In the early 60’s of the twentieth century the well-known Polish philosopher and dissident Leszcek Kolakowski, the author of a controversial three-tome history of Marxism, published his famous essay “On theological legacy in philosophy”, in which in his characteristic, sharp and lightly ironic style, he unmasks hidden mythical and religious contents built in the modern philosophical controversies, including their prominent presence in the then globally dominant Marxist theory. Several decades earlier, Nikolay Berdyayev in similar spirit established analogy between Christian apocalypse and the content of the Communist ideology. Since then things have radically changed, the Marxist fashion is behind us and the balance of power between political and political-theoretical forces has been turned upside down. Therefore, it may be interesting to pay attention to the presence of quasi-religious motives in the current neo-liberal discourse and strategies for its self-legitimization.
The mentioned tendency is especially prominent in the countries of the post-Communist east, whose transition-phase trials and tribulations are increasingly frequently interpreted based on the classical eschatological-theodician mould. There is an omnipotent, somewhat cruel, but essentially just God (capital, market); equal candidates for the role of the Messiah are Fridrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Margaret Thatcher, and there are also old Testament prophets (John Locke as Abraham, Adam Smith as Moses), numerous apostles, priests (monetarist economists), and even the “chosen people”, which, just like in the transition from the Old towards the New Testament, has a rather ambivalent nature, partly ethnic (Jewish Americans), and partly conceptual (all those accepting the proclaimed Truth). As the consequence of the “original sin” (Socialism, plus Milosevic’s rule – in the Serbian version) we are doomed to current suffering (transition), which is unavoidable, but, provided we consistently stick to the rules, respect the authority of the Church and the local shepherds (IMF rules, various expert groups etc.), we shall reach the final redemption (economic recovery) and, after that, guaranteed but temporally very vaguely defined entry into the promised paradise (prosperity, entry into the European Union, NATO and “community of civilized nations”). Naturally, the entrance is very narrow “many have been called – very few will be chosen” and, as usually, those “simple in spirit”, those who trust blindly and do not ask unnecessary questions have much better chances of passing through the gates.
As far as the working class is concerned, in this neo-liberal apocalypse they are given an especially demanding role. They are expected to exhibit extreme loyalty and readiness, for the sake of future salvation, to unquestioningly sacrifice on the altar practically everything they’ve earned during the decades spent serving Socialist unbelievers or Keynesian heretics (fast privatization is some sort of baptism or first communion in that context). The working class, therefore, must recognize the collectivist devil, reject his sweat temptations (self-management, participation, social security) and give up the “golden calf” dream epitomized by the welfare state. Briefly, they must recognize and accept that the path of true salvation leads through the transition valley of tears and that “everything must be worse at first, so that it could be better later”. They must believe what they cannot understand (credo quia absurdum!) and they must – like Abraham – voluntarily sacrifice the most precious part of what they had with a lot of difficulty snatched away from the mad market logic and hope in a miracle, that that very same logic of capital and capricious deity of world market will one day, with its “invisible hand”, make up for all losses, with interest.
It is especially important to note the resistance of that type of thinking to any sort of empirical or logical argumentation. In practice, there are no facts (for example, data about a fall in production, reduction of the Gross National Product, shortened life expectation etc.) that can shake up this unshakeable belief in universal applicability of the neo-liberal theory. Therefore, it is “metaphysical” in the bad, Popper’s sense of that word, since a mesh of ad hoc hypotheses and above sketched, barely exaggerated theological argumentation, every time isolates it from any sort of criticism. Namely, every doubt or contrary empirical evidence bounce against the steel façade of well-known rhetorical strategies (“it’s all a consequence of the previous system”, “it’s due to the obstruction of defeated forces”, “the popular consciousness still hasn’t reached the needed level”…) which in this region create a strong déjà vu effect and allow us to establish interesting parallels between, seemingly irreconcilable ideological opponents, advocates of neo-liberal theories and authoritarian Socialism.