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Geohistory of “neoliberalism”

Rethinking the meanings of a malleable and shifting intellectual label
Arnaud Brennetot
Cet article est une traduction de :
Géohistoire du « néolibéralisme »


Analysing how discourse on “neoliberalism” has spread spatially since the 1930s brings to light a series of geographical transpositions linked to recurrent semantic splits. The reference to “neoliberalism”, which first appeared in France and designated a European school of thought, has since been applied to various geographic areas (West Germany, the Latin American states, the world) to qualify contrasting political practices. These successive geo-semantic shifts have resulted in a polysemic, confusing and contradictory label. In these conditions, it seems necessary to try and better define the various forms of neoliberalism that structure the political organisation of different places and the societies that inhabit them.

Keywords: spatial diffusion, intellectual discourses, Geography of ideas, geohistory, neoliberalism(s)

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Notes de la rédaction

Cet article est une traduction de l’article Géohistoire du « néolibéralisme ».

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  • 1 These occurrences were calculated using the journal publishers’ lexical search tools. For the Frenc (...)

1While the use of the word neoliberalism is not completely new in academic geography, it has become increasingly frequent. In most English-language journals, use of the term became established during the 1990s and then rose sharply in the 2000s (Figure 1). A similar trend can be seen in France, even though the yearly evolution is somewhat less regular (Figure 2).1

Figure 1: Number of articles containing at least one reference to “neoliberalism” in a few English-language geography journals.

Figure 1: Number of articles containing at least one reference to “neoliberalism” in a few English-language geography journals.

Produced by Brennetot, 2013.

Figure 2: Number of articles containing at least one reference to “neoliberalism” in a few French-language geography journals.

Figure 2: Number of articles containing at least one reference to “neoliberalism” in a few French-language geography journals.

Produced by Brennetot, 2013.

  • 2 The inventory of books was carried out using Worldcat, the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center)’s (...)

2This increase in references to neoliberalism within the academic sphere reflects a general proliferation in publications more generally. Between 1939 – when the first book was published with a title explicitly referring to neoliberalism (Pirou, 1939) – and 1980, publications devoted to neoliberalism worldwide remained few and somewhat sporadic. Since then, however, such publications have continued to increase, reaching on average 8.4 books per year in the 1980s, 49 in the 1990s and 117 in the 2000s (Figure 3).2

Figure 3: Number of books published worldwide containing the root “neoliberal” in the title.

Figure 3: Number of books published worldwide containing the root “neoliberal” in the title.

Source: Worldcat, 2013. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.

3Whether it concerns simple allusions or more in depth reflection, this widespread use of the term reflects the increasingly frequent tendency to link various aspects of the contemporary world to a certain current in political thinking (i.e. neoliberalism) that is often associated with the promotion of the market economy. For several years, various researchers in the social sciences – including several geographers (Brenner, 2002; Harvey, 2005, 2006 and 2007; Peck, 2004 and 2010, Roberts, 2003; Sparke, 2006) – have endeavoured to clarify the characteristics specific to neoliberal thought in order to use it as a theoretical framework for analysing how contemporary societies function and are spatially organised.

4This approach presupposes the existence of such a thing as “neoliberal thought”, offering a minimally coherent and transparent core. Despite its rising popularity, this epistemological stance has recently been criticised by certain authors, particularly for ignoring the doctrinal differences that exist within the loose category of “neoliberalism”, which could justify calling into question both its existence as an entity and its heuristic efficiency (Audier, 2012; Boas, 2009). According to political scientist W. Brown (2003), it would be useful to have “a rich genealogy of neoliberalism […] one that mapped and contextualized the contributions of the two schools of political economy”, i.e. ordoliberal thought and the Chicago School, identified as early as 1978 by M. Foucault in his College de France lecture on the Birth of Biopolitics.

5By conducting a geohistorical examination of linguistic uses of the term neoliberalism, this article intends to show just how this intellectual label spread through different spaces, becoming, for many, ambiguous and elusive. Analysing the trajectory of the terminology and geopolitical contexts associated with neoliberalism can allow us to unpick the different meanings given to this label and to identify the major stages in the process of semantic extension that occurred as it spread both geographically and within public debate on the world stage.

France: seat of the neoliberal movement

6The term neoliberalism does not designate just any form of renewed liberalism. For example, from as early as the end of the 19th Century, the English New Liberalism of social-liberal inspiration proposed a programme of doctrinal renewal without calling upon neoliberalism as a label (Audard, 2009). While the word was already used at the time in several languages, it remained restricted to idiosyncratic, allusive and unconceptualised practices (Armstrong, 1884; Gide, 1898; Bares, 1921) and it is only at the end of the 1930s, when the Lippmann Colloquium was held in Paris in 1938, that it was used collectively and explicitly for the first time.

  • 3 On the neoliberalism of The Good Society, see Brennetot (2012) and Urbain-Clave (2005). More genera (...)

7In 1938, philosopher L. Rougier took advantage of American journalist W. Lippmann’s visit to Paris to organise a colloquium with a view to discussing the arguments put forward in The Good Society. In this recently published book, W. Lippmann outlined the agenda for a new liberalism that would take into account the failings of nineteenth-century liberalism while also rejecting the collectivist solutions put to the test in countries under totalitarian regimes. Instead, Lippmann advocated a system based on democratic cooperation and utilitarian optimisation of the division of labour, both within States and on an international scale.3 Several works published in Europe at the same time echoed Lippmann’s arguments: Rougier (1938) and L. Marlio (1938) in France, L. Mises (1938) in Austria, L. Robbins (1938) in the United Kingdom, and, before them, O. Y. Gasset (1929) in Spain.

8Aside from W. Lippmann, the conference brought together twenty-five participants who were mainly European (Figure 4). Twelve of them no longer lived in their country of origin and were therefore involved in international academic networks. Several had fled for political reasons: three Austrians (L. Mises, S. Possony, A. Schütz), two Germans (W. Röpke, A. Rüstow), one Spaniard (J. Castellijo) and one Pole (M. Heilperin). Others had moved away from their country of origin for professional reasons: an Austrian (F. Hayek), a Hungarian (M. Polanyi) and a Frenchman (É. Mantoux) lived in Great Britain, and a New-Zealander (J. Condliffe) and a Frenchman (R. Auboin) lived in Switzerland. After the Colloquium, several participants met at the London School of Economics directed by L. Robbins, and at the Geneva Graduate School of International and Development Studies, near to the Université de Besançon where L. Rougier taught at the time. In Paris, where the Colloquium took place, L. Rougier called upon several alumni of the École polytechnique (A. Detœuf, L. Marlio, E. Mercier, J. Rueff) who were active members of movements such as Redressement français or “X-Crise” (Dard, 1995), as well as two young philosophers who belonged to the École normale supérieure’s Cercle de documentation sociale (R. Aron, R. Marjolin).

