Critical theories of neoliberalism and their significance for left politics

Abstract

Few have treated the critical literature on neoliberalism as an object of study in its own right. Those that have question the literature’s partisanship, theoretical coherence, and explanatory power, denouncing it as a thinly veiled form of leftist politics. Rather than leave the matter there, I pick up the thread and ask the following: if the critical theorization of neoliberalism is a leftist pursuit, what does it do for the left? How does the critique of neoliberalism affect the left’s self-understanding, coherence, direction, and future? In this article, I argue that the critique of neoliberalism (a) defines today’s political left via the negation of its neoliberal Other, (b) is the ideological–discursive means by which the left articulates its diverse constituencies, and (c) builds theoretical resources necessary for the left to go beyond marriages of convenience and achieve unity. Regarding the latter, the literature augurs a left battling for the subjectivity of popular actors, with solidarity, social freedom, and democracy as both the weapons and the stakes. I conclude the article by reflecting on what often goes missing in the literature – namely, Kapitalkritik and socialism – and the significance of these omissions for the left in light of the arguments above.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the journal editors for their efforts and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable criticisms on the initial submission.

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Lepori, M. Critical theories of neoliberalism and their significance for left politics. Contemp Polit Theory 19, 453–474 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-019-00361-9

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Keywords

  • neoliberalism
  • political left
  • left politics
  • leftist politics
  • leftism