In the larger public debate, it is often suggested that neoliberalism has been swept aside by an upsurge of what are commonly referred to as right-wing populist movements, parties, and figures but are, in fact, authoritarian ones. It is the more or less explicit assumption of this narrative—namely, that there is a conflictual and dichotomous relationship between neoliberalism and authoritarianism—which is the focal point of the critical inquiry contained in this paper, thus building on recent scholarly accounts, which also challenge this assumption. The argument proceeds in two broad steps, prefaced by a theoretical-historical conceptualization of neoliberalism. First, an admittedly cursory survey of authoritarian parties and movements is conducted to show that there is ample reference to typical neoliberal ideas and arguments in their party platforms or concrete reform proposals. Secondly, the issue is approached from the converse perspective in order to ascertain the extent to which there are authoritarian potentialities in neoliberal thought. Here, calls for a strong state by some neoliberal thinkers are discussed as well as the link between some of them and the military dictatorship in Chile. Finally, the paper argues that the neoliberal view of politics is—possibly inadvertently but still systematically—drawn toward authoritarian politics and the respective actors because neoliberal thinkers largely lack any alternative option to account for the possibility of neoliberal reform. Neoliberalism and authoritarianism are not intrinsically tied to each other, but even less are they inherently opposed to one another; an amalgam of “authoritarian neoliberalism” thus seems far from impossible and may very well become the dominant shape of neoliberalism to come.
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Research Article| February 20 2020
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Thomas Biebricher; Neoliberalism and Authoritarianism. Global Perspectives 11 May 2020; 1 (1): 11872. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/001c.11872
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