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Reviews: Submission as Freedom. Life in Neoliberalism

by R Beyss, S Friedrich and W Gaum Monday, Nov. 09, 2015 at 3:31 AM

The challenge of neoliberalism took an offensive form in the global North with the victories of Reagan and Thatcher. No coup and no dictatorship were needed to gain mass support for carrying out the political ideological hegemony Stagnation, unemployment and futurelessness


By Regine Beyss

[This review of Patrick Schreiner’s 2014 book “Submission as Freedom” published on October 19, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet, Regine Beyss is a free journalist and political activist in Kassel. She studies economics, criticizes dominant conditions and reports on alternatives as for example the solidarity economy, anarchism and the commune movement.]

“Freedom as submission” – with his book title, Patrick Schreiner summarizes the many paradoxes of neoliberalism. In different areas of life, he analyzes how this ideology operates in our daily routine and its consequences. His concrete observations are not surprising since we experience them every day in our own lives. Still it is shocking that the supposed success story of the free market has become so omnipresent and powerful.

The free market is regarded as the bringer of salvation in neoliberalism. It should guarantee growth and more prosperity for every one. Its advocates are firmly convinced free enterprise mechanisms always lead to the best (i.e. most efficient) results. The state should create the framing conditions for such a market and otherwise keep out. Measures for redistribution are a horror or outrage to neoliberals because they encroach in the supposedly optimal distribution of the market and attack the right to property. Areas like old age provisions or education should be privatized as much as possible. Social systems should be rejected because they treat people like children (limit them in their freedom) and take away their motivation.


Such an interpretation of the economy influences our world of work. The weakening of unions, the flexibilization (i.e. precariousness) of working conditions and an across-the-board decline of wage rates are undeniable. Thus the share of incomes that flows to employees becomes smaller and smaller. At the same time social spending is cut. The unavoidable consequence is the well-known chasm between poor and rich that becomes greater and greater.

So much for the economic side. Expressing criticism and questioning the meaning of this model is obviously rewarding. For example, the question of justice plays no role in neoliberalism. The ecological after-effects of supposedly unlimited growth already roll to us. However this criticism should not be a theme this time. Rather the question that worries Patrick Schreiner in his book is: how does this system function so well although it obviously creates so many problems?


One answer lies in the many social and private areas that neoliberalism has already appropriated in its triumphant advance. As though it weren’t enough to dominate our economy, neoliberalism has penetrated many other areas of life. The paradigm of the free market is no longer only limited to labor, capital and commodities.

Take the example of education. Here everyone is singing the “praise of competition” (Schreiner). Meeting the demands of the labor market and business is central, not gathering life experience and developing personality. Students, schools and universities compete with each other, whether over jobs or financial resources. No end is in sight because progress and change force us to adjust again and again to new demands. Whoever wants to keep pace and not perish under the unstable conditions must get cracking.


Education policy is regarded as a better social- and labor market policy and held out as a substitute for social balance and encroachments in entrepreneurial freedom. Supposedly everyone has the same chances thanks to abundant education possibilities. Whoever doesn’t use these chances is to blame.

This individualizing and moralizing social problems is symptomatic for neoliberal society. Structural abuses are simply faded out by blaming the impacted for their precarious situation. “You had all the possibilities – why didn’t you make anything of them? You didn’t try hard enough!” In neoliberalism, empirical statements are often lumped together with normative-moral judgments. The result is a dangerous mixture of supposed practical constraints or necessities and discrimination.


The success of self-help literature, management training and so-called “positive thinking” is striking. A new market arose (is there anything else?) that should help persons optimize themselves, make up for their deficits and make them fit for the competition. It is up to them to create their “ascent” – whatever that may look like. If that doesn’t happen, the problem is not in framing conditions or social injustice. No, persons didn’t do enough for their success, had the wrong attitude and didn’t believe enough in themselves. How strange that despite positive thinking the number of jobs is still lower than the number of job-seekers.

The freedom of neoliberalism consists in submitting to the demands of the market. Everyone cannot do that. The promise of success cannot and should not be fulfilled for everyone. Neoliberal economists say a certain measure of inequality is necessary to keep competition and the market going.


