Type
Polemic
Category
Politics

So it’s Carr(ion)

If you were asked to present an individual who personally embodied the general strategic orientation of modern Labor, Bob Carr would be a pretty good choice.

Imre Salusinszky’s summed up Carr’s elevation in a piece for the Australian entitled ‘The hard Right man cometh’.

‘The biggest achievement of Carr in office was political,’ Salusinszky explained. ‘[H]e rewrote the manual on modern Labor leadership. Alongside his fiscal conservatism, he appealed to the western suburbs by outflanking the Coalition on law and order. He governed by managing the evening TV news bulletins and the morning “splash” in the Daily Telegraph.’

That combination of free market economics and tabloid populism now defines the modern ALP. Here’s, for instance, how an insider explained the prime ministerial style of the man Carr replaces, Kevin Rudd. ‘His most common put-down of officials and his own policy wonks was: “That’s a fine idea, but how do I explain it on Today Tonight?”’

What about on foreign policy? Does Carr bring a markedly different set of principles to that arena?

Salusinszky again: ‘He will not only be as pro-US as Alexander Downer, he will also be able to match his Washington hosts in Civil War history, as well as the history of the Kennedy administration. On a personal note, I spent a week in Israel with Carr and his wife Helena in 2010: his hawkishness was everywhere on display, including when he told our hosts that, were terrorists threatening the citizens of NSW, he would have built a dividing wall here too.’

Carr even shares Rudd’s mildly heretical enthusiasm for the rise of China. But other than that, there seems barely a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between Carr’s views and those of any other right-wing Labor politician.

Now consider the media reaction to Carr’s appointment.

‘Bob Carr’s appearance at her side as the new Foreign Affairs Minister – after the apparent collapse of the deal earlier in the week – was a breathtaking political development.’

‘Every now and again, one is reminded of how utterly transformative it can be when a political leader exerts authority in a surprising way. Twenty past twelve this afternoon was one of those moments.’

‘Julia Gillard has pulled out a sensational reshuffle trump card, recruiting former New South Wales premier Bob Carr to add lustre to her government as Australia’s new foreign minister.’

‘The Prime Minister’s decision to appoint former New South Wales premier Bob Carr as Australia’s next Foreign Minister has been described as a masterstroke, even a game changer.’

‘Breathtaking’, ‘transformative’, ‘sensational’, ‘a masterstroke’: a strange set of descriptors for someone who, in terms of political ideas, represents simply an intensification of the same.

Why this hyperbole? What does it tell us about politics today?

In Australia, neoliberalism is understood largely as an economic model, characterised by the sweeping privatisations that Carr championed in NSW. But, actually, it’s more than that. Neoliberalism differs from a classical free market orientation precisely because it extends beyond the economy to embrace the entire social world, which it then recasts on market lines. The neoliberal project doesn’t just assign to the market those roles previously understood as quintessentially responsibilities of government (such as, say, the provision of utilities); rather, it recasts governance itself as an entrepreneurial project, with productivity and profit increasingly normalised as the criteria to judge success and failure.

In other words, neoliberalism effects a thoroughgoing depoliticisation. Most obviously, this manifests itself in a belief, now shared by almost all mainstream politicians, that government should not intervene in the market. This conviction – a consensus about the role of politicians as simply economic caretakers – already renders out of bounds most of the policies that previous generations of social democrats would have taken for granted.

More importantly, neoliberalism also recasts governance and the democratic process in market terms. The resulting political culture casts citizens as autonomous economic agents, relating to each other and to the state as individual entrepreneurs. The politician no longer appeals to party members, unionists, religious believers or specific communities; instead, he or she addresses individual consumers, touting for their business in much the same way as any other corporation.

At best, then, politics becomes a contest over managerial credentials, with the two parties making carefully prepared pitches extolling themselves as more efficient, better able to get the job done, less prone to gaffes, etc. That’s the favoured terrain of the ‘serious’, Left liberal commentariat: the kind of people who dislike Tony Abbott’s social conservatism but have a soft spot for Malcolm Turnbull.

To illustrate the depoliticisation, consider an episode drawn, pretty much at random, from Trove, the archive of digitalised newspapers. It’s a vignette from Bob Menzies electioneering in 1955.

Boos, abuse and hysterical enthusiasm drowned most of Mr. Menzies’ remarks when he addressed 2,000 in Dr. Evatt’s stronghold of Hurstville tonight. It was the Prime Minister’s first excursion into the Labor leader’s electorate of Barton, and the noisiest meeting of his campaign. Organised groups counted him out seven times and the barrage of interjections was the heaviest in the memory of seasoned campaigners. At one stage a man marched to the dais, shook his fist and shouted abuse at Mr. Menzies till women in the front seats pushed him aside. […] His first words were drowned by screams of “You dirty mug” and “Sit down; you dirty liar.”

“It will be the last opportunity you Communists will have here because Dr.Evatt will be defeated in December 10,” he flung back.

Here was the PM in front of 2000 people, including communists he regarded as a national security threat, with hecklers shaking their fists in his face. Yet no-one considered the episode particularly scandalous. Raucous mass assemblies were part and parcel of electioneering; hecklers – and even the occasional tossed tomato – were simply another peril of the campaign trail.

Compare the reaction to the tent embassy protest on Australia Day. The hysterical denunciation of a small but noisy demonstration, from which Julia Gillard was (as she herself made clear) in no danger whatsoever, represents, on one hand, a shift in attitudes fostered by 9/11. But it also illustrates how unscripted interventions by ordinary people are now seen not as manifestations of democracy but as an attack upon it.

As it happened, Bob Carr expressed this sentiment as plainly as anyone.

Here’s the truth of it. Demonstrations hurt the demonstrators. On the electronic media they sound extreme, bitter, angry. The faces of the protestors are contorted with what looks like hatred. […]

As a Premier I never saw a demonstration that didn’t hurt the side that mounted it. And I was never persuaded by a noisy crowd with a few placards. A carefully mounted case with killer facts was a different proposition.

Now, on one level, this is simply silly. Demonstrations hurt the demonstrators? Yep, those civil rights marches really made things bad for black people in the US! If only Martin Luther King had simply explained a few ‘killer facts’ to the sheriffs in Alabama, all that unpleasantness over segregation might have been done away with!

But, on another level, Carr is merely making explicit the logic of depoliticised politics.

In the neoliberal polity, it makes no more sense for citizens to rally than in does for, say, users of Apple computers to hold a march. In both cases, their role is simply to consume, with the ballot box understood as an extension of the cash register. If the latest iPhone is a dud, buy an Android; if the Labor Party’s been in power too long, vote Liberal. Because democracy is understood as a market, rallies, protests, demonstrations and strikes seem, to the neoliberal, not as expressions of the popular will but as outrageous assaults on the democratic system.

Mind you, that’s not to say that neoliberal politics doesn’t have its mass element. In that respect, Carr’s response to the tent embassy is also illustrative. For, actually, his blog post is not directed at the protesters themselves so much as the political advisors he sees as responsible for them.

[T]o the Mums and Dads at home, in 90 percent of cases, the demonstrators lose their argument as the TV screens blare their shouts and hyperbole and show the amateur placards and the ragbag provocateurs.

What I’m saying is that directing a demonstration towards Abbott was gifting Abbott with a PR win. Just by talking conversationally to the cameras he was going to look good in contrast to shouting, swearing, hysterical extremists. TV is a cool medium. The person shouting in your lounge room is the one who’s out of place. Recall the 1993 Federal election when John Hewson did a daily outdoor rally? Placards, extremists of the Right, shouts…and him forced to yell into a microphone. Reduced to a seven second segment on the news bulletins it looked plain awful. He looked the extremist Keating was trying to paint him.

How on earth did anyone imagine that Abbott could lose in a show down with an angry mob?

If that was what someone contemplated it was a disturbing error of judgment. If that’s what Tony Hodges had in mind he should not have been running press for the PM. (He should, however, be given the opportunity to learn from the error).

Carr takes it for granted that mass politics is something done by the elite with the goal of reaching the masses. That’s the sense in which Carr says demonstrations don’t work – and, in his own terms, he’s probably right.

If, when it comes to policy, neoliberal politics should be understood as arguments over managerial styles, in terms of elections it’s also about the application of modern PR to the business of winning and holding office. Again, the model is explicitly corporate. The advertising campaigns by which multinational soft drink companies sell their products bear no relation to the beverages themselves – Coke, quite unselfconsciously, sells a lifestyle, rather than a drink. In the same way, neoliberal politics uses an arsenal of advertising industry techniques to pique the interest of consumers. Political attributes that in earlier times were thought either innate or a matter of personal talent (charisma, say, or stump oratory) are constructed by focus groups and political handlers.

In the same way as perception is far more important than product to, say, Nike or Pepsi, politics today revolves around the tight control of message and persona, a task that requires a relentless focus on media management. That’s the context, then, in which the media’s response to Carr’s appointment makes sense.

His induction into the Gillard team wrong-footed the Tories and thus won the news cycle for the ALP, which is what political victory now means. There’s no evidence that Carr’s popular – indeed, the fate of Labor in NSW suggests strongly that he’s not – but he’s a ‘gamechanger’ because his appointment fostered an impression of Gillard as a determined leader, an image the federal party is determined to cultivate.

The difficulty, however, is that, if the media has, by and large, embraced a neoliberal understanding of politics, the public often proves infuriatingly reluctant to play along.

In NSW, Carr might have pioneered the strategy of melding neoliberal economics with the hobbyhorses of the Tory press. But, in the end, no amount of Laura Norder campaigns saved his colleagues from utter electoral devastation. That’s the paradox of neoliberalism. There might be a public consensus about free markets, if the question’s posed abstractly. But the specific implementation of neoliberal nostrums – like, say, privatisation in NSW – has always proved massively unpopular.

Hence the peculiar implosion that afflicts modern Labor administrations, where a political honeymoon characterised by high ratings and jocular appearances on TV shows and cheesy media stunts gives way, seemingly overnight, to a sullen hostility, usually centred on a perception that the government has no core beliefs. Yes, bringing Carr on board might have been a ‘breathtaking political development’ in terms of the weekly calibration of media winners and losers. But one rather suspects that, in the medium long-term, it’s merely another step down the road that takes federal Labor to the fate that met its NSW counterparts.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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Comments

  1. As I was trying to explain on Twitter, this:

    “In Australia, neoliberalism is understood largely as an economic model, characterised by the sweeping privatisations that Carr championed in NSW. But, actually, it’s more than that. Neoliberalism differs from a classical free market orientation precisely because it extends beyond the economy to embrace the entire social world, which it then recasts on market lines. The neoliberal project doesn’t just assign to the market those roles previously understood as quintessentially responsibilities of government (such as, say, the provision of utilities); rather, it recasts governance itself as an entrepreneurial project, with productivity and profit increasingly normalised as the criteria to judge success and failure.”

    .. is a bizarre characterisation. It is attempting to argue that a consensus by different political ideologies on how to pursue policy goals amounts to a coherent ‘agenda’. Lets look at the reason different political philosophies would justify privatisation of utilities:

    Libertarian: the provision of utilities is not the proper function of government as it is providing a “positive right” to a group of people, whilst government is only to protect “negative rights”.

    Classical Liberal: the provisions of utilities is presumptively not within the scope of government responsibility, it can be adequately provided by private means therefore it should be privatised.

    Civic republican: a government should act in a way that ensures the least dominion of its citizens by others. Utilities can be sufficiently provided privately without severely limiting the autonomy of citizens. Therefore utilities should be privatised.

    Conservative: private competition within and between organisations ensures that the best provider of utilities will be selected form a myriad of choices. Public provision of these services means that this process cannot occur. Therefore utilities should be privatised.

    Social Democrat / Social Liberal: to sufficiently provide for the welfare of all citizens a country must increase its wealth and overall productivity. Privatisation of organisations increases GDP and therefore the overall wealth that can be taxed and used to provide vital services. Furthermore, the decreased burden of utilities provision means that government money can be spent on more important social needs.

    You see? It’s just a *scare word* and fails as an abstract description of anything meaningful.

      • I think perhaps Jeff’s point was that not only do the ideologies above not support protest but that they have all more or less collapsed into a technocratic ‘philosophy’ and practice, pulled into a singular point by the gravity of the market.

  2. I don’t really understand the point you are making. Political characterisations are necessarily abstractions, and within them you can always find contradictory trends. I could equally well say that your description of, say, libertarianism elides the various complexities within it.
    But to deny the emergence of a general current within both conservative and social democratic thinking over the last three decades that valorises and extends market forces in a distinctly new fashion is, IMO, just weird.

    • The difference being those philosophies entail a set of key foundational social goals which define them within their tradition and differentiate them from other ideologies.

      This is why I can call someone a “liberal” based on their aim for society, similar with “social democrat”. Terms like “conservative” change over time but I can still come up with a list of *aims* that this group wishes to achieve.

      What is the purpose of neoliberalism? What do its adherents hope to achieve?

      I can’t think of anything. This is why it’s a “boo” word meant to indicate a new ideology when it’s really just a policy consensus regarding the best way to achieve certain ends. What those ends are is really what defines a group.

      It would be like me saying ‘Socialism means big government’. Does that convey anything meaningful about socialism? No, it’s just a phrase designed to scare people.

      Have a look at the vague definitions floating about. It attempts to link the classical liberal ideas of Hayek to Third way philosophies of social democrats in the 90s to the involvement of Milton Friedman with third world economies.

      If the problem is free trade and little interference in economic affairs, the philosophy your angry at is regular old liberalism.

      If its the social democrats using this method to achieve social welfare shouldn’t you be critiquing neoclassical economic theories? Not labelling those who follow a method?

      PS: the running of utilities by private firms isn’t “new” unless you are taking a very narrow historical slice.

      • Jarryd, if your point is that ‘neoliberalism’ is just a fancy word for capitalism then I think your argument has some merit. The switch of investment into finance capital at the expense of productive capital and the supposed rootlessness of modern corporations has been far too overexagerated in my opinion.

        Personally I think serious Marxists should avoid using the term as much as possible.

        • So, how do you define the competing trends within capitalism? Are you suggesting we call all political economic ideologies capitalism, since at some level they’re all expressions of capitalism?

          IMO, non-serious Marxists should unite – because capitalism is a changing beast. We need to be able to recognise the different behaviours of the beast and how they’ve changed over the past 164 years.

          • “All that is solid melts into air”…now that I’ve established my serious Marxist credentials, I just wanted to say I agree we need to be able to identify the different forms capitalism takes. However, my point was that I suspect that for many, especially on the non-Marxist Left,’neoliberalism’ refers to a set of policies pursued by governments and business, rather than a particular form of capitalism, that if wound back will re-establish our former paradisical, Keynesian state. For that reason using the term is politically dangerous in that it may foster illusions that if only things like the IMF and WTO were banished then our job is done.

          • Well, how would you describe the political shift in attitudes to markets from the late seventies, then?

          • Hi Jeff, I’m not sure I understand your question but I’d say the shift in political attitudes in favour of markets is the outcome of the defeat of key sections of the working class during a successful ruling class offensive in the advanced Western economies during the 1980s. Added to this the collapse of Stalinism in the Russian and Eastern Europe which cemented this idea that the market was inevitable.

            As to whether neo-liberalism is a historically unique form of capitalism I’m not convinced. How for example would you characterise the ‘Night Watchman’ era of late 18th and 19th century capitalism, a period in which there were even less restrictions to the operation of the market than there are now?

      • Look, I haven’t got much time for this but, again, this distinction between ‘aims’ and ‘methods’ is silly. It’s an attempt to provide schoolboy definitions for real historical movements that don’t work like that.

        • Roman:
          The only thing Hayek is known for is his writing in classical liberalism.

          Jeff:

          I’m… confused.

          When you said you ‘were willing to discuss this further’ I guess you weren’t really willing to discuss this further.

