Neoliberalism and negative dialectics



There is a gap between the criticism of neoliberalism accumulated by the world left and the criticism of the Brazilian left to the liberal tradition

The new coronavirus pandemic has revealed to the world the unsustainability, injustice and cruelty of neoliberal capitalism. The devastation of nature, public and state withdrawal of responsibility for the well-being of peoples, the devaluation of democratic institutionality and interstate regulatory institutions, the promotion of a new business subjectivity and its subjection to the extreme competitive logic, the attack on reason science, the reinforcement of heteronormative and white values ​​that seek to violate and resubordinate women and recolonize the black, indigenous population, xenophobic immigrant nationalism, all these elements characterize the movement of neoliberal power and the ruins it leaves behind.

The current consequences of neoliberalism – to which must be added the amplification of thousands of deaths caused by the pandemic due to the destruction of health and social protection networks by far-right neo-fascist governments – can be better understood today, however, as expressions not of hegemony , but of the crisis of neoliberal hegemony. This absolutely does not mean that we are facing an imminent end of neoliberalism.

Incidentally, neoliberalism effectively produces conditions for its reproduction and moments of crisis have historically been used by it as a lever for its strengthening, for its radicalization and transmutation. But the diagnosis of hegemony crisis resorts to the understanding formulated by Antonio Gramsci that these are moments in which the old order is dying and a new one has not yet been born. In these moments, according to Gramsci, morbid tendencies prevail. In the absence of politically articulated and consistent civilizational alternatives, it is possible and likely that these trends will deepen.

The challenge of the socialist and democratic left is, therefore, to promote these alternatives globally, which cannot be done without a lucid, profound and critical analysis of neoliberalism. In order not to repeat the fatalistic and hasty conclusions voiced during the course of the 2008 financial crisis, it is essential to overcome the economicist readings that see neoliberalism from its economic policies or only from its most immediate class interests. Neoliberalism has had a hegemonic vocation since its origin, mobilizing principles and political wills that support a refoundation of the liberal State. At the core of the neoliberal political project is the construction of new social relations and new state institutions based on the mercantile order of capitalism and on a conservative morality.

To contribute to this critical knowledge of neoliberalism on the part of the Brazilian left, we list and briefly comment on some works that approach it fundamentally from this political perspective. Although since 2008 the profusion of research on neoliberalism has been enormous, posing new analytical and interpretative challenges, we selected some works prior to that period in view of the importance of their contribution, often unknown in the country. Many other works of value were left out of this list, but we justify the choice of making available, at first, those that contribute to a panoramic and historical view, to a political understanding and to the understanding of the relationship with the (destruction of) democracy.

It is necessary to return to Marx's method: an emancipation program is dependent on a diagnosis of the totality of capitalism's contradictions. Like Hegel, it is necessary to do the work of the concept. Like Adorno, it is necessary to develop the negative and critical sense of the dialectic. Like Gramsci, without a critical and immanent vision of the totality, it is not possible to advance in the construction of a hegemonic program.

The concept of neoliberalism needs to find a political foundation, capable of making its various intertwined dimensions converge. It will be necessary to understand its organic roots, with the process of financialization and globalization, the protoformation of global corporate corporate powers and their networks of institutions. Above all, it is necessary to historicize it, to understand its rise from its origins to its power to saturate contemporaneity. It will be necessary to understand its relations with moral conservatism and even with the new forms of fascism. Better understand their differences in ideas and what is common and different with classical liberalism. Explain its new neocolonial dynamics in the context of the great systemic crisis of US hegemony in the face of the rise of China. Understand its connections with the dissolution of public communicative spheres and the process of creating new common senses. And finally, understand its uniqueness in the Brazilian context, in its various stages of development.

There is a clear gap between the critical build-up of the Brazilian left to neoliberalism and the build-up built by the intelligence – academics and militants – of the international left. There is certainly a deficit of this public critique of neoliberalism in Brazil, which explains, to some extent, its power of political legitimacy in the country.

This article is the first in a series that seeks to contribute to the rigor, breadth and public force of this critique in Brazil.

