Admittedly I find it hard to imagine giving Stuart Hall's writing any less than five stars, but this really was an absolute pleasure to read. The editors have collected a series of essays all the way from the Suez crisis to the first years of the coalition government. There's so much perceptive and prescient analysis in here, and with writing that, even if only briefly, makes me feel more articulate and erudite. Just lovely.
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'Market forces' represents more than a rational preference for markets over centralised planning as the more effective form of modern economic organisation. It makes 'the market' into an organising principle of social life -- a law as general, for born-again Thatcherites, as 'the class struggle' ever was to marxists. It is the only language of moral and social calculation, because it obeys an objective logic, driven by the 'hidden hand' of impersonal forces, and is not interest-laden, context-bound or morally constrained. The 'social good' can only be calculated by reducing it to individual needs, aggregated on the basis of a formal (and empty) 'equality': it means imposing the collective will of a mythical majority on the unruly but sovereign interests of individuals and is therefore, by definition, the beginning of tyranny. Thus, 'There is no such thing as "society", there is only individuals and their families'.
What we have to explain is a move towards 'authoritarian populism' -- an exceptional form of the capitalist state -- which, unlike classical fascism, has retained most (though not all) of the formal representative institutions in place, and which at the same time has been able to construct around itself an active popular consent. This undoubtedly represents a decisive shift in the balance of hegemony, and the National Front has played a 'walk-on' part in this drama. It has entailed a striking weakening of democratic forms and initiatives, but not their suspension. We may miss precisely what is specific to this exceptional form of the crisis of the capitalist state by mere name-calling.
While Hall's writings provide a beautifully written, and often eerily prescient, historical account, it's hard to avoid being struck by the similarities with the present when reading 'The Great Moving Right Show'. Hall is describing the giant lurch to the right associated with the advent of Thatcherism, but so much of the essay could be said to describe the current conjuncture, only with a starting position already well to the right of that which prevailed in 1979.