No Is Not Enough Is Not Enough
No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough claims to be a “toolkit” for resisting the destructive forces of capitalism in the era of Trump and Brexit. In just under three hundred pages she builds “a common agenda, and with it a winning progressive coalition... grounded in an ethic of deep social inclusion and planetary care.” (20). In the first half she details Trump and his inner circle as a cabal of predatory crony-capitalists seeking to expand their wealth and power in the wake of great upheavals, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. In the second half she attempts to build a progressive agenda which is positive, in the sense of making things better, rather than negative, in the sense of only criticising the flaws and failings of the system.
Klein draws on a wide range of events from the last few decades, analysing them with ideas from her previous books, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine. This is her take on Donald Trump: he won the election because he is immune from scandal because his personal brand is synonymous with success. He is capitalising on his shock victory by ramming through an array of pro-capitalist, pro-corporate changes. These policies are so unpopular with the ordinary person they could only ever slip by when the public is stunned into incoherence by socio-economic upheaval. By capitalising on these disasters and upheavals, right-wing conservatives maintain power at the expense of the people on the bottom.
I just don’t buy it. The first problem with Klein’s analysis is that she is beyond uncharitable to her opponents. She conflates every right-wing movement into the same malevolent, power-hungry force, imposing its self-interested realpolitik on the happy go-lucky masses. The varied contexts of Trump, Le Pen, Modi, Duterte, or Erdogan, don’t matter. Any form of non-progressive thought is just a slippery slope towards being a fascist. This leads to the belittling conclusion that anyone supporting these beliefs is either a fool or only acting in duplicitous self-interest; nobody actually likes capitalism.
Klein’s preferred method is to throw vague and loaded pejoratives at everything, like “shock capitalism” and “neoliberalism”. Her definition of the latter begins: “Neoliberalism is shorthand for an economic project that vilifies the public sphere.” (80). Later, she says “I often think that neoliberalism is what lovelessness looks like as a policy.” (99). And opposing them is, of course, Klein’s rainbow coalition, which is about “how to replace an economy built on destruction with an economy built on love.” (241) Neoliberalism - insofar as it is an actual thing, and not a slur - is a set of monetarist policies developed in response to the threat of stagflation in developed economies in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They may be good policies. They may be bad policies. Klein never actually talks about them, probably because she doesn’t understand them.
There’s simply too much exaggeration, ad hominem, and oversimplification. Neoliberal racist corporate fascist shock capitalism exacerbates inequality and accelerates environmental collapse, both of which are the cause of literally every social problem under the sun, including drug dependence, high suicide rates, road rage, and computer and phone addiction. (237). By means of juxtaposition, Trump is described as an exhortation of fascist powers “threatening to take power around the world” (17). When he made comments about blood coming out of Megyn Kelly’s “whatever”, this is interpreted as obviously meaning that women are not fit for public life, rather than Trump simply behaving like a child (85). At one point, she says that “becoming more ethnically diverse” is “part of progress towards equality” (89). It is hard to imagine why these two phenomena would be intrinsically linked, and no explanation is given.
Despite the less than two percentage points separating Trump and Clinton in the popular vote, Klein suggests that the only reason Trump won is because of “the result of an electoral college system designed to protect the power of slave owners” (16). This is simply ignoring why the “deplorables” voted the way they did. What’s most ironic is that in the Founding Fathers’ advocacy for the electoral college, it was imagined precisely as a counterbalance to Trumpian demagogues:
“The process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of the President of the United States.”
“Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” - sound familiar? It would be interesting to examine why this system doesn’t work (if indeed it doesn’t work), and whether it’s the conditions for democracy that have changed or it’s the method itself that is bad. Point being, there is so much more to it than what you’re getting from Naomi Klein. One could credibly argue that the electoral college system is ineffective or bad, but you’d have to read another book for that.
The idea of “shock politics” and “shock capitalism” is cast so widely that it loses any explanatory power. If shock politics is the idea that a neoliberal cabal is manufacturing world crises so they can advance their own interests, then at least in this book, Naomi Klein has not justified that, and it’s a conspiracy theory. If, on the other hand, the point is just that great political change is only possible during times of great upheaval, then the idea is either putting the cart before the horse or it’s a tautology - and it’s hardly exclusive to the right. See the French and Bolshevik revolutions for obvious left-wing examples. No Is Not Enough would also be an example, since it is urging progressives to upset the status quo by capitalising on the aftermath of Trump.
