Muehlebach, “The Catholicization of Neoliberalism”

Muehlebach, Andrea.  2013.  The Catholicization of Neoliberalism: On Love and Welfare in Lombardy, Italy.  American Anthropologist 115(3): 452–465.

Abstract: In this article, I track the ways in which Catholicism articulates with contemporary neoliberalism. Grounded in an analysis of how neoliberal welfare-state reform in Lombardy, northern Italy, is rendered through core idioms of the Catholic imaginative universe, I argue that the Lombardian case offers general insight into the “moral style” of contemporary neoliberalism. In contrast to the messianic gospel of prosperity exhibited by the Protestant ethic at the turn of the millennium (a gospel that promised instantaneous rushes of wealth through quasi-magical means), the charisma of Catholicized neoliberalism lies not in its rejection of the market but in its injunction that parts of this wealth ought to be redistributed through charitable actions. Catholicized neoliberalism thus hinges on a loving empathetic subject that purportedly repairs the damages of excessive marketization. It couples market rule to moral sentiment, economic rationality to the emotional urgencies of caritas. Although this new culture of feeling and action tends to leave neoliberalism’s basic structural features intact, it also at times allows for the disruption of market rule.

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