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Resurgence of a New Liberalism

Maithreyi Krishnaraj

Edited by Carolyn M. Elliott
Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group, London, New York, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 399, price not stated.


The title is misleading because much of the book is about the adverse consequences of globalization and neoliberal policy. These days the phrase ‘neoliberal’ is bandied about without explaining what it is and how it has come about—was a liberal state something that just preceded it or was it replaced by another political system which is not named? The book does not explain this as most people take it for granted that what followed the ‘liberal system’ was more benign and that this has been outwitted by the resurgence of a new liberalism. At least there is a definition offered right at the outset in the competent introduction by the editor, who is a political scientist herself and has much experience of developing countries.   In the introduction, Elliott situates individualist and communitarian approaches to modernization. The individualist tradition has the conviction that the individual knows best; the communitarian giving more importance to common interest. Historically the liberals were the modernizers while the conservatives wanted to preserve the old order. The modernizers today are identified with those who believe in market forces as the best regulators of the economy. The conservatives swear by group identity and group interests that are also entwined with religious politics, ethnic politics, resurgent nationalism and fundamentalism. The dilemma for women is that both positions are problematic—market oriented polity generates exclusivity, individualism and inequality; community models on the other hand bind women to their community giving them a sense of security but at the cost of their autonomy in most matters relating to personal life. We see before us this battle, day in and day out in many parts of the world. The book explores whether there are possibilities for women’s empowerment within this paradoxical matrix.   In the global context, there is a shift of many erstwhile government functions to private institutions. Even where social services have not been cut, domestic policy goals have shifted from promotion of well being, to investment in human capital, leaving little room for recognition of women’s contribution to the larger economy.   Unfortunately, the true meaning of liberal as that of individual rights, of freedom of speech, of right to assembly, of freedom to practice religion of choice and the rule of law has been obscured to a narrow version meaning privatization of certain functions like provision of safety and welfare measures for the people. All western democracies ...

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