The False Difference Between the Right and the Left, Haaretz, Ofer Sitbon Apr 28, 2017
Jean-Claude Michéa has recently garnered unusual exposure: His book “Notre ennemi, le capital” (2017), made the front page of Le Monde on January 1. The philosopher, who was born in 1950, teaches philosophy in a high school in Montpellier, France. Despite not having had an academic career, he has become an intriguing and controversial public figure, and some have described the great enthusiasm for him among young people as the Michéa generation.
The basic thesis that is the leitmotif in his books (the first of which was published in 1995) and in interviews with him (never for television) concerns the two faces of liberalism: economic liberalism, which seeks to expand the applicability of the market to all human activity throughout the planet, and cultural liberalism, which seeks to expand the rights of the individual and lift all restrictions on human behavior.
According to Michéa — and this is his innovation — the two kinds of liberalism that put the individual at the center are inextricably knotted together, because in order to impose its vision on a society of total consumption, a rightist economy (in which “everything is tradable”) needs at its side and as its ally a leftist society (in which “everything is permissible”) that opens to the economy more and more pathways to commercializing human life: unlimited growth in a world without borders. The deep liberal logic whereby belonging that does not happen by choice (family, religion, nationality) means oppression sees an unrestricted market as the only site of socialization that accords with the individual’s liberty to act without any limitations at all.
In a provocative formulation, Michéa argued that the Cannes Film Festival, which emphasizes the artistic character of the cinema, is not the opposite of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Rather, both events glorify the individual with no limits. According to one epigram, Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist whose thinking has shaped today’s liberalism, and Michel Foucault, the postmodern prophet who saw moral obligations as a manifestation of “the dictatorship of the Other,” are two sides of the same coin: Both are guided by the same historical and intellectual logic.