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Candide's Path. Subjective Reactions to Neoliberalism in Chile (2000-2018)

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The relationship of Chilean population with the neoliberal economic model has been part of academic and public discussion. In these debates, there have been several false equivalencies (resignation with acceptation) and superficial readings (what exactly means that people are discontent with the model?) The idea of a neoliberal subjectivity that it does not depend on legitimacy has grown in importance in recent years, but at the same time we should take on account that simply living under neoliberalism, to know how to act in it, do not constitute in itself a neoliberal subjectivity. To understand subjectivity under neoliberalism we need a more complex view. We propose in this paper that empirically the relationship with the neoliberal model has at least four layers in Chie: The first on the evaluation of the economic situation, the second about the 'naturalization' of the model (the world works that way), the third about self-image and the fourth about moral evaluation. We argue that neoliberalism has been embraced more on cognitive than in moral levels: Neoliberalism was more effective in deleting the credibility of alternatives that in to generate an embrace of the model itself. The neoliberal model was able to create its reproduction through discontent: The refuge in personal life (to tend the garden as in Voltaire's Candide) did create consumer and work behaviours that the model wanted. The current crisis shows the limits of that adaptation; but this subjective relationship with neoliberalism in contexts when it was not accepted neither generated a pure neoliberal subjectivity shows that to underestimate its ability to reproduce itself could be a mistake.
Candide’s Path. Subjective Reactions to Neoliberalism in Chile (2000-2018)
Juan Jiménez-Albornoz
Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana, Santiago (Chile)
December 8th 2019
The relationship of Chilean population with the neoliberal economic model has been part of
academic and public discussion. In these debates, there have been several false equivalencies
(resignation with acceptation) and superficial readings (what exactly means that people are
discontent with the model?) The idea of a neoliberal subjectivity that it does not depend on
legitimacy has grown in importance in recent years, but at the same time we should take on
account that simply living under neoliberalism, to know how to act in it, do not constitute in
itself a neoliberal subjectivity. To understand subjectivity under neoliberalism we need a
more complex view. We propose in this paper that empirically the relationship with the
neoliberal model has at least four layers in Chie: The first on the evaluation of the economic
situation, the second about the 'naturalization' of the model (the world works that way), the
third about self-image and the fourth about moral evaluation. We argue that neoliberalism
has been embraced more on cognitive than in moral levels: Neoliberalism was more effective
in deleting the credibility of alternatives that in to generate an embrace of the model itself.
The neoliberal model was able to create its reproduction through discontent: The refuge in
personal life (to tend the garden as in Voltaire's Candide) did create consumer and work
behaviours that the model wanted. The current crisis shows the limits of that adaptation; but
this subjective relationship with neoliberalism in contexts when it was not accepted neither
generated a pure neoliberal subjectivity shows that to underestimate its ability to reproduce
itself could be a mistake.
Neoliberalism, Chile, Subjectivity, Neoliberal subject, Legitimacy.
1. Introduction. The debate about subjectivity under neoliberalism in Chile.
Neoliberalism, as any common concept, has multiple meanings. For our purposes
neoliberalism is an historical concept. It is not a general view on social life; it is something
that happens in a specific moment: It refers to those practices and ideas that emerge in the
last decades of the 20th century as a reaction to organized modernity (using the term of
Wagner, 1997). Neoliberalism, as a practice or a discourse or a subjectivity (Welsh 2019),
is not necessarily something new, but it is something that emerges after a moment of greater
presence and regulation by the state. In this sense, the difference between neoliberalism and
liberalism is that the first is born after the welfare state or the developmental state (Clarke
2005). ‘Neoliberals’ maybe don’t say anything new compared to liberalism, but they discuss
its ideas in a different context. And in the same way that Adam Smith needed to criticize
mercantilism in the Wealth of Nations, there is a need to criticize Keynesianism (or originally
against socialism) for neoliberals. In this sense, even if there is nothing actually new about
the concept (Dunn 2016) is still useful to mark a ‘broad indicator of the historical turn in
macropolitical economy’ (Venugopal 2015: 182).
Neoliberalism as a practice can be thought as a moment of deregulation or lesser relevance
of the state
and a discourse can be defined as a stark defence of the superiority of the market
or about the inefficiency (or even immorality) of regulation and intervention, as a rejection
of any self-determination of society or even politics. How can be defined as a subjectivity?
