Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Neoliberalism by Stealth:Exposing the Flaw of Neoliberal Understandings of 'Freedom'

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Neoliberalism by Stealth:Exposing the Flaw of Neoliberal Understandings of 'Freedom'

Article excerpt


Prior to his appointment, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (2013) aligned himself with neoliberalism by congratulating the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) for 'defending Western civilisation' and for recommending small government, free-market, and privatisation policy:

The IPA, I want to say, has been freedom's discerning friend. It has supported capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience. Not for the IPA, a single-minded dogmatism or opposition to all restraint; rather a sophisticated appreciation that freedom requires a social context ... So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big 'yes' to many of the 75 specific policies you urged upon me (Abbott 2013).

To its advocates, neoliberal politics is a set of ideals which are friendly towards individuals, protective of freedom and civilising for society. Alternately, a critique of neoliberalism might evaluate its foundational ideals drawn from F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman and Anthony Fisher for their logical inconsistency with ideas about 'freedom', 'civilised' society, and actual 'tyranny'. Thus in this paper the logic of contemporary neoliberalism is examined against the logic of an international neoliberal project, that began in the 1940s in reaction to perceived 'socialist' threats from 'big government' 'welfare states' that tyrannically abuse freedom.

The prime minister's rhetoric regarding small government is so well aligned with neoliberal concerns about tyranny and civilisation (Harvey 2005; Thompson and Coghlan 2014) as to justify a thorough examination of the social, economic and political policy-reasoning that he applauds. It will be suggested that organisations such as the IPA promote neoliberal agendas and market-expansionist policy recommendations which undermine the Australian welfare state, based upon flawed ideas about both the 'free' nature of the market and the 'tyranny' of the modern state. This paper considers how liberty or 'freedom from oppression' is central to classical liberalism but is confused within neoliberal ideology, appearing as unrestrained market-power.

Firstly, this paper begins with a brief discussion of the development of neoliberalism to highlight its failures regarding 'freedom from oppression'. The discussion that follows considers how early neoliberal ideas about freedom centre upon circular logic that freedom opposes tyranny, the state is tyrannical, and therefore state activities must be constrained to protect freedom. By assuming the modern state as tyrannical, and by presenting freedom as an absence of state intervention, neoliberalism falsely equates taxation, regulation and government interventionism with tyranny. The discussion strives to evaluate such logic through first considering the contemporary neoliberal movement.

Freedom Versus the State

The Atlas network is an international coordinating body for more than 400 free market think tanks that advocate neoclassical (neoliberal) perspectives of liberalism as the preferred ideology of Western modernity. The ideology emerged after World War II when Anthony Fisher's commitment to liberal 'freedom', evidenced in his membership of the Society of Individuals, drove him to promote classical liberal values. According to Frost (2008), this period had witnessed a growing public disrespect for classical liberal principles alongside acceptance of democratic socialist ideas. Fisher sought the intellectual assistance of the neoclassical economist Hayek, to counter the 'dominant intellectuals' who 'had tilted the political debate in favour of growing government intervention' (Frost 2008: 10). For Fisher and Hayek, the market price mechanism was superior to both planned resource allocation and centrally planned welfare states which undermined individual self-reliance and liberty (Frost 2008: 12). The core ideas of this neoliberal movement were that individual freedom is fundamental to progressive civilisations, while centralised government planning constrains individual activities on to a 'Road to Serfdom', tyranny and servitude (Hayek 1944; Atlas 2010). …

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