The SAGE handbook of neoliberalism

Edited by Damien Cahill, Melinda Cooper, Martijn Konigs and David Primrose, this Handbook it is the latest and most extensive compilation of analyzes on the formation of neoliberalism, as well as its political, economic and cultural implications. Bringing together 48 chapters, the editors' aim is to present the diversity and map the state of the art of academic studies on neoliberalism, which has undergone vigorous growth in recent years. Due to its characteristics, it is a great possibility to get to know the theme in a panoramic way and it can be read in any order based on specific interests.

The road from Mont-Pelerin: the making of neoliberal thought collective

This work by Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plewhe is a milestone in historiographical research on neoliberalism. With its publication, knowledge about the intellectual roots, birth records and inaugural debates of what the authors called “neoliberal collective thought” increased enormously. Throughout the book, the authors follow the threads of the intellectual and political development of neoliberalism from its nodal point: the Mont-Pelerin Society, founded in 1947 with Friedrich Hayek playing a leading role. The book constitutes a fundamental contribution to the knowledge of articulations, strategies and differences between the different neoliberal currents.

The political theory of neoliberalism

Published at the end of 2018, this book by Thomas Biebricher is so far the most complete systematization of neoliberal political thought. For the author, neoliberal thought is plural, but unified by a common problem: the preconditions for the functioning of the market. Organically linked to it would be a genuinely political concern, which leads many of these neoliberal intellectuals to formulate various ideas about the State, democracy, science and politics. It is centrally to the critical scrutiny of these ideas that the book is dedicated, addressing authors from various “schools” such as: Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Alexander Rüstow, Wilhelm Röpke, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, among others.

The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left

Stuart Hall republishes articles published throughout the 1970s and 1980s that analyzed the crisis of the left and the political rise of Thatcherism. A thought-provoking question for Hall, and one that remains up-to-date, was how Thatcherism won the support of the popular and working classes even as it advanced a radical program of withdrawal of rights and repression. For him, the emergence of Thatcherism (at that time, Hall still did not use the notion of neoliberalism as he started to do years later) meant a profound reconfiguration of social life, a “regressive modernization”, which could not be understood only as a reaction of the elites. economical. For Hall, Thatcherism effectively expressed the construction of a new common sense of the time, a hegemonic project that forged a new articulation between free market discourses and organic conservative themes of tradition, family and nation, respectability, patriarchy and order – which points to again the actuality of his interpretation.

The birth of biopolitics

Foucault's analysis of neoliberalism is still an unavoidable reference today. Published in French only in 2004 and translated into English and Portuguese in 2008, The birth of biopolitics brings together exhibitions by Foucault in the classrooms of the France secondary school in the years 1978-1979. In these exhibitions, Foucault is concerned with identifying, describing and interpreting the emergence of neoliberal power as a way of “conducting conduct”, as a political rationality that differs from classical liberalism, antagonizes Keynesianism, and which must be seen as an art. to govern in the name of a certain conception of freedom. Foucault's pioneering spirit must also be recognized for the precocious and insightful analysis he makes of two distinct, but not antagonistic, expressions of neoliberalism: the American current of the Chicago School, especially from its theories of human capital; and the German current of ordoliberalism, with its theories on the social market economy.

Resurgent capital: roots of the neoliberal revolution

The book by Gerard Duménil and Dominique Levy constitutes an important reference for critical interpretations of neoliberal political economy. For the authors, the “neoliberal revolution” represents the political and economic transformations suffered by capitalism from the 1970s and 1980s onwards. Duménil and Lévy argue that neoliberalism expresses the political will of capitalist property classes to restore their profits and their class power . But the advance of the “neoliberal revolution” can only be understood in view of the reorganization of the ways of regulating work and finance on a global scale, which brings back an unadorned capitalism, without the constraints and commitments imposed since the post-Second World War, manifesting its violent characteristics.

Neoliberalism: history and implications

At the time of publication of this book in 2005, the term “neoliberalism” was uncommon in Anglo-American academia. David Harvey was one of the first to take the anti-capitalist struggles of the 1990s in Latin America to a close and theorize more broadly about the history and political nature of neoliberalism. Harvey sees neoliberalism as a political project to restore the conditions of capital accumulation and, more successfully, to restore the class power of new economic elites. A key aspect that Harvey adds to this economic-political approach is the emphasis he gives to the dispute of ideas, especially the concept of freedom, in this political project of making neoliberalism dominant.

