It would be funny if it wasn’t disgracefully true…
It would be funny if it wasn’t disgracefully true…
Zygmunt Bauman, one of the greatest thinkers of the post-Second World War period, a distinguished sociologist and influential public intellectual, has passed away. He has departed to “liquid eternity”, his family told. This is a sad news and an enormous loss.
During his prolific academic career, Professor Bauman has elaborated significant interpretations of human societies and tremendously contributed to our understanding of present times’ complexity and constitutive events of the past. His scholarship and penetrating wisdom are enshrined in dozens of books and groundbreaking researches such as Towards a Critical Sociology: An Essay on Common-Sense and Emancipation (1976), Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), Postmodern Ethics (1994), Globalization: The Human Consequences (1998), Liquid Modernity (2000), Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (2006), Consuming Life (2007), and many more.
In 2013, I had the honor of meeting Professor Bauman in person, to host two thought-provoking and inspiring events with him, and in-between to enjoy making small talks, listening to his advice about my own study and also telling him about the Economic Sociology and Political Economy global community, the project he found interesting and special, based on his observation of networks and social media in globalized world. At the end of an intellectually amazing and full of personal grace three-hour meeting with junior faculty, as he leaves lighting his pipe, he turned around and said to me: “Oleg, keep questioning the ostensibly unquestionable. Goodbye.”
In November of 2016, a week after the election in the US, Zygmunt Bauman wrote for Social Europe (an important digital platform on which he has posted for several years) what apparently became his final essay: “How Neoliberalism Prepared The Way For Donald Trump.” In the dawn of a new era of, what I called, Authoritarian Neoliberal Regime, Bauman looks at the origins on Liberalism and lays out his view on how and why did we get to this critical junction in modern history, following decades of Neoliberalism. Selected excerpts from the essay are presented below:
“The “certainty” of things important to life happening or not is the most avid of dreams dreamed by people harassed and oppressed by their uncertainty (though that certainty might also be, as William Pitt the Younger observed already in 1783, “the plea for every infringement of human freedom” and “the argument of tyrants”). Politics guided by the decisionist principle is the meeting point between the tasty arguments of tyrants and the ravenous appetite of their acclaimers. The new era of liberal democracy whose imminent advancement Pitt was one of the first to adumbrate was to be, we may say, dedicated to preventing such a meeting, for the sake of reason and genuine human interests, from happening.
In the course of the subsequent decades merging into centuries, law theorists and practitioners as well as philosophers of politics joined forces in order to achieve – and once achieved, safeguard – that purpose. To the pursuing of that objective was their thought and ingenuity deployed. Road to fulfilling the purpose (identified for all practical intention with the passage of power from the kings and princes to people) led in prevailing opinion through institutional measures: division between legislative, executive and judiciary sectors of power, simultaneously mutually autonomous and closely, intimately dovetailed – pressing them thereby to permanently engage in negotiation of agreement, while drawing away from the temptations of solitary, potentially absolute, rule.
That tendency was complemented by another – of more cultural than institutional provenience. Its manifestation was the slogan Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité promoted by les philosophes of Enlightenment and shortly later embroidered on the banners carried from one end of Europe to another by French revolutionary armies. Advocates of that slogan were aware that its three elements stood chance of becoming flesh only together. Liberté could yield Fraternité solely in company with Egalité; cut off that medium/mediating postulate from the triad – and Liberté will most likely lead to inequality, and in effect to division and mutual enmity and strife, instead of unity and solidarity. Only the triad in its entirety is capable to secure a peaceful and so thriving society, well-integrated and imbued with the spirit of mutual cooperation.
But to cut the long story short: neo-liberalism, now the hegemonic philosophy shared by almost the whole of the political spectrum (and most certainly the entire part classified by Trump and his ilk as the “establishment” earmarked for annihilation by the popular wrath and rebellion) distanced itself from its predecessor and indeed set itself in stark opposition by doing precisely what the classic liberalism fought valiantly to prevent while leaning over backward to reverse in case it was already done: and that by exiling the precept of Egalité – for all practical intents and purposes, from the three-partite compact of the Enlightenment’s principles and postulates – even if not always from its entitlement to lip service.
After thirty/forty years of undivided and not seriously challenged hegemony of neo-liberal philosophy in a country of great expectations and yet, courtesy of its neo-liberal rulers, also of their no lesser frustrations, the electoral victory of Trump has become all but pre-determined. Given the circumstances, to the mistakes and deformations eagerly searched or construed and so hotly debated by most of the opinion-makers were at utmost left the role of icing the fully baked (over-baked?) cake.
