Neoliberalism vs the Deep State

brittaniaBy Alistair Livingston

This began as an article called ‘What is neoliberalism?’ after I read an article by Gerry Hassan criticising radical independence campaigners for using neo-liberalism as ‘a blanket term of catch-all abuse used by people to identify what they don’t like from Gordon Brown and New Labour to the City of London; in this strange world neo-liberalism is seldom defined and understood…’

This straightforward aim got complicated when I found a recent book by two French authors which gave a more Eurocentric account of neoliberalism- ‘The New Way of the World-On Neoliberal Society’. Then, before I’d finished, I read an account in the Guardian of the referendum campaign which mentioned the role of the ‘deep state’ (via the queen) in the campaign. This made me wonder if there is tension between neoliberalism and the deep state in the UK.

Finally, I have now read the book by Michel Foucault which inspired ‘The New Way of the World- On Neoliberal Society’. This is briefly mentioned at the end of the article which is now nearly 5000 words long so more detailed discussion of Foucault’s book will be the subject of my next post here.

2. What is neoliberalism?

My introduction to neoliberalism was through David Harvey’s 2010 book ‘The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism’. Harvey had previously written ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’ in 2006. In Harvey’s version, although the ideas which influenced neoliberalism had been kicking around since the late 1940s, the practice of neoliberalism only gained traction in the 1970s. In the UK, Margaret Thatcher’s government was inspired by neoliberal theory in the 1980s while Ronald Reagan’s government was likewise inspired in the USA. Neoliberal policies were then continued in the 1990s by Tony Blair’s government in the UK and the Clinton government in the USA.

For Harvey, neoliberalism was a counter-revolution, designed to restore the power of big business which had lost out during the period of the post WW2 social democratic consensus. In the UK, the post-war consensus can be linked to the demands of total war, when national survival depended on fusing society and economy. This had to be achieved against very recent memories of mass unemployment in the 1930s and the hollow claims that victory in WW1 would create a ‘land fit for heroes’. The victory of the Labour party in 1945 indicated that voters in the UK were determined that sacrifices made in this second world war would, ‘lessons having been learned’ would be rewarded in peace time.

So a national health service was introduced, key industries were nationalised, new houses (including thousands of local council owned properties) were built and a comprehensive welfare system was introduced. Both Labour and Conservative governments also pursued economic policies designed to ensure full employment. This post-war consensus between Labour and Conservatives lasted until the 1970s when it began to break-down as the sense of solidarity shaped by war faded and rapid increases in the price of oil in 1974 (and again in 1979) gave rise to industrial conflict. While Labour tried to maintain the post-war consensus, the Conservatives, influenced by neoliberal theory, decided that it gave too much power to organised labour and the state via nationalised industries.

Britain was broken, they argued and to make Britain great again the dead hand of ‘socialism’ had to be lifted in order to liberate the spirit of free enterprise. In this interpretation then, neoliberalism can be described as an attempt to wind the clock back to the golden years of capital in the nineteenth century before it was contaminated by socialism. It was the doctrine adopted by Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA in the 1980s and which has now gone global. This was the version of neoliberalism set out by David Harvey in ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’ in 2006. However…in 2009, French authors Pierre Dardot and Christian Lavall came up with an alternative understanding of neoliberalism which was published in English in 2013 as ‘The New Way of the World-On Neoliberal Society’.

Dardot and Lavall trace neoliberalism back to the later nineteenth century when Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) came up with the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ as a simplification of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This simplification was challenged by Friedrich Engels in 1875.

The whole Darwinist teaching of the struggle for existence is simply a transference from society to living nature of Hobbes’ doctrine of bellum omnia contra omnes [a war of all against all] and of the bourgeois-economic doctrine of competition together with Malthus’s theory of population. When this conjurer’s trick has been performed…the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature into history and it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved.

By the 1870s, Britain’s supremacy as the first industrial nation was threatened by Germany and the USA. Dardot and Lavall suggest that this led to a shift from the idea of the market as a place of exchange to the idea of the market as a place of competition. By the 1930s, as old fashioned liberalism was threatened by the rise of ‘state capitalism’ via fascism and Stalinism, a new liberalism based on the need to ensure competition began to emerge. The outlines of what was to become neoliberalism were established at an economic conference in Paris in 1938 but had to wait until after WW2 to take root- in post-war Germany and in what was to become the European Union.

Dardot and Lavall go on to argue that neoliberalism has moved on from being an economic doctrine or ideology to becoming a ‘rationality’. Within this rationality the necessity of ‘competition’ has become so deeply embedded that, for example, the idea of cooperation is considered irrational and therefore impossible. Taken to its logical conclusion, what this means is that, as Margaret Thatcher once said ‘there is no such thing as society’, there are only individuals competing with each other as economic agents. In which case human beings are not social animals, rather we are calculating atoms existing within a global market place in an economic war of all against all. In this war the fittest, those who maximise their economic advantages, survive and prosper while the unfit, those who fail to compete successfully, must resign themselves to lives of enduring poverty.

Part of the difference between Dardot and Lavall’s version of neoliberalism and Harvey’s version is down to timing. Harvey’s book was published in 2006. In 2007, Andrew Marr concluded his television History of Modern Britain overlooking an apparently booming London with scarcely a cloud on the horizon. Then came 2008 and a global crash which briefly threatened to reveal the irrationality of neoliberalism- until it was reinvented as ‘austerity’, as a modern morality tale in which a moment of excess by the Labour party had undone the good work of the Conservative party requiring (in 2010) another period of strict Conservative rule before the good times could return.

Except, as Dardot and Lavall’s post-2008 analysis of neoliberalism shows, the UK’s experience of neoliberalism was only part of a more complex story.

3. Neoliberal Scotland

First set out in ‘Neoliberal Scotland – Class and Society in a Stateless Nation’ in 2010 by Neil Davidson and his co-authors the tension between social democratic and neoliberal Scotland became a key element of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign. Thanks to the Radical Independence Campaign, the ground on which the grassroots Yes campaign fought was not nationalism but neoliberalism. The argument made by RIC was that the UK is a neoliberal state so a vote for independence was also a vote against neoliberalism. RIC accepted that the SNP were a neoliberal party, but made the point that a Yes vote in 2014 would make another, post-neoliberal, Scotland possible.

This argument gained traction because the Labour party in Scotland aligned themselves with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as part of the No campaign. As a result many present and former Labour party supporters were forced to recognise that their party was a neoliberal party. Gradually over the course of the referendum campaign opinion polls showed the Yes vote rising and the No vote declining. Then, at the beginning of September, a shock poll showed Yes in the lead.

4. The UK Deep State

The taken-for-granted assumption until then had been that no more than the 30% of Scots that consistent opinion polls had shown favoured independence would vote Yes on 18 September. A further assumption was that all the Labour party in Scotland had to do was blow on their anti-SNP dog whistle and their supporters would fall in line and vote No. According to a recent Guardian article, Downing Street went into melt-down and the UK ‘deep state’ became involved…

Senior figures in Whitehall were so worried by the prospect of a collapse of the union that it was suggested to the palace that it would be immensely helpful if the Queen could say something publicly. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary, embarked on discussions to work out how the Queen might register her concerns at the prospect of a yes vote while upholding her constitutional duty to remain wholly impartial. The Whitehall machinery was fully apprised of the prime minister’s concerns that the yes side was developing an ominous momentum.

