The Globe and Mail reports that “Tory Leader Stephen Harper says he
thinks Canadians have become more conservative over the past two
Stephen Harper is right. But it’s not just a trend in Canada, it’s a
trend across the liberal (capitalist) democracies. Part of the rise of
neoliberalism has been its near total success in narrowing people’s
conceptions of what is possible, and disseminating a “common sense”
that made individualist, market-oriented ideas and solutions just seem
natural, as opposed to products of political power and institutions.
The logic of social resentment, competition, and entrepreneurship, as
opposed to solidarity, becomes pervasive; the notion of democratic
choices about our common destiny disappears.
What’s needed to change that it is to put out broad, ambitious
conceptions of possibility that embed within them entirely different
values and a different vision of society, power, politics, and
democracy. And no party is offering that. To that extent all the
parties, not only the Conservatives, are helping shift Canada further
and further to the right. The Liberals are as ever the party of
business with a dash of social flavour. They are not the pioneers of
neoliberalism, only its stealthiest and most zealous practicioners. The
Greens are green capitalists without a social analysis of power and
inequality. And the NDP are neoliberals by default, having drifted into
a Blairism of pessimistically small vision by default rather than
conscious choice: offering at best a traditional social democratic
vision of a kinder capitalism delivered by professional elites at the
top, and at worst a kind of market-friendly managerialism.
These are the times we live in. The financial crisis has utterly
discredited neoliberal ideology, which is recognized by elites who
agonize over it in the pages of the financial press. The economy is
tanking and manufacturing jobs are disappearing, while the tar sands
are touted as Canada’s economic future. Mass migration of young men
from depressed areas of the east, and abroad, to temporary lives in an
industrial, crime-and-drug-plagued hell that is destroying the planet:
this is the bright future for Canada.
Climate change is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced,
and calls into question everything about how we work, live, and play.
At an intuitive level, people understand that mere policy changes
aren’t going to achieve the results we need, and this creates despair.
To counteract this despair, we need the sense of hope that comes from a
sense of possibility — of alternatives — that match the scale of the
problem. People need to see a vision of a world they want to live in.
Both of these crises create an opening for political discussion
about fundamental social values and choices. Yet no alternative has
been put forward to fill this vacuum. At a time when there is a thirst
for ambitious hope, we are offered the dust of politics as usual to
slake it. We are all the victims and the makers of this trap. It’s hard
to see the way out, and I doubt it will be in the form of a single
grand idea like socialism. But there may be bold ideas that are
catalysts for broader change precisely because they break with the
logic of neoliberalism and open up broader vistas.
In my next post I’ll try to list some examples.
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