We can say that if the neoliberal condition is one of growing relevance of the market, the
neoliberal subjectivity is one where people think of themselves as market agents: Analysis
of an entrepreneurial self (Bröckling, 2015; Roper, Ganesh, y Inkson, 2011), about how
constant competition creates an individual that think of himself as a business (Laval y
Dardot, 2013), whose actions should be understood as means for capital growth
Chile is an important case in the discussions about neoliberalism: it is one of the earliest
and most systematic instances of that process, led by a group that wanted to build not only
a market economy, but a market society (Gárate 2012, Clark 2017): the market not only as
an organizing principle of ‘productive life’ but also a principle in the ‘reproduction of life’,
affecting education or health services (Canales 2019). Even if neoliberalism is not
necessarily a hegemonic and coherent historical situation (see Venugopal 2015, Welsh 2019:
16-19), Chile is a case where the movement to the market as organizing principle of social
life was more thoroughly developed. In the late ’70 when the military dictatorship instituted
the structural reforms that create what can be called ‘the model’ (see Gárate 2012: 256-283):
liberalization of economy (lowering tariffs, deregulating the labour market) and
privatization of social services (pensions and health services, and limiting state regulation
As it has been pointed out by several authors, to be able to generate and to maintain an unrestricted market
need a lot of state power (see Gray 1998, Osorio 2004, Chapter 6 and 7, Dunn 2016). The loss of direct presence
is not equal to a weak state
There is here, maybe, a difference with ‘classical’ liberalism: The salaried relationship exchanged time for
money, now is an exchange of the self for money. Whereas in a previous moment of bourgeois dominance there
was a separation between domestic space, outside market, and the market space (see, for instance, Hobsbawm
1975, chapter 13); nowadays several authors see that market orientation operates in all spaces.
and presence in education). The basic structure of this model has been followed in Chile in
the next 40 years, transformations under democratic governments from 1990 onwards did
correctbut did not change that basic framework (Garretón 2012); analysts that emphasize
the differences, postulating a different model under democracy (see Castells 2005, Calderón
and Castells 2019: 32) do not take on account the continuity of those structural institutions.
Chile is also a country where the ideological tendencies above mentioned, an ideology where
freedom equalled market and a absolute rejection of politics was defended (see Brunner,
1981, or Lechner, 2007, Vol 2: 137-180, originally published in 1982, and recently by
Gárate, 2012), are more clear. We can see also discussions, and it is interesting that they
were postulated by defenders of the model, about how individuals started to think themselves
as consumers instead of citizens (Tironi 2000, Navia 2008: 288-289) -the idea of a
‘neoliberal’ self is not necessarily a critical position.
All of this make Chile an interesting case to discuss about the relationship between
subjectivity and neoliberalism. And since a neoliberal condition has endured for a long time,
there is also a long debate about subjectivity. A turning point of this debate was at the end
of the ‘90s; where two books put the issue of the discontent or satisfaction with the model
at the fore: The report by the local office of UNDP, Las Paradojas de la Modernización
(UNDP Chile 1998) and the book by Tomas Moulian (1997) Chile: Anatomía de un Mito.
The first postulated a wide discontent (‘malestar’ in Spanish) with the model; and the second,
criticizing the economic model and the political process that allow it to continue, emphasized
how people were starting to accept through consumption. In both cases, the question about
subjectivity resolved itself in a discussion about satisfaction, and the posterior debate
continued to share that trait. Some, from the several waves of protest starting in 2011,
postulated a discontent and loss of legitimacy, even if in the ‘90s the model had reached
some relevant levels of acceptation (see Mayol 2012, Ruiz and Boccardo 2014: 129-139,
Sotomayor 2019). Other authors criticized the discontent thesis and saw rather a wide
agreement with the model, with protests arising from only partial criticisms (CEP, 2016;
Oppliger y Guzmán, 2012).
Another approach, developed later, is represented in the research of Araujo and
Martuccelli (2012). Subjectivity is analysed from two levels. On one hand, there is
subjectivity understood as practices around the ‘tests’ that society put on the persons (ho
they answer the demands on their jobs or in family life). On the other hand, and clearly
distinguished, there is ideological adhesion. The basic answer is that the ‘model’ generates
a subjectivity in the first dimension, (see also Araujo, 2014), there is no neoliberal
subjectivity in ideological terms: They are not persons that agree with what neoliberalism
says. At this point, we can recall the discussion about the neoliberal self, and notice that is
not about ideological compliance; even more there is a literature that postulates that a
dynamic proper to neoliberalism is a formation that it does not require ideological adhesion.
To understand, then, subjectivity under neoliberalism we need to discuss that debate, in order
to better specify the questions that this paper intends to answer.
2. The relationship between legitimacy and subjectivity under neoliberalism.
The analysis of the relationship between the subjectivity of the actor and the social
structure is a traditional theme in social sciences. The basic position on that tradition is that
the pure operation of a structure is unable to stabilize its reproduction, it requires a subjective
operation in addition (Dubet 1994, Morande 2017: chapter 4, pointing out that is a more
geneeral trait of enlightenment thought). Every system needs a support from the beliefs of
the people (they hold those system as good, or at the very least, as natural), in this sense it
needs ideological sustentation, legitimation. The alternatives (coercion or contract, see
Lichbach and Seligman 2000) are not enough; at the very least social cohesion (Elster 1989,
Habermas 1998) emerges from a relationship legitimacy (norms) and factual processes
(coercion or the pure instrumental effect of contracts). In any case, in the sociological
tradition subjectivity operates through legitimacy.
