03 November 2014


The appearance and success of what are called “neoliberal” ideas and policies, mainly during the 1980s but with effects that are still very much with us, exists as a challenge to the neoreactionary observation of the leftward drift, or ratchet.

Cthulu always swims left, Moldbug told us, and Jim explained the “holier-than-Jesus” positive-feedback loop in more detail.

What was Cthulu doing when welfare states were rolled back, government operations privatised, and controls on trade removed from (mainly) 1980-1987? Once awoken, he is not supposed to stop for a bit of a lie down and a nap.

It’s not hard to come up with an answer, which I’ve given before on the occasion of Lady Thatcher’s funeral: The loss of influence of concrete (as opposed to theoretical Marxist) working-class interests was caused by the advent of automated manufacturing, which removed the need to concentrate an army of workers in a large factory where they had economic and potentially paramilitary power. This piece by Paul Graham expresses a related view, which was that there was a bubble economy in manufacturing post-war, in which the benefit of rapid growth outweighed cost-efficiency.

The problem is, you can come up with any daft theory about society, and it’s generally “not hard to come up with an answer” to the blatant falsifications of it that occur in reality. Can we define the exceptions to the “leftward drift” theory—the epicycles—in a way that makes it useful for prediction, not just post-hoc sloganeering?

For instance, can neoliberalism be separated as obviously distinct from the normal mechanisms of ideological change? Not as easily as you might think. I have said that it was an “event” rather than a trend, but it still took the best part of a decade. The acceptance of gay marriage, for example, was no less sudden, yet that is attributed to ideological business as usual.

Nor is my claim that neoliberalism was a response to technological change undisputed. It was certainly presented as an ideological development: Thatcher (allegedly) banged The Constitution of Liberty on the table and said, “this is what we believe.” I spent twenty years aligned with the neoliberal ideological movement; I can hardly now claim it didn’t exist.

All I can really see is to insist on the connection of neoliberalism with the technologically-driven end of mass-labour based manufacturing. That would mean, for instance, that I can predict that neoliberal ideas and policies would have made no headway anywhere that old-style manufacturing was still running profitably. Not also I am talking about concrete technology, not “social technology”, which, while a useful concept, is still a bit to vague to effectively restrict the scope of exceptions to leftward drift.

One final thought: I have already attributed the other major rightward movement in history—the appearance of absolute monarchy—to technological change. That’s cropped up a few times for instance in Recap of the Fall of Monarchism