9The Colloquium drew to a close having formulated a liberal agenda and created an International Centre for Studying and Renewing Liberalism (the ICSRL) to be based in Paris. Initially, views seemed to converge around the need to restore liberalism by basing it on new foundations allowing the imperfections of the old liberalism to be redressed while also halting the rise of the totalitarian threat. While the Second World War put an end to the nascent activities of the ICSRL, the subsequent publications by the Colloquium’s various participants nonetheless revealed substantial differences in opinion. These were particularly keen between, on the one hand, W. Lippmann or the Germans W. Röpke and A. Rüstow, who advocated a deep and broad reworking of liberalism in favour of determined action from public authorities, and, on the other hand, L. Mises, described by the former as paleoliberal, who was in favour of re-establishing liberalism in its traditional laisser-faire form.

Figure 4: The professional locations of the participants of the Lippmann Colloquium organised in Paris by L. Rougier in 1938.

Figure 4: The professional locations of the participants of the Lippmann Colloquium organised in Paris by L. Rougier in 1938.


10The debates organised during the Lippmann Colloquium and taken up again in the ICSRL cahiers, written in French, testify to hesitations surrounding the label that should be given to the intellectual group born on this occasion. J. Rueff spoke of “a left-wing liberal policy because it tends to provide the best well-being possible to the poorest classes” (Audier, 2008, p. 343). For his part, industrialist and economist L. Marlio suggested other terms: “I would rather we called this doctrine ‘positive liberalism’, ‘social liberalism’ or ‘neoliberalism’, but not the word left-wing which indicates a political position” (Audier, 2008, p. 344). In Les Mystiques économiques (1938), L. Rougier had suggested the name “constructive liberalism”. However, shortly after the colloquium, L. Marlio’s suggestion of “neo-liberalism” rapidly took hold. During the following months, A. Piatier (1938) and G. Pirou (1939) identified the existence of a new “Neo-liberal” School in Europe. In France, use of the prefix “neo” was relatively frequent at the time: alongside neo-liberalism, various similar expressions were put forward (neo-capitalism, neo-corporatism, neo-socialism, neo-saint-simonianism, etc.), testifying to the need for intellectual renewal generated in the country by the economic and political crisis of the time.

11The term neoliberalism appeared in France and for several years was only used in the French language. Several authors referred regularly to néoliberalisme, particularly to designate the intellectual movement launched on the occasion of the Lippmann Colloquium: L. Marlio (1940), L. Rougier (1938 a and b, 1939, 1957), A. Piatier (1938), L. Baudin (1942, 1946, 1953, 1957), A. Marchal (1946), J. Weiller (1950), Y. Mainguy (1951), C.-J. Gignoux (1952, 1953), J. Rueff (1953, 1958, 1967, 1977) and R. Courtin (1962). D. Marculesco (1942) and J. Cros (1956) both devoted their doctoral theses in political economy to the neoliberal movement. The Librairie de Médicis collection, edited by M.-T. Génin in Paris, published the works of the so-called neoliberal authors, whether French (M. Allais, L. Baudin, L. Rougier, J. Rueff, D. Villey) or foreign (in particularly, F. Hayek, M. Heilperin, W. Lippmann, L. Mises, L. Robbins, W. Röpke). After the Second World War, younger authors also joined the movement (D. Villey, M. Allais).

12In no other country was the term neoliberalism used so often and by so many. The German intellectuals present at the Lippmann Colloquium (W. Röpke and A. Rüstow), for example, preferred to wield the banner of “ordoliberalism”, while the less audacious Austrians (F. Hayek and L. Mises) stuck to the traditional “liberalism”.

13Until 1950, neoliberalism remained a mainly French-language label, used to designate a movement of political thinking that was mainly European and born at the Lippmann Colloquium. It should be noted, however, that the self-proclaimed neoliberals did not fully position themselves within the liberal tradition: a certain confusion was maintained by the lack of reference to the social-liberalism born at the end of the 19th Century in Europe – particularly the British branch of “New Liberalism” – and by the ambiguous position of the Austrians within the neoliberal movement.

West Germany: a new focus for discourse on neoliberalism

14From the 1950s onwards, the term neoliberal began to be used to designate the policies put in place in several Western European countries, particularly the economic reforms led by L. Erhard in West Germany from 1948 onwards, as well as those implemented by L. Einaudi and A. De Gasperi in Italy from 1947 or A. Pinay in 1952 and J. Rueff in 1958 in France. J. Rueff was also among those who considered European construction (ECSC, EEC and the Common Market) as a positive implementation of neoliberalism (1958, 1977).

15With time, use of the term “neoliberal” spread progressively to other languages. In German, for example, the term “neoliberalismus” was used by several observers (Ritschl, 1950; Dohrendorf, 1952; Dürr, 1954; Nell-Breuning, 1961) to designate the links established from 1945 onwards between the Freiburg School, the ordoliberal movement organised around the journal ordo - Jahrbuch für die Ordnung von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, and the policies of L. Erhard, Chancellor Adenauer’s Minister of the Economy in the 1950s. Various expressions such as wirtschaftsordnung (economic order) or soziale marktwirtschaft (social market economy) summarised the spirit of West German neoliberal policy (Commun, 2003).

  • 4 Other French intellectuals also participated in the SMP, without this meaning that they claimed an (...)

16This dissemination of the term took place within international academic networks, particularly among circles of economists who shared similar views and, for this reason, tended to read and translate each other’s work, and meet together. In 1947, several French neoliberal intellectuals responded to F. Hayek’s invitation to participate in creating the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) with aim of “contribut[ing] to the preservation and improvement of the free society” (Mont Pelerin Society, 1947).4 In 1957, an “International Colloquium of Economic Liberalism” was held in Ostend (10-13 September), organised by the Paul Hymans Centre in order, “after roughly a twenty year interval, to test the agenda established in 1938” during the Lippmann Colloquium (Hatry, 1957, p. 17). The participants were, once again, mainly European (Figure 5). In 1959, M. Allais organised a “Colloquium for a Free Society” in Paris, which gave rise to a manifesto of the same title (Lhoste-Lachaume, 1960).

Figure 5: Professional location of the participants in the Ostend Colloquium on Economic Liberalism (1957).

Figure 5: Professional location of the participants in the Ostend Colloquium on Economic Liberalism (1957).