The talks between the most senior civil servant in the land and the palace’s most senior official, the two key figures at the heart of what the Whitehall source described as the “deep state”, focused in the first place on the wisdom of a public intervention by the monarch, who has been scrupulously impartial during her 62 years on the throne. Once it became clear that the Queen was minded to speak out, Geidt and Heywood then needed to fashion some words that would ensure that the she remained within the bounds expected of a constitutional monarch…

This mention of the UK’s ‘deep state’ intrigued me. I then found a reference to it from 2010 in an article by Anthony Barnett in the context of the Chilcott Inquiry and a quote from Carne Ross, one of the witnesses.

I testified last week to the Chilcot inquiry. My experience demonstrates an emerging and dangerous problem with the process. This is not so much a problem with Sir John Chilcot and his panel, but rather with the government bureaucracy – Britain’s own “deep state” – that is covering up its mistakes and denying access to critical documents.

Barnett was surprised since, as he explained

The “deep state” has a specific meaning and origin in Turkey where an Ataturkist (ie secular, nationalist and anti-democratic) element of the Army penetrated the state and conspired to control it, organising coups and in effect running a shadow military dictatorship limiting the freedom of political parties and retaining a stranglehold on Turkish democracy.

Barnett went on to explain that although he had heard a Minister in Gordon Brown’s government refer to ‘the deep state in the Home Office’, he had not taken this seriously until Carne Ross as ‘an experienced insider’ also used the term.

I then looked to see if anyone has connected neoliberalism with the deep state. The answer is yes, but for the USA not the UK. See here

The “deep state” is simply symptomatic of something more ominous, the rise of a new form of authoritarianism, a counter-revolution in which society is being restructured and advanced under what might be called the neoliberal revolution. This is a counter-revolution in which the welfare state is being liquidated, along with the collective provisions which supported it. It is a revolution in which economics drives politics.

The question of resistance haunts almost all theories of the “deep state,” which often conflate power with domination and offer nothing less than a dystopian vision of society and the future. Resistance either degenerates into nostalgia for the good old days of the past or it suggests that those who wish to change the world should work within the current bankrupt political system. Or, even worse, it suggest that the call for radical change is ultimately an act of bad faith, if not a form of political infantilism. Rather than dissolve power into unshakable forms of domination, I think these new modes of power have to be understood in terms of their limits and strengths and challenged accordingly not as an act of reform but as an act of revolution—a going to the root of the problem in order to create strategies for fundamental social, political, and economic transformation.

Applied to Scotland and the UK, the movement for Scottish independence takes on a revolutionary aspect, but one which has deep historical roots. If the UK deep state embraces the monarchy then it is older than neoliberalism. It may even be older than the Union of 1707. If ‘Scotland’ ceased to exist after the union while England continued, as has was claimed in February 2013, then the UK deep state is a continuation of the English deep state. Alternatively, if both Scotland and England were dissolved in the new united Kingdom of Great Britain as was also suggested, then the UK deep state is a product of the Union. [Wales being considered part of England by 1707 and formal Union with Ireland not taking place until 1801]

One possible origin for the English deep state is when Henry VIII made himself head of the church as well as head of the state. By 1603 the English deep state was strong enough to ensure a smooth transfer of power when Henry’s daughter Elizabeth died and the Scottish king James VI became the English king James I. There was a wobble when Charles I lost his head but after a brief interlude, Charles II was restored to the throne. In 1688, when James II and VII started to be seen as a liability the English deep state responded by sending a letter to William of Orange in June 1688, inviting him to England. The letter was signed by 6 leading politicians and the bishop of London.

While William of Orange’s ascent to the throne took place fairly smoothly in England, the changeover was less smooth in Scotland. Supporters of James VII had to be defeated in battle before William’s position was secure. This suggests that Scotland did not have a deep state. A possible explanation for this is that in Scotland the Reformation developed in opposition to the state during the reign of queen Mary who remained a Catholic. This tension between church and state persisted until 1689. Even then, divisions between Episcopalians and Roman Catholics who supported James VII and Presbyterians who supported William II persisted into the eighteenth century, only ending with the final defeat of the Jacobites in 1746.

The nearest Scotland came to possessing a deep state was in the group which had benefited from the Revolution Settlement of 1689. For this group, the biggest threat to the continuity of their power was a second Stuart restoration via the Jacobites. Unlike England, in Scotland the Jacobites were a very real threat to the Revolution Settlement. The new (shallow?) Scottish deep state therefore came to see union with England as the only way to ensure its survival.

To an extent, the union of 1707 succeeded in preserving key elements of the Scottish deep state. While the Scottish parliament was absorbed into the English parliament, Scottish landowners, the Scottish church, Scots law, Scottish universities, Scottish banks and Scottish local government retained their privileges and power.

From the Scottish perspective, this persistence of significant features distinguishing Scotland from England, Wales or Ireland was and is important. From the perspective of the English deep state they are irrelevant. In this view since 1707 Scotland has been a region of a united kingdom which is an English kingdom, an English state. Great Britain is England, an England made up of historic regions like Yorkshire, Wales …and Scotland. This equation was confused for a century or so by the existence of a British Empire, but the empire was ruled by a parliament in Westminster which had taken on its ‘modern’ form during the reign of Henry VIII.

If the UK was a truly neoliberal state, it would have been indifferent to Scottish independence. As Neil Davidson in ‘Neoliberal Scotland‘ and James Foley and Pete Ramand in ‘Yes- the Radical case for Scottish Independence’ have pointed out, an SNP governed independent Scotland would be a neoliberal state and therefore not a threat to the global hegemony of neoliberalism.

However, an independent Scotland determined to rid itself of Trident missiles would be a threat to the status and power of the UK/English deep state and its allies in the USA deep state. This would explain why the UK/English deep state saw support for the No campaign as vital to its interests.

The implication of this is that for all its apparent dominance, neoliberalism has not yet penetrated to level of the deep state, where perceptions of ‘what is in the national interest’ and how best to maintain national influence still prevail.

This in turn has implications for the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Are there tensions between the UK as a deep state and the UK as a neoliberal state? If the deep state is archaic and has its roots in the pre-1707 English state the answer is yes. In this model, the deep state is carry-over from feudalism represented today by the queen/royals and the house of lords. Although the deep state has adapted to various reforms, these reforms did not lead to a French style revolution as Georg Hegel thought they might when he wrote on ‘The English Reform Bill’ back in 1831. So the UK’s bourgeoisie revolution had to wait until Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair adopted a rather English version of neoliberalism. But their revolution is incomplete. To be fulfilled it requires London to break free from the feudal deep state to become a free floating city state like Singapore or Hong Kong.

The problem is that to maintain London as a global business/finance centre only minimal levels of taxation can be levied. These minimal levels of tax are not enough to maintain the infrastructure of London- public transport for example. London’s essential infrastructure has to be financed by UK wide taxation. Therefore neoliberal UK has to pay at least lip service to deep state UK.

However, a side effect of the Scottish independence debates has been to highlight the imbalances between London and the English regions. This has the potential to create a fracture in the unity of deep state and neoliberal state, weakening both. From a Scottish perspective it would be useful to build up alliances with regional groups in the rest of the UK which are campaigning for a more equal distribution of resources and power away from London. Even in London there are groups campaigning against the take-over of London by the super-rich.

