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Freedom and the Market

by M Kutscha, M Morhmann and M Krusemann Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 at 4:27 AM

Neoliberalism as a movement and ideology is a world of ideas where egoism and personal responsibiilty are celebrated, the social is faded out and no place exists for solidarity and social balance. Everyone is the creator of his own happiness here.


Reviews of Patrick Schreiner’s 2015 “Submission as Freedom”

By Martin Kutscha and Marie Mohrmann

{These reviews published in 2015 are translated from the German on the Internet. Martin Kutscha is a retired professor of constitutional law and member of the Humanist Union.}

“Freedom” is the epochal promise and the self-legitimation of the global West. However this often turns out to be the freedom of the economically or politically stronger for the exploitation and oppression of the weaker as in the example of free trade between unequal economic regions or in the “deregulation” of industrial safety norms. That freedom in “the land of the free” should also include every citizen owning a gun is not understood in Europe.

In his study, the political scientist and unionist Patrick Scheiner analyze the developments and effects of a concept of freedom tailored for the present neoliberal system. “The underlying idea of freedom only aims at integrating persons in market processes. A person is regarded as free when his property is protected and his legitimate possibilities of acting on the market are spared from political incursions” (p.28). A precariously employed person is still regarded as free when he cannot participate in democratic processes for financial or temporal reasons. On the other hand, a rich person subject to redistribution by the state through a tax is no longer free from this perspective. In fact, the neoliberal concept of freedom reduces the person in praxis to the “economic citizen,” the bourgeois, while the political person, the citoyen, only occurs in fancy speeches. That could also be one of the reasons why the power elites do not see the electronic mass surveillance of the population by secret services and data behemoths like Google and Facebook as an attack on the freedom of western societies. Leisureliness first ends with the development of secret service economic espionage and “competitive distortions” are rebuked.

Schreiner develops his criticism of neoliberalism in the light of different fields of social life, as for example the educational system. In the recent education debate, “knowledge” is limited to knowledge that is immediately relevant for economic and occupational goals. “These are the demands of businesses or markets on which people should be formed and trained” while questions of the cohesion and democratic order of a society are faded out” (p.34). The author demonstrates this in the example of the “business university” reorganized according to economic criteria that emphasizes the model of “entrepreneurial thinking.”

Other chapters are devoted to the different possibilities for the “self-optimization” of people to make them fit for the market. Social problems are reinterpreted into individual problems. Poverty, sickness and failure are represented as individual breakdowns. Strictly speaking, the role of the media is imparting neoliberal models to a million-fold public. Success, renown, riches and attractiveness are presented there “as results of individual achievements of persons admired and loved for these works” (p.71). The format of different casting shows rests on the foundation of competition, on the performance ideology, the necessity of constant self-optimization, self-presentation and self-marketing” (p.79).

In a concluding chapter, Schreiner explains why this reality of life in neoliberalism leads to serfdom. What appears as individualism is ultimately only a special form of socialization. “It is a process through which people learn to submit to the predilections of the market and neoliberal society. It is a form of serfdom – to use this term from the title of Friedrich August von Hayek’s standard work – a serfdom that also relies on autonomy and self-control and not only pressure and coercion” (p.107). The author encounters the obvious objection that the adjustment of individuals to the neoliberal market society is the result of free self-determination. Appealing to Michel Foucault, he refers to the teamwork of self-control and foreign control of people in neoliberalism.

Altogether the book presents a correct analysis of the mechanisms of neoliberal society. Possible counter-strategies are not discussed…

Green policy must “discuss the limits of market logic and set them in a social-political process.” The exclusive orientation in the economic in all spheres of society ultimately destroys society.” “The market is a part of society and should never mark society in its totality.”… The basic rights of occupational freedom and the freedom of ownership (Art 12 and 4) can be limited by the legislators like other basic rights, especially those protecting the personal sphere. The idea of an uncontrolled market was alien to the drafters of the basic law. A social state and protection of the “natural foundations of life” (Art 20A) would be impossible without incursions in market freedoms.

For good reason, the legal philosopher remembers that deficient state protection toward fellow persons and over against the power of global economic companies. Classical middle class political rights like freedom of speech, Ekardt says, “would be meaningless without the prerequisite right of freedom. Freedom only exists when elementary prerequisites like food, water, a stable global climate, peace or simply life and health are guaranteed” (p.6). – Defining the limits of freedom must occur in a democratic process and cannot be left to an “eco-dictatorship.” How this must be organized so the interests of the rich and powerful do not dominate is another theme.


