What are the relations between Neoliberalism and Postmodernism?



The following passage surprised me, not only because it has neoliberals in place of postmodernists, but also because it describes everything I see as a consequence of so-called "Postmodernism" (or whatever name you give it: post-structuralism, deconstructionism, moral relativism...): destruction of meaning, praise of fragmentation, anti-intellectualism...

Neoliberals are part of a long, intellectual, (or anti-intellectual) tradition which seeks to deny the importance of meaning and even destroy its relevance. Why would anyone want to do that? Because, as history shows, destroying meaning is the key to gaining, at least temporarily, power and control, whether it be over other human beings or natural processes in general. For example, in his brilliant book on the history of debt, David Graeber reveals how different forms of slavery succeed by displacing people from their meaning-rich contexts. As well as the application of brute force, people are rendered powerless through being dislocated, fragmented, and thus, disoriented. Those held in slavery have often survived by eventually creating new systems of meaning, often through embracing religion of some form as a way of transcending the power of their oppressors.

What are the relations between Postmodernism and Neoliberalism?


Posted 2017-08-17T05:36:45.543

Reputation: 1 364

may be worth noting that fragmentation is a feature of modern life and literature. – None – 2017-08-17T06:45:06.650

too chatty, but have you considered the idea that "post modernist" is what happens to someone when they've been cheated out of something better? Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Good night! * At the end of the last Sex Pistols concert, Winterland Theater, San Francisco, California (14 January 1978)[ – None – 2017-08-17T10:59:33.840

You posit that in this paragraph "neoliberals" actually means "postmodernists", and then ask why this is so? </snark> – mart – 2017-08-17T12:29:26.393

@user3293056 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_literature#Fragmentation

– Rodrigo – 2017-08-17T13:13:04.587

@mart I posit that they looked like actual synonyms in this sentence. So I ask if there are any other known relations. Why do I have to repeat the obvious? – Rodrigo – 2017-08-17T13:15:02.613

1Zamora's take on Foucault is the only direct relationship I know of, and it's had a pretty mixed reception. – Canyon – 2017-08-17T14:53:30.623

i don't mean exclusively! – None – 2017-08-17T20:04:13.590



Maybe I'm the wrong person to answer your question because my gounding in philosophy is not that great, maybe I'm the right one because I likely share some of your political outlook ...

One of the posits of postmodernist thought is, I believe, that nothing has meaning per se, meaning is always assigned, negotiated etc. And so meaning can be destroyed. And this was always so, postmodernists and their forerunners are just the ones pointing this out instead of making up complicated metaphysic systems to safe a concept of meaning.

So neoliberals are just recent thinkers in a long line who tried to restructure society by, among other things, destroying systems of meaning and belonging - or solidarity! - that get in their way. As mentioned in the paragraph, this destruction of meaning was practiced millenia before Nietzsche wrote the first text that inspired Focault that inspired Deleuze or whomever.

One could also point out that certain systems of belonging, e.g. the specific nationalism of the Nazis to take the least controversial example, should be destroyed.

You could also ask what "meaning" in the context given above is supposed to mean (no pun intended), if it's not the meaning we give to things in a given moment, shaped by our experiences and thus pretty malleable.


Posted 2017-08-17T05:36:45.543

Reputation: 521

Nice answer. But since postmodernism tries to destroy every big meaning (e.g. religion, science...), we end up in a dispute between those who have the infrastructure (the powerful) against those who haven't (the people). Guess who will be victorious? That's why destroying Nazis' nationalism don't actually balance things out. – Rodrigo – 2017-08-17T13:19:55.813

I think "postmodernism tries to destroy every big meaning" is at best inaccurate - what exactly is there to destroy, what does destruction of meaning actually mean? Sorry I can't put it much more clear than this or my lase paragraph! – mart – 2017-08-17T13:27:05.443

Confession? this was too dense for me, maybe you can make more of it: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/

– mart – 2017-08-17T13:28:24.820

In a Brazilian Federal University, my teachers were stating that science is "just another metanarrative, just as valid as any other", that is, they ignored completely what is the scientific method and how it works. They accused "modern science" of being "deterministic" when it actually is probabilistic. They said "everything is knowledge", can you believe it? That's what I call "destruction of meaning". The texts were all incredibly poorly written, most of them from the supposed Leftist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, which repeated all the vices attributed to postmodernists. Is this enough? – Rodrigo – 2017-08-17T13:58:14.443

2... this walking cliche of a postmodernist you've ahs as a teacher does not bring us closer to what Graeber means with meaning in your quote above. If it can be destroyed, what is it in the first place? – mart – 2017-08-17T14:07:49.057


I've also tried to answer your other question https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/45429/3391 btw, dunno if helpful.

– mart – 2017-08-17T14:10:24.450

What is it in the first place? Science has a way of working, a method. Its meaning, how much we can trust it, is derived from the way it works. If a postmodernist says "it is the same as religion", then he/she is destroying that meaning. And Boaventura is, unfortunately, respected by the Left here, who just don't seem to see the disgrace he is doing. So it's not only that my teachers were "walking cliches", the problem lies in that thousands of such cliches are ruining the education of millions of students worldwide. And almost nobody seems to worry about it. At least not on this site. – Rodrigo – 2017-08-17T14:20:40.390

1... and this is pretty far removed from your question about neolieralism which I tried to answer. – mart – 2017-08-17T14:27:50.047

It may be. But you asked me about the meaning of "destruction of meaning". I was only answering your question. I hope it's clearer now. – Rodrigo – 2017-08-17T14:38:29.327


To the degree it proceeds along the same trajectory at all, Neoliberalism here is a step far before Postmodernism. It is the embodiment of Enlightenment thinking in a wish to make more and more dependent upon less and less so that we are all 'free' from one another and from the harsher demands of our reality. It is primarily an economic theory that reduces everything to market forces and freedom. In that, it has a lot more to do with Existentialism than Postmodernism.

As 'The Genealogy of Morals' or Marxism points out, this war of the powerful constantly undermining the previous means of being powerful has been going on forever. And it is wholly unrelated to the ultimate loss of the modernist dream to its own logic.

Neoliberalism is totally consonant with late modernism -- taking science and individuality as the center of the universe and rendering it cold, sterile, independent and unattached to any deeper meaning. This attempt to make the universe rational and efficient is the ascending direction of the 'modernism' that Postmodernism questions. It is part of what Postmodernism actually resists, by emphasizing context and admitting the relevance of the aspects of reality that we cannot know.

Displacing someone from their cultural embedding as a strategy for power, by controverting their religion with science and displacing their cultural institutions with your own, or with your own rational constructions, does not assume a respectful and constructive relativism. It assumes that relativism is wrong and that dedication to institutions that are not entirely modern and rational is primitive and wasteful. It seeks to leverage that 'waste' for 'good', without realizing that 'good' is selfishly defined and is itself something wasteful of what is embodied in traditions themselves over time.


Posted 2017-08-17T05:36:45.543


You're ignoring that real dialogue is able to settle controversies, as long as neither side is fundamentalist. But since monotheism is essentially fundamentalist, it makes most Westerners believe that "real dialogue" is utterly impossible, like posited by postmodern religion. – Rodrigo – 2017-08-21T05:48:32.317

This says nothing about the power of 'real dialog' one way or the other. So you are putting words in my mouth. I am sick of this. I do not find that what you consider dialog takes place in good faith, and I am uninterested in continuing to accept your polemic. – None – 2017-08-21T19:33:55.827