This is particularly a strategy the Radical Independence Campaign should explore and develop. Our focus on neoliberalism and our critique of the SNP as a neoliberal party deepened and broadened the grassroots Yes campaign away from a focus on Scottish nationalism. The danger as the 2015 general election campaign starts to take off is that this step forward will be reversed as we all hold our noses and vote SNP ’in the national interest’. We must not forget that our engagement with the grassroots campaign in Scotland inspired many people in the rest of the UK with a powerful sense of possibility. The UK deep state has survived the loss of Empire and of Ireland. In theory then it could have survived the loss of Scotland as the United Kingdom of England Wales and Northern Ireland. In the Houses of Lords and Commons, business would have continued as usual. Likewise, it would have been business as usual for the neoliberal state. The danger would have come from within England, from demands for radical constitutional and economic reform from ‘the regions’ awoken to the fact that change is possible, that there are alternatives to the status quo.

Historically, the City of Westminster in London has been the centre of political power in England for 1000 years, ever since king Edward the Confessor had a palace and an abbey built there before the Norman invasion. Then through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century an industrial revolution in south Wales, Scotland, the midlands and north of England created an economic and political counterbalance to centralised power.

The decline of heavy engineering and manufacturing industry was slow and long drawn out. It also affected the nationalised coal and railway industries which shifted from expansion via expensive modernisation programmes in the 1950s to contraction and closure in the 1960s. The end result by the 1990s was that there was no economic counterbalance to the City of London and its neoliberal influence. Politically, while the Labour party could still rely on mass support in former industrial areas, to win power at Westminster it had to attract ‘floating voters’ in marginal constituencies. Under Tony Blair, Labour targeted these voters by shifting the party to the right. This strategy worked in electoral terms, but meant that Labour no longer acted as a regional counterbalance to the Tories.

Labour’s rightward shift was exploited by the SNP in Scotland and the resulting success of the SNP triggered last year’s independence referendum. The Noes won it, but the desperate measures required to secure the No vote exposed the hollowness of the democratic alternatives offered by the neoliberal state with Labour supporting the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. This alignment will make it very difficult for Labour in Scotland to fight the 2015 general election.

The constitutional complexities of a likely hung parliament in May will also challenge the deep state. In constitutional theory it is the queen who asks the leader of the largest party elected to form a government. But by intervening in the independence referendum, the queen (=deep state) has already breached the bounds of constitutional neutrality. If Ed Miliband can only become prime minister with the support of SNP Mps this would threaten the continuity of the deep state. An alternative, a Labour/ Conservative government of national unity, has already been floated as a possibility. At the same time, any failure of the May general election to deliver a clear winner would create economic uncertainty. This would threaten the neoliberal state with a loss of global financial confidence in the UK.
5. Foucault on neoliberalism and liberalism

Finally, since Dardot and Lavall’s book on neoliberalism was influenced by Michel Foucault’s ‘The Birth of Biopolitics Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979’(Paris, 2004, English translation New York 2008), I am now reading the Foucault book. Foucault’s key argument (p.116) distinguishes between liberalism and neoliberalism.

Liberalism as it emerged in the eighteenth century said ‘let us establish a space of economic freedom and let us circumscribe it by a state that will supervise it.’

Neoliberalism as it emerged in the twentieth century reversed this so that the free market is the organising and regulating principle of the state. ‘In other words: a state under the supervision of the market rather than market under the supervision of the state.’

For Foucault, the main example of such a neoliberal sate was West Germany. Here the deep state (not a phrase Foucault used) could not be invoked by the new state since Nazism was seen as the culmination of the German deep state. Unfortunately since Foucault was writing/lecturing before the rise of Thatcher in the UK we don’t know if he would have revised his analysis in the light of later developments.

If neoliberalism took root in Germany as a response to the collapse of the deep state, was UK neoliberalism a response to if not a collapse, at least a crisis, within the UK deep state? But the new Germany was and is a federal state- unlike the UK. The difference between German neoliberalism and UK neoliberalism might therefore be that rather than being the foundation for a new state, as it was in West Germany in the late 1940s, neoliberalism in the UK was an attempt to prop-up an existing state.

If one sign that the UK deep state was in crisis in the 1970s was increase in support for the SNP and demands for a Scottish Parliament, then it is now obvious that UK neoliberalism has failed to solve this UK deep state crisis. Or perhaps, if Germany is a model for a stable neoliberal state, the continuing crisis is a result of the UK deep state’s inability to follow through its conversion to neoliberalism by creating a federal UK by breaking up England into semi-autonomous regions plus Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland.

Indeed, to the extent that devolution allowed a successful neoliberal Scotland to emerge after 1999, the UK deep state’s partial embrace of neoliberalism has intensified the crisis. Prior to the Radical Independence Campaign’s intervention, the main thrust of the official (SNP led) Yes campaign was based on a vision of independence leading to a prosperous (neoliberal) Scotland.

6. Conclusion

In 1978-79, Michel Foucault’s lectures on neoliberalism preceded the UK’s adoption of neoliberalism under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Foucault’s work has been extended by Dardot and Lavall, creating an account of neoliberalism which is more complex than that provided by, for example, David Harvey. This complicates popular versions of recent history in which neoliberalism began with Margaret Thatcher’s policies in the UK.

At the same time, as the Scottish independence referendum revealed, the UK still possesses a deep state which exists in tension with the UK as a neoliberal state. The UK deep state is haunted by its past as a great power and perceives Scottish independence as a signifier of final loss of great power status. Neoliberalism was adopted in the belief that it would restore the UK’s former economic power and influence. However, by concentrating the UK’s economic power and influence in the City of London, neoliberalism now threatens the unity of the UK. Questions raised during the independence referendum about Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK are now inspiring demands for significant and substantial devolution by regions of England as well.

In his final lectures, having discussed neoliberalism, Foucault turned to the origins of liberalism. Although Foucault locates the origins of liberalism in the work of ‘English’ thinkers, the works he discusses in depth were the product of the Scottish Enlightenment represented by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson and their conceptions of civil society and political economy. Unfortunately, because does not make a Scottish connection to these developments, Foucault fails to link them up to the preceding loss of Scottish statehood. The importance of civil society is a theme I have explored previously -see here 

In my next article I will use Foucault’s lectures as a starting point for further exploration of civil society and its relationship to liberalism and neoliberalism.

Finally, professor Terry Flew of Brisbane University has written a very useful analysis of ‘The Birth of Biopolitics’

This quote is from Flew (p.33)

One of the reasons why Germany presents itself as being of interest to Focuault in these lectures is that it allows him to think about historical capitalism from within a Weberian rather than a Marxist problematic, as a system that can develop economic consistency and coherence, but one that in doing so generates new contradictions and tensions in the social plane, as a ‘principle of dissociation’ within civil society with regard to community, compassion, benevolence etc. (Foucault, 2008: 302).

Since Neil Davidson, James Foley and Pete Ramand have worked from a Marxist perspective in their critiques of Scottish and UK neoliberalism, it may be that Foucault’s Weberian perspective will provide alternative understandings of how neoliberalism has impacted on Scottish civil society and the extent that support for independence is a response to the resulting ‘dissociation’ rather than an upsurge in nationalism.

