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States of Discipline
Authoritarian Neoliberalism and the Contested Reproduction of Capitalist Order
By Cemal Burak Tansel
Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Cemal Burak Tansel
All rights reserved.
Towards a New Research Agenda
Cemal Burak Tansel
For a brief period in the aftermath of the political and financial turmoil of the 2007–2008 economic crisis, the established patterns of global economic governance seemed exceptionally vulnerable to increased critical scrutiny. The crisis seemed to have undermined the legitimacy of the policies that are grouped under the rubric of 'neoliberalism' as the ultimate template of economic management for a world that had ostensibly reached the end of its history. Sanguine critics firmly pronounced the demise of neoliberalism by stating that 'the neoliberal era lasted until August 2008 when the liberalized system of global financial markets imploded' (Altvater 2009: 75), and its imminent disintegration was cautiously heralded as signalling 'a transition to a new social order, a new phase of modern capitalism beyond neoliberalism' (Duménil and Lévy 2011: 326). For some, the crisis fulfilled the crucial function of accelerating an extant push — especially in the global South — towards 'postneoliberal' models. The resultant post-crisis image of neoliberalism as a mode of economic governance in its dying moments was augmented by the budding crisis of its political counterpart. Political parties that have stood at the forefront of neoliberal restructuring over the last three to four decades faced a continuous haemorrhaging of their voter base, while the authoritarian regimes with kindred neoliberal credentials were confronted by popular upheavals — often provoked by the questions of social reproduction, that is, the crises of household, employment, indebtedness and access to services and public spaces (Schäfer and Streeck 2013: 17–23; Hanieh 2013). Yet despite the severity of the crisis of social reproduction and the widespread aversion towards austerity policies which have been unleashed by fiscally disciplined governments across the heartlands of neoliberalism it is difficult to maintain that neoliberalism has lost its position as the dominant blueprint of global economic governance. As Miguel Centeno and Joseph Cohen stipulated in the aftermath of the financial meltdown, 'The crisis and ensuing Great Recession may have shaken neoliberalism's supremacy, but it remains unchallenged by serious alternatives and continues to shape post-2008 policy' (2012: 312; Crouch 2011). Given the extent and scope of popular protests against the variegated products of neoliberalism as well as the rapid rise of anti-austerity parties and movements, the enduring hegemonic position of neoliberalism leaves us with a rather curious puzzle. While, as Nancy Fraser recently put it, the key political and economic 'institutions face legitimation deficits at every scale' (2015: 181), efforts to challenge and reform those institutions, as well as the broader ideas and practices that underpin them, seem to be facing insurmountable difficulties. This picture forces us to reconsider the strengths and weaknesses of neoliberalism and to take seriously the wide range of economic and political tools at the disposal of those who are committed to the survival of capital accumulation. In short, we need to revisit two fundamental questions: (1) What makes neoliberalism such a resilient mode of economic and political governance? (2) What are the mechanisms and processes with which the core components of neoliberalism effectively reproduce themselves in the face of popular opposition? In the light of the increasing recognition of the failure of neoliberal model of governance since the crisis — even by those responsible for the diffusion of neoliberal policies (Ostry, Loungani and Furceri 2016) — we also have to explore at which sites and areas neoliberalism is most fraught with contradictions, cracks and fissures.
This book responds to these questions by reasserting the exigency of understanding neoliberalism as a regime of capital accumulation and of recognizing the key role that states play in its protection and reproduction. Accordingly, we interrogate and unpack the modalities of 'authoritarian neoliberalism', a set of state strategies with which the variegated processes of neoliberalism are maintained and shielded from popular pressure. We argue that contemporary neoliberalism reinforces and increasingly relies upon (1) coercive state practices that discipline, marginalize and criminalize oppositional social forces and (2) the judicial and administrative state apparatuses which limit the avenues in which neoliberal policies can be challenged. This argument should not be read to the effect that the deployment of coercive state apparatuses for the protection of the circuits of capital accumulation is a new phenomenon, nor should it lead to the assumption that the pre-crisis trajectories of neoliberalization have been exclusively consensual. In advancing the analytical utility of authoritarian neoliberalism, we are not asserting that the violent, disciplinary and anti-democratic means with which the capitalist states remove the barriers to accumulation should be understood as an innovation of neoliberalism. Not only are authoritarian forms of governance and neoliberal management compatible, but, as Wendy Brown has asserted, neoliberalism is 'even productive of, authoritarian, despotic, paramilitaristic, and corrupt state forms as well as agents within civil society' (2005: 38, emphasis added). We begin our exploration by recognizing the various ways in which the 'so-called free-market reforms and globalisation' have been 'accompanied by political repression' (Mitchell 1999: 465) and emphasize the immanent tendency of the capitalist state to deploy its coercive, legal and economic power if/when 'strategies for the reproduction of capital-in-general are being challenged in significant ways' (Ayers and Saad-Filho 2014: 4). While acknowledging these important criteria, we underscore two qualifiers of 'authoritarian neoliberalism' which highlight how its tendencies and techniques of governance represent (1) a transformation of the 'normal' operation of the capitalist state (cf. Poulantzas 1978/2014: 80) and (2) a qualitative shift from the intrinsic 'illiberal' propensities of neoliberalism. Accordingly, we posit that authoritarian neoliberalisms
1. operate through a preemptive discipline which simultaneously insulates neoliberal policies through a set of administrative, legal and coercive mechanisms and limits the spaces of popular resistance against neoliberalism (Bruff 2014: 116);
2. are marked by a significant escalation in the state's propensity to employ coercion and legal/extra-legal intimidation, which is complemented by 'intensified state control over every sphere of social life ... (and) draconian and multiform curtailment of so-called "formal" liberties' (Poulantzas 1978/2014: 203–204).