This isn’t the only time Klein’s analysis collapses when turned on itself. She describes neoliberalism as “an extreme form of capitalism” (79), involving deregulated markets and privatised assets, and claims the United States is “the most capitalist country on the planet” (124). Any measurement of economic freedom,which is characterised by exactly those things, will tell you that that’s not true. Countries that are more “capitalistic” (in this sense) than the United States include Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Klein’s own Canada. The United States ranks alongside countries such as Denmark and Germany, whose wind farms - owned by a mixture of small private business and workers co-operatives - are mentioned with glowing acclaim (244-5). On these definitions, it’s also hard to see how Trump is the ultimate expression of neoliberalism, given his love of tariffs and disdain for free trade deals like the TPP (now the CPTPP). Klein even endorses the abolition of such trade deals (269), which puts her closer to Trump than to the WTO technocrats she is actually criticising.
No Is Not Enough won’t make you a progressive. It is written for the sort of person who already believes everything Klein has to say. So since the book is written by a progressive, for progressives, how does it fare in contributing to the progressive milieu? Klein attempts to unite every cause under the sun, be it gender issues, abortion, racism, indigenous rights, inequality, or the environment. Bouncing between so many issues makes for a jarring read, to the point of trivialising them. For instance, Klein positions religion and family as important causes among her progressive ranks, but it is hard to see how. She seems to have a faint idea that religion is a thing that is important to some people, but her only discussion of it is to rebuke Christianity for its tactic historical acceptance of slavery, white supremacy, and sexual morality. Her call for a national childcare program (270) weakens the family by making it redundant and absorbing all of its functions.
While the opening chapter sets the horror of a Trump presidency, in chapter two we are suddenly snorkelling in Australia. Klein’s writing is at its best when she makes the case for environmentalism, noting the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef is “a form of theft, of violence... A clean, vibrant planet is the birthright of all living beings.” (66). But her solution is disappointing techno-optimism: non-specific “green technology”, a black-box solution only made possible by the same irresponsible economic forces it is trying to cure. En route to 100% sustainable energy sources, Klein recommends a progressive carbon tax (270), which makes pollution fair game, so long as market forces get a nudge in the right direction, and the state gets a cut from the big companies.
The majority of these prescriptions appear at the end of the book, with little-to-no explanation or justification. In addition to a carbon tax, we have a universal basic income, a financial transaction tax, cuts to military spending, the removal of corporate money from political campaigns, a national childcare program, and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. How these are to be implemented and what effect they’ll have is left as an exercise for the reader, but apparently members of Canada’s New Democratic Party have affirmed this manifesto.
Finally, a few points about style. The book is written informally, interleaving journalist-style reporting and historical claims with personal anecdotes. It presumes a high level of knowledge about what were then current affairs, with Klein often referring to things in passing and not actually elaborating about them. One example was Trump’s promise that “Black people... will be locked up if they fight for their rights” (89-90). I’m afraid I simply don’t know what she is referring to. As a thousand controversies slip from memory, it means the book begins to feel very dated. It also lacks both citations and an index, severely limiting its persuasive power.
Klein claimed to have written this book in a matter of months, and it shows. One paragraph appears to be broken up across subsections (90-1). Other sentences sound like unrefined valley-girl-talk, as when Klein lambasts “a culture that treats both people and planet like so much garbage” (98), or when her powerful story about the dying Great Barrier Reef is truncated with weaselly call-to-arms: “This may sound alarmist, but...” (69). Rather than an articulate application of progressive ideas to current events, the book feels like more of an attempt to cash-in on the Trump phenomenon. This is frustrating, as Klein can be genuinely fascinating with her first-hand accounts of Katrina and Standing Rock. But she doesn’t really do anything with these accounts.
It’s clear that No Is Not Enough is not enough, whether as a manifesto or a persuasive case for progressive politics. If you enter the book not believing in what Klein says, you will leave offended and disgusted. If you enter the book believing in what Klein says, you will leave having stroked your ego. Either way, you are hardly the better for it.
Federalist Papers No. 68.
Such as the Wall Street Journal or the Fraser Institute.
At the time of writing in 2018, these relative ratings were true of both measures. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal ranked Denmark at #18 and the United States at #17. As of 2021, Denmark is #10 and the United States is #20. In the Fraser Institute’s 2017 rankings (published in 2019), the United States had shot up to #5, putting it ahead of Australia, Canada, Denmark, and Germany.