Comments (57)

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  1. Peter Arnott says:

    Very useful essay. Highly recommended. Much food for thought for making a deep case against the deep state.

  2. alistairliv says:

    Thanks for the kind words Peter.

  3. Bernicia says:

    Another great article!

    ‘Neoliberalism as it emerged in the twentieth century reversed this so that the free market is the organising and regulating principle of the state. ‘In other words: a state under the supervision of the market rather than market under the supervision of the state.’

    There is another dimension to this and the associated crisis of the ‘the state’; that is the power structures of the market have circumvented and undermined the power of ‘the state’ to decide its own fate. Neoliberalism has gone global and now does the running while ‘the state(s)’ has no choice but to keep up behind; as though both are on a tread mill that is ever increasing in speed (until at some point the tread mill gets too fast – then everything collapses – but then it starts up again).

    The question is how to get off the tread mill, or at least how to slow it down to a walking pace. Independence, or fragmentation along the historical faultlines of newer states vis a vis the ‘deep state’ mentioned is an unconscious attempt to do this/ a consequence of this tension. Scotland was trying to jump off the tread mill. But as you rightly mentioned, it would have soon had to jump back on and start running again, probably faster than when it was keeping up within the UK. Meanwhile civil society is out of breath and exhasuted.

    For what it’s worth this tension is being repeated all over the globe, as paradox between neoliberalism being the tool to reinforce the state is also generating the tensions that are causing it to fracture. China is a classic example, – the shift to neolib has saved the ruling system, but now also threatens central unity.

    1. Bernicia says:

      Also, its great to hear someone pointing out that there is a difference between Neoliberalism and liberal economics. Rather than shrinking the state, as is the common misconception, it has actually grown the role of the state.

      “Far from supporting a minimalist approach to the state, [the world’s development
      success stories] have shown that development requires an effective state, one that plays a
      catalytic, facilitating role, encouraging and complementing the activities of private
      business and individuals”.


      Yet the practical outcome of the neoliberal agenda over the past 20 years has not, in most cases, been to diminish the state’s institutional power or spending. Instead, it has redirected it elsewhere5,6, and
      strengthened the power of the many Northern nation states to intervene in the economic affairs of other countries, notably the indebted countries of the South, the emerging economies of the former Soviet Union and the weaker partners of trade blocs such as the European Union. (the latter would be Scotland).

      1. JBS says:

        But who is behind it all? Is it the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion, the Illuminati?

        Maybe we should get Robert Langdon on the case…

        “I’ve got to get to a library… Fast!”

      2. Bernicia says:

        No one and everyone is behind it all, it’s systemic.Its all abou ttipping points. Its like asking who is behind a bee hive.Need to come up with new ideas of global social and economic relations that’s all, and understand the relationship between group action and psychology better.

  4. Thank you: an interesting article.

    Unfortunately (unless I missed it), I could not see the source you referred to, which was attached to this introduction:

    “I then looked to see if anyone has connected neoliberalism with the deep state. The answer is yes, but for the USA not the UK.” Who was the ‘anyone’?

    I am not sure where you fit the Scottish Enlightenment into this, since your reference to Ferguson, Hume, Smith (who are quite distinct in some telling respects) in relation to Foucault seemed to be undeveloped or unfinished, or at least tantalisingly ‘hung in the air’!

    1. alistairliv says:

      John- the source of the neoliberlism/deep state connection was an article by Henry Giroux. The full text of his article appears to have vanished into cyberspace, but a short version is here

      The Scottish Enlightenment connections were made by Foucault in the last two of his series of lectures Chapters 11 and 12 of ‘The Birth of Biopolitics Lectures at the College de France 1978-79’ Picador 2008 where he quotes extensively from Smith, Hume and Ferguson in a discussion of ‘English liberalism’. I have started writing a further article based on Foucault’s interpretation of Smith, Hume and Ferguson.

      If you are interested, pdf’s of ‘The Birth of Biopolitics’ are available online and Terry Flew has written a good (9000 word) summary and analysis of it here

      1. Much obliged. I look forward to your next article with some relish!

  5. Douglas Robertson says:

    Enjoyed your article. You might also want to have a look at Pierre Bourdieu’s (1998) Acts of Resistance – Against the New Myths of Our Times, Cambridge: Polity. This is a collection of his political speeches from 20 years ago where he critiques and challenges neo-liberalism. It is also interesting to read it in light of recent events in Paris given his long standing interest in France’s fraught relationship with Algeria.

    1. alistairliv says:

      Thanks Douglas-will add to me ‘to read list’.

  6. Ian Kemp says:

    Read the article through a couple of times and found it very thought provoking. I’ve never heard the term ‘Deep State’, which if I understand it correctly is a perfect descriptor for the underlying sub class of the ‘great and good’ whether they be political or hereditary and their controlling machine. This to me describes what I was voting to get rid of in the referendum.

    Problem is how do those looking for change put this across to the people not in the elite, who already know which side their bread is buttered on. I fully understand that the SNP having won power in the Scottish parliament and even more so post any successful independence referendum would be just as likely to want to form their own controlling deep state, albeit without the hereditary aspects. However I did not vote for the SNP I voted for the opportunity for the Scottish people as a recognisably discrete population subset, or country if you like, to be given the opportunity to form a democratically elected representative body which would work for the benefit of everyone. A state which does not work for capital or privilege but which can use it to its advantage. It was disappointing that the YES campaign did not put this across better but understandable given the SNP were in the main the catalyst for the referendum. And thanks to them for that.

    I freely admit I couldn’t do it but is there a way this excellent rather academic article can be put in terms that will help me and other ordinary people understand what it is that is wrong with the current system and what they can or should do to change it

    1. alistairliv says:

      Ian- over the past couple of years I have written quite a few posts for the Radical Independence Dumfries and Galloway blog. Some have been quite long and academic, but others are transcripts of short (10-15 minutes) talks. This one, for example, was given at the AGM of Dumfries and Galloway Green party. For the talks I trimmed the theory down so you might find this more straightforward. If you do, please let me know so I get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.

    2. Bernicia says:

      That’s a really good point. How to simplify what is very complicated, abstract and theoretical, so that people can act in the best way?

      Half the problem is that there are conflicting viewpoints that muddy the water, rather than a single clear over arching defenition. But I’ll have a bash. You’re right, this is really difficult.

      1) Liberal economics – Free exchange creates wealth/ prosperity (the market where I bring a loaf of bead and swap it for a chicken or maybe a service like a haircut.) For this system to work it relies on a few basic fundamentals. a) That we have a right to private property b) That people act in their own best interests. c) That free trade is governed by supply and demand (the invisible hand). I want a haircut, you have a loaf of bread. We agree that a quarter of the loaf is the deal for a haircut. d) In order for things to remain fair, the state – the gang we belong to which has the monopoly on violence (our mafia/ Tony Soprano), makes sure this is so. It controls the market to make sure the profits are collectively used – ‘social democracy’ – and makes sure other considerations are met, social and political ones like keeping order, stopping people from stealing and killing each other, preventing famine, educating us or protecting us all from other states who want to steal our stuff. To do this we hand them the power and create structures for that power to be exercised – in our case parliamentary democracy.