Building on these premises, the book aims to initiate a conversation defined not only by an intellectual motivation to identify more accurately the contemporary mechanisms of neoliberal governance, but also, and perhaps more so, by a political impetus necessitated by the exigencies of what Barry K. Gills (2010: 169) has called a 'unique conjecture of global crises' comprising socioeconomic, political and environmental fallouts. As such, we present the book as an initial step towards formulating a new research agenda underpinned by 'authoritarian neoliberalism' as a conceptual prism through which the institutionalization and employment of a number of state practices that invalidate or circumscribe public input and silence popular resistance can be illuminated. This vantage point renders possible the explanation of such practices as part of a broader strategy inherently linked to the reproduction of capitalist order and of its logics of exclusion and exploitation operating at the intersections of class, gender, race and ethnicity.
This orientation also provides the rationale for the two themes that constitute the book's title. As the following introductory discussion and the subsequent analyses will accentuate, the state — and more specifically the capitalist state — emerges as the key organizational structure through which the authoritarian enshrinement of neoliberal accumulation regimes is facilitated. Tracing the state's constitutive role in these processes is imperative for two reasons. First, this appreciation allows us to negate the still enduring view that neoliberalism signals an unconditional withdrawal of the state from the realm of the 'economy'. Second, and more importantly, it brings into focus the necessity of confronting neoliberalism politically by devising concrete strategies to challenge its mechanisms at the various levels of state structures and interstate organizations as well as at the level of everyday life.
Accompanying this emphasis on the state as a political organization that acts as a custodian of capital accumulation, the usage of the term in the title also refers to an embodied condition whereby authoritarian neoliberalism subjects individuals, collectives and populations to economic, financial and corporeal discipline. As authoritarian neoliberal strategies are marked by an explicit predisposition to insulate policymaking from popular dissent through coercive, administrative and legal deployment of state power, we tentatively claim that these manoeuvres have a particular disciplinary effect, not only on those who actively struggle against such policies, but also on the broader polity in which they operate. As Ian Bruff has suggested, the governance techniques that comprise authoritarian neoliberal regimes are not merely 'reactive', but 'are also increasingly preemptive, locking in neoliberal governance mechanisms in the name of necessity, whatever the actual state of play' (2014: 123). In other words, the panoply of neoliberal policies enacted in different spatial and scalar contexts — for example, the imposition of austerity, restructuring of public spaces and services, technocratic shifts in macroeconomic policymaking — are increasingly geared towards protecting the pillars of neoliberal accumulation. To paraphrase Marx's comments on the English state's efforts to confront pauperism in the nineteenth century, authoritarian neoliberalism does not conjure policies to solve specific problems (e.g. fiscal deficit, the lack of affordable housing, failing public services), but it does so increasingly to 'discipline' those who confront such policies and 'perpetuate' the underlying conditions that give rise to these predicaments (cf. Marx 1975: 409). When analyzed together with the constitutive role of state power in maintaining capitalist order, these disciplinary effects do not signal the substitution of 'direct' (or physical) repression with 'indirect' forms of violence, nor do they emerge merely as the contemporary 'methods of power', which — borrowing from Poulantzas's critique of Foucault —'rest not on right but on technique, not on law but on normalization, not on punishment but on control' (Poulantzas 1978/2014: 77). On the contrary, such disciplinary effects complement and coexist with 'the repressive apparatuses (army, police, judicial system, etc.) ... that are located at the heart of the modern State' (Poulantzas 1978/2014: 77).
