Individualism and Inequality
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Individualism and Inequality

The Future of Work and Politics

Ralph Fevre

A belief in individual self-determination powered the development of universal human rights and inspired social movements from anti-slavery to socialism and feminism. At the same time, every attempt to embed individualism in systems of education and employment has eventually led to increased social inequality. Across the globe individualism has been transformed from a revolutionary force into an explanation for increasingly unequal societies where dissent is largely silent. This book explores the possibility of rediscovering the original, transformative potential of individualism.
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Chapter 11: The neoliberal settlement

Ralph Fevre


This chapter will convey us from 1976 to the era of global neoliberal hegemony described in Chapter 1. Previous chapters have described a series of struggles that drew on two different types of individualism, lasted for more than two centuries and ended with a comprehensive victory of cognitive over sentimental individualism in the USA. Other countries eventually followed the American lead, even when they had very different histories of engagement with individualism. The election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 is always mentioned in accounts of neoliberalism but insufficient attention is usually paid to explaining how it came to pass that a leader like Thatcher had become electable in the first place. The answer to this conundrum can be found in the convergence between the UK and the USA, in the fields of work and education, by 1976. Understanding this convergence shows us why Thatcher’s election was both a starting gun for the spread of neoliberalism around the world, and a template for later neoliberal victories. Thatcher’s election showed that British politics was now converging with the USA, just as the two countries had already converged in the fields of education and work. It is a mistake to imagine that the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981 showed that the UK was leading the USA into the neoliberal future. That Reagan and Thatcher were apparently of one mind simply served to disclose how much political convergence had already occurred.

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