Despite everything, this way of thinking has become firmly fixed in us. Everywhere we find the same dogmas – in television, journals, the Internet and social media. In the success of esotericism and the commercialization of sports, Patrick Schreiner sketches how self-optimization, self-discipline, will-power and personal responsibility define our life. We must adjust; we must satisfy the demands and develop the right attitude. Then we will be successful. Success is obviously measured in the financial outcome that is often synonymous with performance. What he or she earns is central, not what someone actually does (working hours, creativity, abilities and engagement).

Schreiner’s analysis of show business, casting shows, reality-TV, soap operas and social networks that all follow similar structures is interesting. Perfect neoliberal personalities and life-stories are presented to us everywhere. The implicit challenge always resonates: be an example! If you only follow the rules of the game, you will win. But that everyone could never win and that there are at least as many losers as winners is repressed.


One thing is faded out above all: our creative political possibilities. The market, the society and the whole world are fabricated. In this neoliberal world, we are “free” which means we can decide what comes of us. We are free from being treated like children by the state. We can concentrate entirely on our own success story and don’t need to worry about others. Hallelujah! On the other hand, the framing conditions seem unchangeable and are not up for debate. The status quo should be maintained. The market balance may not be disturbed. Therefore neo9liberal economists are not fans of democratic joint-determination. To them, authoritarian measures like the debt brake or the fiscal pact are better. People do not know what is good for them; only the market knows that. They have to come to terms with the results it produces.

The ideal person in neoliberalism lives the neoliberal morality, develops it further and inspires others by it. He knows how to apply neoliberal morality to situations and decisions in the daily routine and in the political. He is market-conforming, entrepreneurial and focused in himself. He appears adaptable and flexible from his inner drive.

Is that freedom? Hardly! Nevertheless this interpretation largely prevails. Neoliberalism seizes all interpretation sovereignty. Whoever wants to oppose it may not limit himself to criticism of economic theory. The market paradigm should be put in question in all areas of life. We should determine our rules of the game instead of letting them be dictated to us. That is our freedom.


By Sebastian Friedrich

[This review of Patrick Schreiner’s “Submission as Freedom. Life in Neoliberalism – Unterwerfung als Freiheit” published May 28, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Since the 1970s, capitalism’s form has clearly changed in industrial states. The financial markets were unfettered, changed from a demand-oriented model to a supply-oriented model that restricts union rights of workers and employees and speeds up privatizations under the standard of deregulation. The consequences are glaring today. Inequality has increased rapidly since the 1970s – both within states and globally.

These developments are often subsumed under the term neoliberalism. In the 1930s neoliberal economists originally concentrated on reviving neoclassical economic liberalism. After the Second World War, neoliberals increasingly organized against demand-oriented Keynesianism that was the successful alternative of economic- and social policy as a consequence of the 1929 crisis. The Reagan administration in the US, the Thatcher government in Great Britain and the Kohl government in Germany largely aligned their policy according to neoliberal premises.

However neoliberalism is much more than an economic- and social-political approach. Neoliberalism is an ideology that is firmly fixed in human thinking and acting. “Neoliberalism wants the whole personality, the whole person with skin, brain and hair,” the political scientist Patrick Schreiner writes in his book “Submission as Freedom.”

In his analysis, Schreiner does not subject the neoliberal ideology to a fact check. Rather he focuses on the mechanisms that make this appear plausible to people… He roamed about at esoteric fairs, clicked in social networks and read lifestyle advice books and autobiographies and watched casting shows, advertising spots and sports videos on TV. Hiddenly or very openly, the same demands are made: Be flexible! Discipline yourself! Act like a business! Look to yourself! These imperatives lead to a permanent self-thematicization, self-optimization and self-presentation.

Analysis shows that individual problems always come out of social problems like unemployment, social descent and poverty. A neoliberal knows who is responsible: the affected person. If the person had made a greater effort, he or she wouldn’t be in that situation. This is clear for the counselors of positive thinking. Health, happiness and success are reinterpreted as results of an optimal lifestyle and right attitude. Fading out the social factors that keep people from health, happiness and success everyday is a crucial ideological function of neoliberalism.