But there is the intuition that under neoliberalism subjectivity doesn’t operate through
ideological means or legitimacy (and more generally, about the insufficiency of analysing
symbolic processes only through the lens of legitimacy, see Reygadas 2015: 43). The
Foucauldian concept of governmentality (Foucault, 2000, 2007) is based precisely in the
idea of an intervention that does not use ideological means (sovereign power for instance)
but achieves control through engaging the subject -using the traits of that subject to generate
the desired effects. Agamben in The Kingdom and the Glory (2016: 461-534) has shown the
deep theological roots of that idea in early Christianity and medieval thought. The concept
of societies of control by Deleuze (1991) follow similar lines in depicting a society that
generates compliance without ideology (Durand, 2004: specially 59-62, analyses current
work practices under the same general idea). Regarding the Chilean case, it has been argued
that neoliberalism generates a subjectivity that operates and think in terms of choices and
calculations (Canales, 2019). Falabella (2019) show that the use of standardized tests for
public policy on education create subjective reactions, and a subjectivity based on a logic of
competition and quantitative comparison and self-appraisal is born (Falabella 2019).
The idea of mechanisms that reproduce themselves only through its operation and do not
require an ulterior mechanism is not completely alien to the sociological tradition. It is
present in the last pages of the Weber’s Protestant Ethic (‘the iron cage’ in the Parson’s
translation that has made history). Now, for the tradition the idea of a system that does not
require of ideological support appears in the form of a monster.
If legitimacy doesnt matter, there is still a role for subjectivity? It could be argued that a
structure that do not have any need for legitimacy operates automatically, without
subjectivity. But when it is argued that neoliberalism generates, for instance, an
entrepreneurial self, we find a subjectivation process that do not operate through legitimacy
but is part of how the structure works. How can that situation be conceptualized?
The existence of a structure implies that actors behaves in such way that it does reproduce,
and that means that they know the patterns of operation. Therefore, in order for a ‘neoliberal
subjectivity’ to be more than another name for people living under neoliberal practices, we
need to think about a very specific space: Only if there is a possibility that an operation does
not generate a subject automatically, only if to adapt to a structure is not in itself a
subjectivity, then the statement add information. If that possibility exists, then there is a
space for research: to see if in actual reality that subjectivity is generated or not.
Early Christianity can be used as an instance of that space. The Christian lived in the
world, but he was not of the world: The individual paid taxes and obeyed the Caesar, but his
subjectivity, his image of the self, was not there (and was based on that distinction: the
Christian is the one that is not of the world). We did have, in the example, a system that does
not generate a subjectivity (at least on such actors), even if those individuals acted inside the
We can illustrate the case of a system that does generate a subjectivity, and how that
subjectivity is not necessarily about legitimation with an example that Bourdieu uses in The
Social Structures of the Economy (Bourdieu, 2000): A group of English children create a
compensation fund that paid when they received a punishment, and they had to include in
their bylaws that there could not be compensation when punishments were received for
actions that intended being punished. Bourdieu comments that economic rationality was
already incorporated in their way of life, and that is a different issue that their legitimation
This discussion then put more clearly our empirical question: What place(s) the subjective
relationship with neoliberalism take on that space?: If the relationship operates through
legitimacy (as usually thought in the sociological tradition); if the subjectivity that emerges
is one in alignment with the practices they happen to live, neoliberal practices in this case.
(as the English children) or it is not (as early Christians). Since what is effectively observed
is always plural, to analyse all that different ways will help us to better understand
subjectivity in a neoliberal context.
3. Forms of relationship between subjectivity and neoliberalism in Chile.
In this section we structure our discussion of the subjective relationship of Chilean
population with neoliberalism in four layers: First, the evaluation of socioeconomic situation
and evolution of standard of life; second, a cognitive view about how the world works; third,
an image of the self; and finally, a moral evaluation of this world. Those are not variants:
the judgment of each person about ‘the model’ arises from the combination and addition of
all those levels, the individual des not choose among those levels. In each layer we will focus
in its central and most common position, but in each level there are several other alternatives.
However, the purpose of this analysis is to show the complexity of the elements that
constitute the subjective relationship with neoliberalism, given that this complexity has not
been sufficiently taken on account.
a. The vision about the standard of life
Several surveys show that Chileans have a clearly positive image of the evolution of the
life standard (see graph 1): In all dimensions asked the great majority of population answer
that they live better that their parents at the same age; a perception that has grown stronger
with time (15 to 20 points more between 2007 and 2018 using the same survey).
Graph 1. Comparing his life with the one that your parents had at your age; your
___ is
Source: Bicentenario Survey 2018. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Data available at
Chileans perceive that their consumption levels are higher, and that they can access to a
wider set of goods and services. The objective growth of GDP per capita (see Bolt et al 2018)
Original question: Haciendo una comparación entre su vida y la que sus padres tenían a su edad, usted
67 65 61 68 66
21 23 19 25 21
3512 1 1
Income level Housing Work Current family life Free time
Much better+Better The same Much worst + Worst Don't answer
is in concordance with subjectivity. At this basal level, most of the population recalls a
positive movement.
