a huge trip. Just as its name promises, it is very liberating.
I heard a really spot-on description about the caste system of the fluid global order.
The small, highly mobile, transnational elites will live in a Communist reality. This is Communism in its classical sense, meaning no government, no police, and no disciplinarian authority of any kind will exist to monitor their behavior. Work will be strictly voluntary and highly fluid.
The techie class in the second highest layer of this hierarchy will exist in a Socialist reality. Their welfare will be guaranteed but only in return for very strict policing (or, rather, self-policing) of their beliefs and expression.
The third rung of the ladder will live in the dog-eat-dog capitalist reality of the 19th century or the post-Soviet countries in the 1990s. It will be a battle for physical survival with no protective cushion that developed capitalism used to have.
The lowest caste in the hierarchy will live in the feudal or slavery-like system.
The words “communism, socialism, etc” are only used here to make the explanation easier. Let’s not get hung up on the terminology too much. It’s the description that matters.