I’ve been thinking today about the relationship between liberalism and neoliberalism, specifically in relation to harm (this is as I’m filling-out the paper on rape below).

The Millsian (is that even a word?) version of liberalism says, basically, that we should let everyone do whatever they want to do (to maximise their chances of living the good life) so long as they don’t harm others. In this imagining of liberalism, then, the State’s legitimacy is (at least partly) the result of protecting the (ideal) subject of the State from (ideal) harms (Gatens, in Imaginary Bodies makes a nice version of this argument).This kinda screws anyone who falls away from that ideal in some way—as I’ve argued elsewhere, it is increasingly configuring any suffering experienced beyond those vulnerabilities legitimised by the State’s protection as pathological, or unnatural. Okay.

But in the shift to neoliberalism, the reasoning starts to be that we should determine the risks of harm to the (ideal) subject, and through increasing State control, minimise the chances of that risk coming about. But again the specificity of that ideal subject come to shape which risks count as risks the State ought to be responsible for, and which are the responsibility of the individual.

Neoliberalism, in the legitimising stories told about it, is more responsive, more attuned to the different vulnerabilities of different spaces, of different subjects, more methodical in tracking risk, through probabilities and norms. But of course this isn’t really the case. Rather, only certain risks can be tracked. Only certain normative risks can be carefully avoided through increasing control; and those risks are always about the protection of good, ideal individuals through the management of those populations which are deemed abnormal. This concept of risk itself does all the work—with statistics an’ everythin’!—of legitimising the deeming of certain populations to be risky.

It’s not surprising, then, that it is only in relation to certain populations that the continual gesturing towards harm that takes place under neoliberalism actually works as a corrective to the liberal requirement that someone suffer before the State will intervene. Correctiveschmorrective, in other words, I guess.

Apologies for a not very interesting post – just squooshing some thoughts together…

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