It is relevant to understand correctly the character of that statement and its limits. In first
place, it is not an opinion on the country. This perception of higher personal standard of life
is compatible with a negative view about society. The CEP Survey of May 2019
shows that
the average of satisfaction (in a scale from 1 to 1o) with their own life is about 7,1 and they
estimate around 5,3 the satisfaction of other persons. Qualitative research shows that at the
same time people says that the country does have deep problems and that their own lifes is
rather positive, even if it had their problems. The following two sequences from a qualitative
, the first about country and the second about personal life, of the same focus group
(lower middle class) show that difference.
Can you say bad words? (laughter)
Very badly really
Yes, very bad, in jobs
I find that well, at this moment, economically well, I am happy with what I got, well
“I’m not”
CEP (Centro de Estudios Públicos) is a think tank with the longest series of public opinion surveys with
public availability of data; it makes two to three surveys per year. Available data of the quoted survey at
2019 . This survey includes a set of questions of the ISSP (International Social Survey Program) on inequality
that we will use later.
This study of the UNDP Chile used 7 focus groups in Santiago in 2015, comprising 1 of upper class adults,
1 of middle class adults, 1 of lower middle class adults, 1 lower class adults, 1 upper and middle class youth,
1 lower middle class youth, and 1 of lower middle class housewives, with the aim to research beliefs about
progress. When we use quotes from the published report, we will refer to UNDP Chile 2016. When we use
quotes from the transcripts, we will use UNDP Chile research about progress, 2015.
Good in the economic part, in the job part, in health, I am well on that (UNDP Chile
2016: 9-10).
The meaning and causes of that difference had generated several debates (Beyer, 2015;
Márquez, 2015; UNDP Chile, 2015), but the basic finding is well established. In second
place, this is a positive image of the history of standard of life and not an expectation about
the future. This is an observation about already lived experience: that the standard of life is
indeed higher than in previous decades.
This perception of a growth in standard of life helps to understand another common
finding on perceptions about Chilean society. The wide self-identification with middle class
in Chile (see Barozet y Fierro 2014: 152) it is based on that perception of advance. People
declare being middle class not much as a synchronic statement about where in the social
class they are positioned, but rather as a diachronic statement. Given the growth in the
standard of life then a substantial part of population can’t say that they are ‘lower class’ (in
other words, self-identify as poor), because that could deny something that they know is
true, that they live better. When respondents had other alternatives of social class
identification that allow them to say that they are not ‘poor’, without saying that they are
middle class, then a large part of population chooses that alternative. Then, when working
class is offered as alternative a 41% of population chooses that label, comparable with the
44% of the three versions of middle class (data from CEP Survey of May 2019). Other
survey from 2009 shows the same outcome: less self-identification with middle class when
working class is offered as alternative (see Jorrat 2014: 70, in fact middle class self-
identification is weaker than in Argentina). When people self-identify with categorizations
created by them (using vignettes to create groups) a 68% chooses the inferior label
(MacClure et al 2019: 15). The data allows to substantiate the hypothesis that when people
said ‘I am middle class’ they really meant ‘my life has improved’.
b. The cognitive view: The world works neoliberally
The second layer is also a cognitive view, but if the first was an empirical observation,
this one is more general: How the world works?
The world of neoliberalism, one based on competition and in the market, where people
look permanently for profits and their own benefits, is the working mental model of how the
world works. To be precise, the world works that way when it operates ‘naturally’ -the
normal way, the natural way is neoliberal; what is distinct of that is an aberration or
impossible (UNDP Chile 2002).
Here we can see a close alignment between subjectivity and neoliberal ideology. In the
worldview of the promoters of the model, market order is the natural order (Gárate 2012 for
a recent exposition). In general, it is difficult to think a life outside neoliberalism (and this
is not specific to Chile, ‘there is no alternative’ is a statement from Thatcher). That
capitalism is in practice the only economic system in existence (Milanovic 2019) helps to
that outcome; even if neoliberalism is only a variant of capitalism the general perception of
lack of alternatives builds a belief on naturalization. That lack of alternatives is rather a lack
of successful alternatives. The failure of the really existing socialisms immunized against
any alternative for several decades: any discussion of alternatives produced always the
riposte of that failure.
This naturalization appears as a difficulty to think about change, or even if that the
question about change has sense (for instance, UNDP Chile 2000) and for the perception of
powerless people facing a very powerful machine (UNDP Chile 2004). There is a continued
pessimism about alternatives: in the end everything depends of ‘the powerful’ and they
always win.
That power is too strong and to try… to turn it upside down this power is too difficult
(Upper class)
It should start from the businessmen, they are the support [sostenedores] of this country,
starting from there I believe that they could authorize the Government to be able to do
some change (Lower class) (UNDP Chile 2015: 108)
Even if in recent years, it starts to appear a doubt if what it appeared as impossible
(alternatives) could be indeed possible, it is only a weak sense (UNDP Chile 2015: 109-
This naturalization doesn’t generate a positive view of that natural world (whereas
neoliberal discourse reaches the conclusion that the pure market is good since it is natural).
