Two Free Books On The Neoliberal University and Protest

Everybody loves a free book, so I present to you today two free books that might be of general interest to readers here, along the theme of the general battles around education and its funding occurring in the UK and globally.

The first is Fight Back! A Reader on the Winter of Protest, available as free PDF download and very reasonable (£1.48) Kindle version to save you the bother of conversion of formats. At 350 pages, it is a collection of accounts, journalistic reports, theoretical reflections, interviews and practical guides on the winter of education protests that occurred here in the United Kingdom against sweeping changes in higher education funding. These changes seek to move from a tax payer provided service for the public good to hyper-indivdualised marketised system with an ontology based upon advantage to private individuals. This programme includes a potential tripling the level of tuition fees with an introduction of variable market rates, vast cuts to central funding, particularly of the humanities, and the under-reported (and perhaps vital for US students looking to study in the UK) slashing of the numbers of student visas. This is, of course, an element of the wider austerity program, and students were keen to emphasise from the beginning their solidarity with those fighting the Coalition government’s wider austerity agenda and austerity agendas globally. It is a book that is consciously by the movement and for the movement, hoping to inform and provoke debate. With the second phase of university occupations occurring on the run up to the mass trade union day of protest (40 universities were occupied in the last round), it is an opportune time to give it a look and if you are from outside the UK get up to speed.

In a similar vein is the PDF version of the book Toward a Global Autonomous University produced by the trans-national collective Edu-Factory. Very much influenced by autonomous Marxist trends, the new thinking on what the politics of the common and thinkers like Hardt and Negri (Negri here provides a co-written conclusion), it is a provocative look at the current place of the university in capitalist society and the possibility of alternative formations. This book and their website, which includes reports from their very recent conference attended by education activists from across the world (including many UK occupations), are certainly worth a read.

Class Struggle and Christianity For Christmas

Hard left Labour party member, philosophy of logic liker, Catholic and avid coffee drinker Simon Hewitt has been doing an excellent series on Marxism and Christianity and seemingly he hasn’t even heard yet of Roland Boer‘s work!

In the first post, Simon sets the scene, in the second he discusses the meeting ground for religious and atheistic Marxists in a something like Aristotelian style naturalistic ethics – among other gems include that as grace completes nature we can all agree socialism from nature anyone with any sense should overthrow capitalism, and that Marxists should only worry about religion being opiate when it destroys commitment to socialism. Some of the moves here remind me a lot of similar ones I attempted in my essay for After the Postsecular and the Postmodern (USUK) where I attempted to sketch a non-atheistic (and also non-theistic) account of the generic secular as pluralism, that would please neither Dawkins and Hari or aggressive theological anti-secularists. The third (and not final) post in the series discusses the ethics of revolutionary violence and whether Christians could support it. This is done partly via Herbert McCabe’s classic required reading ‘The Class Struggle and Christian Love‘ wherein everyone’s favourite editor of Modern Theology claims that since class struggle is an objective reality which it is impossible to stay neutral in (‘it is just there; we are on either one side or the other’) Christianity must be on the side of the proletariat, against myriad soggy Christian socialisms and distributisms which only prop up the system and must consider revolution as one of its aims on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount – Christian pacifists beware!

Speaking of soggy distributisms that only prop up the class struggle ideologically on behalf of the rich (cough recent missives from the radically orthodox stable supporting the Conservative reforms in higher education that will free marketise the whole system and destroy the humanities as such as part of a larger scheme of austerity which will throw almost a million children into absolute poverty over the next three years), Simon also has a post on Phillip Blond et al that is worth reading. Among other points that amuse and inform, in the sense that RO is utterly unable to locate and self-critique itself within class society then it is in fact, pretty similar to liberalism. Oh and that Red Toryism shares many similarities to other third ways, ie, close to fascism. Enjoy!

