Notes on Trumpian Motion Series

Posts in this series; some of the terms I use are described more fully in these posts.
Trumpian Motion
Negative Responses to Trumpian Motion
Economic Elites Drive Trumpian Motion
Beneficiaries of Trumpian Motion
Notes on Trumpian Motion Series


1. I try to keep these posts to a reasonable length, which means leaving out a lot, especially a lot of supporting history. I appreciate the additional history provided by several commenters, including especially EarlOfHuntington in several of these posts.

2. One of the issues in this post is the conflict between cultural capital and religious capital. This is not a struggle over money. Instead, using Bourdieu’s terms, the struggle is for symbolic power, the power to define the way we understand ourselves, our society, and the world we live in. We shouldn’t assume that either the holders of cultural power or the holders of religious capital are trying to get rich from the struggle. It’s perfectly possible that both groups are acting in good faith.

This struggle is similar to the struggle between neoliberal and Keynesian economists, as I describe here. Most of us want to be right and to make a contribution to society. I might even reluctantly agree that Milton Friedman was acting in good faith. Whatever the motives of the teachers, most students are motivated by a desire to succeed in their chosen profession, and not by lust for money. In the same way, the religious right is no doubt convinced it is acting in the name of the Almighty, trying to bring light to the gentiles, no matter what might have motivated Billy Sunday or Aimee Semple McPherson or their ilk. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of money-grubbing charlatans in both groups.

Bourdieu says that the various forms of capital can be exchanged for each other. Cultural power can be used to acquire economic power, and to a lesser extent, vice versa. Religious capital can be exchanged for economic capital as well. In the near term, however, they exist for their own sake. In the intermediate term, there is a lot of exploitation of symbolic power for money. That’s why we have Statutes of Mortmain.

3. The important issue addressed in this series is power. For that reason, I avoid discussion of political parties. All nations, not just the US, are governed by the rich directly or indirectly. In the US, the elites have decided to do so explicitly. In state after state we see billionaires and centi-millionaires running for high office with the sanction of whichever party they choose to endow. The billionaire class publicly states its plans to purchase offices.

I say in the first post in this series that underlying Trumpian Motion is an ideology, neoliberalism. Another reason to leave out political parties is that both parties share that ideology, though they express it differently.

Neoliberalism might be understood as a symbolic structure, but if so, it is imposed on us by the economic elites through what Bourdieu calls symbolic violence. There is nothing organic about neoliberalism. It was constructed to be a bulwark against socialism and communism, and to enhance the power of the economic elites. See Philip Mirowski’s book Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste. In contrast, the symbolic structures generated by the cultural elites and by religion both directly connect to human nature. The former arises out of curiosity and reasoning. The latter arises from human spirituality. They differ in many ways, but they both meet real human needs and real human potential.

I think neoliberalism is an ideology and nothing more. It’s a tool used by economic elites to gain and preserve their power and keep the rest of the citizenry in their place.

4. I talk about the truce between economic capital and cultural capital throughout the series, and I say that the economic elites have ended the truce. Bourdieu attributes the power of the cultural elites to their ability to reproduce their class without interference. A big part of the truce was to permit this to continue. But that’s over now to a large extent.

There is plenty of evidence of this every day in the media. The economic elites use their power to defund state governments, forcing them to slice education funding. Among other things, the increased tuition led colleges and universities to direct curricula away from the humanities and even from basic science into technology that can produce immediate returns to capital. Tenured positions are becoming rarer, as is steady employment. Badly paid and treated adjuncts comprise more than half of university teachers. Here’s a story in the New York Times about how rich conservatives in Arizona are funding a program in Arizona:

In Arizona, the Legislature has taken a direct role, fostering academic programs directly from the state budget and sidestepping the usual arrangement in which universities decide how to spend the money. Lawmakers are bankrolling the new School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State, and the University of Arizona’s Department of Political Economy and Moral Science. Locally, they are better known as the “freedom schools,” and not always admiringly.

Their creation reflects a cultural struggle within academia, one that some conservatives believe requires government intervention to counter a liberal professoriate.

These changes are a direct attack on the ability of the cultural elites to reproduce themselves.

5. When I started reading David Swartz’ book Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, I had no idea what I was getting into. I planned to read Bourdieu’s book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, but I needed an introduction to the vocabulary he uses. I have thought for a long time I needed a language for discussing power in all its forms. For now, this is the language I think works.

6. I like this series. I have made some changes to the posts, and will continue to do so.

7. Swartz writes very clearly. I feel comfortable with what I learned from his book, maybe too comfortable. Any errors in these posts are mine alone.