Survival strategies. Two new books circle around the individual and society as well as different definitions of freedom

By Marie Mohrmann

[This book review published on 5/31/2015 is translated abridged on the Internet,]

…Self-control increases the chance of being successful and happy in life but cannot guarantee success and happiness.

In his book "Submission as Freedom. Life in Neoliberalism” (2015, PapyRossa publisher), Patrick Schreiner focuses on the neoliberal form of society and the inevitable conversion of neoliberal concepts into everyday praxis. Freedom in neoliberalism according to Schreiner should be understood as a form of negative freedom, as a freedom from something instead of freedom for something which is described as a “positive freedom.”

In neoliberalism, a special form of negative freedom is created in that the state is kept from intervening in the market as much as possible. These interventions could lead to a socially more compatible distribution of salaries. The individual or the employee is free from state support to a certain extent. On the other hand, the state then intervenes in a regulatory way by creating good (so-called competitive) conditions for industry and entrepreneurs, for example in the form of tax cuts for businesspersons.

In neoliberalism, everyone cannot be benefited (equally). Equal rank would lull the competition into a false sense of security. Educational policy is especially promoted while the state in neoliberalism is kept from social-political incursions as much as possible. The shared responsibility of a society is shifted to the individual. The neoliberal individual is responsible for his or her happiness and education is the door to this happiness. A contradiction arises here since there are many unemployed academics. According to neoliberals, higher education and competition increase chances without being guarantees for happiness and success.

Schreiner’s analyses of everyday neoliberal praxis are captivating. The goal is reshaping persons in a market-conforming way. The pressure from the outside and one’s own conviction often go hand-in-hand. One example is the readiness for endless retraining courses to make employees more fit for the competition. Characteristics of the ideal neoliberal employee are the will to competitiveness, activity, entrepreneurial and egoistic thinking, self-discipline, adaptability and flexibility. To do justice to the competitive claims, employees have to continually and self-critically analyze, optimize and offer their qualities. Even the most advanced training is meaningless if colleagues do not get anything from it.

Self-help literature, esoteric philosophies, casting shows, reality soaps and so-called positive thinking are additional mediators of neoliberal thinking. They all lead away from social criticism and focus on the individual who supposedly must change. Schreiner criticizes the neoliberal ideology for only concentrating on and expecting adjustments from the individual while the community is no longer made responsible for socially consistent conditions. In this way, system and society are completely relieved from all responsibility. As one result, for example, the unemployed who are described as unwilling to work are ostracized.

Neoliberalism is anchored in our thinking and everyday life far beyond politics and the economy. Patrick Schreiner asks about the mechanisms through which people accept neoliberal ideas and approaches as good, proper and without alternative. He concentrates on the educational system, self-help literature, esotericism, sports and fitness, stars, television, social networks as well as consumption and lifestyle. In these examples Schreiner shows how neoliberalism monopolizes people and what consequences this has for individuals and society. Neoliberalism is an ideology that promises freedom but brings misery and impoverishment.


By Markus Kruseman

[This review of Patrick Schreiner’s “Submission as Freedom. Life in Neoliberalism” published on September 13, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Capitalism is again talked about everywhere. Capitalism staggers from crisis to crisis and a growing minority asks whether a more rational alternative is conceivable and feasible. This question was raised more vigorously in the 1970s. At that time Jurgen Habermas and Claus Offe among others took up this question and spoke of the legitimation problems of the capitalist state. This term seems to reflect today’s situation. One only needs to think of the warnings of a market-conforming democracy or Colin Crouch’s impressive deconstruction of post-democratic conditions.

Habermas (1973) and Offe (1972) analyzed structural problems of an economic- and social formation they called late capitalism. Today forty years later, this term has largely lost its analytical power after the dismantling of the Keynesian welfare state and the deregulation of the financial markets. The question can be posed what social formation and what capitalism exist today. In the words of Armin Pangs (2000), “in what society do we live?”

An abundance of theories and socioeconomic diagnoses are offered. A series of “hyphen-capitalisms” conceptualizes the structural nature of the present society exist outside the somewhat graying regulation theory with its post-Fordism thesis of state monopoly capitalism (Stamocap) that is becoming popular again.

Financial- or finance-market capitalism seems very topical. But do we really live in financial market capitalism as a new formation as Elmar Altvater and Joachim Bischoff (2006) argue?