      The deeply embedded institutions – that we often take for granted is ‘the deep state.’ Things like the legal system, the education system, religion/church or the absence of it, the civil service, the parliament and the queen and other hidden things like who owns what. Landownership etc ) And there is a tension (not necessarily a bad one, between the older ‘deep states’ of England and Scotland, as they developed their own institutions both together and apart, and the newer UK.

      2)Neoliberalism – in theory takes liberal economics to the extreme and creates something entirely new – if all of the above (the free market system, with self interest/ private property etc) is the best organsing system there is then it is best left alone to get on with it, and the state stands back and doesn’t intervene at all. So everyone competes freely until the system has maximum efficiency and produces the most wealth. So now the market is the primary driving force in society/ not the state. The process of exchange provides the rules of the game – like an a beehive where no single bee is in charge but acts accoring to all the other bees – the queen/ ‘the state’ sits back and gets fat..This is legitimised by assuming that the natural outcomes will be the best way to maximise wealth which benefits all – if the state meddles and tries to reorganise things thinking it knows better by shifting the deck chairs around it messes up the balance. e.g) I need a hair cut so I take my loaf of bread to the hairdresser, but another person (the state) jumps in and says he’ll do it and bans the hairdresser from practicing. So I get a bad hair cut at a price that is arbitrarily set, maybe higher.

      But the Deep State still exists, the old instutions, the power structures etc, still want to be in charge and are under pressure to keep everone happy to prevent people storming the bastile and chopping their heads off etc. So they adopted neoliberalism in the assumption it would maximise wealth and ultimately make everyone happy. And it did – at least for some. (this was Thatcherism/ Reaganomics). This was givne a boost by the failure of Communism/ state socialism – which collapsed under its own logical paradoxes – simply put, some degree of the invisible hand is essential as it is logically impossible to command a complext system (an economy) from the centre unless you have perfect information and know what is going on everywhere at all time. Then came ‘the third way’ (Blair and Brown in the UK, Clinton in the US, Sweden and Denmark etc.) Let the market rule but lets redistribute the money the state makes out of it and build lots of schools and hospitals. A kind of Faustian pact.

      3) Problems – but as we all know, neoliberalism has it’s own internal paradoxes also. a) It produces wealth but creates massive inequality b) That wealth becomes over concentrated and undermines the very market system it relies on. – how can you get a hair cut if all the bread is owned by one person? c) That in order to solve this and sustain the system/ prevent the house of cards form collapsing new markets need to be constantly created out of thin air. I have a loaf of bread, but now I can get my nails done, have a haircut, a shave, legs waxed, nose hair trimmed etc. d) This market logic gets to areas other than the economy – the exchange but to all aspects of society. If it works in econ why not Education? Efficiency through competition. e) in order to create new markets we need to look abroad, where now others are getting in on the act – globalisation. Now my loaf of bread is made cheaper in China, so he sends it to me and I get my hair cut in America, or buy a nose hair trimmer from Sweden.

      And the biggest paradox of all is that all of this needs heavy state intervention to maintain the system. The state must constantly search for new markets to ensure its survival. This competition now between states gets accelerated and brings about a complexity where no one knows what is going on – who the fuck is baking my bread???. boom…it goes up in smoke as it semi-did in 2008. At least one part of it. But now the house of cards is so high it is impossible to change anything without total collapse. Or the tread mill is going to fast to get off without hurting ourselves. Unless we all get off at the same time in a slow gradual way.

      And this is where the tension comes in. The problems that the neoliberalism creates – the fact that it causes social harm as well as wealth, inequality and that one person ends up with all the dough! for bread or that I don’t really like competing but cooperating and am tired of running to keep up and want to relax and enjoy life a little and couldn’t give a monkeys about getting my legs waxed or nose hair trimmed snnoys me so I complain. Where do I direct my complaint ‘the deep state’ as I no longer want a neoliberal state.

      This is happening all over the world. The Scottish indyref/ nationalist outpouring was a symptom of discontent at neoliberalism/ not necessarily old school nationalism.

      So what to do?

      Well this is where people argue, but it is highly unlikely that Scotland would’e been able to get off the neolib tread mill alone without breaking it’s legs (IMO) – this is why the SNP is neoliberal in its policy and this is tacitly accepted (RIC and others disagree, but they don’t really offer any solution. Nothing new at least, more old school corporatist state socialist rhetoric which misses the point of the problem- how to get off the fairground ride when no one really controls the levers. Also IMO independence would have made the situation worse (like Ireland) if the objective is to counter Neoliberalism + it could have been very dangerous setting off a chain of discontent across Europe and the world as other ‘deep states’ fractured where there is more room for outright conflict. Greece is a really dodgy one given the hostory of the post war state and the legacy of WW2 division between left and right. But others disagree – most of them on this site.

      My view is that it requires incremental change, and this has already started in public opinion and at the top level. You can slowly try and shift back to a more benign liberal economic system with greater regulation, greater state intervention in finance and (fair) tade especially, keeping competition out of areas other than the basic econ, such as education, housing, some public utilities (depending) actually redistribute wealth!!!!, rather than just creating it (very important) and why I er towards Labour rather than the SNP. But mostly this has to be at an international level, with reform of global financial insts like World Bank and IMF and new regulatory frameworks? Difficult yes but essential. My bet is that the environment will be the tipping point for globla cooperation if it isn’t too late.

      Bit long winded? Sorry, but hope it helps?

  7. chicmac says:

    Good article, but it should be pointed out that there is a deep philosophical schism within neoliberalism. The Chicago School and Austrian School, although similar in recommendations are based on two entirely different precepts (both equally flawed). The first is essentially empiricist, the second essentially behaviorist. Not that that prevented the ensuing unholy alliance between Reganomics and Thatcherism from launching the disastrous neo-liberal experiment in the 80s.

    1. alistairliv says:

      chicmac- I was not aware of that difference. I have found this article which gives some sources for the distinction- can you suggest anywhere else to look?

      However, what I have found through reading Dardot and Lavall and Foucault is that post-war West Germany was the first neoliberal state -a good 30 years before Thatcherism and Reaganomics put in an appearance.

      1. Dennis Smith says:

        For what it is worth, Ha-Joon Chang in Economics: the User’s Guide (Pelican, 2014) distinguishes nine different schools in contemporary economics – classical, neoclassical, Marxist, developmentalist, Austrian, Schumpeterian, Keynesian, institutionalist and behaviouralist. I don’t know how helpful this is but it does at least show how much disagreement there is among professional economists and how far economics is from being an objective science.

        Mark Blyth in Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea (O.U.P., 2013) gives an interesting account of post-war German economic thought, which he calls ordoliberalism, and shows how it came to dominate EU policy and the whole euro project.

      2. Sorry, don’t have recent links, I looked at this some years ago. but your link to Mises looks good and has lots of references within it. Re neoliberalism in Germany, one man’s ‘neoliberalism’ is another man’s ‘social market economy’ aka ‘ordoliberalism’. As I understood it the successful German post war model is in the middle between the two extremes of Keynesianism and Neoliberalism(proper) with intervention when needed, deregulation when adjudged appropriate but with high pensions and benefits and lots of cooperation between unions and employers.

