Reposted from Richard Lyon by annieli
Political labels can be very difficult to define in a manner that is clear and consistent. For most of the 20th C US politics was cast in the frame of conservatives vs liberals. However, it seems to me that the realities are becoming more complicated when you make an effort to really analyze what is happening. Neoliberalism has become an increasingly dominant position in political and economic policy in both the US and Europe. I have been doing a good bit of reading in an effort to develop a better understanding of how things have reached the present state of affairs. I am going to share some of that on Daily Kos in a digested form.
The US political system and those of the European democracies are based on the general principles of what is referred to as classical liberalism. This is a governmental tradition that emerged out of the philosophy of the enlightenment of the 18th C, though the term liberalism didn't actually come into usage until the beginning of the 19th C. It was conceived in a broad effort to move away from the powers of a hierarchical society embodied in such institutions as an absolute monarchy and a dominant state church. The founding documents of the USA, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution embody this tradition. In the 19th C this political philosophy began to be coupled with the economic philosophy of free markets and laissez faire government policies. The Liberal Party in the UK represented the interests of the emerging class of industrial entrepreneurs. They were frequently in opposition to the interest of the landed aristocracy who were based in the Conservative Party. The debate over free trade was the defining issue.
From the middle of the 19th C various people began to raise concerns about the negative impacts that the industrial revolution was creating for the lives of ordinary workers. Marx and Engles presented a particularly forceful challenge. There were other less revolutionary approaches to socialism such as the Fabian Socialists in the UK. Toward the end of the century some of the Liberals who were concerned to protect capitalism from socialists assaults began to devise some modifications to bare knuckle laissez faire economics that attempted to uplift the less fortunate without any serious shifts in the power structure. In the UK they were referred to as social liberals. A similar movement was occurring at the same time in the US where they were referred to as progressives.
The first half of the 20th C was a series of horrendous global upheavals that included two world wars and the great depression. The economic and political consequences were profound. The Bolshevik regime came to power in Russia resulting in the establishment of the USSR. Fascism took hold in Italy and Germany. Both communism and fascism where authoritarian systems of government which ran counter to such principles of classical liberalism as representative democracy and the rule of law. During WW II liberal democracy almost entirely disappeared from continental Europe. There was a movement in the UK among refugee intellectuals to articulate the need to restore the values of classical liberalism. Two of the leading figures were Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek. Popper's book The Open Society and Its Enemies, published in 1945 is the best articulation of the political values that they were concerned. Hayek was an economist who founded what became known as the Austrian school of economics. This group began referring to themselves as neoliberals to reflect their objectives of restoring liberal political values. While there was always an economic component to the project, prior to the end of the 1940s political concerns were more of a primary focus. That is where the term neoliberal originated.
In 1947 the Mont Pelerin Society was founded under the leadership of Hayek. The organization is still in active existence and anybody who as been elected to its membership can be considered part of the neoliberal elite. By the time of the founding of the MPS the movement was already taking on the free market capitalist orientation that has always been one of its defining characteristics.
The group also stated that it is "difficult to imagine a society in which freedom may be effectively preserved" without the "diffused power and initiative" associated with "private property and the competitive market", and found it desirable inter alia to study the following matters:
"The analysis and exploration of the nature of the present crisis so as to bring home to others its essential moral and economic origins.
The redefinition of the functions of the state so as to distinguish more clearly between the totalitarian and the liberal order.
Methods of re-establishing the rule of law and of assuring its development in such manner that individuals and groups are not in a position to encroach upon the freedom of others and private rights are not allowed to become a basis of predatory power.
The possibility of establishing minimum standards by means not inimical to initiative and functioning of the market.
Methods of combating the misuse of history for the furtherance of creeds hostile to liberty.
The problem of the creation of an international order conducive to the safeguarding of peace and liberty and permitting the establishment of harmonious international economic relations."
The group "seeks to establish no meticulous and hampering orthodoxy", "conduct propaganda" or align with some party. It aims to facilitate "the exchange of views – to contribute to the preservation and improvement of the free society.
One of the founding members of MPS was Henry Simons who trained the US economist Milton Friedman. Friedman became a member of the society and served as its president from 1970-1972. It is not particularly difficult to trace the vast network of influence developed by this movement to links to the MPS. It membership has been drawn from people in positions of influence and academic prestige. They in term have moved out to organize a network of foundations and think tanks and take dominant positions in key departments at leading universities. Two universities that have been strongly represented in this tradition are the University of Chicago and the University of Virginia.
In the US the terms liberal and liberalism have historically been used to denote what can be described as modern or social liberalism.. While it ascribes to the issues of personal freedom that are derived from classical liberalism, its positions on economic and social policy have been associated with the legacy of the new deal and Keynesian economics. This leads to considerable confusion when the term neoliberal is used to refer to policies that have much in common with the conservative tradition.
This is a good place to stop for one diary. I plan to write more on the subject.