Nostalgia for Neo-Liberal Technocracy

I pulled Pierre Bourdieu's slim book of essays, Acts of Resistance, off the shelf in my office the other day to check a quotation I thought I might use. Actually, I had the wrong book, but I left Acts sitting on my desk until yesterday when I picked it up to put it back on the shelf. The volume fell open (as my mother would have said about her bible) to the transcript of an address Bourdieu gave in 1995 in support of French unions then on strike. I don't recall having read this piece, "Against the Destruction of a Civilization," before. The essay is an occasional piece, intended to be understood in a particular place at a particular time with a particular audience. Reading the opening paragraphs, I was filled with nostalgia for that very recent period of history. In his speech, Bourdieu sets out to excoriate neo-liberal orthodoxy: "I have come here to express our support to those who have been fighting . . . against the destruction of a civilization, associated with the existence of public service, the civilization of republican equality of rights, rights to education, to health, culture, research, art, and, above all, work," he writes. All sentiments I could have heartily cheered for had I been in the audience that day. But glancing to the next page, I began to feel just a tinge of cognitive dissonance:
This opposition between the long-term view of the enlightened 'elite' and the short-term impulses of the populace or its representatives is typical of reactionary thinking at all times and in all countries; but it now takes a new form, with the state nobility, which derives its conviction of its legitimacy from academic qualifications and from the authority of science, especially economics. For these new governors by divine right, not only reason and modernity but also the movement of change are on the side of the governors -- ministers, employers, or 'experts'; unreason and anarchism, inertia and conservatism are on the side of the people, the trade unions and critical intellectuals.
Bourdieu is speaking within a French context, but he is addressing a world-historical situation. In the background is the Clinton administration's enthusiasm for globalization. Reading the passage now, after nearly seven years of the Bush administration & its ideological hangers-on, I would celebrate an "elite" that derived its legitimacy from "academic qualifications and the authority of science." I would be grateful for a government that appealed to "reason and modernity" in framing its policy decisions & that listened to "experts." Bourdieu is concerned to criticize a situation in which elites accuse the masses of unreason & anarchism, but we now have, in the United States & in parts of Europe, including France, an elite that has established "unreason and anarchism," as well as opposition to science, as operational principles, keying directly into the atavistic impulses of "the people," a large number of whom have been transformed into a reactionary beast the new nobility can rely on to underwrite its endlessly expanding state & corporate power. Reading these passages before sliding the book back on the shelf, I was overwhelmed with a nostalgia for the halcyon days of mild-mannered academic debates about globalization & democracy. Those were the good old days! == Related: Tom Matrullo on Chris Hedges' treatment of the American theology of despair.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

1 thought on “Nostalgia for Neo-Liberal Technocracy”

  1. maybe we just ought to call the time we have arrived to as the ‘bumps and dimples’highway for the way it recedes and comes charging back in the convex and concave hells and springs of incidence and coincidence–the co-inside and the co-outside. this is the stigmata of mortalitly some may call ‘history’ and that is but scattered remains and this but a civil testament of it without dooming our thoughts under the dome of an endtime. ed mycue

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