17From the mid-1950s, the term “neoliberalism” was no longer confined to use by the French-language authors who claimed to be close to the movement (Kunz, 1962; Bilger, 1964), it now extended to external observers – English- and German-language political scientists for the most part – who wanted to analyse the content of the doctrine and, if necessary, distance themselves from it (Friedrich, 1955; Oliver, 1960a and b; Hanslowe, 1960; Grosser, 1963; François-Poncet, 1969). This shift in the use of the term, from its self-proclaimed proponents to external analysts, sometimes occurred at the expense of certain simplifications or omissions. For example, US political scientists C. Friedrich and H. Oliver considered German ordoliberalism to be the original seat of neoliberalism, neglecting the French roots of the label and the founding moment represented by the Lippmann Colloquium.

  • 5 An inventory of the articles in academic journals containing at least one occurrence of the root "n (...)

18The inability of the French neoliberals to form a school, despite their very real influence on public authorities and on many generations of students, encouraged this almost sole focus on the German case (Denord, 2007). While their ideas enjoyed substantial resonance in intellectual and media debates, they were rarely linked to any form of neoliberalism. The poor visibility of French neoliberalism explains why, until the early 1980s, the neoliberal label was above all applied to the German branch of the movement. Figure 6 shows that the intellectuals or political leaders who were presented as being neoliberal in international academic work between 1950 and 1980 are mainly German authors, particularly W. Röpke and L. Eucken. Alongside them, there were also the economists from the Freiburg School (F. Böhm, K. Paul-Hensel, F. Lutz, K. Maier, L. Miksch) as well as various German liberal intellectuals (A. Rüstow, long exiled in Istanbul, A. Müller-Armack, who invented the notion of “social market economy”, H. Grossman-Doerth, and others). The rise in the number of academic articles mentioning neoliberalism at the beginning of the 1950s was also due to the fact that, on an international scale, the German ordoliberals henceforth appeared as the main representatives of this rapidly rising trend in political thinking, to which the “German miracle” of the 1950s was ascribed (Figure 7). 5The French and Austrian authors formed secondary areas of focus, on the fringes of the movement, while the English speakers played a negligible role with the exception of W. Lippmann. This refocusing of international academic discourse, which now placed the West German intellectuals and politicians at the heart of the debate, resulted in the geographical origin of this political trend – invented in France by French authors, who shared common views with some of their European counterparts – being obfuscated.

Figure 6: The loose category of “neoliberalism” between 1950 and 1980: the preponderance of the German ordoliberals.

Figure 6: The loose category of “neoliberalism” between 1950 and 1980: the preponderance of the German ordoliberals.

Source: Jstor. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.

Figure 7: Number of articles referring to “neoliberalism” in a large sample of academic journals published between 1930 and 1990.

Figure 7: Number of articles referring to “neoliberalism” in a large sample of academic journals published between 1930 and 1990.

Source: Jstor. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.

The increasingly shifting geography of references to neoliberalism

19Although, until the end of the 1970s, West Germany was the main geographical centre for neoliberal thinking and its political implementation until the end of the 1970s, in the 1960s several authors, in the United States for the most part, began referring to neoliberalism to analyse situations in other countries, using different more or less rigorous forms of geo-semantic transpositions. For example, taking inspiration from C.J. Friedrich’s (1955) reading of German neoliberalism, young political scientist N. M. Bailey interpreted the proliferation of political and employers’ associations engaged in promoting the market economy that he observed in Latin America since the end of the 1950s as a manifestation of the growing momentum of neoliberalism in this region of the world (Bailey, 1965a and b, 1967). C. W. Anderson made the same type of geographical and intellectual transposition in 1970 to account for the reforms conducted in Spain from 1957: the author used the term “Keynesian neoliberalism” to describe the National plan for economic stabilisation (freedom of prices, currency convertibility, reduced customs’ tariffs, balanced budget, openness to foreign investments) set up in 1959 by the government of “technocrats” (A. Ullastres, M. N. Rubio) with the support of General Franco and the Opus Dei (Anderson, 1970). As for R. L. Ayres, he used the term neoliberal to describe the policies carried out by J. Alessandri’s government in Chili, between 1958 and 1964, to promote monetary stability, fight inflation and reduce trade barriers (Ayres, 1973 and 1975). At the end of the 1970s, historian R. Kuisel (1977, 1984) took the habit of applying the neoliberal label to the French planners, such as F. Bloch-Lainé, J. Coutrot, R. Courtin, A. Detœuf, F. Lehideux and J. Monnet, who, from the 1930s to the 1950s put France on the track of the consultation system, expansion and openness to international competition.

20As the term progressively spread through the European and North American academic spheres, its application to increasingly varied national cases resulted in its meaning becoming relatively diluted, as its use was now only partly in line with the visions of neoliberalism that emerged from the Lippmann Colloquium or from German ordoliberalism. The authors cited here contented themselves with the presence of a few norms inherent to the original neoliberalism in order to apply the label: free exchange, freedom of prices, free competition, the fight against monopoly, balanced budget, monetary stability, international multilateralism, etc. For all these authors, it did not matter that this did not fully equate with the project established during the Lippmann Colloquium nor that the political leaders they qualified as neoliberals had never in fact laid claim to such a label. With time, as the neoliberal frame was progressively applied to increasingly varied national cases, usage shifted further and further from the doctrinal foundations upon which the first neoliberals had agreed. Nonetheless, until the end of the 1970s, the geo-semantic hesitations observed over the previous decade remained in the minority and the ordoliberal sense of the term prevailed in academic discourse.

The geo-semantic extension of neoliberalism to Latin America

  • 6 The method for identifying publications was the same as for Figure 3. Translations of foreign works (...)

21In this context of geo-semantic hesitation, in the mid-1970s, several American publications began to equate neoliberalism with the monetarism of the Chicago School and the policies inspired by this economic school of thought in several Latin American countries (particularly in Chossudovsly, 1975, 1977a and B; Mouffe, 1981; Foxley, 1982; Sigmund, 1983; Tironi, 1987). A rising number of publications looking at Latin American dictatorships (Videla’s Argentina or Pinochet’s Chili, for example) referred pejoratively to neoliberalism when denouncing the effects of the economic policies put in place by these regimes. In the 1980s and 1990s, Latin America even became the world region most often associated with neoliberalism (Figure 8). Similarly, while France and Germany remained the main publishing centres for works on neoliberalism until 1980, the Latin American States largely overtook them (Figure 9). This geographical repositioning that henceforth placed Latin America at the heart of discourse on neoliberalism went hand-in-hand with a rise in the number of articles and books published on this theme (Figures 3 and 8).6 This new geographical focus on Latin America can also be seen in the evolution of languages of publications: from the 1980s onwards, publications in Spanish and Portuguese largely predominated among publications of neoliberalism worldwide, far ahead of publications in English or German (Figure 10).

Figure 8: Geography of countries associated with “neoliberalism” (1938-2000).

