System-preserving power is not repressive, but seductive
In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labor entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.
The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.
Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.
The subjugated subject is not even aware of its subjugation
Any disciplinary power that expends effort to force human beings into a straitjacket of commandments and prohibitions proves inefficient. It is significantly more efficient to ensure that people subordinate themselves to domination on their own. The efficacy defining the system today stems from the fact that, instead of operating through prohibition and privation, it aims to please and fulfill. Instead of making people compliant, it endeavors to make them dependent. This logic of neoliberal efficiency also holds for surveillance. In the 1980s, to cite one example, there were vehement protests against the German national census. Even schoolchildren took to the streets.
From today’s perspective, the information requested therein— profession, education levels, and distance from the workplace — seem almost laughable. At the time, people believed that they were facing the state as an instance of domination wresting data from citizens against their will. That time is long past. Today, people expose themselves willingly. Precisely this sense of freedom is what makes protest impossible. In contrast to the days of the census, hardly anyone protests against surveillance. Free self-disclosure and self-exposure follow the same logic of efficiency as free self-exploitation. What is there to protest against? Oneself?