From the battle of ideas to global power



The passage from the intellectual history of neoliberalism to the construction of its world power can be thought of from three vectors

In the third chapter of the first volume of Law, legislation and freedom, Friedrich Hayek quotes Adam Smith: "To really expect that freedom of trade will ever be fully restored in Great Britain is as absurd as to expect that Oceania or Utopia will be established there." And he concludes that, however, 70 years later this came to pass.

This observation, made in the context of a critique of pragmatism, behaviorism and North American Political Science itself, focused on describing facts as they existed, precedes Hayek's defense of a possible utopia of a new order.

But how did neoliberalism move from an original accumulation of ideas, values ​​and programs to the ability to build global political power?

The history of this original intellectual accumulation is, in its general lines, formulated in the collective work edited by Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe and which bears the name of The road from Mont Pèlerin – The formation of neoliberal collective thoughtOf 2009.

In this work, we have access to the long temporality of the formation of neoliberalism (from the end of the 30s or, more systematically, from the 40s of the last century), to its core (the Mont Pèlerin Society, led by Friedrich Hayek) and to its differentiation (Austrian School, German ordoliberalism, Chicago School and School of Public Choice), to its epicenter of expansion (USA) and its national matrices, to the construction of its programs and central agendas, its changes in favor of a relationship with the big capitalists and their leading role in the formation of a new world order.

But it does not intend and does not offer the reader a political history, at least in its general and central dimensions, of the process of neoliberalism's rise to global power. But if intellectual history is certainly a foundation of political history, unless politics are conceived from an idealistic point of view, it is necessary to think how these ideas praxiologically formed a political power so capable of moving the foundations of the dominant capitalist order.

This is certainly a central research problem for Antonio Gramsci in the Prison Notebooks, who is interested in finding the root of the impasse of the Italian lefts defeated by fascism in the very process of formation and development of Marxism in the Second International and, later, in the Communist Party of Italy. Particularly in Caderno 12, written in 1932, “Notes and scattered notes for a group of essays on the history of intellectuals”, Gramsci makes a series of relationships between intellectual development and the founding of States in their national particularities, always inserted in an international and cosmopolitan history.

This relationship between intellectual history and the founding or structural reform of states is far from banal. And it is a blind spot for anyone who thinks of history from the point of view of a strict and dogmatic historical materialism. A historical example: the Russian Revolution of 1917 would be unthinkable without the foundation of Marxism by Marx and Engels, without the formation and development of the parties of the Second International and without the formation of a Russian Marxism from the initial accumulation of a critique narodnik from the second half of the XNUMXth century to the tsarist order. A local example: the entire construction of the national State, directed by Getúlio Vargas, would be unthinkable without the historical accumulation of criticisms made in the early decades of the twentieth century to the First Republic, liberal, oligarchic and anti-national, made from positivist thoughts in its various routes. Was it not, moreover, a great realist revolutionary who stated that “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement”?


Three vectors of historicization

The passage from the intellectual history of neoliberalism to the construction of its world power should be historically thought of from three central vectors.

The first of these is the notion that neoliberalism does not start the accumulation of organized political forces from zero. There was already, in post-war Germany, in England and, mainly, in the USA, an organized political opposition to the so-called social or Keynesian liberalism within the dominant classes themselves and their networks of power. These oppositions lacked, however, in their pastism, in their traditionalism and conservatism, a modern language to replace their values ​​and interests.

The weakest link of Keynesianism and social liberalism would certainly be the US, which has not historically developed a labor or social-democratic party, which has not built strong structuring policies of the Social Welfare State as in most European countries and who had, on the contrary, a very strong mercantile liberal tradition. Thus, what the intellectual formation of neoliberalism allowed was politically a replacement of the reasons of conservative forces, now in a new language formed to dispute the future of Modernity.

It is interesting how Friedrich Hayek and European neoliberal intellectuals complain about North American pragmatism, seeking to move away from a mere representation of the interests of large business corporations and initially even gain a certain autonomy of thought in relation to them in order to think of a general theory of a new liberal state regime.

The second vector of historicization of this passage is the identification of the centrality of the US State for the construction of US political power. Although Margaret Thatcher's experience in England is surrounded by neoliberal symbolism, always remembered, the English State in the post-war period had already lost its global prominence. The post-war North American State, in addition to being the central country of world capitalism, was the great organizer of the new order of world regulation.

Its central role in the international financial system, in the UN, in multilateral agencies, in the WTO, in GATT, in the World Bank, in the IDB, in the renewal of colonial dynamics and in NATO itself and European unification, in addition to its vast and performing network of cultural formation, indicate that the conquest of a new neoliberal State regime in the USA was the dramatic epicenter of the ongoing changes. The double presidential term of the Reagan years seems to have been decisive: when the “New Democrats”, with Bill Clinton at the head, ascended again to the US central government, they were already distanced programmatically and in their value systems (and even in their bases of interests) of the era led by Roosevelt.

The third vector of historicization would be to think about the relationship between neoliberalism and the large multinational corporations and the large financiers, that is, how neoliberalism became organic to the dominant classes in the US and, later, in the international capitalist order. This approximation dates back to the formation of the Chicago School, it was built throughout the 1958s and XNUMXs and seems to have found its first condensing point around XNUMX, when the Mont Pèlerin Society held its first Congress in the USA, already financed by the main American industry and oil businessmen, in addition to Wall Street coverage.

There was already a rapprochement with the business sectors that refused to adhere to the New Deal institutions, including collective bargaining with unions. Certainly, this organic relationship gained a new status in Ronald Reagan's governments and, later, became institutionalized in the following governments, already in a State marked by a new regime of capital accumulation. This institutionalization process of a new neoliberal State regime is at the base of the historical phenomenon that has been called financialization.

*Juarez Guimaraes is a professor of political science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Democracy and Marxism: Criticism of Liberal Reason (Shaman).

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