Neoliberalism: prelude to a kiss


Over the 1990s and 2000s the term “neoliberalism” has gained rapid popular and academic acceptance.  Indeed, neoliberalism is by now a very well established object of inquiry as an economic theory, public policy paradigm and more broadly speaking as an ideology.  Yet for all the studies and references to neoliberalism, like its mainstream twin globalization, it remains a rather nebulous term.  David Harvey a prominent Marxist geographer has popularly (2005: Ch. 1) described the origins of neoliberalism as originating in a shadowy meeting-hall of conservative malcontents waiting in the wings to stem the tide of rising state interventionism after the WWII.  Bob Jessop (2002) employs the term neoliberalism in at least four senses. Now I do not mean to suggest that Harvey is pushing a simplistic conspiratorial view of neoliberalism nor do I mean to suggest that Jessop is being inconsistent or intellectually incoherent.   What I do mean to suggest, however, is that neoliberalism is nebulous precisely because capitalism—most notably in the wake of the collapse of its mirrored doppelganger: socialism—has become increasingly ubiquitous as a mode of production.  And to the extent that capitalism and its contemporary ideological and philosophical precipitates have become hegemonic, neoliberalism has become ubiquitous as an ideology, an economic theory and as a strategy of accumulation.   That is to say, that “neoliberalism” as critical instance of its mirror twin “globalization” has risen in prominence both in a popular and in an academic sense precisely because they touch on significant aspects of global capitalist social reality.  Neoliberalism is thus understood as a complex political economic phenomena which has broad and variegated spatial and temporal scales.  In short, the term neoliberalism attempts to capture, in a phrase, the essence of our times and like all words, at some level, they fail us miserably; but at other levels they are the key to our liberation.


5 thoughts on “Neoliberalism: prelude to a kiss

  1. Spoken like a true academic. No worries Travis, I often had quoted Harvey when using a spatial analysis to explain neoliberal phenomena.

  2. I do not mind quoting Harvey in that regard. But I was trying to get at something rather different. The second one tries to define or explain the origins of neoliberalism in a sentence or a paragraph one is acutely aware of how hard it is to describe complex phenomena let alone operationalize such concepts.

    Take Harveys introduction to his popular book “Neoliberalism”. There the origins of neoliberalism as and ideology is told as the story of the Mount Pelerin Society. No whiff of structuralism or functionalism but yet the strong odor of a conspiracy theory. Then again they are a pretty conspiratorial group.

    The attempted explanation of Big phenomena or “world historic” phenomena seem to always involve a massive degree of uncomfortable reductionism. Take proponents of globalization they often describe Globalization as the consequence of innovations in transportation and communication technology. Such an explanation (a)naturalizes its object; and (b), thereby leads to a technological determinism: that is, a teleological explanation.

  3. I go with Doug Henwood on this one: for all the window-dressing, it just looks like more capitalism (especially the pre-WWI variety that Keynes wrote about).

  4. “I go with Doug Henwood on this one: for all the window-dressing, it just looks like more capitalism (especially the pre-WWI variety that Keynes wrote about).”

    Re-read your comment and then tell me you do not see the funny in that?

  5. Yeah; I was thinking of Keynes’ mentioning of the little old lady with stock in some other part of the world and what Doug mentioned one time about how there seemed to be a reverting to pre-WWI ways of thinking. That’s just how it came out.

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