Beware the NeoLiberal


I recently saw a quote from a supposed wise man saying that if you haven’t changed a deeply cherished belief in the past five years, your brain has probably ossified. I’m not sure I completely agree. If you have developed a belief over many years of careful study of a subject, just tossing it away for the sake of a change rather undercuts the whole idea of cherishing your beliefs.

However, in the spirit of the New Year, I thought perhaps I could rethink a few more recently formed attitudes, in case they had not been through quite so exhausting a vetting process.

The term that came to mind immediately was “neoliberal.” I have decided to change my mind about the concept, and for all the same reasons I made up my mind not to like it in the first place. Allow me to explain:

A Bit of History

For those of you who are lucky enough not to be involved in the British Columbia political farce; for many years B. C. was run by the Social Credit party, which was the personal creation of a few big-time entrepreneurs, mostly of the Bennett family. During the developmental stages of the modern province, they ruled the roost, squishing the real Conservatives to the periphery and playing a successful divide-and-rule gambit against the left-leaning Liberals and NDP. They built a lot of the infrastructure of the province and lined the pockets of their friends in the process.

However, once the second generation of Bennetts filtered up to the top, the people of the province finally figured out who was benefitting from all this nepotism. They were all primed to throw the Socreds out of Victoria.

But in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power, the Socreds pulled off one of the classic scams of modern Canadian politics. They made an alliance with some right-leaning Liberals and pretended to form a new party, which they called the BC Liberal party, but which had nothing to do with liberalism at all; they were the same old business-friendly, anti-education, union-bashing bunch they had always been.

And of course, voters being voters, the public bought it. So now the BC Liberals have had a cheerful run at governing the province about 75% of the time for the last thirty years or so.

A Dung Hill by Any Other Name…

Perhaps you can imagine why I have a problem with any group that calls themselves Liberals when they really aren’t at all.

So when I heard the term “neo-liberal,” it used to get my back up. Social, political, and artistic movements that us the term “neo” in their name have one thing in common. They look back at some far distant past with rose-coloured glasses and cherry-pick the components of the era that suit them, conveniently ignoring the less salubrious elements of the time. Thus they have a ready-made branding they can manipulate, a known name they can trade on, just as the Socreds did with the Liberal name. And the general populace usually falls for it.

So I was not impressed with the idea of people calling themselves “neoliberals,” because bitter experience told me there was a rotten spot in the apple somewhere. Until I looked up the term on Google:

“Neoliberalism is the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism and free market capitalism. Those ideas include economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.”

Well. There you have it. Neoliberalism described to a tee: Economic liberalism. Which in modern terms is the antithesis of social liberalism.

So I have decided that you can’t fight history, and I will now embrace the term, because it so accurately describes the outmoded economic attitude from the depths of the Industrial Revolution that created the slums of Paris, the London pea-soup fogs and the Highland Clearances and Inclosure Acts that threw all the peasants out of the British Isles.

I also couldn’t help but notice the other use of the term “neo,” describing all the radical movements that bring back terrible ideas from the past. Like “Neo-Nazi,” and “Neofascist.” A much more apt connection for public consumption.

So in the future, this blog will be using the term “neoliberal” in the sense of the historic definition: the antithesis of what true liberalism means today. Whatever that is.


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