Challenging the Common Sense of Neoliberalism: Gramsci, Macpherson, and the Next Left

Ian Mckay

Abstract


Inherent in the 'American Dream' is an entire common sense perspective about property. To acquire property is, in a capitalist liberal order, to belong and to be secure. All sane and sensible persons may agree that the forces of supply and demand determine wages and prices, that capitalist economic growth is beneficial for all, that the world should become ever-flatter (i.e., more accessible to global capital), and that what really matters in life is individual excellence, duly rewarded. One seeks membership in, or to forestall one’s ejection from, ‘the middle class’ – a maddeningly vague category, resistant to sustained efforts to make it more precise and repeated ad nauseam by every mainstream politician. But like ‘the Dream,’ the ‘middle class’ also connotes a subjective ideal with very real and material consequences, a real-world projection of down-to-earth hopes for pleasant or at least endurable accommodation, good health, economic security, autonomy at work, and a measure of self and social respect.

Rather than sneer at the people who cherish such hopes, we need to realize that many of them are in flux, caught up in a perpetual and worsening property-based crisis over which they have little control, and wide-open in many (often youthful) cases to alternative theorizations of their predicament. This essay proposes that by drawing on such ostensibly different thinkers as Antonio Gramsci and C.B. Macpherson we can challenge a central pillar of the contemporary neoliberal order.  If the crisis of twenty-first-century capitalism can be conceived of as one of property – the ‘centre of gravity and the core of our entire juridical system’ (Gramsci) and ‘always a political phenomenon’ (Macpherson)  – then both thinkers could play key roles in a radical democratic movement that, in the face of global oligarchy, must necessarily place the property rights enshrined in liberal theory, and now entrenched around the globe, in question.

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