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.