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Neoliberalism and Democracy: A Foucauldian Perspective on Public Choice Theory, Ordoliberalism, and the Concept of the Public Good

Olssen, Mark (2018) Neoliberalism and Democracy: A Foucauldian Perspective on Public Choice Theory, Ordoliberalism, and the Concept of the Public Good In: The SAGE Handbook of Neoliberalism. SAGE Publications, pp. 384-396. ISBN 9781412961721

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One of the main effects of neoliberal governmentality has been a displacement and privatisation of the domain of the public which has, in turn, contributed to an undermining of the communitycentredness of nation-states and ideals of collective responsibility and democratic participation with regards to public provision. I will argue in this chapter that neoliberalism, as the discourse of global political and economic elites, has resulted in an eclipsing of the space of democratic control by citizens both in civil society within nationstates and specific national institutional sectors, thereby rendering democratic institutions less effective in the face of the powers of the state and global capital. One effect of this is that neoliberal rationality conflicts with and undermines democratic models of good governance (as can be seen in the state, or in specific institutional sectors, such as health or higher education, where the logic of the market trumps and competes with good pedagogical processes or methods and erodes traditional liberal models of professionalism and self-management). In another sense, neoliberal logic fails to respond to the mass of citizens’ democratic preferences (as can be evidenced in 2015/16 by the EU’s insensitivity to the anti-austerity preferences of the majority of Greek people). At the root of these conflicts, I will argue, resides the neoliberal dismantlement and attack upon the public good which was central to the rise of the welfare state era of government. This attack was developed by certain early neoliberals and yet is often neglected in surveys of the topic. In the second part of the chapter I trace how neoliberalism advanced beyond liberalism in seeking to extend market rationality to all areas of life and reconfigure both cultures and subjects as responsible self-managing individuals within an enterprise society based upon norms of competition. Here I utilise insights from the analysis of Foucault (2008) and extend his analysis of the ordoliberals by drawing upon the later works of the German economist Wilhelm Röpke, who characterises neoliberal rationality as a top-down, state supported discourse, one where competition replaces laissez-faire, and which constitutes the context, or foundation, through which democratic will formation should take root. In the final section of the chapter, I explore the implications of the neoliberal vision for democracy during its ascendancy from the 1980s until the present, as well as for the future, where the final outcome is not assured. To date, I argue that neoliberalism has had the effect of redefining and constricting democracy, eroding the real freedom of citizens through enforced austerity programmes, as well as weakening the validity attached to democratic forms of collective politics through both a circumscription of the agenda with which democratic will formation should be concerned, as well as through a ‘hollowing out’ of the public sphere, rendering it subservient to the rules of the market. In this final section of the chapter, I will also introduce some recent empirical illustrations to lend further support to the thesis that neoliberalism conflicts with democracy. This will be demonstrated, first, in relation to the neoliberal appropriation of public education, whereby education is removed as a democratic citizen right integral to the concept of public good, on the basis of which democratic practices and aspirations can take root; and, second, in terms of the impositions of the EU over the Syriza government in Greece during 2014/15, in which the democratic aspirations of a given people against austerity failed to be acknowledged.

Item Type: Book Section
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Department of Sociology
Authors :
Editors :
Cahill, Damien
Cooper, Melinda
Konings, Martijn
Primrose, David
Date : 12 March 2018
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 19 Jul 2018 07:51
Last Modified : 19 Jul 2018 07:51

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