Until recently, liberalism was, according to Karl Polanyi, embedded within civil society, working closely with a democratic state intent on addressing, in solidarity, the social risks associated with modern capitalism.
Modern relations between society and the state have been, at best, ones of shared language and goals rather than necessary conflict. Already under the polizeistaat, absolutist rulers took, in their own way, the care of their population as central to their rule. The welfare state was only the most innovative embodiment of such collective concerns.
Today’s neoliberalism is, to the contrary, a subversion of liberal embeddedness. It is the utopia of market fundamentalism intent, by the power of its perversity narrative of the past, on replacing socially embedded market and government with a dispiriting, socially isolating Malthusian project.
'This is a ruthless book. It is learned, demanding, and does not respect your habits as a reader of mainstream scholarship. Berkeley liberal arts radicalism meets continental European intellectual style. Precisely for those reasons, I recommend it to you. The core argument is certainly worth your consideration: namely, that neoliberalism has a corrosive effect on the state, on society, and on the relations between the two. (But whither neoliberalism? Is it not erstwhile neoliberals who now call more vociferously for state intervention than anybody else?)'
Dr Jörg Friedrichs, University of Oxford
'The Great Transformation could have been the title of this book. Di Palma picks up the central theme of Polanyi’s masterwork – the impact of neoliberal capitalism on society – and extends it in two new directions: its impact on the capacity of the state and on the quality of democracy. He is less sanguine about the eventual countervailing political reaction to its destructive tendencies and frustrated expectations, but his cautious predictions seem well-grounded in the contemporary context.'
Professor Philippe C Schmitter, European University Institute
'Di Palma's highly original and profound book combines classic political philosophy and political science with a Foucauldian analysis of power. These seemingly incompatible intellectual approaches nevertheless prove extremely fruitful in helping us understand neoliberal domination.
In a very Foucauldian way, the author problematises neoliberalism as the transformation of social collective solidarity into risk management and individual responsibility. He also shows how the ‘ownership society’ that characterises neoliberalism is based on possessive individualism and commodification, signalling the end of the centrality of the notion of collectivity.
But Di Palma complements this through his re-reading of classical works, demonstrating the transformation through subtle analysis of the subjective uses of the principle of precaution; the plurality of the meaning of risk, responsibility, and solidarity; and the unintended consequences of individual commitment to social order in the name of liberty.'
Dr Béatrice Hibou, Sciences Po Paris
'In a work that follows the injunction to practice ‘pessimism of the intellect,’ Giuseppe Di Palma elaborates a withering critique of the ways that market ideology subverts the modern state and social solidarity. While he insists that it is premature to declare the death of neoliberalism, his book helps us see how we must think about the connections between state and society if we are ever to overcome its destructive power.'
Professor Fred Block, University of California at Davis