Most critics of ‘neoliberalism’ are bullshitters in the Harry Frankfurt sense; ie not so much liars as people who just don’t care whether what they say is correct or not.
This was a reference to Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s essay ‘On Bullshit’, which became a surprise bestseller a couple of years ago when Princeton University Press put it between hardcovers.
The term ‘bullshit’ is, in most contexts, mildly vulgar, but I think Frankfurt was right to use it because it picks up a shade of meaning lacking in some of the similar words we could use to describe the statements of people saying or writing untrue things. The Wikipedia entry gives its origins as:
“Bull”, meaning nonsense, dates from the 17th century (Concise Oxford Dictionary), whereas the term “bullshit” is popularly considered to have been first used in 1915, in American slang, and to have come into popular usage only during World War II. The word “bull” itself may have derived from the Old French boul meaning “fraud, deceit” (Oxford English Dictionary). The term “bullshit” is a near synonym.
The ‘bull’ is more important than the ‘shit’, because ‘nonsense’ is the idea being picked up in using the word ‘bull’ and carried across to ‘bullshit’. When we say someone is ‘bullshitting’ we might mean that they are telling lies, but it is more likely that we are saying that they are talking nonsense, which doesn’t require them to be consciously telling untruths.
I said what I did in the comment David Rubie picked up on because after twenty years or so of reading critiques of ‘economic rationalism’ or ‘neoliberalism’ – as well as meeting and talking with some of the people I was critiquing – I concluded that while much of what I read was error-ridden, few of the authors seemed like dishonest people. It was more a case of their cause being so self-evidently (to them) right that ‘facts’ must flow from it, rather than existing independently. The result is ‘bullshitting’.
While I was partly exempting Pearse from this – he has gone to the trouble of finding citations, which few critics do – in a sense he has fallen into the same underlying problem. Because there is a strong narrative about the (malign) influence of think-tanks, he seems to have concluded that the facts must support the existing narrative. Unable to find much from the CIS, but also unable to accept that the narrative was wrong, he offers us quotations from people connected to the CIS instead. Like a Frankfurtian bullshitter, he is going through the motions (Homer – beat you to it) of offering evidence, without caring whether it truly supports his argument or not.