Figure 8: Geography of countries associated with “neoliberalism” (1938-2000).


Figure 9: Geography of publications on “neoliberalism” (1938-2000).

Figure 9: Geography of publications on “neoliberalism” (1938-2000).


Figure 10: Number of books published worldwide with reference to “neoliberalism” in the title, according to language

Figure 10: Number of books published worldwide with reference to “neoliberalism” in the title, according to language

Produced by Brennetot, 2013. Source: Worldcat, 2012.

22Applied to the Latin American countries, the term neoliberalism then served to designate the stance of abandoning the economic policies of import-substitution in place since the 1930s crisis and, under the influence of the Chicago Boys, adopting policies of economic openness, export stimulation and attraction of foreign capital and investments. A double shift, both geographical and semantic, can therefore be seen in neoliberalism, as well as a spatial extension of the network of intellectuals identified as neoliberal.

23The confusion between neoliberalism and the Chicago School’s monetarism is understandable to some extent given that, at the time, the latter was difficult to include among the main currents in liberal thinking and seemed hard to categorise: certain authors had no hesitations in labelling it “libertarian” (Foley, 1975; McKinney, 1975; Tilman, 1976), while others described it as neoliberal (Dow, 1974; Trebing, 1976; Lepage, 1978). From the 1980s onwards, the second choice won out as in Latin America the neoliberal label had become an ideological foil for the opponents of dictatorships.

24Applying the term neoliberal to the Chicago School and the policies to which it gave rise in Latin America necessarily causes a large amount of misinterpretation. A. Pinochet’s dictatorship had little in common with the original neoliberalism and completely contradicted the opinions expressed during the Lippmann Colloquium, aimed at protecting contemporary societies against the rise of authoritarianism and totalitarian regimes. This misunderstanding no doubt derives in part from the fact that, for a long time, the role played by the Mont Pelerin Society - seen by certain observers as the foundational nexus of international neoliberalism since the end of World War II (Halimi, 2004; Mirowsky, 2009; Peck, 2010) – remained obscure. A further contributing factor lies with the pivotal role played by F. Hayek, who belonged to the loose category of “neoliberals” to emerge from the Lippmann Colloquium and yet was also a driving force within several influential liberal circles such as the MPS and the Second Chicago School.

The Mont Pelerin Society: the foundational nexus for a neoliberal International?

  • 7 The only actual reference concerns a short article published by M. Friedman in 1951 in the liberal (...)

25Organised at F. Hayek’s instigation, the Mont Pelerin conference, held in the town of Vevey in Switzerland April 1-10 1947, led to the creation of the Mont Pelerin Society intended to encourage renewed intellectual thinking in favour of liberalism (Hartwell, 1995; Mirowsky, 2009). Establishing a link between the MPS’s international network and neoliberalism in general nonetheless leads to confusion, particularly because such a link fails to account for the fact that neoliberalism was originally a European movement, with W. Lippmann being the only tie to the United States. On the other hand, while the MPS did include many eminent Lippmann Colloquium participants (R. Aron, L. Baudin, F. Hayek, M. Heilperin, L. Mises, J. Rueff), from its inception it also included many intellectuals and economists from the United States, with nothing to say that they shared the views of the first neoliberals (Figure 11). Like F. Hayek and L. Mises, the members of the different generations of the Chicago School (F. Knight, H. Simons, J. Viner, A. Director, M. Friedman7) never claimed to belong to, or adhere to the principles of, any neoliberal movement. And indeed, between 1947 and 1998, none of the sessions organised during MPS meetings were explicitly devoted to the question of neoliberalism (Mont Pelerin Society, 2003).

Figure 11: The professional location of the participants in the Mont Pelerin Congress organised in Vevey (Switzerland) by F. Hayek in 1947.

Figure 11: The professional location of the participants in the Mont Pelerin Congress organised in Vevey (Switzerland) by F. Hayek in 1947.


26In terms of doctrine, both the US thinkers from the Chicago School and the Austro-Americans (L. Mises, F. Hayek, F. Machlup) believed in a spontaneous order specific to the market economy. This was substantially different from the interventionist view of the first neoliberals, who were concerned with redressing the severe inadequacies of laisser-faire. In their view, the market was an artificial construct that could not fully develop without energetic State action, whereas for the Chicago economists, interference by public authorities was a detrimental factor likely to disrupt the market’s spontaneous self-regulating mechanisms. The latter’s systematic attacks on Keynesian policies and repeated calls for State withdrawal from the economic sphere should be understood in this light. An economist such as L. Mises (1957) even explicitly rejected the different forms of intervention suggested by the French neoliberals or the German ordoliberals, doomed in his view to eventually lead to interventionism and totalitarianism. This recalls the point of view developed by F. Hayek in his best-seller The Road to Serfdom (1944) and in The Constitution of Liberty (1958). Despite being present in many of the same conferences or publications, the Austro-Americans held positions that were difficult to reconcile with those of the avowed neoliberals on many levels. The latter did not hesitate to denounce the imperfections of the physiocratic and manchesterian theory of “laisser-faire, laisser-passer” [literally “let do and let pass”] and considered that “not only can State intervention not always be avoided; in some cases, it is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the proper functioning of the market economy or to attain aims that are collectively preferable to seeking to maximum economic return” in particular to “avoid too great a disparity between standards of living (Rougier, 1957, p. 279).

  • 8 Minarchism ascribes a minimal role to the State, which is reduced to the kingly functions of mainta (...)

27In this context, applying the neoliberal label to the entire intellectual network of the MPS dilutes the notion within a loose and disparate set of ideas, and neglects the differences in conceptions of the market economy developed, on the one hand, by proponents of laisser-faire and, on the other, by the neoliberal interventionists. These differences led to regular controversy and open crises within the MPS (Audier, 2012): over time, several major figures of European liberalism (in particular R. Aron, A. Hunold, B. Jouvenel and W. Röpke) even came to leave the Society due to profound disagreements with the dominant line of thinking embodied from the 1960s by intellectuals close to traditional economic liberalism such as L. Mises and F. Hayek, as well as B. Leoni, W. Rappard, H. Hazlitt or the members of the Chicago School. The MPS progressively grew more radical as F. Hayek opened it up to the most anti-State currents of liberalism and the representatives of the Virginia-based School of public choice (J. Buchanan, G. Tullock and V. Smith are the most well-known of these representatives) as well as to anarcho-capitalist and minarchist thinkers8 (such as L. Liggio, R. Raico and P. Salin). The latter took inspiration from the rising libertarian movement in the United States, from the 1960s onwards, under the influence of A. Rand, M. Rothbard, R. Nozick and D. Friedman.

  • 9 For many of M. Friedman’s critics, the fact that he accepted General Pinochet’s invitation on 21st (...)

