some weeks ago i read in an Austrian newspaper the comment of Peter Moeschl, a former surgeon and now cultural critic, on the state of democracy in supposedly advanced societies. in that comment he made reference to the etymological origin of the term “idiot” i was not aware of. i was so intrigued by the greek meaning that i googled the term “idiotism” and i found the book by Neal Curtis titled “idiotism – capitalism and the privatisation of life“.
“idios”, so Curtis, meant “the personal realm, that which is private, and one’s own” (12). in his view, it bears also the stamp of “being enclosed”. he says: “the creation of the private through the enclosure of public or commonly held resources has historically been the primary means by which property has been secured for private use” (12). “idiotes”, then, denoted a person that is concerned with his personal realm only, with his own, and not with, say, the res publica and the fate of other human beings.
Curtis convincingly demonstrates that neoliberalism, not only in ideology but also as a distinct social order, epitomises the principle of the “idiotes”. hence “idiotism” as signifyer of our current society.
i would go even further. “idiotism” as a feature of society that functions via self-interested, self-concerned individuals goes, in fact, back to antiquity and earlier social formations in which domination appeared – the institutionalised instrumentalisation of humans for one’s own interests, which goes hand in hand with the enclosure of the commons and the denial of free access to the latter. global financial capitalism is just carrying idiotism to extremes.