Neoliberalism Is Dying. What Comes Next? History shows that the period between the end of one political order and the beginning of another is a time of maximum danger.

AuthorKettenring, Brian
PositionThe Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era

The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era

by Gary Gerstle Oxford University Press, 432 pp.

Since the Great Recession, observers have examined the unrelenting challenges to the liberal order. The historian Gary Gerstle's new study, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliheral Order, scrutinizes neoliberalism's collapse, offering a historical perspective on this inquiry. Looking ahead, the United States and the rest of the world, he concludes, face another turbulent decade. In Gerstle's telling, political orders--his term for electoral coalitions and economic arrangements underwritten by a worldview-arise and then break down after a few decades when a system loses its purchase. The University of Cambridge scholar thinks we're living through such a breakdown, and the evidence is squarely on his side. Worse still, as neoliberalism wanes, it leaves a void that dangerous alternatives like ethno-nationalism can fill. Neoliberalism, an ideology that privileges markets, the individual, and private property over government and community, led to the financial crisis and is proving inadequate to handle COVID-19, climate change, racial inequality, and other key challenges of our time. It's just the latest in Gerstle's longtime examination of shifting economic patterns since the Great Depression and how they can trigger electoral realignments.

Further, the book proffers a tale of how ordinary citizens enacted their visions of freedom and opportunity, a narrative of the great and not-so-great (who remembers the once-powerful Senator Robert Taft today?) political leaders who rose and fell, shaped the swells of sweeping political-economic forces. It's also a partial intellectual history of liberalism in the United States. Looking at the wider world, Gerstle presses a rethink of the relationship between geopolitics and domestic matters by bringing the dynamics of global Communism into the plot. Though the book is written for the advanced generalist, it takes up interesting debates among historians and impressively integrates a generation of historical scholarship on 20thcentury U.S. history.

To fully appreciate this new release, it helps to turn to 1989, not only because that's when the Berlin Wall fell or when the Nintendo Game Boy was introduced. That year, Gerstle and coeditor Steve Fraser released a 10-essay volume called The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930-1980. By the tail end of the Reagan years, historians had enough distance from what had happened in the 1970s and '80s to write a "historical autopsy," as the editors called it, of New Deal liberalism. Their New Deal order book was significant for a couple of reasons. It introduced the concept of political orders in the historical profession at a time when scholars sought to...

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