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Liberalism, neoliberalism, illiberalism, and civil rights in the United States

Libéralisme, néolibéralisme, illibéralisme et droits civils aux États Unis

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Published on Friday, May 03, 2024

Abstract

The March 2025 issue of the ORDA journal will be devoted to the history and analysis of Liberalism, neoliberalim, illiberalism and civil rights in the United States. This issue of L’Ordinaire des Amériques seeks to contextualize and exemplify what are often theoretical abstractions about liberalism, neo-liberalism, and illiberalism in the United States.

Announcement

ORDA n° 234 (March 2025): Liberalism, neoliberalism, illiberalism, and civil rights in the United States

Argument

Among the political philosophies of interest to L’Ordinaire des Amériques, liberalism is arguably among the most intriguing, one that is almost systematically constructed in an economic sense that borders on the oxymoronic in the case of the United States. While liberalism underpins the notions of democracy and human rights, it is as an economic model that it became the dominant doctrine in the United States at the end of the 18th century. In this case, we hastily refer to “economic” or “classical” liberalism. This is the model that most Europeans think of when they hear the word liberalism, with absolute confidence in the free market as the invisible regulator of the economy. In the wake of John Locke’s 17th-century theory of property and, in the 20th century, of Friedrich Hayek’s notion that the necessary functions of government as similar to those of a factory’s night watchman, and of Robert Nozick’s libertarianism and minarchism, classical liberalism no longer gave rise to much divergence in Anglo-Saxon societies, other than around the degree of state intervention and the degree of application of Keynesian ideas. “Classical” or “economic” liberalism is often seen as the precursor, if not the prototype, of what is now termed “neo-liberalism”, with a mostly negative connotation.

In the U.S., the term liberalism incidentally adds to its own ambivalence, since to be liberal there means to be “of the left”, with all kinds of possible variants ranging from “center left”, to “moderate left”, to “progressivism”, even to “the left of the left”. This type of liberalism is a priori that of the Democratic Party, one that sometimes manages to contain within a single group personalities as ideologically different as Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, or Joe Manchin. In addition to the well-identified bipartisan polarization phenomenon, there happens to be less documented intra-partisan polarization phenomena, for example between moderate Republicans (RINOs, Republicans in name only) and very conservative Republicans, or between moderate Democrats (DINOs, Democrats in name only) and the white, conservative Democratic coalition of the Blue Dogs in the House of Representatives. These fault lines are most often made even more fragile by a growing divide between the grassroots and the establishment of each of the two major parties.

The liberalism of the American left implies the need for social legislation to protect the most disadvantaged and extend their rights and freedoms. Is this or is this not a promise of the U.S. Constitution which, in its Preamble, designates justice (“Establish Justice”) and universal social welfare (“promote the general Welfare”) as two of its very foundations? Antoine Coppolani remarks that the philosophical foundations of liberalism are those that presided over the birth of the American nation, and that Patrick Garry, in Liberalism and American Identity, defines liberalism as a “broad, inclusive concept” based on two principles: individual liberty, which inspired the Declaration of Independence, and the democratic organization of society, which inspired the Constitution. Coppolani posits that these two axes firmly anchor the roots of liberalism in the past of the American nation. In the words of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a “liberal” historian in the American sense of the term, “American liberalism, in the broad sense, is an expression of the total national experience.” In 1956, Louis Hartz’s The Liberal Tradition in America sought to demonstrate the existence of a liberal consensus around which the entire history of the United States had been built. The key argument supporting Hartz’s thesis was that the absence of a feudal system in American history had always protected the country from the notions of reaction and social revolution.

The “national experience” evoked by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was transformed by the outburst of the 1929 crisis, by the Great Depression and, above all, by the New Deal, which saw “classical” liberalism cease to be the dominant doctrine in the United States. “Progressive” liberals and “modern” conservatives rallied around supporting capitalist economic development, defending the interests of multinational corporations and banks, and promoting an active role for the federal government in the economy. From then on, the difference between liberals and conservatives was no more than the acceptable degree of state intervention, or necessary reform, to advance dominant capitalist interests while maintaining social welfare. In a characteristic rhetorical inversion, Martin Luther King Jr. was to expose what he saw as the limits of this “modernism” on the occasion of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963: “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

This inverted prism is also present at the core of neoliberalism, which, contrary to a number of common beliefs about laissez-faire, cannot be equated with anarcho-capitalism insofar as neoliberalism does not really refer to a set of analyses or doctrines inspired by economic liberalism. In fact, neoliberalism is constructivist in that it establishes competition as the paradigm of economic activity, accepts all forms of social and cultural inequality produced, and intervenes little or not at all to compensate for the social distortions imposed by competition. As Michel Foucault put it in his 1978 Lectures at the Collège de France, “[n]eoliberalism should not therefore be identified with laissez-faire, but rather with permanent vigilance, activity, and intervention.” Foucault’s work on biopolitics and biopower concerns not political spaces or territories but the lives of individuals themselves, populations considered incapable of understanding the nature of their own problems and to pursue their own democratic objectives. In that sense, Foucault’s work draws the line between classical liberalism and neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism advocates not simply the independence of the market, but the extension of the economic model to all spheres of social interaction. It has its origins in Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism, while distancing itself from its his socialistic tendencies, notably in the formula “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” and unfolds in the theories of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, as well as in the ordoliberalism of the Freiburg school. Many neoliberals, Hayek himself included, claimed that neoliberalism was born to counter authoritarianism and to protect civil rights. But how were they to achieve their political goals? How could majorities be expected to support the reforms they propounded? Neoliberals had to admit that some form of authoritarianism would be necessary to achieve their political goals. Citizens were seen as incapable of understanding the nature of their own problems and to pursue their own democratic goals without the prism of the market. In other words, whereas classical economic thought understood the market as a device for distributing resources, neoliberals turned it into an epistemic phenomenon, the greatest communication and information tool known to mankind. It was therefore appropriate to adapt to its demands.More recently, the notion of “illiberal” democracy emerged to give a name to the disenchantment that had followed the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the hope that the whole planet would gradually rally to the regime of liberal democracy. The concept was put forward by Fareed Zakaria in a 1997 article entitled “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy;” the argument was that when countries fare better in terms of political freedoms than civil liberties, they can legitimately be referred to as “illiberal” democracies. While it was difficult to conceive of democracy without political liberalism, Zakaria argued that both had often existed without each other. Twenty years on, Zakaria’s prediction partly came true. Above all, illiberal democracy spread to Europe, to countries (notably Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) that Zakaria had clearly classed as liberal democracies. Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, explicitly lays claim to the concept of illiberalism, and even claims to be its inventor. The French neologism “démocrature” has also been used in recent years as a quasi-synonym for regimes as diverse as Putin’s Russia, Chavez’s Venezuela, Erdogan’s Turkey and Morales’s Bolivia.