28Grouping together the Austro-American liberals, the Chicago School and all the MPS members under the neoliberal umbrella, as certain authors did from the 1970s onwards, therefore equates to grouping together intellectuals who often had very different conceptions of freedom to those defended by the majority of the participants of the Lippmann Colloquium or the German ordoliberals. Those who saw the economic reforms put in place in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s as the concrete application of neoliberalism only retained a limited view of its principles, i.e. support of the market economy and free trade, forgetting its simultaneous call to respect the constitutional State and democracy. Consequently, they freely applied the “neoliberal” label to a whole set of heterogeneous anti-Keynesian economists, some of whom did not hesitate in expressing extremist views or even, in some cases, compromising principles through their links with the Latin American dictatorships.9 This somewhat approximate reinterpretation, of American origin, led to a semantic shift that was partly in contradiction with the original meaning given to “neoliberalism” in Europe. This American understanding of a radical form of neoliberalism is no doubt also partly due to the fact that, from the 1950s, particularly in the United States, this current was above all seen through the figures of L. Mises and F. Hayek, both in exile in the States (in New York and Chicago, respectively). The positions of these two economists were in fact much better received in their adoptive country than in Europe, allowing them to play a determining role in structuring libertarian networks in the States around the Chicago School, and on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to the MPS.

29At the end of the 1970s and during the 1980s, this derivative usage envisaging neoliberalism as a monetarist and anti-Keynesian International was little established outside America. In Europe, several authors such as A. F. Utz (1975) and M. Foucault (1978) continued to refer to the ordoliberal understanding of the term.

30Moreover, in the United States, neoliberalism took on two further meanings, aside from the definitions already in common use regarding Europe and Latin America. A group of young parliamentary Democrats led by C. Peters and G. Hart declared that they were forming a “neoliberal” movement in order to renew the “liberalism” of the Kennedy generation of Democrats, by boosting economic recovery on the basis of new technologies (Rothenberg, 1984; Peters, 1985). Although noteworthy figures such as R. Reich and A. Gore were aware of this current, this use of the term did not last beyond the 1980s. However, the label nonetheless shows that at the time the policies implemented by the Republicans since R. Reagan’s election were not yet linked to neoliberalism. At the same time, neoliberalism also began to designate a new branch within studies in International Relations, launched by J. Nye (1988) and R. Keohane in response to K. Walz’s “neorealism”. On an international scale, this polysemy contributed to growing confusion.

The Globalisation of neoliberalism

31During the 1990s and 2000s, the use of the term derived from the Latin American context spread and became established throughout the rest of the world, without replacing the other meanings. Observers linked an increasing number of countries to various monetarist policies retrospectively considered as being neoliberal: the United Kingdom since M. Thatcher and the United States since R. Reagan, but also South Korea, Japan and Turkey (Figure 12). Latin America ceased to be the main centre for publications on neoliberalism and other centres emerged such as North America, Europe and East Asia. From the 2000s onwards, works published in languages other than Spanish or Portuguese became the majority (Figure 10).

Figure 12: Geography of books published on neoliberalism during the 2000s

Figure 12: Geography of books published on neoliberalism during the 2000s


32From the mid-1990s, the term was applied to various national reforms but also increasingly associated with phenomena of an international scale (Figure 13). Neoliberalism began to designate the globalisation of a market economy that had become unstable, characterised by deregulation, financial speculation and a return to capitalism presented as “unbridled”. In the post-Cold-War world, few countries or regions seemed to be spared so-called neoliberal policies. From the end of the 1990s, anti-neoliberalism became the rallying cry of the left-wing alterglobalist movement, and both left- and right-wing separatists, in denouncing the perceived extremes and failings of economic globalisation (Boas, 2009).

Figure 12: Number of works published in the world with a reference in the title to both neoliberalism and the world scale.

Figure 12: Number of works published in the world with a reference in the title to both neoliberalism and the world scale.

Source: Worldcat. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.

33Several renowned intellectuals, close to the radical left, took up the “neoliberal” label to denounce the extremes of economic globalisation, which they perceived as regressive and detrimental to the security and social rights of populations. They called on peoples and States to mobilise against the chaos and despoilment introduced by this new financial capitalism. Their work was translated into several languages, thus contributing to further spreading increasingly broad interpretations of neoliberalism.

34In 1994, N. Chomsky, for example, equated neoliberalism with the “Washington Consensus”, which he defined as “an array of market oriented principles designed by the government of the United States and the international financial institutions that it largely dominates, and implemented by them in various ways - for the more vulnerable societies, often as stringent structural adjustment programs. The basic rules, in brief, are liberalize trade and finance, let markets set price (“get prices right”), end inflation (“macroeconomic stability”), privatize. The government should “get out of the way” - hence the population too, insofar as the government is democratic, though the conclusion remains implicit.” N. Chomsky then took up the arguments of the dependacia theory on unequal exchange to present the neoliberal order as a project aiming to allow those with the most power in the world to seize profits to the detriment of the people.

  • 10 Such an interpretation clearly fails to take into account the antipositivist arguments defended by (...)

35For his part, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, in a famous article published in 1998 in Le Monde diplomatique, presented neoliberalism as a “utopia” defended by “conservative or social-democratic politicians who have been converted to the reassuring layoffs of laisser-faire” blinded by the “Walrasian myth … of a pure and perfect market” intended to allow “a Darwinian world” to emerge, where “it is the struggle of all against all”. In this view, neoliberalism took on the traits of a new scientistic “belief” grounded in the positivist reactivation of the neo-classical economy10, incapable of grasping the risks of chaos that it would bring to bear upon “the social order” as a whole.

36Shortly after, the alter-globalist R. Passet denounced the “five hundred initiates of the sect founded by Friedrich von Hayek, one of contemporary liberalism’s witch doctors”, who “meet in great secrecy at Mont Pelerin” (Passet, 2000) to design what journalist I. Ramonet labelled, in the mid-1990s, as a “single thought”. According to him, this new ideology was characterised by “the market”, whose invisible hand corrects the rough spots and the dysfunctions of capitalism,“ and very specifically the financial markets whose ”signals direct and determine the general movement of the economy;“ competition and competitiveness, which ”stimulate and energize firms, bringing them to a permanent and beneficial modernization;“ free trade without borders as ”a factor of uninterrupted development of trade and thus of societies;“ globalization of manufacturing production as well as of financial flows; the international division of labor that ”moderates the demands of trade-union claims and lowers labor costs;“ hard currency, ”a factor of stabilization;“ deregulation; privatization; liberalization, etc. Always ”less government“, a constant arbitrage favoring the revenues of capital to the detriment of those of labor. And indifference with regard to the ecological cost.” (Ramonet, 1995, p. 82).

  • 11 On this point, see also Audier (2012).
  • 12 By taking such distance from sources and by-passing the need to conduct detailed critical archival (...)

37These few examples show the heterogeneous interpretations and reasons for disapproval that exist among anti-liberals11. References to neoliberalism tend increasingly towards denouncing a variety of policies, which have in common the fact that they support the development of the market economy: tax support for the private sector, financial deregulation, privatisation of State-owned companies, the implementation of a new form of governance based on the competitive management of public equipments and services, a reduction in public spending, the adoption of anti-inflationist policies, the destruction of the Welfare State, and even the submission of local economic policies to the interests of a new transnational plutocracy (private firms, hedge funds, traders, etc.) backed by the imperialism of the United States. The subtle differences or contradictions between these different policies are rarely identified, particularly in terms of the differences in governance between the regulation of competition, which was indeed advocated by the first French and German neoliberals, complete laisser-faire and the protection of the privileges of the most fortunate. However, this accumulation of criticisms of various natures did not prevent detractors of neoliberalism from presenting it as a single coherent ideology. Grouping together under the same reproving label all the criticisms levied against not only the Austro-American economists or the members of the Chicago School but also now the proponents of the market economy in general, without taking into account their internal disagreements, allowed a common enemy to be identified against which the ideological struggle could be directed. Political scientist W. Brown, for example, is aware of the different historical origins of neoliberalism (ordoliberalism and the Chicago School), but nonetheless states that she does not wish to take them into account. She presupposes that there is necessarily a coherency between them: “I will be treating contemporary neoliberal political rationality without attending to these differences” (2004). 12

  • 13 This generalisation is all the more easy to disseminate in public opinion because many ultraliberal (...)
  • 14 According to D. Harvey, before this, there was a period of "embedded liberalism", a notion that he (...)

38This discursive strategy is all the more efficient because anti-liberals perceive neoliberalism as an extremist project; the ideas defended by the most anti-State liberals are presented as the dominant if not only form of contemporary liberalism, thereby justifying the fact that other trends are ignored or not taken into account.13 This perception of neoliberalism as an ultraliberal project on which there is broad consensus is particularly striking in the idea that the policies of market development conducted since the 1970s and 1980s are all part of the same ubiquitous project, applied on different scales and in very varied geographical and political contexts. This results from the universal application of the ideas of F. Hayek, the Chicago School and those who relayed their ideas within political parties and political circles. In most anti-liberal presentations of neoliberalism, the successive, fluctuating and sometimes contradictory meanings ascribed to this term over recent intellectual history, as well as the internal controversies within liberalism, are systematically masked or ignored, in favour of a standardising, radicalised and chronologically truncated vision of events. This is exactly the perspective conveyed by geographer D. Harvey in his Brief History of Neoliberalism (2007), which, according to him, began in the 1970s14 during a mutation phase in capitalism. In his view, this change allowed the anti-democratic conception of liberalism developed by the MPS to become established as a new doctrine holding that “human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade”.

39Since the 1990s, a truncated reconstruction of neoliberalism’s intellectual history has therefore spread, justified by the strategic need to denounce the effects of a new globalised capitalism, seen as the result of economic deregulation, the unbridled ideology of competition, and an absolutist vision of private property and entrepreneurial spirit. Discourse on neoliberalism therefore served to create and disseminate the idea that a particularly radical and anti-democratic form of economic liberalism had progressively been established from the mid 1970s onwards among most institutional powers in the world, within democracies and dictatorships alike. The few authors not to ignore the founding role of the Lippmann Colloquium (Halimi, 2004; Mirowksy, 2009) sometimes look to establish continuity between the original European neoliberalism and the rise of minarchism on an international scale during the 1970s, even though there is only a partial overlap between the geographical and doctrinal foundations of these two liberal currents.

General conclusion

40Tracing the discourse that has surrounded neoliberalism on a geo-historical level reveals how the notion has spread spatially, beginning in France (1930s and 1940s) before spreading through Western Europe and the United States from the 1950s onwards, and then in Latin America – which became the main editorial centre regarding neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s – and finally, in the 2000s, throughout the rest of the world. This spatial dissemination of the term was based on international academic networks and centres (universities, conferences, editors…): first, within neoliberal circles (1940s and 1950s), then among academics interested by political science in Europe and in the United States (1960s and 1970s) and, finally, in circles hostile to neoliberalism, in America and then throughout the world (since the 1980s). As the notion has spread, it has increasingly been applied to describe different geographical areas: West Germany in the 1950s, the Latin-American dictatorships in the 1980s and 1990s, and the world as a whole since the 1990s. These successive geographical transfers have often gone hand in hand with semantic deformations linked to increasingly approximate and shifting uses of references to neoliberalism. In the United States, from the 1960s onwards, several political scientists applied the neoliberal label to describe very heterogeneous policies. In doing so, they paved the way for increasingly disparate and imprecise uses of the term, meaning that eventually any policy favourable to the market economy could be qualified as neoliberal. Examining the geo-historical circulation of the term therefore affords us an understanding of how the current polysemy came into existence:

  • Initially, the term designated the network of intellectuals who gathered at the Lippmann Colloquium to put forward a common programmatic foundation for the renewal of liberalism, despite notable internal differences (Audier, 2012). From the 1950s to the end of the 1970s, this initial meaning mainly served to designate the German ordoliberal version of the international movement that was born at this time. Since the 1980s, this interpretation has remained among readers of M. Foucault (1978) who see neoliberalism as a form of governmentality implemented in Western Europe after the Second World War and which, when subject to archaeological study, can afford a better understanding of certain political workings that are still in place today (Burgin, 2012; Dardot, 2007 and 2010; Denord, 2009 and 2010; Laval, 2004; Schwartz, 2010).

  • A second meaning then derived from links made during the 1970s between the original neoliberalism and the Chicago School to account for the economic policies put in place by the Latin American dictatorships at the time. F. Hayek no doubt contributed to this confusion between policies of privatisation and the original neoliberalism by including increasingly heterogeneous liberal thinkers within the Mont Pelerin Society. This derived use of the term was taken up by the radical left and alterglobalist movements from the 1990s onwards, then joined by sovereignists of various leanings. It has allowed all the policies denounced by the anti-liberals to be brought together in one same category. The latter present neoliberalism as an absolutist, unequal and anti-democratic ideology, serving the interests of the dominant classes, that has managed to become established among the majority of political elites in the current world.

  • A third meaning, born in the United States in the 1980s, has developed separately within studies on international relations to refer to the arguments of J. Nye and R. Keohane.

