I am currently writing a book, to be published by Bloomsbury Academic in early 2016, titled The Architecture of Neoliberalism. A way to go with this one, but here’s an extract from the draft introduction to be going on with …
The Game of Truth
‘Truth games’, said Foucault, are implements in the production of subjectivity. They legitimate forms of governmentality – mechanisms through which technologies of domination work upon the making of the self. They are also themselves produced, constituted and constructed by certain parties, before being put into play as techniques of power. The rules of the truth game, though, require that the contrivance of its truths be concealed from the players.[i] This rule maintains the operative capacity of the truths constructed, that they are accepted as the given conditions that determine how things must, of necessity, be managed. Truth games don’t rule from above or outside, but by embedding themselves in forms of common knowledge and practice. As Dardot and Laval write in The New Way of the World, ‘[t]he truth cannot be resisted; it can only be approached. For it does not command, but imposes itself by getting itself acknowledged.’[ii]
Neoliberalism is a truth game. Its accounts of human knowledge, social complexity and the economic market legitimate its management of individuals. Among the fundamental truths neoliberal thought has constructed are those that state that human individuals can achieve only a narrow and very limited knowledge of the real complexities of the world; that the planning of society by individuals is, consequently, an untenable proposition; that the economic market is better able to calculate, process and spontaneously order society than the state; that the competition between individuals facilitated by equality of access to the market is a natural state of affairs; that the job of the state is to intervene to ensure the conditions of possibility that sustain the operation of the market, and to ensure that individuals are rendered adaptable and responsive to these conditions; that its truths are a guarantee of liberty.
The corollary of these truths is that a specifically neoliberal governmentality works to produce the subjects of its competitive market order through the milieu of the market itself, rather than through the direct and disciplinary administration of the state and its institutions. The market exercises control of the subject – its processing, modelling and constitution – through the immanent conditions of an entrepreneurial environment that is itself sustained by these same subjects, and through the forms of strategic state intervention that ensure its survival as the only game in town.
Since their first organized gathering, at the Walter Lippmann Colloquium held in Paris in 1938, attended by figures including Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rüstow of the German ‘ordoliberal’ school, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises of the Austrian (later to be Austro-American) school, and the Hungarian polymath Michael Polanyi, the proponents of neoliberalism have exercised as much concerted effort on the circulation and acknowledgment of their truths as in their actual construction. What Philip Mirowski describes as the ‘Neoliberal Thought Collective’,[iii] including, as well, figures such as Milton Friedman and Gary Becker, has always been concerned with having its knowledge accepted so as to inform a ‘policy of society’[iv] and its management – i.e. as a mode of governmentality – rather than as a purely economic model. ‘Neoliberal intellectuals’, writes Mirowski, ‘identified their immediate targets as elite civil society. Their efforts were primarily aimed at winning over intellectuals and opinion leaders of future generations, and their primary instrument was redefining the place of knowledge in society.’[v] In the 1949 essay ‘The Intellectuals and Socialism’, Hayek described the precise function of these ‘intellectuals and opinion leaders’. He noted the success of socialism in propagating ideas within the working classes that had not, he argued, originated in the minds of that class, and proposed that the methods of socialism be emulated in order to spread the cause of neoliberalism. Intellectuals, figures he described as ‘secondhand dealers in ideas.’[vi] (implicitly suggesting the place of knowledge itself as a commodity subject to the market for its valorization):
… need not possess special knowledge of anything in particular, nor need he even be particularly intelligent, to perform his role as intermediary in the spreading of ideas. What qualifies him for his job is the wide range of subjects on which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those to whom he addresses himself.[vii]
In Law, Legislation and Liberty, Hayek wrote of the ‘need to gain the support of those second-hand dealers of ideas, mainly in what are now called the ‘media’, who largely determine public opinion.’ This project – call it the neoliberalization of common knowledge – pursued through means such as the establishment of the Mont Pelerin society in 1947 and the numerous think tanks and policy units aligned to its trajectory formed since then, has been profoundly successful. As Mirowski writes, ‘neoliberalism as a world view has sunk its roots deep into everyday life, almost to the point of passing as the “ideology of no ideology.”’[viii]
Architectural culture has, especially since the late 1960s, also been concerned with the propagation of certain (typically novel) truths – about the discipline, its theory, and its practice – derived from other fields of knowledge including, but not limited to, those of philosophy, linguistics, media, physics, biology, computation and mathematics. It would be hard to find architecture’s contemporary intellectual culture anywhere better exemplified as a second-hand dealership in neoliberal ideas than in the writings of Patrik Schumacher. In the essay ‘Free Market Urbanism – Urbanism Beyond Planning’, he argues:
Perhaps society should allow the market to discover the most productive mix and arrangement of land uses, a distribution that garners synergies and maximizes overall value. The market process is an evolutionary process that operates via mutation (trial and error), selection and reproduction. It is self-correcting, self-regulation [sic], leading to a self-organized order. Thus we might presume that the land use allocation and thus the programmatic dimension of the urban and architectural order is [sic] to be determined by architecture’s private clients.[ix]
While architects and architectural theorists have generally been less brazen about their enthusiasms for the subsumption of the urban and architectural orders to those of the market, they have tended, since the mid-1990s in particular, to push those same truths of the way of the world as have served as the basis for the truth games of neoliberalism. They have latched onto models of self-organization, emergence and complexity, endorsed cybernetics, systems theory and ecological thought, denounced the failings of planning, valorized ‘flat ontologies’ and enthused over metabolic processes. They have, above all, posited the human subject as kind of post-enlightenment being – environmentally adaptive and driven by affect rather than rationality, flexibly amenable to channeling along certain pathways, but uninterested in, even incapable of, critical reflection upon its milieu. As with neoliberal thought, much of architecture’s intellectual culture posits the construction of the subject and the social order as akin to the operation of natural systems. The function of architecture prescribed by this position is that of producing endlessly flexible environments for infinitely adaptable subjects. As neoliberalism presents itself as a series of propositions in the pursuit of liberty, architecture presents itself as progressive. This is the truth game of architecture.
The confluences between these two truth games, the kinds of theorizing, discourse and practices they legitimate, and the productions of subjectivity that they posit, are the concerns of this book.
[i] In a text written in 1982, ‘Technologies of the Self’, Foucault wrote: ‘My objective for more than twenty-five years has been to sketch out a history of the different ways in our culture that humans develop knowledge about themselves: economics, biology, psychiatry, medicine, and penology. The main point is not to accept this knowledge at face value but to analyze these so-called sciences as very specific “truth games” related to specific techniques that human beings use to understand themselves.’ He continues, offering an example of his methods and concerns, ‘I studied madness not in terms of the criteria of formal sciences but to show what type of management of individuals inside and outside of asylums were made possible by this strange discourse. This encounter between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self I call “governmentality.”’ Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. Robert Hurley and others (London: Penguin, 2000), pp. 224, 225.
[ii] Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neo-liberal Society, trans. Gregory Elliot (London and New York: Verso, 2013), p. 314.
[iii] Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (London: Verso, 2013), pp. 48-49.
[iv] Foucault uses this term, as a translation of the German ‘Gesellschaftspolitik’,to describe the governmental ambitions of neoliberalism in a number of lectures recorded in The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–79 (trans. Michael Senellart, Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). He writes, for instance, that ‘what the neo-liberals want to construct is a policy of society.’ p. 146.
[v] Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, pp. 48-49.
[vi] F.A. Hayek, ‘The Intellectuals and Socialism’, in George B. de Huszar, ed.,
The Intellectuals: A Controversial Portrait (Glencoe, Illinois: the Free Press, 1960), p. 371.
[vii] Hayek, ‘The Intellectuals’, p. 372.
[viii] Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, p. 28.
[ix]Patrik Schumacher,‘Free Market Urbanism – Urbanism beyond Planning’ , in Tom Verebes, ed., Masterplanning the Adaptive City – Computational Urbanism in the Twenty-First Century (Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2013) p. 120.