Book Notes: Stephanie Mudge’s Leftism Reinvented: Western Parties from Socialism to Neoliberalism

Stephanie Mudge, a professor of Sociology at UC Davis has analyzed the changes that all mainstream parties in 22 Western countries underwent between the 1970s and 2004 (she also analyzed earlier changes but I’m not that interested in the history of politics).

Mudge discovered that the greatest transformation, irrespective of the country, happened on the left and not on the right. The left – and again, this is in almost two dozen countries, and the evidence she offers in her 500-page book is overwhelming – consistently and dramatically neoliberalized within that period of time. One of the attributes of this neoliberalization was that the left stopped even pretending to speak to and for the working classes and started speaking to and for the business and white-collar constituencies. And by ‘business’ nobody means the mom-and-pop diner in the sticks. The biggest shift towards neoliberalism happened in Nordic non-Anglo countries of Western Europe. (The book came out in 2018, and we’ve all seen the Anglo world catch up in giant leaps and bounds in the past 18 months, haven’t we?)

Milton Friedman aside, says Mudge, the economics profession as a whole was completely interdependent with Western left parties by the early 1960s. Mudge talks about a “persistent leftishness in Western economic professions” manifesting throughout the last 60 years. Political parties are increasingly reliant on the expert class of people who offer “consulting services.” In the field of economics, these consultants are far likelier to be left-leaning because they are simply that more numerous. As a result, the economies and economic policy of these Western countries have experienced a notable leftward (=neoliberal) turn.

That Thatcher and Reagan, the best-known proponents of neoliberalism, were on the right, says Mudge, was kind of accidental. Neoliberalism was new(ish) and Thatcher and Reagan chanced upon it. But it was always going to be reclaimed as its own by the left, and it now has been. The neoliberalized left calls itself “progressivism” and blathers on about “social justice” as a front for robbing the working classes and enriching the already wealthy class it sees as its true constituency. I want to add to Mudge’s unemotional argument that this progressive, social justice elite legitimizes the unfair and oppressive economic order it creates by positioning itself as morally superior to the people it robs. And the people it robs are so cowed by appeals to the thieves’ superior morality that they happily turn out their pockets to assist the robbery. I see it as the greatest goal of my professional life to point out this hypocrisy and contribute to the project of turning academia and the world of art away from leftism (aka neoliberalism). We (academics and artists) were instrumental in creating this monster. Now we have to unmake it.

Please note that Mudge isn’t some right-winger. She’s a sociology prof at UC Davis. Her book was published by Harvard University Press and won every prize in her extremely left-wing discipline. It’s a very well-researched, extremely detailed, and very clearly written book.

5 thoughts on “Book Notes: Stephanie Mudge’s Leftism Reinvented: Western Parties from Socialism to Neoliberalism

  1. Sounds very interesting, I might read the book!

    I greatly admire your goals: “I see it as the greatest goal of my professional life to point out this hypocrisy and contribute to the project of turning academia and the world of art away from leftism (aka neoliberalism). We (academics and artists) were instrumental in creating this monster. Now we have to unmake it.”. You’re facing an uphill climb. Good luck!

    Who do you classify as “the people it robs are so cowed by appeals to the thieves’ superior morality that they happily turn out their pockets to assist the robbery.”? I’m assuming the middle-class, not the working class. The working class is withstanding the propaganda.

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    1. The whole middle of the book is an analysis of the trajectories of the people who transformed several of these parties. I’m not into the biographical approach so much, although I don’t deny it completely. But I found that part less useful.

      Right now we are at the stage of the impoverishment of the middle class. The working class has already been eviscerated and swallowed every lie greedily.

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      1. The working class hasn’t swallowed the lies of the social justice warrior elites, though, right? That just doesn’t fit the timeline.

        The working class is statistically more socially conservative. Reagan and the religious right appealed to them with the “moral majority” message, while selling them out to corporations. The social justice religion is a newer phenomenon – 15 years of age at most.

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        1. Who voted for Bill Clinton? Blue-collar workers loved him. Then he sent their jobs over to China.

          As for SJW rhetoric, it was born with neoliberalism in the 1970s. It wasn’t mainstreamed until the 21 century, that’s true. But it had captured academia and journalism long before. Attempts to “decolonize the curriculum,” for example, were all over academia by 1980. The trans wars in academia ended by year 2000 with the decisive win of the T. Now they are raging outside of academia. CRT was invented in the 1980s and became dogma in academia by the end of the decade. Name any SJW belief and you’ll see that it was created in 1960-80.

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          1. Oh, I’m not disagreeing about Bill Clinton. And then Bush passed the tax cuts and launched 2 wars, and Obama mostly kept the tax cuts, the wars, and bailed out the banks. All these things don’t negate each other.

            I know about the beginnings of the rhetoric in academia. I only meant the mainstreaming of it in the media/pop culture/politics.

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