For the self-appointed carriers of great expectations and conquerors of great frustration, demagogues and haranguers of all brands, in short: personages proclaiming themselves and believed to be strong (wo)men whose strength is measured by their capability of breaking rather than observing the rules of games foisted and cherished by the “establishment”, their common enemy – those circumstances amount to a field day. We (I mean here and refer to people worried by their actions and yet more by their not-yet-fully revealed potential), are advised, however, to be sceptical about quick fixes and instant exits from trouble. All the more so for the options we confront under those circumstances having been drawn from the category of choices between a devil and a deep blue sea.
Shortly before his death, the great Umberto Eco drew in his brilliant essay Making an Enemy the following sad conclusion from his numerous studies of the matter: “Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth”. In other words: we need an enemy to know who we are and who we are not; knowing this is indispensable for our self-approval and self-esteem. And he adds: “So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one”. A codicil: “Enemies are different from us and observe customs that are not our own. The epitome of difference is the foreigner”. […]
The most popular choice among the actual or aspiring strong (wo)men when it comes to the casting the enemy’s role (that is, as spelled out by Eco, to the processes of self-defining, integration and self-asserting) – indeed a fully and truly meta-choice, determining all other choices by association or derivation – is currently establishment: un-packable as a foggy and (felicitously for their choosers and would-be foot soldiers) under-defined collection of have-beens who outlived their time and are grossly overdue to be relegated to history and recorded there in its annals as an aggregate of selfish hypocrites and inept failures. In a simplified rendition: establishment stands for the repulsive, off-putting and unprepossessing past, and the strong (wo)men, ready to send it to the rubbish tip where it belongs, stand for the guides to a new beginning, after which (s)he who has been naught shall be all.”
See below a list of great academic opportunities: calls for papers, job and postdoc positions and a spring school on various themes and topics in economic sociology and political economy, with January 14 – February 5 deadlines. Share this list with your colleagues and students. Good luck!
Calls for papers:
CfP: “The intergenerational transmission of socio-economic status and inequality: patterns and mechanisms”, a spring school for PhD students at Collegio Carlo Alberto (Moncalieri, Turin, Italy), 7-11 March 2017. Participants will be provided with hotel accommodation, lunches and the social dinner. DL: February 5
“Quiet fruitfulness. The born aristocrats of the spirit are not overeager; their creations blossom and fall from the trees on a quiet autumn evening, being neither rashly desired, not hastened on, nor supplanted by new things. The wish to create incessantly is vulgar, betraying jealousy, envy, and ambition. If one is something, one does not actually need to do anything—and nevertheless does a great deal. There is a type higher than the “productive” man.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1994. Human, All Too Human. London: Penguin. (pp.201-201; an aphorism #210, from the chapter “From the Soul of Artists and Writers”) // An open-access version of the book by another publisher
The commercialization of Christmas in the light of — and in the wake of — industrial capitalism in the UK and US during the 19th century– is a very interesting subject matter. (At the end of this post I added two links to recent worth-reading researches on this topic). However, to make a point regarding an evolving meaning of Christmas Holiday in that period, and its connection to market economy and culture, I would like to refer to a sharp essay “Concerning Christmas Giving” by Margaret Deland, that was published in 1904 in her book The Common Way and an American women’s popular magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Deland was a recognized and important American novelist and poet which wrote about various issues of middle-class domesticity, and was also a women’s rights activist.
In “Concerning Christmas Giving”, Deland vividly expressed her discontent with the changing essence of Christmas, and called on women to stand up against the consumerization and monetization of the holiday spirit and interpersonal relationships.
“When we look seriously at the flippant degradation of Christmas, which has suddenly become so marked, and at the spiritual decadence which accompanies it, we shall probably, most of us, say that it is time to call a halt. This miserable and foolish business of giving because we have received, encouraged as it is by shopkeepers, fed by our own mean ambition and vanity, nourished by a paltry unwillingness to “be under obligations”, and by the mere fashion of the period which decrees Christmas excesses — this silly and fatiguing custom has got to stop — and women are the folk to stop it! Here is a reform fresh to our hands. Here is a work waiting for us. It needs common-sense, not legislation; it needs reverent souls, not political power. And the time is ripe for it now. (pp. 175-76)…
Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now; there was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less weariness of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash. The statement of a certain shopkeeper in this connection may be taken as typical of the whole situation.
“Why”, inquired a customer, “do you have these dreadful things for sale?”