This world that operates in the only way that is possible is not, for that reason, seen as a
desirable order. A common statement in everyday discourse in Chile, ‘es lo que hay’ (‘it is
what it is’) is used to mark a negative reality that cant be changed. The lack of alternatives
is stabilizing, because nothing else appears as possible; but this stabilization is fragile, since
it is based in no more than a feeling of resignation.
The historical circumstances in which neoliberalism was installed in Chile may explain
that outcome. Chile returned to democracy in 1990, and that moment when an alternative to
neoliberalism could had been proposed, coincided with the fall of socialism, the chief
alternative (so even socialist alternatives that shared a movement away from centralist State
economic management disappeared from discourse, see Bockman 2019), and with a general
movement towards economic deregulation and liberalization elsewhere (especially
noticeable since eastern European countries emerged with strong movements toward
deregulation, see Appel and Orenstein, 216). Then, the idea that the only way was forward
was the model and nothing else was possible was very credible to that point.
The important point is that the neoliberal discourse successfully made non credible other
alternatives, but it was not necessary to convince of their own discourse -it only erased
alternatives. Therefore, this process meant that the world created by the model was read and
interpreted following non-neoliberal ideas. In other words, the average person in Chile can
act ‘neoliberally’, and to think that this is the only possible world, but they do that without
a neoliberal map of the world. The elements of the neoliberal discourse (the defence of the
market or competition) are read from other logics. In other words, they don’t see a world of
free contracts and exchanges in the market, a world in which individual freedom is expressed
(see Gárate 2012); what it appears instead is an image of an impersonal machine that forces
adaptation (UNDP Chile 2002), a pitiless world where the bigger fishes eat the smaller ones,
an ‘individualistic’ world where everyone protects himself and that compels to consume, the
place where success and status is shown (Aravena y Baeza 2015: 155). The naturalization
of the world, then, do not imply a neoliberal vision.
c. The vision of the self. The effort commandment.
A third moment of the relationship is formed by the vision of the self, and in this regard
effort and merit are the foremost ideas (UNDP Chile, 2016; Castillo 2016). Research shows
a wide presence of what can be called an effort commandment: people should always strive
for improvement in their lives (‘salir adelante).
They say that goes in the person in to want make an effort, to advance, if you like to live
well, you need to make an effort, to work and to go beyond yourself every day, that is
(Lower class, UNDP Chile 2016: 3)
The UNDP study show that when people display disagreement with that mandate they
receive a strong criticism and asked that ‘don’t say that you can’t (‘no digas que no puedes’);
Castillo (2016: 226-228) shows how this is rooted in a sense of duty towards their own
families, and this make the commandment almost absolute. It can be said that the
commandment grounds a strong sense of self-esteem: people perceive themselves in a
positive way, even as worthy of admiration, when they think they are following this
commandment. When people describe their job histories, even people less oriented toward
a logic of autonomy display an agreement with effort and self-sacrifice are ways to generate
meaning for their own lives (Gaete y Soto 2012: 57)
This effort logic is built in a sense that is a difficult commandment: It is clear for all that
the effort can fail, and that there are important barriers. Nevertheless, it is rejected to reach
the conclusion that since it is difficult, then individuals can drop that commandment; people
should strive, in the end, because moral worth is based on striving not success.
At the same time, individuals see a double limit about this commandment: Towards below
(‘poor’ people do not make an effort; in lower classes this same distinction appear as the
difference between the ‘decent poor’ and the poor outside it, see Martínez and Palacios,
1996) and towards above (the ‘rich’ do not need to make an effort, the effort commandment
do not generate a positive view of upper classes, see MacClure, Barozet and Moya 2015:
454) There is also a perception that difficulties referred above are not simply given, but they
have its cause in deliberate actions from the upper classes: ‘Yes, they don’t allow you to
progress’ (lower middle class, UNDP Chile 2016), and so the judgment of upper classes
become very negative.
Some of these elements are related to neoliberalism: their individual character, their
consecration of effort, their negative image of whose do drop, the perception that inside each
individual is the ability to overcome every difficulty: ‘this is not the heart of Homo
neoliberal, an individual pressed before anything else to define itself as an economic subject,
and therefor as an entrepreneur of himself?’ (Araujo and Martuccelli, 2012, vol II: 57).
But merit does have different meanings (as regarding views on justice in France has shown
Dubet, 2009) and this discourse separates from neoliberalism in several places. In general,
there is a rejection of the idea that the worth of a person is defined by their success. Even
more, it is the experience of difficulty what is crucial for this discourse: the subject is heroic
(Castillo 2016 uses ‘feat’ to describe it) because obeying the commandment they cope with
large obstacles and without difficulty there is no merit. Mere successful individuals are not
necessarily followers of this commandment, and if they are seen as the ones that put
obstacles, they are rather villains than heroes.