Tables, Ladders and Chairs: Telos, Artificial Negativity and The Big Society (2 of 2)

The second part of my critique of Telos’ theoretical inventions, the first part I posted a while back. Here I try and show how both artificial negativity and the new class are incoherent concepts – and that the examples of organic traditions Telos point to are false. I suggest, briefly (its long enough already and longer in the ‘proper’ version where I go through some more traditions!), that this shows the concept is purely polemical rather than analytic. I firmly apologise for transgressing the limits of acceptable blog post length, but hope someone, somewhere finds this a bit interesting, particularly the idea that the Tories ‘Big Society’ should be a prime example of artificial negativity thus showing the concept of artificial negativity makes no sense.

In a wonderful if hilarious article for the 1989 December issue of Telos, Timothy Luke, one of the primary progenitors of the artificial negativity thesis, writes a delicious article ‘Xmas Ideology: Unwrapping the New Deal and the Cold War under the Christmas Tree’1, which is replied to directly afterwards by Paul Piccone2. In it Luke claims that Christmas films such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn and White Christmas are an almost perfect example of artificial negativity. Against the crass commercialisation of Christmas, they appear to offer an authentic core of love and human compassion that are unspoilt. In fact, Luke argues, they are merely a way of briefly compensating for the aggressive fragmentation of late capitalism, and actually perpetuating it. The films “generate ideologies of self-gratification and fulfilment as in the cult of Christmas, which rather than being cast as a Christian celebration of Christ’s birth, is instead turned into a fantasy of self-fulfilment and collective solidarity as part of a celebration of materialistic giving (and receiving)”.


The Christian rituals of Christmas, then, have been remanufactured by capital and the state during WWII and the Cold War into “Xmas”. Without it, the rituals of life in consumer society might disintegrate even more than they have already, making Xmas an essential aspect of exchange. It mediates the forms of subjectivity in the intimate sphere of caring with corporate agendas of spending and having. Christmas as “Xmas” becomes in film the essential simulation of settled social traditions, family unity, and collective purpose for many modern American Pottersvilles that otherwise lack these qualities.

Continue reading “Tables, Ladders and Chairs: Telos, Artificial Negativity and The Big Society (2 of 2)”

The Press on Economics/Neoliberalism/Capitalism as Religion

In my dissertation I explore at length the various permutations and readings of the “capitalism as religion” or “economics as religion” or “neoliberalism as religion” paradigm in the scholarship of theologians, philosophers and economists. Here I am attempting to produce a philosophy of religion of capitalism and its relation to economics, which I then turn to the neo-Gramscian paradigm of neoliberalism I’ve detailed earlier in the work. The thing is, there is something about this comparison that seems intuitive and clear: I rarely have to explain to people what I am doing in my work, they automatically ‘get’ it. In trying to show this I’m dredging up as much coverage from the press as I can to show the idea is “in the air”

So what I’m looking for dear readers is your news stories or short opinion pieces from the popular press that discuss or allude to the idea that capitalism is a religion, or economics is a religion, or neoliberalism is a religion. I am not looking for books or academic titles on the subject, as I feel I have a good overview and have sifted the wheat from the chaff here. Something else I am not particularly interested in is the “consumerism as religion” trope, which is probably more common than the examples I’m talking about here. Religious leaders commentating on it are interesting, but more interesting are otherwise secular commentators making this connection. I am also looking for articles which simply use religious language – “the gospel of neoliberalism”, “prophets of market doom” and so on. Also practical examples – Alan Greenspan’s crisis of faith, for example, would be fun.

I think I have quite a few good ones of this genre, but with the infinite eyes of the internet I am absolutely positive you out there have great examples of this I have missed. You will, of course, be footnoted with aplomb. Thanks a lot in advance.


Citing the dramatic increase in the deaths of firefighters, and an increase in deaths as a result of fire, she asked him: “Will you give me a pledge today that when these austere times are over, and you have the money back in the bank or you’re balancing your books, that you will look at anything that is cut during this period and go back and get in those fire engines back in the places they are needed to support the public?”

Cameron refused to make the pledge.