The book, thus, refocuses attention on the question of state power and highlights the preemptive discipline instilled by authoritarian neoliberalism not only as necessary qualifiers to the extant academic literature, but also as a step towards informing radical political practice. We contend that the recognition of the state's indispensable role allows us to move from a position of reacting against neoliberalization to proactively building mobilizations, strategies and policies to counteract not merely its symptoms but also the actors and processes that engender those through the active utilization of state apparatuses. This introductory chapter conceptually and empirically maps the emergent patterns of authoritarian neoliberalism and the signal continuities they represent vis-à-vis the structural and intersecting inequalities inherent in capitalist societies.
TRACING THE LINEAGES OF AUTHORITARIAN NEOLIBERALISM
Despite its widespread employment and its successful grafting onto the analytical vernacular of a broad spectrum of social sciences research, neoliberalism is a heavily contested term. Branded as an 'oft-invoked but ill-defined concept' (Mudge 2008: 703), the theoretical status and utility of neoliberalism has been a subject of intense dispute and constant reassessment. In its broadest sense, a comprehensive definition may be utilized to situate neoliberalism as both 'a form of political economy and a political ideology' (Gamble 2001: 127), yet the ambiguity regarding the specific content of this formulation — that is, to what extent and under which circumstances a disparate set of economic policies and political strategies constitutes a consciously driven project of neoliberalization — negates any one-size-fits-all solution to its definitional entanglement. Given its recognition as a somewhat nebulous construct by many scholars, one could challenge the urgency of further qualifying neoliberalism with an additional set of criteria, as we do in this book with the 'authoritarian' prefix.
This quandary leads us to the following question: What is the utility of the concept of authoritarian neoliberalism? Should the concept be deployed in a manner to highlight that the emergent/existing forms of illiberal governance in capitalist societies (notwithstanding their spatial and scalar divergences) represent a watershed, or herald a new dynamic in the history of the capitalist mode of production? Should we understand the current conjuncture as a radical mutation in the relationship between the state, (varying forms of) democracy and capitalism, a transfiguration that leads to a clear demarcation between prior modes of capitalist management and the current configuration defined by an authoritarian drift? Such demarcations always represent a degree of ambiguity, as the complex forms of human interactions and the socioeconomic contexts within which these relations appear are bound to defy clear-cut categorizations. Nor should any classifications based on the observation of such social phenomena be seen as ossified categories, incapable of undergoing revisions. With this proviso in mind, we position authoritarian neoliberalism as a historically specific set of capitalist accumulation strategies that both exacerbates the existing, structural trends in the political organization of capitalism and embodies distinct practices geared towards unshackling accumulation at the expense of democratic politics and popular participation. Nevertheless, we stress that it is imperative to perceive authoritarian neoliberalism as a spectrum of disciplinary strategies, ranging from the more explicit demonstrations of coercive state power (e.g. policing and surveillance) to more diffuse yet equally concrete manifestations of administrative and legal mechanisms that entrench extant power relations and inequalities.
The rationale for focusing on the 'authoritarian' dimension of neoliberalism becomes more evident once we move away from the conventional accounts that posit a gradual ascendancy of neoliberal ideas, starting with the advocacy of the Mont Pèlerin Society to their worldwide adoption by policymakers from the late 1970s onwards. The focus in this particular, what Raewyn Connell and Nour Dados (2014) have called, 'origin story' of neoliberalism is the formulation of a political will to undermine the post-war welfare states in the West with a blueprint devised explicitly on the precepts of a group of thinkers variously associated with the neoliberal doctrine. In Marxist versions of this particular narrative as best exemplified in the account of David Harvey, the focus on neoliberal ideas and their transplantation onto the policy realm are accompanied by the argument that the political dimension of neoliberalism — symbolized by the administrations of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States — materialized as a 'project to restore class power' (Harvey 2005: 62) which, among other things, targeted the socioeconomic power of the organized labour movement. In non-Marxist versions of the same narrative, the neoliberal triumph is attributed not necessarily to the conscious or latent class offensive of leading policymakers, but to the successful dissemination of neoliberal ideas by the 'neoliberal thought collective': an epistemic community that has 'carefully connected and combined key spheres and institutions for the contest over hegemony — academia, the media, politics, and business' (Plehwe 2009: 22). The 'ideas-centred explanation' of neoliberalism (Cahill 2014: 44), thus, charts a through line from early neoliberal thinkers to the current dominant model of governance, a position which grants a causal significance to the ideas and theories of neo-/ordo-liberal thinkers for the emergence and popularization of concrete neoliberal policies (e.g. austerity, see Blyth 2013: 142).
Excerpted from States of Discipline by Cemal Burak Tansel. Copyright © 2017 Cemal Burak Tansel. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
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