          It’s not a ‘schoolboy definition’ – I’m just trying to show that it’s a really slippery concept, which doesn’t correspond well with how people view themselves or their political choices. There are not self-declared “neoliberals”.

          It’s essentially a straw man, turning an argument about economic models into one about “theory”.

          I guess I’ll leave it at that.

      • Neoliberalism DOES mean something. Have you ever read about trade agreements and the way they enshrine rights for corporations? The investment chapters of many bilateral and multilateral trade agreements since 1994 allow corporations to sue governments, such as NAFTA chapter 11- or set up trade dispute bodies between countries that act on behalf of corporations (the US has been very vigorous in these). These rules make governments afraid to make bold policy reform- especially on environmental issues (eg that tuna fisheries must protect dolphins, or that a certain additive to petrol must be banned for health reasons) for fear that some corporation will get upset and sue them at the WTO.

        The GATS (Services) agreement makes privatisation happen because it forces governments to fund public and private services equally in any sector that the agreement applies to.

        Majority World countries experienced many of the neoliberal experiment policies under strict instruction from the World Bank and IMF Structural Adjustment Programs, allowing vultures such as Suez or Veolia to buy up their water and electricity. SAPs have actually been shown to INCREASE poverty whilst increasing GDP. http://www.saprin.org/

  3. As a resident of post-Carr Sydney, every time I contemplate the out-of-control rental or real estate market, go to the station to find the trains not running, get caught in another terminal traffic jam or risk my life riding on cycle-unfriendly roads designed by an all-powerful RTA I curse Bob Carr. But he was an excellent talker.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    You say that demonstrations and rallies have no positive effect in challenging neoliberal politics. What is the alternative? Are you saying this mode of thinking cannot be challenged?

    • Hi Nicola,
      Maybe I didn’t express that very well. I meant that they have no effect, as far as someone like Carr is concerned, since, in his conception of democracy, there’s no place for collective action. But that’s precisely why, from our point of view, they’re important and necessary. The more ordinary people get involved in politics, the easier it is to make an argument that democracy means something more than that consumer model.

  5. Thanks for the post.

    Carr’s Government among others, assigned market criteria to the provision of welfare and community services, where competitive tendering and ‘unit costing’ replaced the notion of quality service provision and social engagement for the most vulnerable members of our communities. This undermined particularly the work of the small neighbourhood groups that were on the ground and able to work effectively with those they had established connections with over time.

    Productivity and profit are poor criteria when assessing the success of a community organisation’s work with those who are homeless, marginalised, have limited English language skills, suffer acute health problems and so forth.
    These groups and others (e.g. unions) along with their advocates over recent decades have been cast as wreckers, whingers and extremists and dismissed as irrelevant to the ‘real’ business of the day. I agree that there has been a significant depoliticisation of our democratic processes and the advocates and protesters have been targeted to devalue their role and the very legitimate issues at the heart of the protest are ignored, spun or attacked.

  6. Jarryd,
    The time I have to discuss such things during the day is limited cos, um, I actually have to work.
    The problem with your approach is that the only political categories you seem willing to accept are those that people proclaim about themselves. By that definition, there’s no such thing as a ‘capitalist’ or an ‘imperialist’, since neither term
    ‘corresponds well with how people view themselves or their political choices.’
    I think Dave is right in his comment about how neoliberalism worked as a center of gravity into which other traditions collapsed. That’s why you have to pose these debates historically and specifically not simply accept people’s own valuation of their projects. For instance, all the Third Way guff during the Clinton and Blair years had a certain rhetoric about outcomes, up to and including Christian socialism. But anyone who thinks ‘Christian socialist’ is a useful way to describe Blair’s administration is deranged, since the most relevant aspect of Blairism was its commitment to a distinctly neoliberal attitude to markets.
    You say that privatisation might be justified on the basis of a whole series of different traditions. That’s true in theory but historically what happened was that during the 1990s and 2000s those traditions were largely hollowed out and supplanted by a new neoliberal sense of the market as a moral end in and of itself, an ethic that should govern every aspect of human behaviour. The existence of a general trend in that direction, a trend that took slightly different forms in different places as it made use of whatever ideas that were lying around but that was still entirely recognisable, seems to be undeniable.
    I agree with Dave that sometimes neoliberalism is used as a synonym for ‘capitalism’ but i still defend the term as a useful short term for a particular kind of capitalist ideology that emerged in a particular era.

  7. Jeff,

    A term such as ‘capitalist’ corresponds to the economic system someone wishes to impose. It can be a self-proclaimed word, but more importantly I can list out a series of social and economic motivations which make someone a ‘capitalist’.

    I’d agree that ‘imperialist’ is probably a similar *boo* word. Although I think we could come up with a valid definition involving an imbalanced, paternalistic relationship between nations.

    ->”That’s why you have to pose these debates historically and specifically not simply accept people’s own valuation of their projects.” “the Third Way guff during the Clinton and Blair years had a certain rhetoric about outcomes, up to and including Christian socialism. But anyone who thinks ‘Christian socialist’ is a useful way to describe Blair’s administration is deranged, since the most relevant aspect of Blairism was its commitment to a distinctly neoliberal attitude to markets.””That’s true in theory but historically what happened was that during the 1990s and 2000s those traditions were largely hollowed out and supplanted by a new neoliberal sense of the market as a moral end in and of itself, an ethic that should govern every aspect of human behaviour”<-

    This is just not true. Privatisation policies were driven by unique political principles for each government. I'll admit there was some form of consensus but it was an economic one, whether or not a government chose to adopt such policies -and the extent of them- was a unique choice.

    I think what annoys me about the word so much is:

    (1) it ignores that most privatisation and other market generation policies were evidence-based.

    (2) it lumps together privatisation with deregulation policies, Aus Labor was for one but not the other.

    (3) it ignores the very important history of classical liberalism and why it differs from socialist/social-dem paradigms on government.

    (4) as someone who is vaguely 'centre-right' but cares about many 'left' causes (for example climate change) the use of social theory to policies on deregulation does not win many converts – you have to beat economic analysis with economic analysis. Joseph Stiglitz is a great example of an economic approach.

    • Great article Jeff. Finding the comments rather weird though.

      To reply to the above:
      1. Ignores that privatisations were evidence-based? Based on *who’s* evidence? Sure, the productivity commission or whichever *neoliberal* thinktank would certainly produce “evidence” for privatisation – yet even in the face of the bipartisan pro-privatisation agenda and media support, the public overwhelmingly opposes privatisation because they know it means worse services and loss of jobs.

      2. Labor was for privatisation but not deregulation? That is rubbish – Labor were (and are) massive proponents of deregulation, and indeed coming in post-Howard have kept 90% of the deregulation of the Coalition

      4. Beat economic analysis with economic analysis? Well take a look at Occupy Wall St, at Greece and the banks, at the Spanish Indignado – they are putting the economics pretty clearly – the 1% have gotten away with murder, get bailed out when they are in trouble, and the 99% pay for it. That’s a clearer analysis than the waffle a many a theoretician.

  8. The way you are framing this is really odd. For instance, defining capitalists by their motivation is quite perverse. It implies that someone’s social role changes according to their psychology, which is simply wrong and renders any kind of serious social theory impossible.
    Likewise about imperialism. You define it in terms of a ‘paternalistic’ relationship between nations, which once again turns politics and economics into something subjective.
    You write:
    ‘I’ll admit there was some form of consensus but it was an economic one, whether or not a government chose to adopt such policies -and the extent of them- was a unique choice.’
    Firstly, the distinction you are making between economics and politics is itself ideological, a distinction characteristic of neoliberalism in precisely the way I explained in the blog post itself.
    Secondly, the notion of choice you are using is entirely tautological: ‘any decision entails a choice because that’s what a decision is.’
    Obviously, privatisation was sold in different ways in different countries and for that matter in different regions. But the argument about neoliberalism goes to the formation of the consensus that you agree existed. I don’t see what’s so difficult to understand about that. To use a quite different example, Stalinism took different forms in different contexts but any analysis that simply took the claims of individual Stalinist leaders or organisations on face value would be entirely inadequate. Likewise with neoliberalism.
    Oh, and the distinction between social theory and economics is, again, pure ideology.