In this regard we see repeated the difference of interpretation about the Protestant Ethic:
The distinction between the interpretation of the protestant ethics as an ethic of richness
(God rewards on earth people that strive, and then richness is a mark of goodness) or as an
ethic of effort (God see work as worthy and the outcome is not morally relevant) (see Gil
Villegas, 2013; Marshall, 1982). In this case we see also the second interpretation, the
commandment is about striving, not one of success (‘don’t tell yourself that you can’t’ is
about continuing in the struggle, it does not promise a reward). There is no inherent goodness
in being rich, neither an entrepreneurial logical nor a commandment to prosper.
That this view is not a pure neoliberal shows its relevance when we analyse how merit
and inequality are related. In brief: merit do not justify inequality under this discourse. There
is evidence that Chileans accept income inequality and can justify rather large income
differences (Castillo, Miranda, y Carrasco, 2012), but at the same time really existing
inequality appear as unjust (82% thinks that inequality is unjust in Chile according to the
CEP Survey of May 2019 already used). If we develop an indicator on equality and other on
, using the same survey we find that 47% of Chileans are oriented CEP Survey of May
2019 already quoted toward merit and toward equality. Since merit do not ground a positive
view of actual inequality under the neoliberal model, this subjectivity does not equal to a
pure neoliberal self.
The equality indicator was formed in the following manner: The average of (a) unjust distribution of
income and (b) how much anger due to the difference between rich and poor (the scales were equalized
before taking the average) was calculated. Then the indicator was transformed in a binary variable: Less
oriented to equality (includes the middle point of the scale) and more oriented to equality. Regarding merit
the indiator was formed in the same way, but the questions averaged where (a) if responsibility for sustain
themselves is personal or the State and (b) if incomes should be equal or merit should be rewarded.
Graph 2. Relationship between merit and equality
Source: Own analysis using data of CEP Survey, May 2019
Besides, if the discourse on merit is a discourse of overcoming the obstacles that society
puts, then it does follow that everything that people achieves is due to themselves and not
due to what happens in the country that put obstacles to that advance. We can see here, then,
what grounds the finding the lived experience of a better life does not become a positive
view of society.
d. The consequences of moral rejection.
How goes the world is one thing, another how that world is evaluated. Everything we had
analysed until this moment can be judged morally, and what we will focus now on that
The population makes several criticism to the type of society that has been generated
(some analysts thought that those criticisms were made by the elite, Tironi 2000, but we will
+ Merit
- Merit
+ Equality
show that is not the case). People view society as too individualistic, materialistic and
aggressive, criticism of its consumerism is common (see for instance van Bavell y Sell-
Trujillo 2007). There is a rejection to a world that is perceived as hostile, full of threats,
where you always need to be on your guard, where what is valuated is what do not have
worth. Regarding quality of life society has deteriorated, people feel that they had lost their
way. As the interviews of a study said:
I think that industrially [Chile] has grown a lot in the last twenty years Chile, but
culturally and educationally has decayed too much (Lower Middle-Class youth)
Other thing is to study to earn money, I studied to earn money, I earned a lot of money
at some moment, but afterwards I realized that I was not happy, I made myself unhappy’
(Middle Class)
The life that is good s not the life that currently society promotes and strengthen. The good
life is humanely living among persons. The good life is a life full of neighbour’s greetings,
living among persons that know and recognize each other, characterized by a pleasant
rhythm of life that allows for coexistence and enjoyment. A study of the representation of
the life in where people dwells shows all these traits of what constitute a life worth’s living:
(Jiménez 2019: 8 and 13)
Here is the great difference, here we can talk, we greet each other, but there in the city,
in XX they don’t greet another anymore, they live accelerated lives [toda acelera´ la vida]
(Southern zone group)
Quotes are from interviews realized in the context of the UNDP Chile research about progress, 2015
already used.
This was a qualitative study of 16 focus group made in 2016 though Chile (from the extreme north to the
extreme south). Groups differed in type of territory (metropolitan or intermediate cities, small villages; different
economic bases) but they maintained the same segment: middle class adults.
I live, I lived in the north neighbourhood and I have the best memories. We still get
together with my childhood friends and it is like they were my brothers (Central zone
That is the mode of life that, in the perception of Chileans, current society endangers,
creating a society that overwhelms people, where everything is impersonal and without
meaning. The lifeform that society creates, the actions we do because it seems natural to do
it, are not something seen as good. Finally, this way of living is wrong -and that is the
summary of the moral judgment that Chileans make of their own lives and the society in
which they live.
4. Discussion. Living under neoliberalism. The path of Candide
For a correct interpretation of these findings there are two relevant things to discuss. The
first is about the multilevel character of subjectivity and the imperative to not reduce
subjectivity to only one dimension, as is commonly done. The second is how this subjectivity
relates to the reproduction of the neoliberal model, after all a model that has endured for
several decades has to relate in some stable manner with subjectivity.
a. The relevance of multilevel subjectivity.
In the Chilean debate on subjectivity there are some common assumptions. The first is the
equivalence of legitimacy (is the model good?) with satisfaction, with individual satisfaction
(are I satisfied with my life?). The second is a tendency to read directly from actions to
beliefs, and conversely: if people buy at the mall then they legitimize the model; if they
criticise the model, then they will break down the model at the same time. All of this obscure
the complexity of the subject and not to erase the multiple layers that form the subject is one
of the requisites of their understanding.
