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New Left Review 111, May-June 2018


Alexander Zevin

A CRITICAL CONFORMIST

One sign that the death of neoliberalism was exaggerated when first reported in 2008 could be found in the reactions of the business press. ‘Crisis, What Crisis? Enough Kerfuffle, It’s Just a Slowdown’ was how Bill Emmott, the Economist’s editor, greeted the news in a Guardian op ed. [1] Edward Luce, The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Abacus: London 2018, £8.99, paperback, 248 pp, 978 0 3491 4302 6Five months later, ‘I wasn’t right. But that’s ok’. If denial characterized the response to the onset of the Great Recession, the twin political shocks of Brexit and Trump almost a decade later have had the opposite effect—waves of despair and defiance crashing over commentators, stunned by popular anger at globalization, with a flurry of titles now claiming liberalism, the West, or both, are in crisis. The two moments have a certain dialectical unity about them, on display in the marriage of alarmism and complacency that characterizes Emmott’s 2017 book, The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Idea, in which he doubles down, calling for a dose of ‘neo-neo liberalism’ to ‘restore and nurture equality’, although with the proviso that this should not be ‘redistributive and material’. Above all, we should refrain from criticizing capitalism, which would be ‘rather like attacking “life”.’

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