He Is Not a (neo)Liberal


In this paper, I show that Illich’s core arguments and his analytical diagnosis of industrial society does not conform to either the liberal or the neoliberal position. Only a careless reader can mistake Illich for an intellectual companion of Milton Friedman, and his writings as supporting the program to dismantle education in Brazil which Bolsonaro has started since 2019. It is precisely this confusion that accounts for the rediscovery of Illich, after 50 years of ostracism, in the form of Deschooling Society, published by Vozes in 2018 as Sociedade sem Escolas (Society without schools). I argue it is the inability of both the liberal and neoliberal thought collective to escape their mental categories that make them blind to Illich’s convivial dimension, a radically distinct third way. In presenting this argument I suggest that Illich can be read as if he were a prophet. Todd Hartch, in The Prophet of Cuernavaca, has explicitly recommended such a reading (HARTCH, 2014). I do understand Illich as a prophet of modernity, but on a register quite different from that adopted by Hartch. The prophetic vision of Illich is not because he could see into the future. Instead, I understand Illich as a prophet in the sense of one who reveals what he sees in the present. I believe that the prophet makes visible what is not widely acknowledged, exposes what is papered over by the shiny surfaces of the present and is therefore generally neglected. Illich did not predict the coronavirus. What Illich saw was the underlying shape of contemporary society now exposed by the coronavirus.

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