First, we need to go beyond reductionisms. If people value competence, or find that some
inequality is not unjust, then it does not follow that they agree with the Chilean model (or
even capitalism in general). It is possible at the same time have a very positive image of
personal merit and effort or to observe a higher standard of life, and at the same time have
several criticisms about inequality (about how the inequality actually existent is unjust) or
to demand a greater presence of the State (Castells and Calderón, 2019:37 show that
Chileans are among the most pro-State populations in Latin America). The relationship
between ideology and concrete judgment is not direct: A person has a pro-model ideology
and at the same time can develop a strong criticism of the reality of it, precisely because it
does not fulfil its promise (Horkheimer, 2002, in Eclipse of Reason did pointed out that a
critic perspective arises sometimes from the person that takes seriously the promises and
exigences of the ‘parents’ or the ‘law’): The, since merit is crucial, then the actual Chilean
mode is open to criticism because merit is not rewarded.
Secondly, we need to recall the distinction between naturalization (this is how the world
works) and legitimation (it is good that it works that way): the cognitive plane is not the
moral one. Even, as we had shown, strong process of naturalization occurs, the conclusion
of that is legitimate do not happen. There is no need to think that actual reality is a good
Thirdly, it is necessary to reject the equivalence between legitimacy and resignation. If
there is no alternative, then there is nothing else to do but adapt. And those adaptations are
not necessarily good and acceptable choices from the point of view of the people that make
that choices. Given that people will live, then the most practical decisions inside that reality
are taken, but they are not lived as good choices but as criticized ones. If the world is not
good, then the behaviour inside it is not the desired action.
b. Subjectivity under neoliberalism and the reproduction of the model.
Neoliberalism has existed in Chile for decades, then how subjectivity is related to its
reproduction is a relevant question; since whatever the state of the subjectivity, it has been
compatible with the continuity of the model.
We assert that the solution that Chilean population has tried is the refuge from the world
(something noticed from very early, see Lechner in Los patios interiores de la democracia,
published in 1987, about the movement from politics to everyday life, 2007, I: 339-470).
The comparison with early Christianity made previously has its grounding here: In both
cases we have a subject that face a world to which he adapts, but the intention is to isolate
the identity of the self from it-what you really are, is shown and generated in another place,
not in the world. In the Chilean case, the withdrawal is towards family and domestic life,
that appears as the subjective central place (Tironi, 2005; Araujo and Martuccelli, 2012;
Castillo 2019). It is relevant to stress that the family is seen as an emotional space, not as a
structure or an authority pattern: family is where you are loved and supported. Then, the
centrality of family does not imply a traditional or conservative view, even less a defence of
traditional family. That emotions are what makes the withdrawal to domestic life
meaningful, only then family can be a refuge of the world.
This creates a connection with reproduction: The behaviours that are generated in this
immersion in family life are the ones that reproduce the model. After all, the refuge is not
something that is already available, you need to build it; and you need to build a good one.
The caring family life is based in a series of practices (for instance, regular large family
meetings) and a domestic materiality (and home improvement has grown in relevance) and
all of that requires spending. More tellingly, even if adults have a guilty relationship with
children, that disappears when is consumption for the family, and specially for the children:
in that case, no limit (Castillo 2016: 224-225)
Now, in order to generate that consumption levels, people need high levels of work effort.
This heavy burden of a stressful work is the only way to have the desired home and family
life. Jobs are only means for that, and work time is devalued compared with family time, but
is what allows family to had what it deserves. Work is a form of sacrifice, and is the high
worth invested in family what shore up the work effort (Araujo and Martuccelli, 2012).
The consequences of withdrawal are, then, a work and consumption behaviour that are
exactly what the model requires from people, and so rejection, in the end, generates the
reproduction of the model (it does not only help to reproduce it operating as a scape’s valve,
see Wallerstein 2004: 37, but it is part of how the required actions are enacted). Therefore,
there is no direct relationship between legitimacy and reproduction, and at the same time
subjectivity is relevant for the operation and enduring continuity of the structure.
Neoliberalism generates its reproduction through its lack of legitimacy.
5. Conclusion. Subjectivities under neoliberalism.
In brief, there are least four dimensions on the subjective relationship of individuals with
neoliberalism in Chile at the first decades of the 21st century. In the first, people perceive a
very basic concrete fact: a higher standard on their own lives. In the second, there is a
relevant degree of naturalization of the model: that is the way the world works. In the third
we see a wide presence of an effort commandment, but not an apology of success and neither
generates a defence of neoliberal society. In the fourth layer, there is stark negative moral
judgment on the society created, signalled by its inhuman character, opposite to which
should be a good life.
Now, are these forms of subjectivity a neoliberal subjectivity? And what these findings
shows about the relationship between legitimacy and neoliberalism?
