What is neo-liberalism?

Stephanie Lee Mudge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neo-liberalism is an oft-invoked but ill-defined concept in the social sciences. This article conceptualizes neo-liberalism as a sui generis ideological system born of struggle and collaboration in three worlds: intellectual, bureaucratic and political. Emphasizing neo-liberalism's third 'face', it argues that a failure to grasp neo-liberalism as a political form imposes two limitations on understanding its effects: (i) fostering an implicit assumption that European political elites are 'naturally' opposed to the implementation of neo-liberal policies; and (ii) tending to pre-empt inquiry into an unsettling fact-namely, that the most effective advocates of policies understood as neo-liberal in Western Europe (and beyond) have often been elites who are sympathetic to, or are representatives of, the left and centre-left. Given that social democratic politics were uniquely powerful in Western Europe for much of the post-war period, neo-liberalism within the mainstream parties of the European left deserves particular attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-731
Number of pages29
JournalSocio-Economic Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008


  • Economic thought
  • Institutionalism
  • Liberalism
  • Neo-liberalism
  • Political economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Economics, Econometrics and Finance


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