  8. PhilJoMar says:

    For reasons of filling out the history, the rule of the neoliberal Chicago Boys in Pinochet’s Chile in the mid-70s needs to be looked at as well(I think all were taught by Milton Friedman). If you think the so-called Great Recession was bad, imagine what two recessions within eight years must have felt like with drops in GDP of 13% and 19%. “If it’s not hurting, it’s not working”. Ouch!!!!

    1. alistairliv says:

      PhilJoMar- David Harvey in ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’ includes Pinochet’s Chile. But Neil Davidson in ‘Neoliberal Scotland’ (Cambridge, 2010) p.18 downplays the significance Naomi Klein gave to the events in Chile in ‘Shock Doctrine’, pointing out that the Argentinian dictatorship which came to power in 1976 did not follow the Chilean model and that neoliberalism was only adopted ‘decades later’ by civilian governments in Argentina.

      1. Bernicia says:

        The problem is trying to lump many versions/ types of neoliberalisms together and the period in which they were constructed and the distance they are from classical liberal economics. From ‘anarcho neolib’ which wants the complete dismantling of the state, to ‘the nightwatchman’ state where it intervenes occassionally and keeps the system functioning but at a distance, to the authoritarian police state neolib like Chile or the corporatist dictatorship of China. Also Hayek was not the same as Freidman or Nozick or others. On the one hand you have Hayek who believed that the structures of free market produced the best outcomes (based on the premise of individual liberty as a primary moral good – remember he was writing in the 40’s when Stalinism and Fascism were at their worst.) But he also included the need for a commonwealth and is based on a utilitarian ‘consequentialist’ approach. Where as Nozick assumed certain inalienable natural rights (in the Locke sense) that were expressed through commercial activity. But really the practical policies are similar.

        The problem of the state is now that neolib and Global Capital is precisely that. What 2008 showed was the limit of anyone individual state to pursue policies in isolation. Its a paradox – in order to have a decent standard of living and irradicate poverty you need to create wealth. To create wealth you have to be part of the global system of exchange and have access to capital/finance. To do this you need to deregulate, lower taxes, and roll back the state to compete against other states doing the same + agressively getting stuck into creating new markets and winning in new markets elsewhere. Hence the most likely outcome for an indy Scotland would have been low reg/ low tax economy as set out by Alex Salmond and Swinny. But how do you provide public services on this basis?

        Alistair is right. We need another Bretton Woods and a thinker with the intelligence of Keynes to drag us out of this mess, while not chucking the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s remember that Liberal economics has lifted millions out of poverty and ignorance.

      2. PhilJoMar says:

        Not sure what you’re trying to say here Alistair. (Putting aside these sources just to make this comment) Chile is important as its destructiveness prefigures what happened here. The example was clear for Thatcher and Reagan to see but the pain/despair/deaths of ordinary people is/are always OK when it’s a matter of making sure the right people are in charge and that they get their ‘just desserts’.
        (Now I am going to read your article again…)

  9. kate says:

    if neo liberalism is effectively (liberal) capitalism without any mitigating minor social democratic reforms i’m not sure why SNP is not seen as a follower of social democratic capitalism rather than neo liberalism. If ‘holding the nose’ re SNP it is not for a revolutionary alternative as i suspect (because of foucault),then a middle class intellectual with no real incentive or belief in risks or benefits of radical or socialist change is involved in the process of discourse without end – perhaps a follower of a reformed labour party or of a vague hope that it will all come together in a new format, in the May ’68 tradition. The current on the ground possible mitigating force re austerity in the UK is Greens,PC, SNP alliance. I noticed rUK greens support a citizens income (seemingly not unlike SSP). If that alliance’s potential means nothing at all to then you are probably too well off to be effected, almost certainly not because your alternative is revolution, but rather discourse.

    1. alistairliv says:

      Kate – if it is any reassurance to you, I am not very well off. I am a full time carer for severely disabled person and live in social housing.

  10. Graham Boyd says:

    Interesting and useful article.

    However neoliberalism did not enter the UK through Margaret Thatcher but in 1976 under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the Callaghan/Healey Labour government. It was Callaghan and Healey who signed the UK up to the neoliberal agenda. Thatcher and the Tories speeded up the process and broadened it while Blair/Brown and the New Labour project continued the process and deepened it.

    Regan and Thatcher played a significant role as the global political cheerleaders for neoliberalism but it was and still is the World Bank and IMF who are the global financial institutions wrecking countries economies, extracting their resources and destroying their public services.

    1. alistairliv says:

      Graham – it is ironic that John Maynard Keynes was one of the key architects of the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944 which set up the IMF and IBRD (World Bank). Although it is hard to imagine now, the original plan formulated by Keynes in 1940 and then developed by Charles Dexter White in the USA after 1941 was to create a stable global economy so there would be no repeat of the Great Depression…

      Bruce Rich ‘Mortgaging the Earth- the Wolrd Bank, Eviornmental Impoverishment and the Cris of Development’ (London, 1994) Chapter 3 ‘Brave New World at Bretton Woods’ gives a good account of the origins of the IMF and World Bank. Interestingly, Rich does not use the term ‘neoliberalism;’ in the book.

  11. This is an excellent article, but it is rather too simplistic to label the SNP as a “neoliberal party”, however the RIC may regard it. The SNP’s thinking and policies have certainly been influenced by neoliberal ideology, but that is true of political parties across the world. Few could claim to be untainted. Vanishingly few SNP members would consider themselves to be neoliberals and many are supportive of the communitarian agenda articulated by Common Weal. These things were true even before the huge influx of new members politicised by the independence referendum. It is notable that on the NHS the SNP has been prepared to take a stand against the neoliberal agenda.

    1. MBC says:

      I think you are right to point out that the SNP attempts to be a moderate party, in neoliberal economics, as in everything else.

      1. …and yet Willie Rennie sees it as the party of “ultra-extreme devolution”.

    2. Ken Waldron says:

      Indeed. It’s one of the arguments often used by No voters who claim to be socialists, but there is so little evidence that the SNP is a neoliberal party that the 3% snp corporation tax proposed reduction is droned out with monotonous regularity as though it made the claim self evident’ which it doesn’t of itself.
      There is really no dogmatic adherence to an overarching economic philosophy in the SNP other than a general Social Democratic urge: that is of course to be expected in an inclusive party aiming at Independence.

      1. Bernicia says:

        Total bulls**t. Where have you been for the last seven eight years? + did you actually read the White paper? So the SNP/ indy Scotland were not going to create new markets in renewables? they were not going to support the financial services? They wouldn’t have given tax breaks to the Oil industry? They didn’t want fiscal levers to grow the economy in a neoliberal way, just like every other country in the EU/ world? They would have been entirely different? They would pursue no privatisation of public services?- even though they already have? Wasn’t the main claims to be a hub for international capital and investment?

      2. JBS says:

        “Total bulls**t”, says a curtly dismissive and gratuitously offensive Bernicia.

        Why don’t you give up your attempts to appear to be a rational individual, Bernicia? Everyone who reads here must know by this time that behind your unconvincing facade of sweet reasonableness there is a raging beast straining to be set free. Why not unbar the door and let loose with one of your full-blown, kitchen-sink-and-everything rants? At least those are entertaining.

