The Great Recoil: Politics after Populism and Pandemic
Published on 8th February 2023
Now that January has passed and spring is upon us, readers who spent the New Year avoiding anything that could exacerbate their seasonal affective disorder, might once again be tempted by some non-fiction.
In this insightful, thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful book, Italian sociologist and political theorist Paulo Gerbaudo argues that the devastating recession which followed the 2008 financial crash and the more recent Coronavirus pandemic have led to The Great Recoil. In his characterization, this recoil involved society retreating from its previously held political and economic convictions and assumptions. Chief amongst these was neoliberalism.
While Gerbaudo seeks to explore “what comes after neoliberalism”, he does not pronounce its ultimate death. Rather, he lays out how the 2010s saw three clearly delineated political movements emerge — namely populist movements in the form of a nationalist right and a socialist left looking to displace a neoliberal centre which sought to hold on to power and influence. Interestingly, while both right and left attack the neoliberal centre, they do so from different perspectives. The right attacks the cultural elements of neoliberalism while largely accepting economic aspects such as a loosening of labour laws and lower taxes. The left, on the other hand, is in agreement with the neoliberal embrace of diversity and multiculturalism but strongly critical of its slavishness to the primacy of the free market and free trade.
With the sudden shock of the pandemic there came a clarity which, until that point, had been lacking. The inability to travel combined with a slowing of global supply chains (and consequent struggles to acquire PPE) brought home to many people the necessity for a strong, well-resourced state. This “neo-statism” is what Gerbaudo identifies as being the potential dominant replacement for neoliberalism. Moreover, he regards this neo-statism as having three key elements, namely sovereignty, control and protection. While at first glance these may sound like inherently conservative concepts, Gerbaudo brilliantly outlines how each concept appeals to both the right and the left for radically different reasons and for completely different ends.
I began by saying that The Great Recoil is a hopeful book. Gerbaudo acknowledges that much of his diagnosis of the present moment is pessimistic but he is ultimately convinced that the current impasse we find ourselves in presents us with an opportunity to both imagine and begin planning a better future. His view is that we must “channel the social fear and political anxiety of the Great Recoil towards the reconstruction of a safer and more egalitarian future”. So, for those who are receptive to these ideas there is plenty to be hopeful about. What’s more, there may not be a better time than the earliest days of spring to engage with and embrace this message.
Submitted by Peadar in Cabra Library.