One of the rhetorical strategies employed by people wanting to take potshots at those who sought to blame neo-liberalism for some of the structural and attitudinal causes of the Global Financial Crisis has been to either deny that there is such a thing or to insist that if there is, everyone was into it. The short answer to the conundrum of the missing neo-liberals, I’d have thought, is obvious. Notions like ‘The Washington Consensus’, and the language and apparatus of science, are both discursive moves designed to render a particular ideological viewpoint coincidental with ‘common sense’ or ‘rationality’, and thus to enable it to disappear into the background and therefore appear inevitable.
Don Arthur has recently looked at the trajectory of the term and how it appeared in Australian public discussion, while John Quiggin offers some more reflections on the sociology of elites, power and ideology:
From the inside, ideology usually looks like common sense. Hence, politically dominant elites don’t see themselves as acting ideologically and react with hostility when ideological labels are pinned on them. Ideology is only useful for an insurgent group of outsiders, seeking a coherent basis for a claim to displace the existing elite. Because neoliberalism typically enjoyed rapid triumphs, it never needed to express itself as a formal ideology.
Both posts are well worth reading, clarifying a contested term and shedding some light on the mystery of ‘the ideology that dare not speak its name’, as Quiggin puts it.