13 replies
  1. Ric says:

    Why is it called neoliberalism?

    is it tongue in cheek/ not liberal at all?

    i fear the coming of the oligarchs but don’t think of them as new liberals.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I wrote this post to explain my understanding of the history.: 

      Much of my writing here addresses neoliberalism, where it came from, the economics at its heart, how it took over our national discourse and occasionally a thought about what might be a better way to understand ourselves as a nation. I do this through close reading of old books, like Arendt, Kuhn, Veblen, Jevons, and others, a few relatively recent books, and economic textbooks and papers. If you click on my name, you get to my author pages which list all my posts in reverse chronological order. There is also a brief statement of my view of the neoliberal program as it exists today.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        You might find Henry Giroux’s work a useful addition to your booklist.  He is primarily an educator in the US and Canada.  Unlike David Brooks, whom I would never call a public intellectual, Giroux is one.  His views on neoliberalism are as sharp and thought provoking as Mirowski’s and Chomsky’s.

        Thanks again for taking on topics that are “long reads” at the best of times, and hard to make interesting to those with little time or for whom the topics are new.  They alter one’s horizons permanently, extending one’s habitus.

        • Jerome Steele says:

          This is my first post here, though I read every day – but I could not overlook the opportunity to express my admiration for Henry Giroux’s work. His writing on education and critical race theory have had an enormous impact on my worldview. I highly recommend engaging with his work.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Briefly, Liberal in an earlier, European sense meant and means being devoted to individual liberty in all things, avoiding collection action or reducing it drastically because of the constraints and costs it imposes.  A philosophy best suited to the plantation owner, not to anyone who works there.  New liberals are said to have resuscitated it.

    In the US, liberal came to mean progressive, willing to experiment with new arrangements that might work better than the old.  It finds collective action an essential and effective means to govern in the interests of the many with limited resources.  That meaning has been demonized by old liberals, forcing liberals in the American sense to find other words.  Progressive is the current favorite.

    • TheraP says:

      Vitally important distinctions you’re making here. Actually describes the current divide between left and right very neatly:

      “collective action [as] an essential and effective means to govern in the interests of the many with limited resources.”

      This is our current worldwide problem. Do we allow the oligarchs and criminals to institution worldwide feudalism? Or will we share worldwide and nation-wide?

    • matt says:

      Its ironic, that GOP conservatives actually represent “liberalism” in relation to personal freedoms and government more so than the Democratic Left.  I often wonder why “liberal” is a swear word in their lexicon, but “libertarian” and “neoliberal” work just fine.  Too, liberal was pasted (as a bad thing) onto the Democratic Party as an exclusive attribute… But if you replace the word for what it really means, “freedom” than its easy to see that both parties want various freedoms and government controls.  There is no such thing as Liberal or Conservative aligning with the parties, just desired freedoms and controls.

      GOP is “liberal” with guns, regulations, and economics.

      In line with this thinking, the Democratic Party is more “conservative” in the true sense of the word with matter of the environment.  Anti-war Democrats are actually “conservative” in not wanting to rush into war, and wanting to promote diplomatic solutions.  Those concerned with economic justice , are actually “conservative” in how they believe the distribution or power and wealth should be handled.

      When you drop the idea that Liberal and Conservative are mutually exclusive, you begin to see that issues only represent human desires- what a person wants or doesn’t want- what a person likes or dislikes.  Too bad our party system does not allow individuation on the multitude of issues that effects us.

  3. seedeevee says:

    Thanks for keeping it real, Ed, as you always do.


    I think Milton Friedman was a True Believer too.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I think Milton Friedman knew that the butter on his bread came from America’s wealthiest families. I don’t think he much cared who baked the bread.

    • matt says:

      I volunteered a decade ago for Stephen Zarlenga who founded AMI (American Monetary Institute) a monetary reform non-profit.  He graduated from University of Chicago just after Friedman.  According to him, Friedman was ostracized early on at U of C, but the early libertarians picked up on his anti-Keynesian views and the rest is history.  I highly encourage all you here interested in economics to visit the AMI website (link above).  Some of the brightest alternative minds in economics are associated with this group.

  5. Greenhouse says:

    Thanks Ed for sharing Bordieu’s concept of power in all of it’s different forms. My friends and I have always found it difficult to explain why right wing, conservative (usually Caucasian) from main street or lower classes always seem to vote against their economic interests. This Trumpian series and terminology helps put it all in context and vivid relief.

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