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Posts Tagged ‘Zero Books’

The Meaning of David Cameron by Richard Seymour

In Anti-capitalism, Books, Ideology, Reviews on June 6, 2010 at 10:55 pm

“Cameron is of little interest, except as a cipher, a sort of nonentity who channels the prevailing geist”

So goes the introduction of Richard Seymour’s excellent new book, The Meaning of David Cameron. Indeed, David Cameron has been portrayed as something of a nonentity elsewhere. Amando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet, for example, made light of the vacuous nature of David Cameron’s leadership. His presentational style, mimicking Blair, a simulacrum of an already image obsessed hollowed out political shell.

It argues, then, what ‘Cameron’ stands for, or rather represents  is very much a continuation of Blair. In other words, a re-hash of the Thatcher imposed, now status-quo, neo-liberal model of government and public services, and the anti-democratic rule by financiers, business and technicians which this brings with it.

What I have been, particularly impressed with when reading The Meaning of David Cameron, is Seymour’s close reading of the ideological co-ordinates that make up this ‘prevailing geist’. Of course, he draws our attention to the crayola-broad-brush-stroke ideological idealisations that DC and his tory chums try to pass off as our future Arcadia. Like Blair used ‘commutarianism’ or ‘the third-way’ as window dressing to what was basically an oath of allegiance to Thatcher, Cameron of course has brought with him ‘Red Toryism’ and ‘Big Society’. Yet Seymour, importantly, also points to a deeper level of ideological mystification on which both New Labour and David Cameron’s party have relied on. This is their appeals to Meritocracy.

If there is one thing that Seymour wants to underline in his book it is how the language of Meriotcracy is merely the smoke and mirrors to hide class rule and hierarchy. Whilst meritocracy may intuitively seem to imply fairness or a common-sensical approach for the organisation of difference in society, it is in fact for nothing other than the validation of ‘a principle of inequality’. This is the books greatest triumph. It shows that where ‘meritocracy’ was considered in any substantive and logically rigorous way it was universally rejected by politicians. The hackneyed political cliché that we have got instead has done nothing but reinterpreted privilege as merit, legitimized ‘the actually existing class system’ and encouraged people to blame individuals for social problems.

Here Seymour, importantly, carves open a space in political discourse in to which we must force our critical powers.

Meritocracy “as applied to the present state of affairs, is a kind of collective insult on humankind. To imply that those currently at the top – the Warren Buffets and Roman Abramoviches of this world – are the very best, the nec plus ultra of humanity, is a kind of hate speech toward the species. Dignity demands that we refute it.”
There is a series of arguments that could state that the book is already somewhat out of date: The weird CONLIB coalition and some of the policies it looks like it could throw up, it could be said, requires a different reading to the one offered by Seymour here. Similarly, some of the predictions Seymour makes (for the book was written before the election) are a little off target. Yet what these criticisms miss is the more speculative, and ambitious, nature of the book. In its critique of the lurid PR and the accompanying empty vernacular of ‘change’, ‘progress’ and ‘newness’ which saturates all party political discussion, Richard Seymour reveals far more and goes far deeper than most critical accounts of politics today. In examining David Cameron, Seymour finds the virus of neo-liberalism. It is as if, David Cameron has already been devoured. He is undead, a neo-liberal Zombie. Seymour’s argument is that this isn’t unique to Cameron. Whilst certain symptoms may differ from those we saw in Thatcherism and New Labour the same insatiable, debilitating virus remains. The book confirms that Nick Clegg, those Orange Book liberals and the ConLib coalition, are, merely, the viruses new host.