We see a subjectivity that includes a legitimacy moment (the moral judgment) but it is not
reduced to that; including besides that an empirical evaluation, a cognitive map of the world
and an image of the self. In this sense, we do have a subjectivity that does not operate
exclusively through legitimacy. Besides, we find a subjectivity that is not reduced to a simple
translation that people acts in a neoliberal world to the subjective space, there is a difference
between subjectivity and the neoliberal model, even if that subjectivity is, as we argued in
the previous section, part of what reproduces the model. This is a subjectivity that can’t be
understood outside of a neoliberal world, and at the same time is not simply a subjectivity
that yields to neoliberal practice.
A direct reading (a subjectivity that operates in a neoliberal world is a neoliberal
subjectivity) could obscure that the effort commandment is not a commandment of success;
or that the positive worth invested on merit weakens the link between the judgment of higher
standard of life and a good evaluation of society; or the fact that in the naturalization of the
world, those practices are read not from a neoliberal point of view (this is not a world of free
exchanges but a world based on constant abuse of the strong); or finally, that the behaviours
that underpin neoliberal reproduction are linked to its ideological rejection.
Regarding neoliberalism, Chileans were not panglossians, thinking that they lived in the
best of all possible worlds. As the homonym protagonist of Voltaire’s Candide, facing the
the world, and rejecting its lack of goodness, they concluded that ‘but we must go and work
in the garden’. This withdrawal didn’t change the world, but it didnt accept that world
6. Post-scriptum.
The first versions of this paper were written before the Chilean protests that started in
October of 2019. Those riots show the limits of the stabilization process described above,
that uses rejection of the model as a source of compliance. After all, Voltaire’s Candide was
published in 1.759 and thirty years later those who were recommended to tend the garden
went to make a revolution.
It is not clear how much the forms of subjectivity described changed with the protests, or
to be precise how permanent could be those changes. It is probable that the perception of
higher standard of life have lost appeal, but if this will remain after the protests is not clear
yet. We can advance the idea that naturalization is probably the dimension that will
experiment a permanent change, but it is not more than a working hypothesis.
This paper argues a ‘cunning of neoliberalism’: A model that for decades not only lived
with its rejection, but that achieved its continuity using that rejection. The critics of the
model should not forget its abilities for co-optation of criticism and its flexibility. After all,
capitalism, of which neoliberalism is only a specific form (Welsh 2019: 4-5), has shown a
large structural flexibility, and it has survived, again and again, the prophets of its impending
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In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. government paid the economics department at the University of Chicago, known for its advocacy of free markets and monetarism, to train Chilean graduate students. These students became known as the “Chicago Boys,” who implemented the first and most famous neoliberal experiment in Chile after 1973. Peruvian, Mexican, and other Latin American economics students followed a similar path and advocated a turn to neoliberal policies in their own countries. The Chicago Boys narrative has become an origin story for global neoliberalism. However, the focus on this narrative has obscured other transnational networks whose ideas possess certain superficial, but misleading, similarities with neoliberalism. I examine Chilean and Peruvian engagements with Yugoslavia's unique form of socialism, its worker self-management socialism, which was part of a worldwide discussion of anti-authoritarian socialism. I first introduce the Yugoslav socialist model that inspired those in Chile and Peru. I then examine socialist discussions in Chile and Peru that called for decentralized, democratic socialism and looked to Yugoslavia for advice. I conclude by examining the 1990s postponement of socialism in the name of a very narrow democracy and realization of neoliberalism. The Chicago Boys story assumes the easy global victory of neoliberalism and erases what was at stake in the 1988–1994 period: radically democratic socialism on a global scale. For text:
Revista de Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales, n° 9, enero-junio 2017: 149-165
¿Existe el llamado "malestar chileno"? ¿Ha habido en Chile, sobre todo a partir de 2011, una confluencia real de hechos que justifique que buena parte de los líderes políticos y de opinión, la sociedad en general y hasta observadores internacionales, sostengan que la gente está pidiendo un cambio radical en la manera de organizar el país? La respuesta a esas preguntas es el centro de este libro. Mientras, por un lado, la población parece satisfecha con los índices de desarrollo alcanzados y optimista sobre el futuro, por otra parte se ha instalado la idea de una crisis estructural, supuestamente provocada por el agotamiento de dos "modelos": el económico y el político. Según Oppliger y Guzmán, un pilar clave de ese análisis ha sido la pobre respuesta del mundo político oficialista y opositor (aunque también de otros actores sociales e institucionales) a los desafíos de la actualidad reciente, en especial las protestas de 2011 y comienzos de 2012. A través del examen de datos, percepciones y tendencias –y de una mirada a la experiencia histórica de Chile– los autores argumentan que, en lo esencial, quienes suscriben esa tesis equivocan el diagnóstico y prescriben remedios probadamente ineficaces, cuando no perjudiciales. El pretendido malestar social, afirman Oppliger y Guzmán, es una lectura ideológicamente sesgada de la realidad chilena. El peligro de aceptarla como única interpretación posible es que el país no entienda cuáles son sus verdaderos problemas ni, por ende, cuáles son las soluciones que necesita.