In a recent interview in Medium, Malcolm Harris speaks with Melinda Cooper about her book, Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full conversation. An excerpt appears below:
“MEDIUM: The titular alliance between neoliberals and social conservatives is often figured as pragmatic or mercenary, but you make the argument that they share a common purpose. You write that ‘the dismantling of welfare represents the most effective means of restoring the private bonds of familial obligation.’ Are these ideological currents (neoliberalism and social conservatism) closer than some would have us believe?
COOPER: As political philosophies and frameworks for understanding the world, economic liberalism and conservatism do have distinct lineages and styles of analysis. There is a certain common sense to the argument that they are at loggerheads. The liberal defense of the free market is built on a critique of inherited status, of so-called unearned income or rent, of mercantilist protectionism and monopolies. The conservative critique of the free market is a reaction formation against the bourgeois revolutions of the 19th century and a revanchist effort to reinstate or reinvent social hierarchies of all kinds.
However, if you look at the history of economic liberalism, the borders become very fuzzy both in the sense that we find key figures of the conservative canon who were also liberals and vice versa (figures such as Edmund Burke and Thomas Malthus come to mind). And in practice it is impossible to find any period of so-called laissez faire triumphalism that was not accompanied by a rollout of conservative or paternalist social policies of some kind. In American history, you could point to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and the period from the late 1970s until today as proof of this working relationship.”