Resistance to Prevailing Regime Rates

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A critique of neoliberal governmentality is extremely problematic at the present juncture, as – argued elsewhere – current debates from the Left focus on utilizing the underlying ontological and epistemological paradigm enforced by neoliberalism. A key example is the construction of an ‘aesthetic of existence’ which is used a basis for resistance against neoliberalism, and forms the basis for much of the current debate on issues such as ‘service delivery’ and ‘participatory democracy’; this construction, however, basis itself on the entrepreneurial image of the self as understood through neoliberalism: in this respect the solution to the lack of access to public goods (e.g. fresh water, sanitation and so forth) is constructed as requiring individuals to become ‘entrepreneurs’ in their own communities; and forms much of the underlying problem with the IPAP2 and the NGP[1][2].

Another area where this occurs is the focus on diversification and individualization that characterizes contemporary societies, or alla Deleuze[3], the transcendence of the individual as substance-like and inflexible, towards a regime in which the discipline is regarded as a molding in which there is modulation and control exercised in an open landscape. Our current macroeconomy is not geared towards the creation of a standardized and normalized ‘mass society’ but rather is dominated by neoliberal practices of individual self-creation[4]. What is critical in understanding neoliberalism is that it represents here a fundamentally distinctive mode of production of subjectivity: the subject is produced as an economic entity, which is then structured by different tendencies, preferences and motivations[5] [6] [7] [8] [9]. Caution should be exercised at this juncture, however: the neoliberal construction of the production of subjectivity as fundamentally an economic construction is not a direct (or indirect) consequence of implicit or hidden ontological presuppositions concerning human beings; the question of whether human beings, are, for example, self-interested, is irrelevant to the discussion. Rather, and what is really so radical, about neoliberal conceptions of the subject/individual is that neoliberalism creates the conditions in which  any discussion of economic mechanisms must be framed – or reference – subjects/individuals as though they were self-interested and competitive[10]. What must be understood is that this mode of production results from neoliberalism’s ontological foundations; namely, that economic rationality must be the rationality for society. The rationality of society extends in this conception to become a collection of atomic actors competing for maximal economic returns; the purpose of governmentality in this scheme is to create the social conditions that produce such actors.

There is a fatal flaw in the neoliberal conceptualization of individual/society (which itself can be argued as a false dichotomy) in that the ontological premise at work here confuses political subjectiviation with the process of individual and collective individuation[11].

If we consider the ontological foundations of neoliberalism, it becomes clear that resistance is not about ‘revelation’ concerning ‘hidden truths’ within neoliberal economic theory and policy. This is the case with almost all dialogue on macroeconomic policy issues as well as debates concerning exchange-rate policy design within both mainstream economic institutions such as Treasury and South African Reserve Bank, but also within the formations and organizations of the Left itself. Resistance to neoliberalism, rather, should be seen as understanding the politico-historical genealogical roots of the neoliberal project and how this project has come to dominant what can be regarded as scientifically true claims about economic issues. Neoliberalism is not just a political belief system or theoretical construction, but is an extreme articulation by which the current conditions for formulating policy and political decisions and beliefs are evocated. However, this is not to say that – as Margaret Thatcher famously did – that “There is no alternative’; or to accept – as Badiou, Negri and Hardt and David Harvey seem to – that neoliberal capitalism forms the background for political struggle; rather the question is what are the political conditions and political theoretical constructs necessary to resist the idea of ‘economic truth’. Certainly this is an area where the Left in South Africa (and perhaps internationally) has completely failed in its responses: to bring it back to point, the answer is not what economic truth is applicable for exchange-rate regime and policy rule making; but rather – and more importantly – to establish what conditions have established the economic truths themselves (e.g. the notion of ‘pegging’ as a construct) and how these must be – not dismantled – but understood as historical, legal and ethical sites of resistance and struggle. Rules for exchange-rate policy making should not consist – as at present – of discussions concerning what is an appropriate regime, but rather should be focusing on how the ethical and political dimensions contained within the domain have been stripped away, and how they can be meaningfully introduced into domain contestation and formulation.

Resistance cannot be generated through the adoption or discussion of ‘heterodox’ or ‘progressive’ economic theory; rather it must lie in programme of radical political theory and action that attempts to subvert the foundations under which current economic conditions are set – in particular we must understand how economic knowledge and praxis comes to ‘bound’ political effects.

Critical to the development of an effective modality of resistance is to understand and develop a practical policy in which good governance – and ‘solid’ or ‘effective’ state action – is not, and should not, be aimed at maximizing the material wellbeing of the population. While it is arguable that this is a component of what should be achieved by government, it is not the aim of governmentality.

Finally, resistance to neoliberalism must be understood in the context that neoliberal governmentality is bound over society and in the subjective domain: neoliberal practices ‘infuse’ personal experiences and the subjective life of the individual, and it is through these practices that neoliberal rationality is able to best function and operate.


[1] See Hayek. The Constitution of Liberty. In particular the chapter ‘Why I am not a Conservative.”.

[2] Beaulieu, A. ‘Towards a Liberal Utopia”. 812.

[3] Deleuze, G. “Postscript on Control Societies,” in Deleuze, G. (trans. Martin Joughin) (1995) Negotiations, 1972-1990. (New York: Columbia University Press).

[4] Nealon, J. (2008) Foucault Beyond Foucault: Powers and Its Intensification since 1984. (Stanford: Stanford University Press). 11.

[5] This can be contrasted with other modes of subjective production in which political or legal citizens are defined by a disciplinary society or one of sovereignty.

[6] Hamman, T. “Neoliberalism, Governmentality, and Ethics,” Foucault Studies. No. 6 (2009): 37-59.

[7] Read, J. “A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity,” Foucault Studies. No. 6 (2009): 25-36.

[8] The subject is constructed here as an ‘atomic’ individual whose self-interest and tendency to compete must be fostered, maintained and enhanced. The subject is able to exercise rationality and operate decision-making based on economic knowledge and a self-utilitarian calculation of costs/benefits.

[9] Cruikshank, B. “Revolutions Within: Self-Government and Self-Esteem,” in Barry, A., Osborne, T. & R. Nikolas. (eds.) (1996) Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neoliberalism and Rationalities of Government. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press).

[10] Similarly, if we engage in a discussion as to whether individuals/subjects are not self-interested or competitive, we are still involved in a discussion contained within this discursive structure.

[11] See Ranciére. “Biopolitique ou Politique?”: 2.

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