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Neoliberalism and Critical Theory: Dissent Disarmed

My attention was directed to an article in the Higher Education Supplement of The Australian newspaper. The article focused on the prominence that postmodernism and the like have achieved at Australia’s universities. I only skimmed through the article but finding the following part attracted my attention, so I decided to read the whole thing.

The neo-liberal ascendancy had to undermine the structures of intellectual authority that resided within the established disciplines. To prevail it had to disarm the capacity for effective intellectual critique they threatened to offer.

The post-disciplinary, postmodernist insurgency from below was unleashed and empowered from above by the managerialists. It was directed against what was strangely constructed on both sides as a common enemy

I had submitted a comment on the topic. Now getting such comments published on the ‘net are mere formalities, so long as one maintains common courtesy. But such is not the case at Rupert Murdoch’s ideologically flagships. The comment that I made went someone like this.

It is entirely appropriate that the author should find a link between neoliberalism and the dominance of various assorted “critical theories” in the social sciences and humanities. In the normal course of events one would expect that the neoliberal project would have attracted great opposition on Australian campuses, especially concentrated in the social sciences and humanities. Instead the rise of “critical theory” acted as a monumental diversion. Instead of concentrating on the big issues of the day attention was increasingly attracted to junk, such as “the deconstruction of the text,” as the neoliberal project proceeded. It is commonly argued that “critical theory” and the like were and are subversive of such projects. However, if critical theorists truly subverted the neoliberal project then they wouldn’t be holding down 100,000 dollar jobs at Australia’s universities. Rather they would be out teaching at Sunshine TAFE or something.

We wouldn’t have faculty seminars with titles such as “sustainability post sustainability.” We wouldn’t be told that the world is moving towards a system of global governance “based on human reflexivity in its plural and singular form.” Self indulgent gibberish such as this would be verboten. That the ideas of critical theory thrived throughout the key years of neoliberal transformation demonstrates the service that critical theorists provided to power and privilege.

Perhaps someone should write a book or paper with the title; “Neoliberalism and Critical Theory: Dissent Disarmed.”

See there isn’t much wrong with that comment. But if I instead put up some quote from Derrida et al and talked a tad “of grammatology” then I bet I would have got a gig. You see the ideological censorship at The Australian proves my point does it not? Talk of pomo, good or bad, is OK. But neoliberalism is sacred.

Categories: Philosophy