This dissertation asks why Europe's center-left failed to produce a sustained political challenge to neoliberalism in the 1990s. It is an analysis of politics, taking as its central object the European Union (EU) and its member states as of the year 2000. I include American politics for comparison and because Europe and the US share political, economic and intellectual interconnections. Drawing on historical records, interviews, statistical analysis and secondary evidence, I examine how economic change, political struggle, geopolitical competition, and social scientific expertise shaped European politics in the neoliberal era. The basic unit of analysis is the political field , understood as a system of social relations in which political elites, technocrats, state officials, representatives of labor and capital, lobbyists, professionals and non-governmental organizations struggle for political power. I attend to three overlapping fields: national, transatlantic, and European. The main outcomes of interest are axes of opposition differentiating 'right' and 'left' over time and across political contexts.
Neoliberalism can be understood as an institutionalized set of beliefs, practices and cognitive orientations that hold up the sanctity of the market and the profanity of politics. Political neoliberalism's origins lie within the intellectual field, specifically in American economics. Using data on political programs since 1945, I show that political neoliberalism reached unprecedented highs in all regions of Europe in the 1990s, arguing that its ascendance within the European center-left marks the redefinition of a longstanding political category. I then use time series regression methods to evaluate three sources of political neoliberalism since 1973: economic conditions, Anglo-liberal influences and left-right political competition. I find that Anglo-liberal influences are important, economic factors have surprisingly low explanatory value, and the political power of the center-right has a negative effect on center-left neoliberalism. I propose that Anglo neoliberalism shapes European politics directly via economic relations, and indirectly via American 'hyperpuissance' and the internationalized economics profession.
Finally, the study examines elites' struggle over the social in the EU political field. Historicizing this struggle within the context of neoliberalism's political ascendance and paying reflexive attention to the role of social science, I analyze the "Lisbon strategy" between the late 1990s and 2005. Lisbon originally expressed political elites' and non-orthodox social scientists' efforts to construct 'social Europe,' challenging the European Commission's economically orthodox inclinations. Within a few years, Lisbon was redefined as a neoliberal project despite the absence of any coherent movement by the political right and, more surprisingly, with the guidance and consent of the center-left. I offer a three-part explanation: path dependence in the wake of the Single Market Project, the European center-left's embrace of deregulation, and the dominance in EU politics of the categories, concepts and logical systems of the economics profession. The end-result is a historically specific political phenomenon: neoliberalism without neoliberals.