There is widespread recognition that neoliberalism’s rhetorical valorization of freedom through markets stands in considerable tension with “actually existing” neoliberalizing processes. Nevertheless, despite how things have turned out in practice, there is still underlying respect for such claims; that is, the market principle is understood to be axiomatic for neoliberals. In contrast, this essay contends that a reexamination of neoliberal thought—here, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman—reveals that neoliberalism has never been about markets in the manner indicated by the rhetoric. Instead, envisioned in canonical neoliberal texts are specific and particular conceptualizations of markets, states, and households, which means that neoliberalism is fundamentally about the remaking of states and households in the name of markets rather than about markets per se. As a result, retaining respect for the rhetoric makes it difficult to acknowledge the beating heart of neoliberalism: the coercive, nondemocratic, and unequal reorganization of societies. In particular, we need to recognize that authoritarian forms of neoliberalism—increasingly visible in the current period—bring societies closer to, not farther from, the project as it was originally articulated. This has significant implications, because the widespread perception that neoliberalism is fundamentally interested in markets is an obstacle to developing more informed understandings, more appropriate critiques, and more effective resistances.
Overcoming the Allure of Neoliberalism’s Market Myth
Ian Bruff is lecturer in European politics at the University of Manchester, UK. He has published widely on capitalist diversity, European capitalisms, neoliberalism, and social theory, most recently in a 2018 special issue of the journal Globalizations titled “Authoritarian Neoliberalism: Philosophies, Practices, Contestations” (coedited with Cemal Burak Tansel), for which he coauthored two essays. He is currently researching the foundations of neo-liberal thought and is the managing editor of the Transforming Capitalism book series published by Rowman and Littlefield International.
Ian Bruff; Overcoming the Allure of Neoliberalism’s Market Myth. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2019; 118 (2): 363–379. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-7381194
Download citation file: