This article draws from Slavoj Žižek’s approach to ideology to theorize neoliberalism as an ideological formation. I focus on neoliberalism’s fantasy of free trade and on its displacement of symbolic identities by imaginary ones. The fantasy of free trade organizes enjoyment through the promise that everyone will win, uses losses to reconfirm the necessity of strengthening the system so that everyone will win, and perpetually displaces the thieves of enjoyment throughout the system as warnings, exceptions, and contingencies. In addition to relying on the fantasy of free trade, neoliberal ideology also functions through the production of imaginary rather than symbolic identities. These identities serve not as means of internalized discipline but of external control. Thus I argue that a key difference between Keynesianism (the economic theory and practice of the welfare state) and neoliberalism is the production of subject positions available for redeployment. The disciplined worker and consumer-citizen of the social welfare state are reformatted under neoliberal ideology as the shopaholic and incorrigible criminal.

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