Analyses that make the historically triumphant advances of neoliberalism into a starting point, giving it a formative power and emphasizing an era of neoliberal capitalism or a neoliberal post-Fordist capitalism (Joachim Hirsch 2009) are widely accepted. What is this neoliberalism and what makes it so powerful?


Besides many others, the political scientist Patrick Schreiner wrote a book that opens up an alternative approach to understanding neoliberalism. Unlike Butterwegge and others (2008), the author does not offer any academic social analysis or theory of a social formation. Rather he concentrates on neoliberalism as an ideology and movement and scans the phenomenon in its everyday manifestations. Her looks more at the people than at the structures which is a wise move in two regards.

Firstly, Patrick Schreiner cannot avoid explaining the origin and core elements of neoliberal doctrine. Whoever fears a dry abstract theoretical treatise will be pleasantly surprised. The author successfully summarizes the history of the ideology in a few precise and simple sentences. Corresponding to his core desire, he shows that neoliberalism is a market-radical economic model that seeks to economize all areas of human life and subject all areas to a capitalist exploitation logic. He describes its incursion in society on an ideological plane by propagating a very specific view of the person and anchoring it in human heads. A person changed according to neoliberal principles, Schreiner says, is intent on doing justice to the demands of the market and society. A life focused on adaptation is not a new life. However the adjustment process follows a new pattern for a life in neoliberalism. People are urged 1. to constantly thematicize themselves, 2. to optimize themselves and 3. to announce or magnify the results of these efforts.


With this interpretation foil, neoliberalism’s penetration of human heads, human feeling, thinking and acting, self-image and identity is seen in different phenomena and areas of life. In the core of the book, Patrick Schreiner shows how much neoliberal ideology pervades the daily human routine, where and how it is mediated mostly unnoticed and in what form and to what extent many people have already adopted this thinking. Several descriptive reflections on the effects of neoliberalism as ideology follow a rather analytical first chapter on the incursion of neoliberalism as a movement in the education realm. These reflections form the core of the book.

Patrick Schreiner discusses self-help literature, the esotericism movement, sports achievements, casting shows and the pseudo-glitter world of genuine and supposed big names. He strikes gold in the social networks and in contemplating consumer- and lifestyle patterns transported through advertising and the media. In all these areas, the core elements of neoliberal thinking are uncovered as well as the mechanisms that drum neoliberal thinking into people’s heads. Everywhere Schreiner discovers the same hidden or open demands: Be flexible! Be disciplined! Act like an entrepreneur! Look to yourself! These imperatives that people should follow lead them into a permanent self-thematization, self-optimization and self-presentation.

All the described social phenomena do not have a genuine neoliberal origin. The emotional or irrational enthusiasm for winners in sports competition or for prominent persons or stars from music, movies, radio and television also existed in earlier times. This is similarly true with esotericism or spiritual thinking. Patrick Schreiner is aware of this and argues that neoliberalism is “looking for connections” and that neoliberal ideology can be “immediately connected.” This may be worth discussing because structural characteristics of all forms of capitalist socialization may be involved. These examples illustrate the world of ideas that neoliberalism transports permanently and daily.

This is a world of ideas where egoism and personal responsibility are celebrated; the social is faded out and no place exists for solidarity and social balance. Neoliberalism is based on an ideology of individualization that determines the perception and analysis of real social problems as well as the ascription of causes and the demonstration of solutions. Everyone is the creator of his or her own happiness here. Successes are only gained by hard work. The causes for problems and failures are ascribed solely to the individual who doesn’t try hard enough.

More analyses on neoliberalism as a movement would be desirable despite the conscious renunciation on the theoretical-social dimension. The political works of its protagonists are manifest in the disastrous consequences in educational policy and health policy. A free enterprise health system exposes clinics to merciless competition and cost pressure through the health reforms of the last 20 years. Analyzing the phenomena in different areas of life unmasks or debunks the myths. The book obviously aims at reaching a larger circle of readers. Cumbersome theoretical analyses would be counter-productive.


“Capitalism marks our daily routine, our coexistence and our whole life and not only economics.” That is not a Marx quotation but a late insight spread by the newspaper. It forms the leitmotif of this 100-page book.

To remain in the music metaphor, rule is the rhythm to which we all dance. Patrick Schreiner shows the neoliberal triad in which too many people voluntarily join: self-thematicization, self-optimization and self-magnification. At first neoliberalism with mass appeal did not have any worries about legitimation problems.

Markus Krusemann is a sociologist who works at the Gottingen Institute for Regional Research and operates the information platform (miserable jobs).

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