This issue of L’Ordinaire des Amériques seeks to contextualize and exemplify what are often theoretical abstractions about liberalism, neo-liberalism, and illiberalism in the United States. Proposals that give substance to the breadth of liberalism’s theoretical apparatus are welcome. Here are just a few examples:

  • Can Trumpism and right-wing populisms be said to mark the end of neoliberalism? According to this thesis, there is hardly such a thing as an American conservatism; the expression itself would be a kind of oxymoron. Conversely, is there such a thing as authoritarian neoliberalism, as revealed by the events on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, for example, which could be described as “illiberal”?
  • What to make of the unanimous support of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Gary Becker and James M. Buchanan for the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet?From its origins in the 1940s to the post-Second World War period, the involvement of the Chicago Boys in Chile, the rise of Amnesty International, and the anti-third-worldism and anti-statism of human rights NGOs in the 1980s called into question the overlap(s) between human rights and neoliberalism.
  • Particular interest could be given to reflections on civil rights in the United States, and, more broadly, on the concept of the welfare state and on the ideological v. electoralist ridgeline traversed by the Democratic Party, particularly, but not only, since the presidency of Bill Clinton, who in 1996 uttered this unlikely phrase for a Democratic president: “the era of big government is over”?

Submission guidelines

Articles, written in English, Spanish, French or Portuguese, must not exceed 11,000 words (including notes, tables, graphs, etc.). They must comply with the journal’s presentation standards: https://orda.revues.org/1763.

Submissions should be sent to the issue coordinator: Nicolas Gachon (nicolas.gachon@univ-montp3.fr)

by September 1st, 2024

Schedule

  • Initial submission deadline: September 1st, 2024
  • Double-blind peer review: October 2024
  • Corrections (when requested): November 2024
  • Second submission deadline (with corrections): December 1st, 2024
  • Publication : March 2025

Editorial committee

  • Alexandra Angeliaume - Membre du laboratoire Géographie de l’Environnement (GEODE), unité mixte CNRS (INEE)/Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Françoise Coste - Membre du laboratoire Cultures Anglo-Saxonnes (EA 801), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Franck Gaudichaud - Membre du laboratoire FRAMESPA (France, Amériques, Espagne - Sociétés, Pouvoirs, Acteurs - UMR 5136), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Marion Gautreau - Membre du laboratoire FRAMESPA (France, Amériques, Espagne - Sociétés, Pouvoirs, Acteurs - UMR 5136), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Emeline Jouve, Membre du laboratoire Cultures Anglo-Saxonnes (EA 801) - Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J) et du groupe de recherche Textes, Contextes, Frontières, INU Champollion
  • Léna Loza - Membre du laboratoire Cultures Anglo-Saxonnes (EA 801), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Rodrigo Nabuco - Membre du Centre Interdisciplinaire pour les Recherches sur les Langues Et la Pensée (CIRLEP EA 4299), Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne (URCA)
  • Marie-Agnès Palaisi - Membre du Centre d’Études Ibériques et Ibéro-Américaines (CEIIBA), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Angelina Peralva - Membre du Centre d’études des rationalités et des savoirs (composante de l’UMR 5193, LISST), - Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J), et du laboratoire CADIS-EHESS
  • Sonia V. Rose - Membre du laboratoire FRAMESPA (France, Amériques, Espagne - Sociétés, Pouvoirs, Acteurs - UMR 5136), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Lorédane Saint-Blancat - IPEAT, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Hugues Samyn - Directeur du département du numérique, Service commun de documentation (SCD), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Hilary Sander - Membre du laboratoire Cultures Anglo-Saxonnes (EA 801), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Michèle Soriano - Membre de l’Institut de Recherche Intersites Etudes Culturelles (IRIEC-EA 740), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Modesta Suarez - Membre du laboratoire Membre du laboratoire FRAMESPA (France, Amériques, Espagne - Sociétés, Pouvoirs, Acteurs - UMR 5136), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)
  • Alexis Yannopoulos - Directeur adjoint du Centre d’études ibériques et ibéro-américaines, CEIIBA (EA7412), Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (UT2J)

Date(s)

  • Sunday, September 01, 2024

Keywords

  • libéralisme, néolibéralisme, illibéralisme, droit civil, États‑Unis

Contact(s)

  • Nicolas GACHON
    courriel : nicolas [dot] gachon [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Nicolas GACHON
    courriel : nicolas [dot] gachon [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Liberalism, neoliberalism, illiberalism, and civil rights in the United States », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, May 03, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/10ssf

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