Neoliberalism is like fundamentalism or postmodernism. No one identifies as such, but we know it when we see it and when we see it we don’t like it. And go to a conference in the humanities and you’ll hear about it; again and again.
In discussing Foucault’s lectures on neoliberalism, back when it used to be neo-liberalism, Colin Gordon summarizes Foucault’s perspective as follows.
In a nutshell, he suggests that recent neo-liberalism, understood (as he proposes) as a novel set of notions about the art of government, is a considerably more original and challenging phenomenon that the left’s critical culture has had the courage to acknowledge, and that its political challenge is one which the left is singularly ill equipped to respond to’ (Gordon, ‘Governmental rationality: an introduction’ in The Foucault Effect, 1991).
Gordon wrote this twenty years ago. Foucault gave the lectures thirty years ago. Yet the left has not grown teeth and like the lion in The Wizard of Oz, courage has not been found and Toto hasn’t peeled back the curtain. This is partly due to the left seeking to critique neoliberal governmentality while holding on to a redundant theory of the State. Neoliberal practices of government do not flow from the State, but the neoliberal state, if we can call it such, is the effect of the practices. This leaves the left playing a game two moves too late.