Felix Stalder on Sun, 17 Apr 2016 23:40:24 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Guardian > Monbiot > Neoliberalism -- the ideology at

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On 2016-04-17 13:40, Florian Cramer wrote:
> ...only that it is plainly wrong. At this meeting, the Colloque
> Walter Lippmann, Alexander Rüstow defined neoliberalism _against_
> the radical free market liberalism of von Mises and Hayek as a
> liberalism that combined the free market with state intervention.
> It is the school of liberalism that later became known as
> "ordoliberalism" and pretty much shaped post-WWII Western European
> economic politics.
> Michel Foucault's discussion of "neoliberalism" in his late
> lectures refers to this original definition of neoliberalism, too.
> Florian

Here's an excerpt from a recent interview with Thomas Bierbichler,
Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at the Goethe Universität
in Frankfurt. In the introduction to the interview, the economist and
historian Philip Mirowski (who you might know from Adam Curtis's
films) is quoted as subsuming ordo-liberalism under the “neoliberal
thought collective.” So perhaps we should not make too much of the
difference between the two schools of thought, one very much German in
the 1950s, the other broadly Anglo-saxon since the 1970s.

Why it's worth quoting at length, though, is that this "thought
collective" addressed really profound challenges and found ways of
reformulating a political project that seemed all but dead when they
started their work. So, while a clever idea is never enough to change
history, without one, it's all the much harder.

It's worth reading the entire interview.



WC: Before we discuss the relevance of ordoliberalism in Europe today,
perhaps you could begin by recalling the historical context of its
emergence. Under what conditions did the ordoliberal doctrine come
into being?

TB: My understanding is that neoliberalism in all its variants is a
response to a multifaceted crisis – the crisis of what is now referred
to in the Anglo–American context as “classical liberalism.” I think
that very early on, when the neoliberal movement was in its formative
stages, there was a broad agreement between the narrative produced by
the ordoliberals and that of other early neoliberals. According to
this narrative, sometime in the second half of the nineteenth century
liberalism went astray: its doctrine was either impoverished – reduced
to slogans like laisser-faire – or distorted – leading liberals to
make an alliance with progressive or even social-democratic forces.
Early neoliberals saw both the impoverishment and the distortion of
the liberal doctrine as major problems – especially as they persisted
in the first part of the twentieth century. Thus, neoliberalism
actually arose as a response to the crisis of liberalism, and
especially to the alliance between liberals and progressives.

Other factors were involved in the crisis of liberalism: first, there
was WWI, when a bourgeois liberal world collapsed after thriving for
more or less a hundred years – the era that Karl Polanyi describes in
The Great Transformation. After WWI there were of course all kinds of
economic problems, including the Great Depression, which constituted a
major blow to liberal ideas about markets and put their harbingers on
the defensive. At the same time, Keynesianism was on the rise, partly
in response to the Great Depression, while, in the United States,
there was the New Deal – a defining step in the development of the
American welfare state.

Still in the 1920s and 30s, very illiberal forces were also on the
rise, from Soviet Communism to fascism and National Socialism; so,
altogether, the “crisis of liberalism” points to a very complex crisis
syndrome. All of these factors put together – grave internal factors
within liberalism itself as well as important external factors – led
to the formulation of a neo-liberal project, which was not supposed to
be a restoration of classical liberalism, but actually a modernization
of the liberal creed and in that sense really and properly a

For the German ordoliberals especially, I think that all of these
factors played an important role. In their particular narrative, what
is of great importance is the failure of classical liberalism to
theorize what a properly functioning market order should be; they thus
took on that theoretical task as their main project. They associated
the failure of both the discourse and the practices of “old”
liberalism with the Weimar Republic, a context which was at once
revealing and traumatic for them, not least with regard to what they
considered to be the deficiencies of pluralist democracies. I think
that, politically speaking – for their political thought – the
collapse of the Weimar Republic was the most important event.

- -- 

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