Neoliberalism, ambiguous-word

Fernando R. Genovés is doctor en Filosofía, ensayista, analista especializado en las áreas de la ética y la filosofía política

The prefix “neo”, applied to notions regarding political theory, is generally notoriously ambiguous, causing misunderstandings and inaccuracies, generating many theoretical and practical confusions; intellectual and interpretative misunderstandings that are not always accounted as innocent or accidental. This happens, particularly, with the term “neoliberalism”. Also with others of close conceptual family, such as “neoconservative”, often simplified with the shortening “neocon”, or also “néoréac”, a “rebutted label” according to the French newspaper Libération (January 2016). While these last two expressions have been somewhat overlooked in terms of use and validity, “neoliberalism” is still raging today.

“Neo,” as you may know, means “new.” By using the category “neoliberalism”, does it perhaps intend to indicate the presence of a “new liberalism” that would presumably deny the “classic” or the “authentic”? Or perhaps, it just suggests another “face” of liberalism (John Gray)? Alleging the defense of free market and private property, the value of individualism as opposed to collectivism, the reduction of public expenditure and the minimal intervention of the State in society are principles proclaimed several centuries ago and identified as the main foundations of “Classic liberalism”. I am referring to the concept in the continental European model, not to the Anglo-Saxon (liberal, liberalism), commonly used as a synonym for “progressive” or “left-wing”, a misleading conceptual difference that adds further entanglement to the linguistic field of knowledge, regarding both concepts. On the other hand, it might just be a way of making things clear. To sum up, what is behind this “neo”?

Note that the political left has long fought for the use of the term “liberal”. Spanish leader Indalecio Prieto, in the 1920s, made this statement famous and even programmatic: “Soy socialista a fuer de liberal”. Genuine liberalism, therefore, would be the heritage of socialism and no one else. Whoever, from outside this framework, now pretends to use it, is not a genuine follower of the tradition itself (shocking irony), but an upstart extremism (flashing paradox), that is, a “neo”. The pillars of the usurper's discourse is very simple, in order to penetrate easily into the most varied social and intellectual segments of society, and could be summarized in the following statement: freedom yes, but not debauchery, that is, “wild neoliberalism”; liberties yes, but only when he receives the ‘nihil obstat’ from the established ideological and moral authority (socialist, of course); liberalism in the egalitarian and progressive sense, “social liberalism”, yes, but not the neo...

In actual fact, it seems to be enough to add “social” to any term in order to be incorporated, easily, to the unique socializing thought. The prefix (“neo”) would thus fulfill a ‘mercy’ function and the adjective (“social”), the legitimating one.

However, the use (and abuse) of certain concepts, such as “neoliberalism”, does not point to denotation as much as to connotation. Instead of providing information, the aim is to create in the recipient a negative reaction associated with the fact of mentioning such a concept. It is, in general, the use of notions that are neither neutral nor informative, but rather camouflaged slogans, “cursed words”, nominal requirements capable of producing feelings of rejection and repulsion: “words-trap”, in short.

It illustrates that those labeled by the epithet “neoliberalism” do not feel alluded to or identified by such a term. If someone on the streets suddenly exclaims, “Hey, you idiot! “Which passerby responds to tat allegation? ‘You’ll be judged by the use of such a term’.

This issue highlights a very curious phenomenon. Or, maybe two:

On the one hand, the paradoxical, though rather suspicious loudspeakers of “neoliberalism” direct the nominal flurry to characters of the widest variety: whether Augusto Pinochet or Bill Clinton; Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair; Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron or Mariano Rajoy, to quote only known but distant rulers and political leaders in the ideological context and, in quite a few cases, completely alien to “classic liberalism”. Institutions such as (International Monetary Fund, World Bank, business associations, etc.) that not only do not promote liberal actions, but quite the opposite.

On the other hand, the biased and partial use of the concept mentioned above is also evidenced by the fact of over-dimensioning (paradoxically) the importance and breadth of action of the accused, so that the alarm sounds louder and the sentence seems to be greater. A ferocious and legendary “neoliberalism” would thus be behind the political action of most existing governments, guilty of economic crises, poverty of nations, urban and rural miseries, corruption and all sorts of catastrophes (socio-economic and even natural!). A similar scheme” The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,a false anti-Semitic pamphlet-trap and attributed to the Jews themselves, was advertised more than a century ago.

Globalization, with all its consequences and ramifications, as well as the collapse of “real socialism” in Eastern Europe, which revealed the four winds the La Grande Parade. Essai sur la survie de l'utopie socialiste, written by (Jean-François Revel), have encouraged, among other stimuli, the activation of the scarecrow “neoliberalism”, which, even with its crude exposition, traps in the net to unknowable and badly informed, with the collaboration of the “neo-liberalism” movement.

Translation by David Alonso Galera

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