Elliot Askew (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

Requiem for Reality- An Intellectual History of the Response to Neoliberalism in 1980s America

In 1906 German sociologist, Werner Sombart seriously broached the question of why there was no socialism in America. In 1984 American historian, Eric Foner offered his own answer to the socialism question and cited Sombart and the slew of other academics who had also wrestled with it. Now in 2018 I will continue this trend and hope to contribute some knowledge to this wide question which is now over a century old. The entrenchment of the neoliberal order in the 1980s shafted socialism in America to new depths. Ultimately, I want to understand what intellectual, cultural, political, and economic e effects neoliberalism was having during the 1980s, the decade which launched the epoch America is currently within, and crucially, how intellectuals at the time perceived and comprehended these changes. I aim for my work to provide an insight into the relativity involved in political discourse and how this relativity has been used to obfuscate or perpetuate hierarchies through disingenuous or inadequate narratives, how neoliberalism altered the relationship between the right and left in America and to what effect, and how neoliberalism disturbed intellectuals’ relationship with centres of power. In order to understand what effects neoliberalism was perceived to be having I will contrast the responses from right wing think tanks like the Cato foundation against the responses from left wing public intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky. Furthermore, in order to conduct intellectual history ‘from below’ and to widen my scope of analysis I want to analyse less traditional intellectuals such as artists and journalists, including Joan Didion and Alexander Cockburn. Contrasting think tanks against public intellectuals will allow for a dissection of what scope there was for dissent and how did those on the right react to getting their desired economic changes.

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