The shopkeeper laughed. “Yes, they are dreadful,” he admitted. And, indeed, they were– gift-books bound in plush, with “hand-painted” landscapes enclosed in gilt filigree, fastened, somehow, to the covers. They were, in every detail, a triumph of bad taste. And they were all ticketed $10. “Of course they are dreadful”, this intelligent man said, “but what can I do? People want something that shows money. You don’t know how many people come in at Christmas time and say ‘I want to buy a present for ten dollars — I don’t care what’. Then the clerk shows this gift-book, and they pay their ten dollars and walk out. Half of them don’t even look inside; it’s the ten dollars’ worth of cover they want.”
Now could there be anything more melancholy than such Christmas giving? — unless, indeed, it is the melancholy of the bargain-counters of department stores just before Christmas, or the melancholy of the out-of-town cars, crowded with weary women lugging home presents that they feel obliged to give to persons who do not wish to receive them. And each year more such presents are being given, more “debts” are being incurred (pp. 178-79)…
The next may be the assertion of our purpose to express the spirit of Christmas by gifts which shall signify one of three things (or, perhaps, all of them): Love; Friendship; Human kindness. Such gifts do not imply money; they do not necessitate fatigue; they have nothing to do with debtors and creditors; and they never know the secrecy which is shame. The moment we put our Christmas giving on this basis, we draw the first breath of freedom; for we shall not give a single present we don’t want to give. Think of that — giving only what our hearts prompt us to give! Why, it cuts that long list in half, right away. There is no lying awake at night to think how on earth we are going to repay Mary Robinson ; for if she loved us when she sent that spool-box, we are not her debtors..” (pp. 180-181) (bold emphasises are mine, O.K.)
Deland, Margaret. 1904. The Common Way. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers (various open-access formats)
Hancock, Philip. 2016. “A Christmas Carol: A Reflection on Organization, Society, and the Socioeconomics of the Festive Season.” Academy of Management Review 41 (4): 755–765. (open-access)
Whiteley, Sheila (ed). 2008. Christmas, Ideology and Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
In his monumental History of Economic Analysis, Joseph Schumpeter identified four fundamental fields of economic analysis: economic history, statistics, economic theory and economic sociology. According to Schumpeter, a mastery in these four fields is “what distinguishes the ‘scientific’ economist from all the other people who think, talk, and write about economic topics” (2006: 10). (Compare to Keynes’ definition of an economist)
At the beginning of this prominent book, first published posthumously in 1954, Schumpeter briefly describes all these fields; we will however turn our intellectual attention to the section on economic sociology:
“Our three fundamental fields, economic history, statistics and statistical method, and economic theory, while essentially complementing each other, do not do so perfectly. […] It is easy to see that when we introduce the institution of private property or of free contracting or else a greater or smaller amount of government regulation, we are introducing social facts that are not simply economic history but are a sort of generalized or typified or stylized economic history. And this applies still more to the general forms of human behavior which we assume either in general or for certain social situations but not for others. […] Borrowing from German practice, we shall find it useful, therefore, to introduce a fourth fundamental field to complement the three others, although positive work in this field also leads us beyond mere economic analysis: the field that we shall call Economic Sociology (Wirtschaftssoziologie). To use a felicitous phrase: economic analysis deals with the questions how people behave at any time and what the economic effects are they produce by so behaving; economic sociology deals with the question how they came to behave as they do. If we define human behavior widely enough so that it includes not only actions and motives and propensities but also the social institutions that are relevant to economic behavior such as government, property inheritance, contract, and so on, that phrase really tells us all we need.” (Schumpeter 2006: 18-19)
Schumpeter, Joseph. 2006 . History of Economic Analysis. Routledge (open access)
George Stigler, a founding member of Mont Pelerin Society and a key preacher of neoliberal economics, on what he proudly calls “economist-missionaries” (1984: 304) :
“So economics is an imperial science: it has been aggressive in addressing central problems in a considerable number of neighboring social disciplines, and without any invitations…
Why did economics begin its imperialistic age so recently as the last two or three decades? My answer… is that the extended application of economic theory was invited by its growing abstractness and generality… The abstraction increased the distance between economic theory and empirical economic phenomena – not without some cost to economics – and made the extensions to other bodies of phenomena easy and natural. If that explanation is correct, there will be no reversal of the imperialism.
Heinrich Gossen, a high priest of the theory of utility-maximizing behavior, compared the scope of that theory to Copernicus’ theory of the movements of the heavenly bodies. Heavenly bodies are better behaved than human bodies, but it is conceivable that his fantasy will be approached through the spread of the economists’ theory of behavior to the entire domain of the social sciences.” (Stigler 1984: 311 – 313)