Room K108, Minerva (Siltavuorenpenger 5 A, 00170 Helsinki)
Timo Miettinen (University of Helsinki): European Neoliberalism – Intellectual and Philosophical Foundations
Neoliberalism is one of the most ambiguous notions in today’s social sciences. It is used to denote a variety positions and dogmas from extreme libertarianism to Third Way politics. According to many, neoliberalism seems to be everywhere; yet there are very few who call themselves neoliberal.
This has not always been the case. For a brief moment from the 1930s to the 1950s, there were a number of scholars and intellectuals who called themselves neoliberal. At the heart of this movement – especially its European variant – was a group of German scholars called ordoliberals who were actually the first to use the concept of neoliberalism. This group emerged as a response to the crisis of liberalism in the interwar period and it wanted to safeguard liberal principles against the threats of socialism and fascism. It did this by emphasizing the role of state and a strong legal framework for a functioning market economy.
In the state-of-the-art, ordoliberalism is most often framed as a response to historical and political events such as the German hyperinflation and the Weimar crisis. The story has been either institutional or economic-historical and focused on the second wave of ordoliberals who were also the politically most active ones.
This presentation entertains a different narrative. It argues that ordoliberalism was not simply a reaction to politics but a result of a fundamental intellectual and cultural transformation. Its primary context was not national but philosophical, and it emerged from a long quest for a new rational foundation for liberal theory. Unlike classical liberalism that defined itself as moral-philosophical or ideological project, neoliberalism redefined liberalism as a science that produces its own moral philosophy. And it was exactly this scientification of liberalism that contained the seeds for the radical separation of economics and politics by means of legal instruments.