“The invention of neoliberalism”, by Serge Audier: neoliberals, hated and misunderstood


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“The Invention of Neoliberalism. History, concepts, controversies, volume 1. Faced with the crisis of liberalism. From the Lippmann conference at the Société du Mont-Pélerin, by Serge Audier, Le Bord de l’eau, “Documents”, 512 p., €25.

Thirty years ago, during the implosion of the communist bloc, the question of political freedom seemed settled once and for all. Former Marxists, such as the historian François Furet (1927-1997), judged that it was finally thinkable only within the framework of the capitalist mode of production. With Faced with the crisis of liberalism, the philosopher Serge Audier, collaborator of the “World of Books” and lecturer at Sorbonne University, is not content to revoke this simplistic or resigned reading of contemporary history. It gives us the opportunity to temper the opposite interpretations, which paint the“neoliberal offensive” under almost infernal features.

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Because if thinking of economic freedom and that of the citizen as a single piece may have seemed for a time to complete the idea that the free market constitutes a law of nature, this evidence has been called into question, from the beginning of the third millennium. , by the multiplication of financial crises. In the eyes of its ever-increasing opponents, the same market was quick to turn into a foil, especially during the referendums on European treaties, recalls Serge Audier. The oft-cited connivance between the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and neoliberal economists in Chicago (particularly Milton Friedman, 1912-2006) seemed to support the theory that neoliberalism accommodates the worst authoritarian regimes and is even actually inspired by the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt.

In the ranks of critics

Resulting from an habilitation thesis, in two volumes (this is the first to appear, covering the period from the 1930s until the post-war period), this work aims to be the systematic deconstruction of these two “great stories”. Certainly, Serge Audier ranks in the ranks of market critics. But he refuses to confuse his reality with the caricatures of it delivered by thurifers or adversaries. He thus revisits what is considered to be the founding event of neoliberalism: the meeting in 1938 in Paris of the Lippmann colloquium (around the book by journalist and economist Walter Lippmann, 1889-1974, The Free CityMedici Library, 1938).

For the philosopher, to believe, sometimes bordering on conspiracy, that this gathering of intellectuals, then the Mont-Pélerin Society (Vevey, Switzerland), founded in 1947, only prepared the apogee of neoliberalism at the end of the 20th century.e century and at the beginning of the 21ste, obliterates the diversity and complexity of neoliberal doctrine and the routes followed by its proponents. Studying documents neglected by researchers, and rehabilitating certain forgotten French actors of neoliberalism (such as the philosopher Louis Rougier, 1889-1982, or the economist Maurice Allais, 1911-2010), Serge Audier strives to restore the polychromy of this constellation which, faced with the onslaught of “isms” (fascism, corporatism, Nazism or communism) in the 1920s and 1930s, first sought to defend the threatened parliamentary democracies. Without rehabilitating them or proving them right, he invites us to take these intellectuals, like freedom, seriously.

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