Friday, May 22, 2009

What's in a name?

Interesting document from that hotbed of radical right thinking The Centre for Independent Studies on the subject of neoliberalism.

It is a spirited defence of the concept of "neoliberalism" and is very worthwhile as a reading in the formation of ideas, and indeed the concept of a "new liberalism" developed between the world wars as an alternative to both forms of corporate state (fascist and communist). However, it is completely irrelevant in its rebutal of anything Kevin Rudd wrote about in his The Monthly essay. The answer has far more to do with Humpty Dumpty than political theory, or simply philosophy of language rather than political philosophy.

In the famous passage in Alice Through the Looking Glass;

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

For somebody to say Rudd is wrong because the word "neoliberalism" means the view established in Germany between the wars is to make an error, because Rudd is referring to what he means it to refer to.

It would be like me in business hearing my colleagues talk about the the responsibility for "marketing" and assume the meaning was the same as in this passage from Mrs Beeton's book of household management;

It will be one of the duties of the housekeeper to attend to the marketing; in the absence of either a house steward or man cook.

To argue that "the context" makes the difference is only to prove the point, the context of Rudd's usage is the early 21st Century and his need to find a word for the group of political philosophies that espoused a greater reliance on the free-market than had existed in the post-war "accomodation" between liberalsm and socialism partially informed by a Keynesian theory that classical economic theory ignored the capacity for markets to result in sustained underemployment of resources and hence the need for Government action in the creation of aggregate demand.

Rudd, in common with many others, chose to call it neoliberalism. An American would call it conservatism but that usage does not fit the British meaning of "conservative", and indeed fits uneasily with Hayek's own essay on "Why I am not a conservative" (in The Constitution of Liberty).

So, nice essay Oliver Marc Hartwich, very informative, but completely and utterly irrelevant in the context of the Rudd essay.

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