Review- Biebricher, “The Political Theory of Neoliberalism”

Thomas Biebricher, “The Political Theory of Neoliberalism” (2018) – German scholar Thomas Biebricher lays out the “neoliberal problematic” in this work of intellectual history and political theory, both abstract and applied. In the first two thirds of the book, he discusses six neoliberal thinkers, three German (Röpke, Eucken, and Rüstow), two American (Friedman and Buchanan) and one Anglo-Austrian (Hayek). He positions them in various configurations depending on their ideas on the state, on democracy, on science, etc., rather than discussing each in turn. It produces the impression of a sort of quadrille (sextille?) as they line up differently on the various issues. There’s a general trend line, though, between the German ordoliberals and the Anglo-American libertarian types. All of them placed a lot of chips on constitutional design in order to encase the market order away from political influence. But where the ordoliberals trusted centralizing institutions to do this, the libertarians (my distinction- Biebricher doesn’t make it) were more skeptical and believed in distributing power to bodies like states. The ordoliberals were worried (like Hannah Arendt!) about “mass man,” and wanted to find ways to de-massify by emphasizing institutions like churches and associations, where the Anglo-Americans didn’t go in as much for that kind of thing. In general, it leaves with the impression that the ordoliberals are understudied in English. I also wonder what this would have looked like if Von Mises and Rothbard were added to the mix, but Biebricher and other recent scholars of neoliberalism like Quinn Slobodian and Melinda. Cooper emphasize neoliberal approaches to government so strongly one wonders if those closer to anarcho-capitalism would count.

I don’t want to go into all the different ways the varying thinkers contrast each other, both because it’s a lot and because I read it a while ago (i.e. pre-pandemic), but there’s a lot of food for thought there. Biebricher then tries to apply what he’s laid out in the first two thirds to the crisis of the Eurozone, which to tell the truth I had a hard time following because fiscal politics just makes my eyes glaze over. Not a very responsible position, I know, but not a voluntary one either. All in all, a worthy addition to the literature on neoliberalism. ****’

Review- Biebricher, “The Political Theory of Neoliberalism”

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