The esotericism scene goes a step further. Here the individualization of social problems is the starting point, not an ideological effect. The “true” I stands in the center. Whoever finds himself and lives in harmony with himself is efficient. The social is explicitly declared the enemy and pushed into a “false” outside. The “true” I that comes exclusively from within faces this “false” outside.

The freedom for entrepreneurial action with flexibility, self-discipline, self-optimizing and personal responsibility is a deceptive freedom. In his last chapter, Schreiner emphasizes that many people are by no means happy and satisfied. “Economic productivity was never as high as today. However the social poverty has not been so high for many decades. Product and brand variety was never as great as today. And yet more and more human needs are unsatisfied. People were never as well educated as today. The wages of employees have been declining for years or decades. There were never so many self-help books, therapists and “spiritual” offers as today. And yet never have so many persons suffered in burnout and depression. The use of alcohol, drugs and psycho-drugs was never as widespread as today.”

Patrick Schreiner gives us an overview of the notches of neoliberal ideology in everyday consciousness. One of the achievements of the book is that he brings analyses from sociology and culture studies.





Reflections on Patrick Schreiner “Submission as Freedom – Life in Neoliberalism,” PapyRossa publisher Koln 2015-08-17

By Wilfried Gaum

[This book review published in sopos 6/2015 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet.]

For too long, we in Europe did not understand a new neocolonial practice was enforced in Latin America and elsewhere in the global South under the kind auspices of the US and the tolerance of the main European powers. A strategic counter-draft to postwar societies organized as welfare states was implemented there. Fritz Scharpf who analyzed the end of Keynesian crisis policy in 1987 was one of the first to recognize that this episode was at an end. His strategic recommendation for social democracy was the creation of a supply-oriented economic policy and“socialism in one class,” the redistribution of income and work possibilities in the sectors of wage-earners…

The challenge of neoliberalism took an offensive form in the countries of the global North with Thatcher’s 1979 election victory in Great Britain and Reagan’s 1980 presidency. This history has been written often enough. Still both Thatcher and Reagan came to office in elections in parliamentary democracies. No coup and no dictatorship were needed to gain mass loyalties and mass support for carrying out the political ideological hegemony of neoliberalism. How did neoliberal policy gain a mass influence so no coup was necessary in the core capitalist countries? How could another variant of totalitarian thinking become established and hegemonial in Europe after National Socialism and Stalinism?

Patrick Schreiner’s spiritedly written and well-reasoned book helps in these questions. He asks “about the everyday, supposedly apolitical mechanisms through which people accept these approaches and ideas as good, appropriate and without alternative […]. Neoliberalism has long been acknowledged as a foundation of lifestyles. As such it is much more stubborn than a simple social- or political-economic ideology.” [p.8].

In a short instructive chapter, Schreiner explains his understanding of neoliberalism and how it developed from a fringe minority opinion to hegemony in economics and politics… Free markets, freedom of contract and private property are primary interests for politics [p.11]. From the 1990s, the social democratic or left-liberal parties in the West have changed to this course. “They urge more personal responsibility, more flexibility on the labor market, less social spending and balanced budgets” [p.16]. These parties prevailed more or less in Anglo-Saxon and many continental European countries.

On representative fields, the book shows what a neoliberal self-image and worldview means and how and with what ideologies it is produced. For understanding neoliberalism, it is important that it promises freedom and absence of paternalism, treating people like children whether in a governmental or collective way. Performance is the basis for success. From that point of view, Raul Zelik’s approach that survival is the most important driving force of productivity in neoliberalism is too simplistic [Raul Zelik, Die Macht der Angst, Journal of Rosa Luxemburg foundation, 1/2015, p.24]. Zelik explains the rule of neoliberalism with the fear of social descent or devaluation. For that, he refers to the studies of the Frankfurt school on the mental structure of the dominated.

We could ask why there was a change of form of the underling mindset to fascism/ Stalinism and today neoliberalism. I think the first two forms of totalitarian ideology in their core represented racist or class-based devaluation of others and warped forms of a collective ideal while neoliberalism in its core combined its individualist freedom ideal with the social devaluation of other “less efficient persons.” A continuity to the great narratives of social democracy and the workers’ movement is emphasized. Performance counts for ascent and success, not origin or privilege. [cf. Franz Walter, Vorwarts Oder abwarts, 2010].

