Are neoliberals actually conservatives in disguise?

Another thread introduced to me the term “neoliberalism” which I had never fully explored before.

Here’s basic information on the definition neoliberals

Reading this, would you say that neoliberalism embraces much of the agenda of fiscal conservatives?


  1. Take free market positions
  2. Are anti-unionism
  3. Are free market economics
  4. Embrace welfare reform
  5. Take many cues from Chicago-school economics (which are also often the foundation of many conservative politicians!)

That sounds a little like a conservative to me!

So, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck . . . are neoliberals simply another form of centrist conservatives in disguise?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I myself identify as a centrist conservative. :slight_smile:

As I understand it, neoliberals combine the economic policies stated above with cultural-liberal positions on issues like abortion, school prayer, gay marriage, gun control, etc. It is also a distinctly more elitist than populist tendency. So neolibs are distinguishable in those respects from neocons (elitist but socially conservative), paleocons (populist, really socially conservative), and theocons (likewise).

Given that the Wiki you link to lists Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as pursuing neoliberal policies, I think you pretty much have your answer.

I also think that there is a danger of conflating different meanings of “liberal” and “conservative” within this context, insofar as there are traditional and modern meanings, and different applications of the terms vis-a-vis politics and economics.

Mark me down as a civil libertarian (a group often classified under the “neoliberal” heading) who’s none too fond of being labelled a conservative – which seems to happen more and more frequently these days. The OP reads to me as an example of the common perception that there’s nothing more to politics than economic views, which idea bothers me a great deal.

Then again, I’ve distanced myself from the Libertarian Party in recent years as its key positions are increasingly being filled by what I would call conservatives, and two economically conservative friends of mine have come to drop the label “Republican” to avoid association with fundamentalist wingnuts and Bush, so perhaps the whole nomenclature is due for an overhaul. Would that there were a way to go about it proactively.

Aren’t 1, 3, and 5 essentially the same thing?

I would note that the Wikipedia definition is far from universally accepted. For instance, Charles Peters, founder of the Washington Monthly, clearly considers himself a neoliberal, but while favoring free-market solutions generally, is pro-union and is nowhere close to being a member of the Chicago school.

Rather you could say that many conservatives are actually neoliberals in disguise.

Neoliberal and Neoconservative are terms that apply to world politics, not U.S. or any other specific country. The terms conservative and liberal change depending on what country you are talking about. Neoconservative usually pertains to affecting the global geopolitical situation through military means while neoliberal refers to economic means. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization are considered neoliberal.


It is my understanding that in addition to small government, limited social spending, and free markets, neoliberals also believe in the privatization of government assets.
Milton Friedman called himself a liberal because the idea of a free market economy is classically liberal.

Actually no they are liberals. Most Conservatives are liberals, not neo-liberals conservative. Those are liberal values you are describing. Of course this is back when liberal had a real and stable meaning unlike now.

Regarding which, see this thread.

That. “Neoliberal” is used internationally more than in the USA context and the “liberal” part refers to what is often called “*classical * liberal”, a policy of minimal state intervention closer to contemporary libertarianism; not to the contemporary USA usage referring to socialdemocracy.

Actually, the contemporary American equivalent of “social democrat” is not “liberal” but “progressive,” terms which are not synonyms despite a widespread impression to that that effect. “Liberal” – even when used to mean something other than classical-liberal – means something substantially different from “progressive.” Or, so I argue in the thread linked above.

Brainglutton I think most people are ignorant of the finer distinctions you are making. Generally I think liberal these days is just an all-encompassing term for leftism in any form from your work-a-day Democrat to your radical with his Che shirt, Mumia button and Kaffiyeh.

A form of ignorance I am striving hard to fight, thank you very much.

Anyone who is in favor of free-market capitalism is a liberal, whether they know it or not.

Good luck to you. My personal view on it is that during the 20th century all sorts of little semiotic skirmishes led us to a host of isms that confuse political categories to a point where we have a lot of useless, redundant and/or paradoxical categories. So it is the lack of a standard by which to judge the merit of a category that we are afflicted with.

And this is the answer to the thread. All other posts are just commentary.

That would make all Americans save the socialists and Communists liberal to some degree. Including millions who would punch you out if you called them that.

The term “conservative,” at least, has a fairly definite content, at least in a contemporary American context. Of course, within that definition (more or less) there are at least seven distinghishable kinds.

American conservatives can be liberal. They generally are classically liberal in the way Milton Friedman used it. There are plenty of things that are not insulting that can get you punched out by some moron. I once got punched in the face for telling someone a joke that wasn’t even an insult. That’s not a very good indicator of whether or not it should be used that way. Most Conservatives who can follow this thread would not find it controversial.

Hm! So liberalism actually is a mental disorder! :wink: