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‘Neoliberal’ variants have dominated Europe’s history but they have paved the way for a new conception of human progress

Glendinning, S. (2015) ‘Neoliberal’ variants have dominated Europe’s history but they have paved the way for a new conception of human progress, LSE EUROPP, 16 March.


The term ‘neoliberalism’ is frequently used in contemporary political discussions, but while polemically effective, conceptually it lacks rigour. Simon Glendinning writes on the relationship between the concept and classical liberalism. He argues that by defining neoliberalism in terms of this relationship it becomes apparent that there can be more than one form of neoliberalism, and that we now live in an era in which a distinctively economic variation holds the field. Tracing European history in terms of a sequence of different neoliberal hegemonies, he considers the possibility of a development beyond the present neoliberal condition.

In a lecture delivered in Vienna in 1935, the German philosopher Edmund Husserl expressed an anxiety concerning the contemporary predicament of European humanity in the times of science. Despite, and indeed in view of, the undeniable progress in the natural sciences, Europeans were becoming increasingly resistant to a sense of history in terms of which “historical occurrence”, especially Europe’s own, might be regarded as something other than it was then appearing – something other than an “unending concatentation of illusory progress”. Before saying something further about this predicament, I want first to pick up on the major assumption in his discussion: namely, that overcoming this predicament requires recovering “a teleological sense” of the history of “man”.

Although I do not really think it is restricted to political liberalism, for reasons that will emerge, I will call the sense of history that Husserl regards as being lost to Europe in the times of science as one belonging to classical liberalism. Such liberalism draws on this sense of history in what can be described as a three step response to the question of human flourishing.


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