The Military Roots of Neoliberal Governance

Neoliberal governance has military roots. A flourishing literature has pointed to the profound connections between research and development in the military (especially centred around the RAND Corporation) and the transformations in the way large parts of civilian life are governed in the neoliberal era (Collier and Lakoff, 2015). From its intellectual impact on economic (Mirowski, 2002) and political theory (Amadea, 2016), its institutional impact with the renovation of business school (Augier and March, 2011) and growth of management consultants (Berman, 2017), to its policy impacts with the emergence of policy analysis science and public management (Radin, 2000), the remaking of environmental (Lane, 2019) and urban governance (Light, 2005), the practices inherited from RAND have profoundly transformed the nature of governance.

This forum reflects on the influence of military research in the making of neoliberal governance. Its starting point are three questions:

1. What difference does this history make to the narratives we have about neoliberalism?

2. How does this military lineage relate to the history of neoliberal thought centered around the Mont Pélerin Society?

3. Does the acknowledgement of the influential role of military research on control and planning – and the subsequent spread of techniques born of this research – change what we understand neoliberal governance to be?

These questions emerged from a research group based at the University of Sussex which used the growing historical literature about the legacy of the RAND corporation to rethink the nature of neoliberal governance (Knafo, Dutta, Lane and Wyn-Jones, 2019). The group starts from the idea that we need to clearly differentiate the managerial practices of governance developed by people affiliated with the RAND corporation from the ideas of the classic thinkers of neoliberalism such as Hayek or Friedman. It argues that, when it comes to practices of governance in the era of neoliberalism, there is a case to be made that the military lineage has had a more profound influence on neoliberal governance than the theories promoted by the cadre of neoliberal thinkers.

After the first two posts setting out this argument, other posts will follow to provide critical responses by scholars grappling with similar issues and reflecting on how to reconcile the important military lineage of contemporary governance with the themes of neoliberalism usually associated with neoliberal theory.

Sahil Jai Dutta, Samuel Knafo, Richard Lane, Ian Lovering and Steffan Wyn-Jones


Amadae, S. M. (2016), Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Augier, M. and March, J. (2011), The Roots, Rituals, and Rhetorics of Change: North American Business Schools after the Second World War (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

Berman, E. P. (2017), ‘From Economic to Social Regulation: How the Deregulatory Moment Strengthened Economists’ Policy Position,History of Political Economy, 49 (Supplement): 187-212.

Collier, S. J., & Lakoff, A. (2015), ‘Vital Systems Security: Reflexive Biopolitics and the Government of Emergency’, Theory, Culture & Society32(2), 19–51

Knafo, S., S. J. Dutta, R. Lane and S. Wyn-Jones (2019), ‘The Managerial Lineages of Neoliberalism’, New Political Economy, 24 (2): 235-251.

Lane, R. (2019), ‘The American anthropocene: economic scarcity and growth during the great acceleration’, Geoforum, 99: 11-21.

Light, J. (2005), From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Baltimore; John Hopkins University Press).

Mirowski, P. (2002), Machines Dreams: Ecomonics becomes a Cyborg Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Radin, B. (2000), Beyond Machiavelli: Policy Analysis comes of Age (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press).


Managerialism reminds us that security is at the heart of neoliberalism


Cold War Cybernetics, Strategy and Managerial Governance: Unpicking the Military Roots of Neoliberalism


The Political Economy of Managerialism


Planning in the Name of the Market: Neoliberalism and Managerial Governance


Neoliberalism and the Strange Non-Death of Planning

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