41In the face of this situation, philosopher S. Audier calls for us to take into account the existence of several distinct neoliberalisms (2012). However, this polysemy raises two problems. First, the semantic distinction between the first and second meaning is rarely perceived. Depending on the author, neoliberalism can come to mean a variety of things as different as the institutional market and laisser-faire, regulated competition and unbridled competition, economic coordination and deregulation, a mode of govermentality and the demise of the State, international multilateralism and US imperialism, or a single thought and a radical doctrine.

  • 15 In many ways, the monetary policy of the European Union testifies to the current survival of the or (...)

42Moreover, the second meaning, which is now the most common on an international scale, gives the impression that numerous political leaders have put neoliberal policies in place over the last forty years due to their more or less conscious subscription to the ultraliberal arguments defended by the Chicago School. While the Chicago economists did inspire different governments in Latin America and the United States, the same cannot be said for other leaders to whom the implementation of neoliberal policies is nonetheless ascribed. In France, for example, the shift to “austerity” decided in 1983 by the socialist government and the commitment towards the Single European Act have been qualified as neoliberal decisions (Jobert, 1994, Chevènement, 2011). However, this change in policy can be explained less by subscription to M. Friedman’s ideas – as the anti-liberal interpretation of neoliberalism would give to understand – than by a desire to keep France within the European monetary system. At the time, such a decision presupposed an alignment with the ordoliberal anti-inflationism in place in West Germany since the post-war period.15 This example highlights the underlying influence of the initial neoliberalism implemented in Western Europe from the 1940s onwards through the freedom of prices, monetary stability, free trade, respecting competition, eliminating monopolies and positioning places in economic competition. In 1977, it was J. Rueff’s opinion that the notion of “institutional market”, which emerged from the Lippmann Colloquium, directly inspired European construction and he delighted in the fact that this neoliberalism now brought together “in a common civilisation, all the individuals and all the peoples who want to give men freedom without disorder and well-being without servitude, while also reducing inequality and injustice as much as is humanly possible” (p. 26).

43Reducing neoliberalism to the radical positions of the Chicago School, as suggested by the most common meaning given to the term by current anti-liberalism, prevents us from taking the full measure of the initial neoliberalism implemented in Western Europe from the 1940s onwards. This is why, for several years now, different – and mainly French-speaking – authors have begun an archaeological exhumation of the principles of the original neoliberalism in order to understand how it contributed to forging part of the normative framework within which many local, national and international political institutions still work (Audier, 2007 and 2012; Dardot, 2010; Denord, 2010). According to several of these analyses, the foundations of large portions of current governmentality, particularly within the European Union, can be found less in the anti-State liberalism of the Chicago School than in this original neoliberalism. This view holds that the influence of this neoliberalism can be seen in the fact that many political elites still strongly subscribe to multilateralism, utilitarian values (growth), free trade, free circulation and the ordoliberal norms (budgetary austerity, free and fair competition, stability and freedom of prices). While this initial neoliberalism has lost none of its influence, it has slowly changed into a single thought: as its values have progressively been established as norms that are incontrovertible and sometimes self-evident for certain Christian Democratic, Social Democratic and Liberal political parties in Europe, this neoliberalism has slowly lost its form as a clear and explicit doctrine, becoming instead a diffuse and anonymous ideology.

  • 16 Within the OECD countries, public spending went, on average, from 25.4% of GDP in 1965 to 34.6% in (...)
  • 17 From as early as 1947, although he participated in the Mont Pelerin Congress, M. Allais refused to (...)

44However, in order to fully understand this original neoliberalism, it should be distinguished from the anti-State recommendations of the most radical liberal currents’ (those of the Austro-American ultraliberal heirs to the Chicago School, Libertarians, Anarcho-capitalists and Minarchists, or even Liberal conservatives). Yet the confused and truncated interpretations that have been conveyed since the end of the 1990s by most anti-liberal criticisms of neoliberalism do not allow for this distinction. In particular, putting neoliberalism in the same category as ultraliberal fundamentalism precludes any understanding of how it is possible for the field of the competitive market to be extended in certain countries while mechanisms of redistribution and high-level public spending are maintained.16 If the values of the original neoliberalism that emerged from the Lippmann Colloquium seem to be so present today in public policies, it is precisely because they are not the same as the deregulation and restriction of State intervention advocated by the ultra liberals, which refer rather to the “old” nineteenth-century anti-State “liberalism” that W. Lippmann, L. Rougier or W. Röpke were already attacking in the 1930s. This explains how, in 2010, economist M. Allais who was one of the most fervent proponents of the values of the initial European neoliberalism, was able to qualify the version of liberalism implemented by the partisans of deregulation in the 1970s and 1980s as “globalising laisser-fairist havoc”, considering that the resulting globalisation “leads to injustice”. 17

45Geo-historical analysis of the uses of the term neoliberalism reveals how important it is to take into account how the spatial circulation of doctrinal labels can condition the variations in meaning and processes of ideological reinterpretation that go hand in hand with such geographical shifts. In this way, the geo-semantic transposition of “neoliberalism” to the policies implemented in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s led to the massive spread of an approximate and radicalised meaning of the term, vaguely associated with all the problems of contemporary economic globalisation. However, the success of this derived meaning is now an obstacle to understanding everything that, within the European Union in particular, results from an original form of neoliberalism that was founded upon multilateralism, free trade, the institutional market, competition and decentralisation. In this context, it seems desirable to seek to better differentiate within what we have become used to calling the neoliberal governance of places and societies, and separate the different forms of governmentality that regulate spatial interactions between public authorities and economic actors.

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1 These occurrences were calculated using the journal publishers’ lexical search tools. For the French-language journals, the main general geography journals were used: Les Annales de Géographie, Cybergeo, L’Espace géographique, Espaces et sociétés, Géocarrefour, Hérodote and Mappemonde. Certain journals could not be taken into account as they are too recent (L’Espace Politique, Justice Spatiale, Géographie Économie Société) or do not provide a full index (Belgéo, Géographie et cultures, L’Information géographique). Regional and thematic journals were not included. Regarding English-language journals, the sample concerns the main human geography journals that also offer a certain historical depth: The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Antipode, Applied Geography, Area, Geographical Review, Political Geography, Progress in Human Geography and Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

2 The inventory of books was carried out using Worldcat, the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center)’s lexical search tool. Only publications of over 70 pages were included. Dissertations and research reports without ISBN numbers were excluded. The search was carried out on the basis on the different declinations of the root "neoliberal" in the following languages: German (225 books), English (432), Arabic (15), Bulgarian (0), Catalan (5), Chinese (30), Korean (40), Croatian (3), Danish (8), Spanish (637), Finnish (7), French (91), Hebrew (1), Hungarian (2), Indonesian (32), Italian (33), Japanese (77), Dutch (4), Norwegian (7), Polish (9), Portuguese (167), Romanian (5), Russian (6), Slovenian (4), Swedish (5), Czech (1), Thai (0) and Turkish (28).

