For some time now I have been meaning to call attention to a post by Frank Pasquale called The Virtues of Resistance at Balkinization. Pasquale draws for one theme of his post the claim by Brishen Rogers over at Concurring Opinions that the Occupy Wall Street movement cannot be understood without recognizing its commitment to opposing neoliberalism. Neoliberalism refers to the reduction of politics and all spheres of human existence to economic rationality, bereft of moral values unless morality refers to the maximization of dollars or sometimes utility.
Pasquale writes in detail about how our politics and our culture are suffused with neoliberal thought and action. He rightly suggests that neoliberalism’s vices include “consumerism, selfishness, and a brutally calculative attitude.” But the twist that I like the most is Pasquale’s point that the Occupy Movement has not only been opposed to neoliberalism, it like many resistance movements has avoided means/ends rationality in its approach to social change.
It is easy to get discouraged in 21st century America about the possibilities of progressive social change. We live with a government controlled by corporate elites. The government has the guns. The communications structure favors the neoliberals. Hundreds of billions of dollars of advertising alone feed the materialism and selfishness of the culture. How will change come about? The script is difficult to write. The Occupy Movement certainly had no illusions that it would quickly break the back of the economic/political structure. But Pasquale observes it is common for movements to resist injustice even with little hope of success. Pasquale thinks of this as a religious perspective though he recognizes that there is a parallel secular perspective. Coming from a Catholic tradition, he notes that the Catholic Workers continue “even when the struggle for peace or the task of feeding the hungry [seems] as massive and endless as sweeping the sand from the shore . . . .” Why do movements like the Catholic Workers so often struggle when they cannot win? Pasquale maintains that the “simple insistence on doing acts because they seem right or just or sacred, without regard to consequences, is part of the beauty, mystery – and, yes, frustration generated by a religious point of view.”
It is hard to write the script about how triumph over injustice comes. But we should not think like neoliberals. Whether religious or not, we have a duty to resist injustice.