According to the founding fathers of liberal theory – from David Hume and Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill –, human beings are wanting but resourceful: though their desires are both insatiable and inconstant, they gradually learn to optimize their satisfaction by means of exchanging goods and services with other, equally wanting, human beings. In the public sphere, such commerce takes the form of profitable deals, whereby the invisible hand of the market enable free and responsible subjects to acquire what they want at the optimal price. Meanwhile, in the private sphere, it is through disinterested exchanges, fostered by the natural complementarities between male and female temperaments, that the bonds of conjugal and parental love are created and sustained.
Is the anthropology that grounds these visions of economic prosperity and domestic happiness still relevant? Until the late 1970s, it is fair to say that, while respectively reassessing the notion of interest, its relationship with disinterestedness, and the separation between public and private, socialist, romantic, and feminist critiques of liberal utilitarianism were still predicated on the same representation of the human condition as that of their opponent.
In contrast, it can be argued that in the last three decades, the subjects that neoliberal policies simultaneously address and presuppose are markedly different than their liberal predecessors.
First, in terms of economic pursuits, financial credit has taken precedence over commercial profit: for today's managers, attracting investors, rather than generating revenues, is the real test of excellence.
Accordingly, in terms of psychological motivations, the desiring subject in search of his or her optimal fulfillment is giving way to a vulnerable person whose lot depends on his or her ability to acquire sufficient self-esteem. In other words, the virtuous circle of appreciation, by oneself and by others, has become more decisive than the quest for satisfaction, whether immediate, differed, or sublimated.
Finally, in terms of social interactions, whereas the liberal era privileged exchanging, either to make a profit or to express and receive love, for its part, neoliberal sociality is primarily about sharing, both to enhance one's credit and bond with others.
Examining the advent of this neoliberal condition – in the realms of corporate governance, governmental politics, social networks, and erotic protocols – will be the purpose of these seminars.
Michel Feher is a philosopher, founding editor of Zone Books, NY, and president of Cette France-là, Paris. He is the author of Powerless by Design: The Age of the International Community (2000) and the co-editor of Nongovernmental Politics (2007), with Gaëlle Krikorian and Yates McKee. He most recently co-authored and edited cette France-là 1, 06-05-2007/30-06-2008, and cette France-là 2, 01-07-2008/30-06-2009.
Thursday 15 and Friday 16 December from 7 to 9.30 pm