The new reason of the world: essay on neoliberal society

Originally published in 2009, this book by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval is based on a group of studies on Marx and on contemporary capitalism promoted in previous years by the authors and its final formulation followed the events of the 2008 crisis. With skepticism, Dardot and Laval disagreed with the diagnosis of the terminal crisis of neoliberalism that was widely propagated in academic and left-wing circles. For them, the misdiagnosis resulted from the strength of an economistic understanding of neoliberalism. Alternatively, then, the authors proposed to understand it politically, that is, to identify the nature of the political and social project that it represents and promotes since the interwar period. Thus, the book is divided into two parts: one dedicated to the founding moments and debates, of intellectual refoundation of the liberal political language; and another to historically explore how neoliberalism was constituted as a global normative system, a new reason for the world, which transforms capitalism and extends the logic of capital to all social relations and spheres of life.

In the ruins of neoliberalism: the rise of anti-democratic politics in the West

This book by Wendy Brown deserves to be read carefully for its very fruitful theorization on the relationship between neoliberalism and the contemporary emergence of anti-democratic, authoritarian, neo-fascist political forms. In this book, Brown argues that, by claiming a civilizing superiority both for the capitalist mercantile order and for the heteronormative and white morality of the Judeo-Christian tradition, neoliberalism contributed to the dismantling of the previous liberal social order that sought to integrate principles of liberty and equality and to the demonization of their forms of democratic politics. Brown identifies that the neoliberal, mercantile and proprietary vision of freedom served to form new excluding political cultures, legitimizing violations of rights, and subjectivities marked by frustration and resentment, both instrumentalized by new extreme right political forces that they ascended politically promising to reassure white, male and Christian hegemony in capitalist societies.

Constituent processes: paths to democratic rupture

This book by Gerardo Pisarello makes a necessary contribution to understanding the relationship between neoliberalism and democracy. Working from a political and non-formalist perspective, Pisarello conceives the neoliberal movement as a deconstituting process with a de-democratizing character. The rise of neoliberalism marks an elitist, authoritarian and continuous process of destruction of constitutionalized rights in the post-World War II period, which intensifies after the 2008 crisis. For Pisarello, the deconstituting process engendered by neoliberalism empties the democratic content of constitutional regimes in in favor of the interest of large transnational corporations in removing private property from the reach of popular sovereignty. In this book, Pisarello, who is also a political activist linked to the Barcelona and Comú, is not limited to this analysis and also proposes that to “activate the emergency brakes of a runaway deconstitutional train” a new radically democratic and transformative constitutionalism is needed.

Sexual neoliberalism. The myth of free choice

This beautiful book by the well-known Spanish philosopher and feminist focuses her critique on the powerful patriarchal sex industry and the way it disguises emancipatory and modern forms of domination through the commodification of women. Under the myth of “free election” and “free consent”, in patriarchal and unequal tutelary societies, neoliberalism serves to update values, modes of relationship and prostitution that are presented as an expression of women's freedom.

*Estevao Cruz is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at UFMG.

* Juarez Guimaraes Professor of Political Science at UFMG.


CAHIL, Damien Cahill et. there The SAGE Handbook of Neoliberalism. London, Sage Publications, 2018.

MIROWSKI, Philip; PLEWHE, Dieter. The road from Mont-Pelerin: the making of neoliberal thought collective🇧🇷 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

BIEBRICHER, Thomas (2018). The Political Theory of Neoliberalism.

HALL, Stuart (1990). The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left.London: Verso.

FOUCAULT, Michel (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics🇧🇷 São Paulo: Martins Fontes.

DUMENIL, Gerard; LEVY, Dominique (2004). Capital Resurgent: Roots of the Neoliberal Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

HARVEY, David (2008). Neoliberalism: history and implications. São Paulo: Loyola Editions.

DARDOT, Pierre; LAVAL, Christian (2016). The new reason of the world: essay on neoliberal society. Sao Paulo: Boitempo.

BROWN, Wendy (2019). In the ruins of neoliberalism: the rise of anti-democratic politics in the West. São Paulo: Editora Filosófica Politeia.

PISARELLO, Geraldo (2014). Constituent Processes: Paths towards the democratic rupture. Madrid: Editorial Trotta.

MIGUEL, Ana de (2015). Sexual neoliberalism. The myth of free choice. Madrid, 2017, Ediciones Cátedra.

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