Book Forum: Leftism Reinvented by Stephanie Mudge

Seven decades ago, Friedrich Hayek (1949) published an incendiary essay titled “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” where he defined modern intellectuals as mere “second-hand dealers of ideas.” Intellectuals for Hayek were not so much renowned experts in specialized disciplinary fields as learned and politically-committed people who turned their cultural authority into “organs” for the interpretation and translation of dominant ideas and knowledge to the great masses. Almost a Gramscian, but contradicting Gramsci’s diagnosis, Hayek complained that, for decades, only the cultured of socialist persuasion had assumed, militantly, an active role as organic intellectuals. Only the socialist intellectuals, Hayek argued, “have offered anything like an explicit program of social development, a picture of the future society at which they were aiming, and a set of general principles to guide decisions on particular issues” (428). Hayek closed his essay with a harangue, a call on the liberals to fight for cultural hegemony. Urgent for Hayek was the reconstruction of “a liberal Utopia”: a program of “truly liberal radicalism” which “appeals to the imagination” and “does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible” (432). And critical to this project were “intellectual leaders who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization” (432).


A man of his word, Hayek devoted his life to building a transnational movement of (neo)liberal intellectuals. The neoliberals started hundreds of think tanks all around the world, opened research institutes and business schools, founded magazines and newspapers, colonized international organizations, and courted politicians and bureaucrats from across ideological camps. The movement not only contributed to the transformation of economics into an internationalized, finance-oriented profession; it also fomented a new common sense about the moral virtue of markets as an axial principle for social regulation.

Now, thanks to Leftism Reinvented, we know mass parties of the Left were, too, key drivers of this great transformation. How this happened is eloquently revealed by Mudge’s “inside-out” approach to political parties as contested fields wherein factions of truth-claiming party experts vie for the formulation of economic interpretations and doctrines, thus shaping parties’ capacity to intermediate. Mudge’s focus on party experts’ biographies gives proper name, voice, and agency to the key figures who, speaking for both party officials and those parties claim to represent, led the shift from socialism to Keynesianism in the 1950s-1960s, and then to neoliberalism in the 1980s-1990s. Of paramount importance was the dynamic between these experts and the economics profession, which Mudge summarizes through an insightful typology. In the beginning was the socialist theoretician, a non-credentialed pamphleteer and agitator recruited and socialized within the socialist parties’ network infrastructure of cultural production and mass education, who spoke economics in a Marxist vein. The road from marginality to political power required that the socialist theoretician be replaced by the economist theoretician. At once an academically trained and party-affiliated economist, this new type of expert was the bearer of a much-needed Keynesian ethics, translating popular demands into sound economic analysis and management in the context of Polanyian-like double movements for decommodification and social protection. Mudge notes that the ascent of Keynesian-oriented Left parties and the concomitant expansion of the administrative state certainly contributed to the growth and consolidation of the economics profession. But it also opened the door for its politicization. The neoliberal challenge intensified interpretative struggles over the causes of and solutions to economic turmoil, undermining the Keynesian political consensus, which in turn enabled the reorientation of the economic profession towards corporate networks and international finance. The resulting type of economic expert who came to dominate parties’ programmatic language, the transnational, finance-oriented economist, no longer spoke for labor or any other popular constituency whatsoever, except for abstract and-–allegedly–-apolitical markets. Succumbing to the new market common sense and deprived of any capacity to intermediate, Left Parties turned to policy wonks and campaign strategists, who could only speak for what works and what wins, not for the working people.