Lisa Duggan, Ayn Rand and the Cruel Heart of Neoliberalism, Dissent Magazine, May 20, 2019
Excerpted from Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed by Lisa Duggan, published by the University of California Press. © 2019 by the Regents of the University of California.)
Neoliberal influence has been culturally deep as well as geographically wide. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, a multidisciplinary group of scholars have described the reach of neoliberal modes of governance into the conduct of everyday life. To counter the solidarity economies and social cooperation of organized workers, public-spirited officials, and professionals, neoliberals have promoted the Entrepreneurial Self who competes in the Aspiration Society. Everyone invests in their own personal and familial human capital, and all are responsible for their own risk-taking and rewards, or the lack of them. According to these conceptions, the poor are not a class, but a collection of individual failures. The rich are not exploitive parasites on the labor of the majority, but the very source of wealth and a boon to society. Except that, as Margaret Thatcher noted, “society” as such does not exist. The social is the context for individual striving. It is also the scene of the Neoliberal Theater of Cruelty, through which feelings of resentment, fear, anger, and loathing are enacted against the weak, who are a drain on the worthy. Cracking down on welfare “cheats,” “illegal” immigrants, and homeless “vagrants” can become a form of public satisfaction.