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.