Neoliberalism, because of it’s unique third way status, finds itself as an ideology without a home and without a party. The left doesn’t want it because it champions free-markets and the right doesn’t want it because it’s inherently progressive. It really does deserve its own party. A pro-market, anti-conservative, socially progressive party.
Neoliberalism and the Center-Left
Neoliberalism can be described as a moderate alternative to the right, in alliance with the left, but not necessarily leftist itself. While neoliberalism has won many victories for left-wing parties — Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Gerhard Schröder of Germany, and Jean Chrétien of Canada — one could argue that these neoliberal administrations were not so healthy philosophically for their respective left-wing parties. The reason neoliberalism is so unhealthy for left-wing parties is that it’s not a particularly left-wing ideology, not even a center-left ideology. Neoliberalism is squarely a center-right ideology that has found hold in left-wing parties because it isn’t necessarily conservative enough either to be grouped with the right-wing opposition. However, when neoliberalism comes from the left, it brings about the fall of most left-wing parties, because it’s not even a left-of-center platform. It explains why left-wing parties post-neoliberalism have struggled to regain steam. Neoliberalism effectively discombobulates and frustrates left-of-center voters because it’s much more to the center-right. Labour in the UK sharply turned anti-neoliberal through Miliband and Corbyn. German Social Democrats are still struggling to rebuild the confidence from a left-of-center base since it left government in 2005. Even the Labour Party in the Netherlands is struggling to regain the confidence of moderate socialists since it left office back in 2002. Most of their former voters have fled to the more left-wing socialist, pro-worker parties that they felt were more capable of resisting the center-right fusion of pro-market neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has therefore effectively left the left-of-center in shambles without a clear identity. It’s what drives left-of-center parties towards the far-left, in earnest of expressing a more center-left ideology. It’s what happened to UK Labour through far-left socialist Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s what’s happening to US Democrats under Bernie Sanders and AOC. It’s seen through AOC calling the Democrats a “center-conservative party” with there being no clear left-wing party in America. I sympathize with that claim, and there should be a left-wing party. It’s what convinces me to believe that neoliberalism should be in a right leaning party — more on that below. If left-wing parties would have been able to express a clear center-left ideology, we wouldn’t see the rise of the far-left today. Or at the very least, it would have been able to be tamed much quicker. The only reason left-wing parties in the US and Canada have been able to rebound so effectively is because neoliberalism has been forced to bend and compromise. Barack Obama started that trend through his more moderate variant of neoliberalism, and now Biden has effectively become a center-left social democrat. More pure neoliberals, like Howard Shultz, John Delaney, and Michael Bloomberg were all vehemently rejected and attacked by the left. Now it’s become as equally unhealthy for neoliberalism itself, as it can’t even compete under its own banner within its respective party.*
*I would give the US Democratic Party a unique exception, however, considering it is more of a big tent party compared to more rigid center-left parties. Neoliberalism does more harm to squarely left-wing parties over big-tent parties. This allows neoliberals siding with Democrats to actually enhance the party overall. Especially when the options are between a big-tent Democratic party versus a nationalist party. Neoliberals would vote Democrat and Democrats need neoliberal votes. For as long as America remains a two-party system and Republicans continue doing what they do, neoliberals are going to remain center-right Democrats. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but actually a good thing. Democrats need neoliberals in the party to keep Trump Republicans out of office. Neoliberals just need to do better job at defending their corner within the Democratic Party.
Neoliberalism and the Center-Right
The reason neoliberalism isn’t stronger and dominant in more right-wing parties is because even though neoliberalism is center-right, it’s not at all conservative. It’s very much progressively minded with a few small-c conservative characteristics pertaining to fiscal policy. However, the reason neoliberalism doesn’t align more with center-right parties is that it technically still agrees more with the left-wing on major issues. Foreign policy, immigration, culture issues, and now now electoral issues within the United States. Neoliberals are progressives (in pro-progress terms) and optimists who want more societal progression and disruption through open economies, cultural liberalism, and higher participation in the global economy. That doesn’t suit very well with the more pessimistic, religious right and the nationalist, anti-immigrant wings of the right-wing. And neither do neoliberals like the idea of sharing the tent with those ideologies either. All neoliberals really have to do on the left-wing is shift economic policy to the right. On the right-wing, it involves much more shifting to the left. It’s why neoliberalism is just as unsustainable on the right as it is on the left, it gets destroyed by right-wing parties. David Cameron and George Osborne were doing a really impressive job at converting the Conservatives into a center-right neoliberal party. However, through the help of Brexit fueling the more nationalist, big-government wing, neoliberalism was forced into the back benches. However, even though neoliberalism is a variant of the center-right, it is again not a conservative ideology. That becomes especially difficult when it is conservatism that has monopolized the center-right and it’s respective parties in most devoloped countries. Thus, driving neoliberalism to their left-wing parties to advance their reform, beginning the cycle all over again. Just see the first paragraph.
An ideology without a home
Neoliberalism is at odds with both the right and left because that’s exactly the point. It’s called a third way ideology for a reason. It’s unhealthy for the right-wing because it’s not conservative enough and its unhealthy for the left-wing because of its heavy market-based solutions. Both undermine the right and left respectively in their own unique way. This toxic relationship between both parties is what can become unhealthy for neoliberalism itself. Forcing the ideology to dilute and compromise itself in the direction of having to become more conservative or socialistic. Now it starts to not look very neoliberal anymore, doesn’t it? It’s why I say the ideology belongs in its own party.
A centrist/center-right neoliberal party in America
Neoliberalism can be found as the dominant force behind multiple successful parties because it is a distinct ideology compared to both the right and left. It’s very centrist. I argue it tilts more to the right, but that’s just myself talking. Yet, you would find most neoliberal parties spanning the center to the center-right, which is exactly where I think it belongs. La République En Marche in France, the party of Emmanuel Macron, is very neoliberal. It started out as centrist, but it’s become clear that it tilts to the right. The Centre Party of Sweden, led by Annie Lööf, has been described as one of Sweden’s most market liberal parties. It also spans from the center to the center-right. The Free Democratic Party in Germany, is the actual free-market neoliberal party, which to no surprise supported the SDP’s market-based reforms. They span the center to center-right and are led by Christian Lindner. The Reform Party of Estonia, led by Kaja Kallas, consistently advocates for neoliberalism. It’s squarely on the center-right, and I consider it to be one of the purest, most competitive neoliberal parties that I’ve ever seen. All four of these leaders — Emmanuel Macron, Annie Lööf, Christian Linder, and Kaja Kallas — are market-oriented progressives who fit neatly in their prospective parties.
Those are not the only ones. There’s NEOS in Austria, For the People in Slovakia, Citizens in Spain, and the Liberal Alliance in Denmark. Even the European Parliament has a broad, centrist neoliberal party — Renew Europe.
It’s clear neoliberalism can thrive as it’s own party and compete against the left as an alternative for social progressivism while competing against the right as a more market-based alternative.
We need a neoliberal party.