Rejecting Neoliberalism, Renewing the Utopian Imagination

8 Nov

            When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 two dismal consequences followed that have been rarely acknowledged:

                         –neoliberal orthodoxy became unchallenged and unchallengeable in the formation of global economic policy; the World Economic Forum, convening annually in Davos, became the true capital of world order after the ending of the Cold War. Global policy priorities were set at Davos as capitalist materialism infused what became known as ‘globalization,’ a predatory consumerist that was capital driven rather than people-oriented. The Occupy movement is seeking to reverse this ordering of priorities, insisting on an economy for the 99%, insisting on governance that is accountable, participatory, transparent, and ecologically and ethically responsible, insisting on ‘real democracy.’


                        –the utopian imagination was repudiated as inevitably leading to the sorts of demonic politics that was associated with Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union. Not only was utopian politics linked to Stalinism but also to any promise of social and economic justice premised on human equality, and specifically, of course, to the socialist tradition. Instead, what emerged as dominant was a new brand of realism that encouraged accommodation with injustice, a delegitimation of any politics of aspiration, and an extremely alienating and demoralizing political atmosphere that rewarded the ethics of the casino and punished the energies of the workplace. The Occupy movement, whether consciously or not, is restoring the utopian imagination to its rightful role as the patron goddess of desire, the essential spiritual core of any restorative planetary politics of sufficient gravitas. Such a goddess has contempt for what ‘realists’ call realism, and aligns herself with a militant politics of impossibility.


            This is not meant to be a lament for the end of the Cold War or the collapse of the Soviet internal and external empire. After the historical achievement of overcoming colonialism, the greatest advance in the struggle for a more humane world was ending Communist rule in Eastern Europe and freeing the various subjugated republics and nationalities that made up the Soviet Union. Two further positive legacies also can be connected with this ending of the Cold War: the lessening of the threat of a major nuclear war and the emergence of a new geopolitical landscape that was the scene of the gradual dismantling of the Western architecture of world order in the early years of the 21st century.

             Critique and reshuffling the relations among states and regions, while necessary is hardly sufficient. The adjustments that have been made are hemmed in by the statist preoccupation with horizons of feasibility that lack will and capacity to meet such globally constituted challenges as climate change, nuclear weapons, global disease and poverty, governmental criminality, and militarism. These fundamental deficiencies of our current circumstance are only perceived in their fullness of menace if we indulge the utopian imagination that alone is able to illuminate distant horizons of necessity and desire.



11 Responses to “Rejecting Neoliberalism, Renewing the Utopian Imagination”

  1. Susanna al-Jubayna November 8, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Excellent and insightful as always!! Dr. Falk, you are my Hero. We who celebrate Eid must also celebrate the noble and rejuveneated Spirit of the Arab Spring, together with a post-Colonial Utopianist Dream for a World based on Justice and Godliness.

    I am seeing so many blogs now about your MacGill University Keynote Lecture, after the harsh criticism of you in the Canadian newspaper today. I have responded on the Internet to defend you but then the Commenters ask why you are not making a rebuttal to the points about your so-called “Support” for David McGriffin on 9/11 Truth. Will you please write something in response? It’s here if you didn’t see it yet:

    • Richard Falk November 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

      Thanks Susanna for calling this new diatribe against me to my attention. I appreciate your help and advice, and will try to respond in the right way. Richard

  2. Jeff Shih November 8, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    i agree and i want to say that it would be *nice* if my generation (20-35) would be able to reinterpret (reject) what is taught in our universities and begin to see a utopia bigger than the nationalist or racist models of 1918 or the 1960s. More and more I find myself rolling my eyes at the cliche, “we must help our problems first before we help others,” or “I am fighting for the oppressed (who happens to look exactly like me).” These ideas are boring and it’s obvious to anyone listening that nobody cares about anyone else. A global perspective is lacking in those who call ourselves “left,” in the United States and Western Europe, rendering us ineffectual and comical a la Animal Farm.

    • Richard Falk November 8, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

      Thanks for such a valuable response. You are so right about enlarging the perspective,
      and this must be done before it is too late. Reactive thinking will do, for instance, in relation to climate change.

      • Jeff Shih November 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

        thank Richard! I never met you but I can easily understand what you are saying. If I had been a student of yours, I might not have become so disillusioned with American politics and critical of the university. 🙂 Keep writing these original and insightful articles!

  3. Ann Nevans November 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    Thank you for your acknowledgement and respect for something greater that is taking place right now in this world. The reason we have been kept silent for so long and accepting such an impoverished “realistic” view of everything is that the forces of ignorance and evil had actually got us to where we could not question their stranglehold. But now we are……..and I believe in this momentum.

    Thank you for your illuminating explanation of just how they did it.

    I feel sorry for the 1% which I just read is actually much less even than that. What could be more pathetic than all that money hoarded up in the face of a world that is just waiting to blossom and fulfill and heal itself.

    Thank you for being brave enough to give voice to magic and the healing power of an angry goddess.

    We have stepped out of the box now and we are not going back in. If we are not trying for Utopia what are we here for ?

  4. kester2 November 8, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, I was hopeful that the end of the Cold War would result in an opportunity to reduce the abuses inherent in capitalism. Unfortunately, powerful interests also saw that possibility and poured all of their resources into creating situations where such changes would not be made. The result is the economic and moral collapse we now face.

    It would be appropriate if the Arab Spring and the @Occupy movements return the world to a point where the necessary changes are made. The world is made for people, not governments and not banks.

    • Richard Falk November 9, 2011 at 5:17 am #

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment with which I totally agree!

  5. monalisa November 8, 2011 at 11:48 pm #

    Dear Richard,
    I do hope very very much that the spirit of the Tahrir Square in Cairo will capture more and more people !

    The developments of the last fifty years shows that the influence of mainstream media has become dangerous. Dangerous because the influence in itself serves far too often corporations and governments. Journalism is degraded to please corporational and governmental “ways” to show how “rigths” and “truth” should be regarded by the public.
    Many people don’t know what to believe and at the same time haven’t enough time to search for truth.

    We are facing a totalitarian capitalism. Control everywhere, people have become glassy.
    But this means also that governments will have to spend more and more money for its controlling purposes. Extended to other countries – as it is the fact especially what USA is doing – means too more and more money.
    However, this shows clearly that this is a form of control which repeats communism itself thousandfold and much much more dangerous for people.

    However, I don’t think that the spirit of the fall of the Berlin Wall will be felt by the policemen in USA or Britain. The Fall of the Berlin Wall was possible because the spirit of freedom was spreading to millions of people inclusive police and military.
    Something very exceptionally.

    If the movements of the Occupy Movement will get more spirits spread and more and more people will gather and feed those who are occupying –
    then maybe this movement will see results.
    Because in reality these movements are too for freedom in a broader sense.

    I fear that winter time and cruel behaviour of policemen will occure more and more.

    I do hope people will withstand – and other people will help.

    Thank you Richard for all your so very sensitive thoughts you are very exceptional because you had and still have to overcome any fear for speaking the truth which nowadays has become quite dangerous especially in USA.
    In Europe even writers and good journalists have to face a certain “neglection” by mainstream media as well as job providers – they are simply emaciated, slowly by not being allowed to be “heard”.

    Take care of yourself,

    PS: One thing is for sure: nothing lasts forever.


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