  9. Jeff:
    It’s quite possible that our different backgrounds mean we are fated to talk past each other, because I genuinely haven’t understood your previous post.

    –> “For instance, defining capitalists by their motivation is quite perverse. It implies that someone’s social role changes according to their psychology, which is simply wrong and renders any kind of serious social theory impossible.” “Firstly, the distinction you are making between economics and politics is itself ideological” Secondly, the notion of choice you are using is entirely tautological: ‘any decision entails a choice because that’s what a decision is.’<–

    We are getting a bit abstract, and I'm not sure which point of mine this is in reply to. Nevertheless, when I say "choice" I'm referring to a feeling of a perceived autonomous act. I'm assuming you are trying to spin this into a social paradigm that "no-one really chooses anything they are shaped by ideology". If we avoid the trickiness of the word 'ideology' this is probably true in some metaphysical sense. But I think practically we can say someone chooses something if they experience the sensation of autonomy – we can then analyse the psychology (or string of causations) which lead to these choices. The problem is, the kind of abstract labelling you are doing is just story-telling.. if it isn't tied to something distinct (a new "idea" or a particular thinker) then what is it? Meaningless.

    Your example of Stalinism is perfect to illustrate this. Stalin was a person, he came up with a political ideology, individual variations existed by they still headed toward that one "idea" that one "goal". That's why it works and "neoliberalism" doesn't.

    • We should be mindful of the difference between individual *claims* and individual *goals*. Why do a lot of working class and lower-middle class people embrace reactionary politics that only really benefits the 0.001%? It’s not because they stand to benefit economically from being right-wing. It’s a psychology of pure spite. Blaming racial minorities, “the government,” etc. for their personal failures. (As Shalamov once wrote: “A man can live on spite alone.”)
      I don’t quite go for the Gramsci theory. It’s not just superstructure; it’s not just people who are ignorant of what their interests are — it’s basic spite. A recent study found that right-wingers are less likely to believe in global warming as their education level increases. A lot of us wish our opponents were *innocently* blind, but it’s rarely the case.
      Problem with the term “psychology” is people often assume it refers to unique character traits when something like spite is painfully common. (Personal, yes. Individual, yes. But hardly unique.) As Sam Elliot said in The Big Lebowski: “He was the man for his time and place. He fit right in there.”
      I don’t see psychology as a liberal democratic individualist alternative to class determinist. Psychology IS determined by class. But class interests go beyond economic interests. Spite is the big counterweight — spite at townies, hippies, etc. Why do pro-lifers exist? Whether other people get abortions makes no difference to their own lives. It’s just twerpish sadism on a mass scale.

      For the billionaire plunderers, right-wing politics is greed. For the regular twerps, it’s pure erotic spite.

      • There might be a certain compensatory satisfaction in pushing someone weaker around but I’m not sure what follows from that in terms of strategy. Except that, I guess, the Left should be saying, we’re not for petty spite, we’re for collective spite, a spite on a grand scale that eventually renders spite unnecessary.

  10. I’m not convinced that Carr’s appointment deserves the word count devoted to it here. As a political tactic it was effective in asserting Gillard’s authority in caucus and, filtered through the predictable media insider clamour, sections of the electorate. Whilst I agree with Jeff’s wider point on what constitutes “politics”, I think it is useful to remember that all political movements and entities experience ongoing internal machinations involving personalities as much as ideas. The ALP is no different to the anarcho-syndicalists of the Spanish Civil War in that respect, but that is probably where the similarity ends. So what we are seeing in Australian politics, including Carr’s appointment, is unremarkable notwithstanding the effects of the spin cycle and the cigarette paper between Carr abd Rudd on foreign policy.

    What I do find a little irritating is the inference that anyone who does not subscribe to a prescriptive revolutionary politics is either a genuine or de facto neoliberal. I routinely see this view explicitly and implicitly in blogs and commentary and I think it is a silly and pretty useless position, frankly.

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