Neoliberalism reduces this term performance. What counts is the result, not the expense necessary for the result. Still the social climber milieu from the 1950s to the 1980s easily forgets ascending in the economy and state and enjoying – now endangered – prosperity was not exclusively or mainly their own achievement. That ascent was the result of political and union collective action. Nevertheless a neoliberal morality was implemented that is connected with the terms market conformity, adjustment readiness, self-discipline and active, competitive, entrepreneurial and egoistic life praxis. Therefore a person must “thematicize, optimize and represent him/herself. Schreiner shows this in many examples from casting shows and advice literature to esoteric possibilities.

The missing individual adaptability is always responsible when individuals cannot keep up any more in the competition and their affluence level melts away, never the social structure or the dominant ideology. Only inner adaptation helps that can be produced with the help of experts and advisors, not collective resistance and political action. So submission appears as freedom.

The challenge of the book was to present and emphasize the forms of neoliberalism…

In her 2007 book “Shock Therapy,” Naomi Klein describes how neoliberal economic policies were implemented after military coups in countries of the global South (Chile 1963; Argentina 1976 et. al.). The population was “shocked” by the violent overthrow of the past government. Leftist union activists were persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed. The whole familiar system of social, political and industrial relations was burst open. A tabula rasa was made with parliamentary democracy, unions, political opposition and critical thinking with the enforcement of market-fundamentalist practices. With the economic programs of the Chicago Boys, solidarity securities and collective organization of needs were persecuted as “subversive” and thousands of activists killed. This systematic violence traumatized large parts of the population, paralyzed their resistance and was a prerequisite for carrying out individualist strategies of life and survival. What is “liberal” about destroying individual identities remains the secret of Hayek, Friedman and their apologists worldwide.

No shock strategy was necessary in Europe to make neoliberalism hegemonial. Its victory and continuing hegemony is another defeat after the shock therapies of the 1st and 2nd world wars and the destruction of the freedom movements of dependent employees by National Socialism and communism. But what makes neoliberalism fascinating for broad sectors of the population? How does neoliberalism find approval in social democracy? How could a “modern social democracy” become the avant garde of such a policy? This question has to interest every serious analysis of the politics of the last 20 years if one does not want to be taken in by unfruitful betrayal theories or persist in the social Darwinian and misanthropic view of the person splitting societies.

An answer to that can be found in the inability of the left to develop an image of the person that clearly contrasts with the terrible nightmare of “command socialism” and simultaneously gives a positive spin to upgrading individualism across all sectors and milieus. In a 2013 address in Zagreb, the Greek finance minister Varoufakis criticized Marx and the movements following him for proposing “justice” and “equality:” as leit-motifs for the workers’ movement and not “freedom” and “rationality” – so neoliberalism confiscate the term freedom. Historical determinism followed by the old reformist workers’ movement did not develop the idea of a free society that went beyond the creation of social security systems. The Mediterranean syndicalist workers’ movement was different. The explicitly libertarian part of the workers’ movement after its historical defeat in the 1939 Spanish Civil War did not help liberal socialist alternatives gain mass influence. Proposals for such an alternative existed in the welfare state but remained social minorities. We cannot forget the liberal revolts of 1968 had only a few friends in the bureaucratic machines of the workers’ and union movement.

Perhaps our challenge is to recognize the concept of freedom through justice that combines individuality, freedom and solidarity securities. The discussion around a guaranteed minimum income points in this direction. Varoufakis rightly refers to the problem that a democratic society in solidarity cannot mange without a conception of freedom anchored in solidarity and operating democratically. Such a conception cannot be defined any more by the myths of collective action of the workers’ movements of the last century. Its emancipatory forces helped organize individual ascent and social welfare in Europe for a certain time. Now they are exploited and consumed. The victory and continuing rule of neoliberalism in heads and social reality – even beyond politics – is connected with this conceptual weakness. No social majorities and transformation projects that support these insights have formed with any prospect for success. To neoliberalism, we must soon oppose a great alternative narrative of freedom, democracy and solidarity before the social dislocations neutralize the positive resources amid a collapsing world climate.

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