      3. Bernicia says:

        ‘Everyone who reads here must know by this time that behind your unconvincing facade of sweet reasonableness there is a raging beast straining to be set free.’

        That’s what I keep telling the ladies!…

      4. JBS says:

        And the angry beast of No turns out to be…a giant cod.

  12. maxikerr says:

    Thank you: this was an extremely interesting article and well presented .I would like to see another version for reader’s who don’t have the ability to combine all the points that you have laid bare here. A lot of people don’t have a grasp of well thought.. and laid out account’s of the” deep state” skulduggery you have penned here…..a really good piece of journalism.

  13. IAB says:

    This was extremely interesting, well thought out, clear and logical. It also covered a subject I’ve never heard referenced before. I am going to take a deep breath and find the sources mentioned. I really look forward to your next article.

  14. Darien says:

    This is all getting a bit too academic for me, and I suspect many others as well. We know the UK is up the creek. We know independence is the only option for Scotland. We know the SNP are a bit iffy, but we also know that the first elections in an independent Scotland is where the real action will be. Lets take it from there.

    We also know that a Scots majority of SNP MP’s this May could and probably should declare Scotland’s independence; independence is what the SNP stand for, and Scots voters know that. We would at least then see what the UK deep-state/neoliberals are made of.

  15. MBC says:

    The idea that the market should be free and if allowed to be free will self-regulate has always struck me as questionable. States can and do manipulate the market. Even today. Look at the current fall in the oil price which it is alleged is because Saudi Arabia wants to undermine Iran, and Russia, for their support of Syrian Shi’ites so it has been increasing or not halting oil production in order to keep the world over-supplied and the price low. Nobody can doubt that OPEC’s decision to raise the oil price in the 1970s had a major effect on the stability of western countries especially Britain. Not only did it accelerate de-industrialisation as British industries became even more uncompetitive, triggering unemployment and strikes, but the prospect of ‘it’s Scotland’s oil’ amidst this climate of state failure greatly boosted support for independence and the SNP, further fracturing the British state.

    Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations, the opus magnum of political economy, he said, in order to attack the entire monopolistic basis of the East India Company. What he was trying to prove was that attempts by the state to control trade, by forming cartels and monopolies, such as the EIC, actually strangle wealth creation, which is based on enterprise and innovation. And that the way to increase wealth is therefore to bust apart cartels and monopolies like the EIC. He was primarily a professor of Moral Philosophy and the immorality of mercantilism was what prompted him to his great work deconstructing the conventional ‘political arithmetic’ by which states then justified mercantilism.

    Some parts of Smith’s thesis certainly stand: monopolies are a brake on progress, redistribution, fairness, stability, and genuine wealth creation. His ideas about monopolies have recently been taken up by Thomas Picketty who argues that real progress in human history has come through advances in knowledge, but that the advanced capitalism of today strangles innovation and the dissemination of new knowledge and technologies.

  16. MBC says:

    One of the things Smith argues for is ‘the invisible hand’. The idea that market competitiveness, true, free, unfettered competition, may squeeze some uncompetitive people out in the short term, but in the longer term will invigorate the economy, and trickle down to those who might have initially lost out, and eventually raise them up again.

    This did seem to be borne out in the nineteenth century in Britain, where Britain’s ‘comparative advantage’ in being the first industrial nation, did indeed result in a greater volume of exports and the abandonnment of tariffs on imported foods led to food costs being lower, and to a greater range and choice of foodstuffs, and cheaper manufactured goods at home. Each Victorian generation did better than the previous up to 1914 and this continued during most of the twentieth century, despite setbacks in the 1920s and 30s.

    Picketty argues that the redistributive effects of the ‘free market’ were however not real but masked by other factors, other currents, such as imperialism, and the war economies of the 1930s and then of the post-war reconstruction after 1945. These were state-driven, artificial boosts, which redistributed wealth and were not due to the natural, self-regulating mechanisms of so-called market economics.

    But that in the long period of relative peace since 1945 the natural tendency of capitalism to become monopolistic and to create increasing wealth inequality has re-asserted itself.

  17. John Souter says:

    The mantras of neo liberalism are simply capitalism without responsibility, restriction or empathy. It serves no value other than a surreal definition called wealth which in turn requires the price of its prizes to be met by many but shared by few.

    Neo liberalism converts nations and institutions into institutional psychopaths by the bribery and corruption of the few at the expense of the many – no remorse, no conscience – and ultimately, no sustainability.

    And whether you call it the Deep State or the Establishment they have bought into it as either the bribers or the bribed.

    1. 1314 says:

      Nailed it JS. ‘capitalism without responsibility, restriction or empathy’ – but you forgot to add, with control.

  18. florian albert says:

    Alistair Livingston’s statement, that the post 1945 consensus ‘began to break down’ in the 1970s when the memory of the war faded and two oil shocks led to industrial conflict, is misleading.
    The post war consensus was destroyed by Britain’s industrial failure – in comparison to Germany and Japan, above all. This was plain long before the 1970s. It was this failure that led Britain to seek membership of the EU (Common Market as it was then) and which led the Labour Government to attempt to introduce legal curbs on strike action. The post-war consensus, now seen as a golden era, was viewed at the time as a failure.

    The result was that the left abandoned the post-war consensus in favour of the socialism championed by Gordon Brown in his Red Book and the Tories went down the Thatcherite road.

    The Labour Party made its peace with Thatcherism/neo-liberalism because (a) they had no viable alternative. (b) they thought the system could allow an increase in public spending – as did happen in the early years of this century.

    Neo-liberalism, or whatever it is called, remains dominant in the UK, and in many other countries, because nobody has come up with a persuasive alternative to put before the voters.

  19. not labour says:


    “A Labour council that once protected its people now rides roughshod over them in a bid for gentrification”

  20. thorella says:

    Interesting but I tnink the deep state. is a lot more than you portray. It controls politics. Cameron is just an executive just as Milliband will be if he wins the next election. The deep state made sure there was a coalition government in the last election. Having two leaders provides stabilty. Blame for economic policies can be shifted from one to the other etc. The deep state of course manipulated the Scottish referendum. There were no exit polls to really gage the Yes votes so the postal votes could easily be amended.

    Then there are the illegal activities run by the intelligence services diverting taxpayers’ money for their purposes through excise fraud, carousel fraud and so on. These are covered up in many ways including judges who work for the deep state rather than justice.

  21. hindmost says:

    You appear to be using the term “survival of the fittest” incorrectly. Fittest in terms of evolutionary theory refers to the species which best fits its environment, not the strongest. Additionally evolutionary theory cannot be used to refer to differences within a species. To do so it would require that the individual members of the species have access to how the environment will change prior to the change occurring, and also be able to identify those aspects of the species which will allow it to exploit those changes.

    1. alistairliv says:


      I was using the term in its historical context of the late nineteenth century when it was coined by Herbert Spencer who used the phrase in his book ‘Principles of Biology’ in 1864.

      Quote “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

      I then quoted Friedrich Engels who questioned Spencer’s interpretation of Darwin in a letter to Pytor Lavrov in November 1875.

