The convergence of a far-right politics of racial exclusion with the logics of market capitalism evident in the Trump administration raises important questions about the relationship between neoliberalism and the far-right. Whilst some suggest that the contemporary rise of the far-right is a reaction against the failures of neoliberalism, more recent scholarship has begun to recognise increasing points of commonality between the neoliberal logic of the market and the exclusionary politics of the far-right. In my recent article in Contemporary Political Theory, I demonstrate that the convergence of fascistic and neoliberal politics is not a novel contemporary phenomenon as is widely presumed, but rather has historical roots in the political context of the 1930s and 1940s. I examine a group of political actors and thinkers who were active in both neoliberal and fascist movements, and unpack the logics that led these figures to believe the fascist politics of the 1930s were compatible with the nascent neoliberal movement in which they all also participated.
The fascist sympathies of certain early neoliberal thinkers have been noted but widely overlooked in the expansive literatures on neoliberalism. My article highlights four neoliberal thinkers who also engaged with fascist ideas and movements, suggesting these figures formed a minor but significant strand in early neoliberal thought. Firstly, Ludwig von Mises, a leading Austrian neoliberal thinker, worked as an economic advisor to Engelbert Dollfuss’ Austro-fascist regime and was a member of the fascist Patriotic Front. Secondly, the French intellectual Louis Rougier, who convened the Walter Lippmann Colloquium (regarded by many as the ‘birth of neoliberalism’), served in the Vichy French regime, and would later maintain close ties with Alain de Benoist and the European New Right. Thirdly, I note the French philosopher and journalist Bertrand de Jouvenel, a founding member of the neoliberal Mont Pelerin Society and leading member and propogandist for the French fascist Parti Populaire Français. Finally, to demonstrate the influence of fascist racial ideas even in those who opposed fascist governments in Europe, I examine the German ordoliberal Wilhelm Röpke, highlighting both his writings on gender and his strong support for the apartheid regime in South Africa.
From my reading of these four figures, I theorise three points of convergence between neoliberal and fascist accounts of the political. The first is an opposition to socialism at all costs, which is used to justify both political violence and the suppression of popular democracy. For instance, in his 1927 work Liberalism, Mises celebrated the violence of fascist parties directed against socialism, suggesting that ‘against the weapons of the Bolsheviks, weapons must be used in reprisal’, and that ‘the merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history’. Relatedly, Rougier argued the popular appeal of socialism meant democracy had to be severely restricted, warning that ‘if the peasant is the majority, he can throw down, in one great evening, all this [liberal] superstructure which was the work of the aristocratic classes’.
The second point of convergence is a racialized understanding of the underpinnings of the market economy, and a related emphasis on the necessity of preserving racial or cultural homogeneity. In contrast to the trope of ‘racial blindness’ that characterises the writing of more widely read neoliberal thinkers like Milton Friedman, the neoliberal thinkers I examine adopt an essentialised, hierarchical and biological understanding of race, and construct a world divided ‘between the various biological strains of men’ (Mises). An explicit orientalism that links western progress to the market economy is most evident in Ropke’s defence of apartheid in South Africa, with Ropke praising ‘the extraordinary qualities of its white population’, and suggesting apartheid was necessary because ‘the South African Negro is not only a man of an utterly different race but, at the same time, stems from a completely different type and level of civilization’. Thus, given the association of the market economy with the ‘white race’ (sometimes coded post-racially as ‘western civilisation’), these thinkers argued the racial and cultural purity of the west had to be preserved against the threat of migration and foreign cultures.
The final point of convergence between neoliberal and fascist thought was a patriarchal understanding of the market society, which rejected feminism and emphasised a return to traditional gender roles. The thinkers I examine argue that women are biologically adapted to the role of homemakers and must perform this function to allow the successful reproduction of the capitalist economy. Both Rougier and Mises argued socialism was ultimately responsible for empowering women and therefore undermining the liberal capitalist order, while Ropke attacked the ‘deliberate selfishness’ of birth control in a defence of the patriarchal social order that has strong resonances with the natalist themes of fascist propaganda in the 1930s. Jouvenel even compares the figure of the father to a dog breeder, with the analogous comparison of women to dogs indicative of the centrality of patriarchy to Jouvenal’s account of the social.
In concluding my article, I gesture to similar examples of the intersection of neoliberal and fascist politics in the present, most notably in the explicit ‘blood and soil’ politics of the Mises Institute, a far-right libertarian thinktank in the United States. Whether the concept of ‘neoliberal fascism’ can be applied to a past or future Trump administration will undoubtedly remain more controversial, given the ongoing debates as to whether the label of fascism should be applied to populist leaders such as Trump. Nevertheless, given the increasing openness of white nationalist and Great Replacement themes in mainstream discourse, the ongoing moral panics targeting feminism and LGBTQI rights, and the increasingly militarised border regimes around the world, I claim that understanding the key points at which neoliberal and fascist political rationalities are converging is crucial to combatting the resurgence of a racist and violent form of market politics, the historical antecedents of which I have located in the 1930s.