“The direct answer to your question, should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later, I think we should be trying to avoid that approach,” he said. “Because I’m not saying we won’t have to make cuts to all sorts of difficult services, because we will, but let’s try and do it in a way that actually is sustainable. And try to make sure that the fire services that we have is capable of doing the very important work we want it to do but let’s all open our minds and think how can we work in a different way.”

As Tom said on Twitter “Never have I wanted those murderous, neo-liberal New Labour fucks back in office so much as I do now”. Cameron and Clegg have told their MPs “we are prepared to take the difficult decisions”, Cameron states “difficult decisions” will have to be made.

In my PhD I trace one of the origins of this kind of rhetoric of the hard decision in economic matters – the influence of Carl Schmitt’s decisionism and political theology on the development of early neoliberalism during the Weimar republic. The leader – neoliberal or fascist – must be decisive, must make the decision – discussion, democratic debate are flimsy liberal sops, he is sovereign. Between the people and the market, the leader must decide for the market. The influence could not be clearer upon our present situation.

More Classics From The Telos Archive

I’m just finishing the second bit of my post series on artificial negativity and thought I’d share some particularly funny bits and pieces from Telos I stumbled across. One thing I respect about Telos – its fierce independence.

Issue 4, published in 1969 has this on the title page:

Telos is a philosophical journal definitely outside the mainsteam of American Philosophical thought.

The capitalisation of American Philosophical intrigued me – was this a passing swipe at the APA? Lo and behold on page 206 we find a staff writer (Piccone I imagine) reviewing the APA convention in 1969.

It is generally believed that the “P” in APA stands for “Philosophical”. But if the name is to reflect at all it denotation – something very rare these days – it should stand for “Philanderers”. [the dictionary defines philanderers as] people who make love insincerely. It was quite evident that love of wisdom was a rare passion indeed in this congregation of Professional American Philosophers. Continue reading “More Classics From The Telos Archive”

Tables, Ladders and Chairs: Telos, Artificial Negativity and The Big Society (1 of 2)

the late 60s and early 70s saw a series of annual occasions known as Telos conferences, some of which might be thought of as philosophical harbingers of the more recent and far more popular phenomenon known as ‘Wrestlemania’.

This little quotation, as I try and wrap up my reflections on communitarianism, not only made me chuckle, but recalled a number of the debates I have been involved in both online and offline. The well know Telos attitude seems built for our blog age. Inspired by Telos’ founder and guiding spirit Paul Piccone it is a combination of no-bullshit snark, polemical rudeness and occasional shamanic swearing alongside the deployment of sweeping generalisation and only semi-coherent theoretical categories to fence in intellectual opponents for quick dismissal. It is an attitude often coupled in a messy, contradictory, double movement which claims your opponents lack subtly and historical nuance while utilising your own ideal types to slap them about.

This is a move set one can have a grudging distant respect for in a blog like this, supposedly known for people fearing to even leave a comment. But it is a kind of flattening blow resplendent with trash-talking attitude that is like a four leg lock followed by a number of heel whoops. Its a totally Rick Flair (left): it might whip the crowd up, but on close examination, one can see that it is fairly thin and doesn’t even contain a modicum of skill or athleticism. Under real scrutiny, one cannot suspend disbelief that it realistically wins matches even when it topples better opponents. Perhaps then, when the move is done, we shouldn’t be inclined to sell it quite so much. Like with any heel, we might be able to respect some of its theatre, but eventually it becomes predictable and thin and allows the whole game to be dismissed as trivially fake. Our best move is then to break keyfabe and like some form of masked wrestler teaching the tricks of the trade, deconstruct the moves themselves in the hope of defeating the tropes as a whole. They will doubtless continue, but the fans will demand better and believe in it less. It would be transparent.

(At this point a guide to wrestling terminology might be useful. Obviously people have written for Telos (including people who write for this blog) who do not subscribe to their general theoretical orientation. Yet that the journal had a particular agenda and orientation mostly surround Piccone and his central clique is beyond repute and admitted by Piccone himself on several occasions)

Continue reading “Tables, Ladders and Chairs: Telos, Artificial Negativity and The Big Society (1 of 2)”