COMMENTARY: Clinton-style liberalism fuels nation’s anxiety


Managerial liberalism — also known as neoliberalism (or “centrism” to those who ascribe to it, such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) — is the dominant political ideology of our age. As such, it is at once the hardest to see and the easiest to feel. We cannot get a clear look at it because it is everywhere at once. It leers at us from television screens where securely employed economists rejoice at free trade’s wonders, and it stares down at us from parade floats and billboards where entities whose sole purpose is to extract money from their customers are rebranded as crusaders for social justice. We live every moment of our lives immersed in the world that it has created, leaving more and more of us alienated and paranoid. Anxiety is so common as to serve as a marker of cultural belonging: if you’re not having panic attacks, as the narrative goes, you’re not a young American. Similarly, the word “hustle” — which describes the act of working extra jobs that we must undertake in order to survive as wealth stratification, automation and globalization continually erode our ability to earn a living — has become ubiquitous. We wear our “side hustle” as a badge of honor, both at the behest of companies that stand to profit from such a mindset and perhaps simply in order to rationalize this state of being which would have appeared insane to our ancestors.

The idea that it is fashionable to never stop working, to have anxiety — and, if you are a traditionally excluded minority, to ascend the corporate ladder at all costs and in spite of the socially and economically cancerous effects of finance as an institution — is all very new. The idea that we have the ability to choose how we structure our society — namely how much and under what conditions we work — has been judiciously erased from our memories. Here, "managerial" becomes the operative term in managerial liberalism. As a governing philosophy, it prizes order and continuity. It came into vogue in the 1980s and 1990s, just as the political and social landscape aligned with its goals — a historically weak labor movement, limited financial or economic regulation, freedom of movement for global capital, an international arena utterly dominated by the United States and increasing social liberalism. Once in power, it has one goal: To hit the pause button. And so here, cocooned in a neoliberal chrysalis 30 years later, we are seeing the first cracks in the wall. President Donald J. Trump, "Brexit," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)  — these are not anomalies, but messengers from the outside world. Time is coming un-paused, and self-styled “moderates” are panicking as the first significant political challenges to Western liberalism since the 1970s have begun to emerge. In response, managerial liberals have ramped up the tone and scale of their traditional social cudgels: outrage, shame and alienation.

During the debate over political correctness, which raged during the 1990s, social conservatives insisted that efforts to sanitize language of offensive content constituted an authoritarian project which stifled their freedom of speech. Their protests, though clearly motivated by a desire to legitimize the bigotries of their constituents, were perhaps more prophetic than they realized. Today, abetted by the connective possibilities of the internet, a swarm of online intellectuals, bloggers and social media users can destroy a person’s life in a matter of hours. Professors, journalists, media personalities and private individuals alike need only to catch the wrong Twitter user’s eye with a provocative word or to forget to voice the proper expression of virtuous social liberalism at a key moment, and the online swarm will hone in and begin their performance of righteous indignation. The swarm need only be large enough – never mind the veracity of their criticisms — and that person will be socially blacklisted. And because companies and universities alike must maintain their image as heroic combatants in the fight for social justice, they must fire that person immediately so as not to risk themselves becoming blacklisted and, subsequently, losing money.

This process only contributes to the queasy anxiety of our age. Everybody knows what everybody else is saying, and the rules for who can say what are becoming increasingly stringent. Within the online discourse, dominated as it is by elite liberal activism, those who cannot afford to keep up with these rapidly changing social norms become the enemy by default: a convenient menace for managerial liberalism to rail against, creating the illusion that it seeks to actually change anything. This illusion is sustained by the idea that nobody, particularly those seen as possessing an inherent privilege, could possibly have an excuse for being illiterate. Under a managerial system, economics and government are the domain of “experts” whose advice is invariably “more of the same.” If these experts are right and our economic and political systems need only the most delicate tweaking, it follows that nothing is wrong with them. And so in place of any real program of change, we are left with weekly online show-trials, a generation of well-meaning political activists duped into securing the interests of the rich and powerful, and an unshakeable sense that catastrophe is always right around the corner.

Adam Panish is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and history.


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Adam Panish

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