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A Brief History of Neoliberalism$
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David Harvey

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199283262

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199283262.001.0001

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Freedom’s Just Another Word . . .

Freedom’s Just Another Word . . .

Chapter:
1 Freedom’s Just Another Word . . .
Source:
A Brief History of Neoliberalism
Author(s):

David Harvey

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780199283262.003.0005

For any way of thought to become dominant, a conceptual apparatus has to be advanced that appeals to our intuitions and instincts, to our values and our desires, as well as to the possibilities inherent in the social world we inhabit. If successful, this conceptual apparatus becomes so embedded in common sense as to be taken for granted and not open to question. The founding figures of neoliberal thought took political ideals of human dignity and individual freedom as fundamental, as ‘the central values of civilization’. In so doing they chose wisely, for these are indeed compelling and seductive ideals. These values, they held, were threatened not only by fascism, dictatorships, and communism, but by all forms of state intervention that substituted collective judgements for those of individuals free to choose. Concepts of dignity and individual freedom are powerful and appealing in their own right. Such ideals empowered the dissident movements in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union before the end of the Cold War as well as the students in Tiananmen Square. The student movements that swept the world in 1968––from Paris and Chicago to Bangkok and Mexico City––were in part animated by the quest for greater freedoms of speech and of personal choice. More generally, these ideals appeal to anyone who values the ability to make decisions for themselves. The idea of freedom, long embedded in the US tradition, has played a conspicuous role in the US in recent years. ‘9/11’ was immediately interpreted by many as an attack on it. ‘A peaceful world of growing freedom’, wrote President Bush on the first anniversary of that awful day, ‘serves American long-term interests, reflects enduring American ideals and unites America’s allies.’ ‘Humanity’, he concluded, ‘holds in its hands the opportunity to offer freedom’s triumph over all its age-old foes’, and ‘the United States welcomes its responsibilities to lead in this great mission’. This language was incorporated into the US National Defense Strategy document issued shortly thereafter.

Keywords:   authoritarianism, classical economics, deindustrialization, entrepreneurialism, individualism, liberalism, middle class, neoclassical economics, private property

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