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Neoliberalism, child of the Keynesian state


The received wisdom of neoliberalism as belonging to the 1970s is problematic. More locally we might track back to see a social base in Keynesian state-managed markets, which were ‘massed’ in 1940-42 in large part in defence of a constitution unusually well-equipped for expropriation. This defence gave rise to a state-managed consensual public which would be fertile ground for neoliberalism, and which helps maintain neoliberalism even now.

Or – we might see the state projection of Keynesian markets, the total mobilisation and militarisation of the ‘mixed economy’, as a solution to a periodic crisis in the British constitution, in this case demanding a dynamic reinvention of labour following the passing of the height of imperial industry. And the constitution being protected, coalescing in the long eighteenth century, is unusual in never having been formalised, but rather naturalising money as human exchange.

The frame of Whig progressiveness is crucial here, since it is also the frame of the British state. For John Locke, citizenship was born of property as nature adapted by human labour: the state was created ‘that men might have and secure their properties’ – and the expropriation of property from ‘nature’ is ‘the great and chief end… of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government’.[1] So ‘property rights precede, both temporally and logically the prerogative of civil government’ – something much discussed during the era of neoliberalism as markets seemed to rise over governments.[2]

It is important to remember here that Locke’s labour theory of value is not only one model for government, but the immediate intellectual force behind state formation, relying in perpetuity on property as nature and continuity. Locke’s insistence on property as citizenship was presented after 1688 as the rationale for the ‘revolution’ of the Hanoverian credit state, itself soon naturalised asrestoration, and underwritten by stable money guaranteeing future profits across the imperium. To retain its basis in natural property, the constitution had to remain uncodified and flexible, as it does today; and as Whig literature repeatedly confirms, the new state is fundamentally built on money.[3]

The constitution’s job then is to protect money as a guarantor of future profitsacross time from popular experience now. This demands a public understood as mediated consensus, a public continuous because it is never defined, and able to adapt itself when faced with threat. The most modern understanding of the public is the modification which follows a new twentieth-century constitutional crisis of diminishing colonial returns, an exhaustion of expansion forcing the personal to open up for expropriation.

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