3 On the neoliberalism of The Good Society, see Brennetot (2012) and Urbain-Clave (2005). More generally, on the Lippmann Colloquium, see Audier (2008).

4 Other French intellectuals also participated in the SMP, without this meaning that they claimed an affiliation with any kind of "neoliberalism": R. Aron, B. de Jouvenel, G. Leduc, etc.

5 An inventory of the articles in academic journals containing at least one occurrence of the root "neoliberal" was compiled using the JSTOR portal. While the JSTOR corpus is not exhaustive, the lengthy period it spans allows several major journals published pre-1980 to be included, unlike other existing portals, and it also presents the advantage of being multilingual, including articles in German, Spanish and French as well as the majority in English. Passages referring to "neoliberalism" were read and the related individuals were noted in a database. 540 articles included one or two references, while 17 articles had more than ten. Lots of the occurrences corresponded to idiosyncratic use invented by the author for the occasion. Others did not link "neoliberalism" to any specific actor or trend in political thinking. Out of just over 700 articles analysed, 537 names were noted as being explicitly linked with "neoliberalism", referring to 200 different individuals, mainly intellectuals or political leaders. The results revealed the overwhelming presence of the German ordoliberals.

6 The method for identifying publications was the same as for Figure 3. Translations of foreign works were not counted among local publications and nor were re-editions.

7 The only actual reference concerns a short article published by M. Friedman in 1951 in the liberal Norwegian journal Farmand. In this article, M. Friedman defended a moderate form of liberalism, inspired by H. Simons, and very different from the minarchist views he would later put forward.

8 Minarchism ascribes a minimal role to the State, which is reduced to the kingly functions of maintaining public order. Anarcho-capitalism, for its part, advocates the disappearance of the State in favour of a regulation of social relations grounded in private property.

9 For many of M. Friedman’s critics, the fact that he accepted General Pinochet’s invitation on 21st March 1975 – as well as the letter of thanks he sent in return the following 21st April in which he advocated an anti-inflationist "shock program" – were the clearest proof of his intellectual compromise of principles and his lack of concern with denouncing the mass crimes that the Chilean regime was committing at the time (Klein, 2008). As for F. Hayek, in an interview given in 1981 to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio (12/01/1981), gave full marks to the Chilean dictatorship: "It is possible for a dictator to govern in a liberal way. And it is also possible for a democracy to govern with a total lack of liberalism. Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism. My personal impression — and this is valid for South America - is that in Chile, for example, we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government. And during this transition it may be necessary to maintain certain dictatorial powers, not as something permanent, but as a temporary arrangement". In tome 3 of Law, Legislation and Freedom (1973), F. Hayek even suggested replacing the democratic regime – accused of being plagued by vote-catching of all sorts – by a regime that he named "demarchy", a form of new regime of sages.

10 Such an interpretation clearly fails to take into account the antipositivist arguments defended by F. Hayek.

11 On this point, see also Audier (2012).

12 By taking such distance from sources and by-passing the need to conduct detailed critical archival work, this stance lays itself open to criticism from the right, who reproach opponents of neoliberalism their lack of rigour and the fact that they are fighting an illusion that they have completely invented themselves (Salin, 2002, Wolfelsperger, 2006).

13 This generalisation is all the more easy to disseminate in public opinion because many ultraliberal thinkers, who are hostile to State intervention, do not hesitate to reduce liberalism to their own radical vision, refusing to consider authors favourable to the economic intervention of public authorities as real liberals. The way in which, in France, a partisan of traditional liberalism such as A. Laurent presents the US new dealers, J. M. Keynes or J. Rawls, testifies to such an attitude.

14 According to D. Harvey, before this, there was a period of "embedded liberalism", a notion that he borrows from J. Ruggie (1982). In doing so, he ignores the existence of a neoliberal current in Western Europe from the end of the Second World War, in favour of a mode of regulating international relations grounded in multilateralism, free trade and the competitive integration of national economies.

15 In many ways, the monetary policy of the European Union testifies to the current survival of the ordoliberal credo.

16 Within the OECD countries, public spending went, on average, from 25.4% of GDP in 1965 to 34.6% in 1995, remaining at 33/8% in 2009.

17 From as early as 1947, although he participated in the Mont Pelerin Congress, M. Allais refused to sign the text that constituted the society of the same name due to an irreconcilable difference of opinion with F. Hayek concerning the issue of public property.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Number of articles containing at least one reference to “neoliberalism” in a few English-language geography journals.
Crédits Produced by Brennetot, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Titre Figure 2: Number of articles containing at least one reference to “neoliberalism” in a few French-language geography journals.
Crédits Produced by Brennetot, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Titre Figure 3: Number of books published worldwide containing the root “neoliberal” in the title.
Crédits Source: Worldcat, 2013. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 296k
Titre Figure 4: The professional locations of the participants of the Lippmann Colloquium organised in Paris by L. Rougier in 1938.
Fichier image/jpeg, 536k
Titre Figure 5: Professional location of the participants in the Ostend Colloquium on Economic Liberalism (1957).
Fichier image/jpeg, 504k
Titre Figure 6: The loose category of “neoliberalism” between 1950 and 1980: the preponderance of the German ordoliberals.
Crédits Source: Jstor. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 836k
Titre Figure 7: Number of articles referring to “neoliberalism” in a large sample of academic journals published between 1930 and 1990.
Crédits Source: Jstor. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 288k
Titre Figure 8: Geography of countries associated with “neoliberalism” (1938-2000).
Fichier image/jpeg, 512k
Titre Figure 9: Geography of publications on “neoliberalism” (1938-2000).
Fichier image/jpeg, 504k
Titre Figure 10: Number of books published worldwide with reference to “neoliberalism” in the title, according to language
Crédits Produced by Brennetot, 2013. Source: Worldcat, 2012.
Fichier image/jpeg, 392k
Titre Figure 11: The professional location of the participants in the Mont Pelerin Congress organised in Vevey (Switzerland) by F. Hayek in 1947.
Fichier image/jpeg, 476k
Titre Figure 12: Geography of books published on neoliberalism during the 2000s
Fichier image/jpeg, 440k
Titre Figure 12: Number of works published in the world with a reference in the title to both neoliberalism and the world scale.
Crédits Source: Worldcat. Produced by Brennetot, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 222k
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Arnaud Brennetot, « Geohistory of “neoliberalism” », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Politique, Culture, Représentations, document 677, mis en ligne le 13 juin 2014, consulté le 18 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Arnaud Brennetot

Maître de conférences en géographie,
Université de Rouen, UMR 6266 IDEES, France

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