      1. Actually the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ was well established in Scotland from at least Lord Monboddo’s time in the 18th c, long before Darwin came up to Edinburgh to do his degree. A case in point being Patrick Matthew’s published work in 1831. Quote:

        “There is a law universal in nature, tending to render every reproductive being the best possible suited to its condition that its kind, or organized matter, is susceptible of, which appears intended to model the physical and mental or instinctive powers to their highest perfection and to continue them so. This law sustains the lion in his strength, the hare in her swiftness, and the fox in his wiles. As nature, in all her modifications of life, has a power of increase far beyond what is needed to supply the place of what falls by Time’s decay, those individuals who possess not the requisite strength, swiftness, hardihood, or cunning, fall prematurely without reproducing—either a prey to their natural devourers, or sinking under disease, generally induced by want of nourishment, their place being occupied by the more perfect of their own kind, who are pressing on the means of subsistence ”

        The priority of which Darwin himself had to accept and acknowledge from edition two of ‘On The Origin Of Species’ onward.

  22. Gary says:

    A fascinating article and I am looking forward to the follow up essay on Foucault, a thinker I am very interested in. Foucault’s later work from Discipline and Punish onwards presents a very interesting and novel account of how modern societies function – although he is something of a nihilist (in my interpretation).

    I too read Dardot and Laval’s book, and it’s one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time. I was particularly interested in the argument, seldom made or understood by the left, that neo-liberalism is not only destructive of institutions but actively produces new sets of social relations and subjectivities. I’m thinking here of how neo-liberal ideas influence strategic thinking at the top level of Scottish society, whether that be in the Labour Party or SNP, or the managerial narratives that are embedded in Scotland’s public sector.

    In fact, the book convinced me that there is no mainstream alternative presents a qualitative break with neo-liberalism. For this reason, whilst, I supported the yes campaign I saw it mainly as a progressive variation on a theme.

    The only part of this article I disagree with is the way in which the author talks up the influence of RIC. Most of the work I saw was done by local yes groups and I think RIC largely talked itself up, the idea of a ‘movement’ being particularly problematic. The vast majority of Scottish people have probably never heard of RIC – that’s not an insult to RIC just an honest assessment, although one that is impossible to prove. I also think RIC will struggle in the post-referendum context. I see signs that it’s being dominated by ex SWP types who are still committed to an outdated and dogmatic interpretation of socialism. Apologies for being sectarian but I have been around the left long enough to be cynical.

    Anyway, great article and I’m looking forward to the next one on Foucault.

  23. baadogmf says:

    Great article, certainly food for thought.

    Fair point that neoliberal tends to get used as a blanket term for ‘bad-capitalisty-type-stuff’, *but*, as Harvey points out, it’s been implemented in various ways and to various extremes, so it’s really an overlapping set of systems — ie, there are a lot of people and quite different parties who can reasonably be described as/accused of being neoliberal.

    One of the most interesting examples is Finland which — ye Gads! — actually willingly embraced and still endorses the Washington Consensus. The major (and radical) difference is that Finland kept a strong social security system (thus counteracting the kind of social fragmentation we got post-Thatcher in the UK) and a strong state education system, albeit with close ties to the private sector. The result is still very neoliberal, but…also, totally not.

    I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of ‘neoliberalism’ the SNP are looking towards, which is very different from free-market fundamentalism, and it’s not exactly the neoliberalism-with-a-human-face the EU seems to favour. Dunno if that’s a Good Thing, or how bad a Bad Thing it is if not…

    (Just to mention, Klein’s The Shock Doctrine gives a highly readable history of neoliberalism, starting with the Chicago School and moving thru it’s various implementations in South America, Eastern Europe, SE Asia and so on — generally after a crisis, generally by the IMF. It’s interesting that it was written pre-crash, since what happened afterwards under the Tories is exactly what you’d expect from the historical record…)

  24. CMartin says:

    Not sure where Germany fits in to your argument. As I understand it, Ordoliberalism in Germany is said to rest between social liberalism and neoliberalism, the idea that the state is supposes to ensure that its social goals are met. Catholic social teaching has also been a huge influence.

    1. alistairliv says:

      CMartin- it is not my argument, I was attempting to summarise and reflect on an argument made by Michel Foucault in ‘The Birth of Biopolitics’ (Picador, 2008). Chapters (based on lectures) 4 to 8 out of 12 in the book are focused on Germany.

      For a short (9000 word) analysis and summary of Foucault’s book see

  25. Neoliberalism was inspired by Hayek’s insistence on freedom, protected by the rule of law, as the sole way to achieve maximum human flourishing. He saw state intervention as leading to the erosion of personal freedoms – the road to serfdom – as government officials would decide who got what, where, and when.

    In matters of business and the economy, he argued that governments in control would lead to the regulatory framework being set up in particular groups’ interests, and so any government intervention on the markets should be resisted. In a free market, actors must make decisions rationally, whereas governments, Hayek argues, will always make suboptimal decisions due to a desire to appear worthy of a vote to well organised interest groups at the expense of the wider society, thus leading to poor economic decision making.

    According to the neoliberals, liberal democracy leads to rent seeking, and the longer a liberal democracy exists, the more rent seekers there will be taking subsidies, fostering a sclerosis of the economy. Bureaucrats will have no competition and will seek to justify their own budgets for their own interests, again at the expense of the wider society, ultimately leading to oversupply of public goods and a waste of resources, whereas private actors would face the risk of bankruptcy and so would make rational decisions. The only legitimate function, therefore, of the state, would be to ensure the law protected private property and that every individual in society was subject to the same general rules.

    In practice, this has been operating on a supranational level by its main proponent, the IMF, who have sought to deregulate markets in return for loans, seemingly in order to open these markets up to international capital, backed by the dollars created by the FED and given to banks through QE at next to zero interest rates. This looks like a rather convenient coincidence, then, that the beginning of the neoliberal agenda saw the privatisation of public housing, creating a society of home owners, ie societies dependent upon interest rates staying low – meaning there is a new shared interest among elites, the bourgeoisie, and the working class, allowing the puppet masters to continue without revolt.

    The idea that state intervention leads to a loss of freedom, and that markets should be left to regulate themselves, is pretty obviously flawed in that, effectively, all that has happened is that the obvious Leviathan of the state has been swapped for a much more dangerous, corrosive, and, importantly, veiled monster in that of the power of the banks.

  26. Iain MacKinnon says:

    Thanks for this piece Alistair,

    I look forward to further work which explores how this alternative understanding of neoliberalism as a concept can be helpful for understanding the present state of political and social associations in the UK. I think it is of real benefit that you are utilising (perhaps even introducing) some of the important later work of Michel Foucault into the discussion. In your next piece, developing the work of Foucault, I wonder if you will explore whether there could be a semantic relation between what you call the ‘deep state’ and Foucault’s key concept of ‘governmentality’ which he delineates as a set of technique for control of populations that developed as part of the emerging European state system in the early modern period, at just about the time you trace the emergence of the deep British state.

  27. Rory Winter says:

    The title Neoliberalism versus the Deep State suggests tension between an economic ideology and the controlling interests of the state and all its trappings. I say ‘economic ideology’ because in the real world it seems that neoliberalism has been nothing but a cover for the creation and growth of a global kleptocracy by multinational corporate interests which are already a manipulatory power within national deep states. This unhealthy relationship between corporate interests and the deep state is more akin to a fascism where parliamentary democracy is swallowed-up and enslaved by a new totalitarianism…

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