The New Middle Class from Vanguard to Social Neoliberalism

On Wednesday 4th February 2015, our own Neil Davidson presented an excellent paper entitled ‘The New Middle Class from Vanguard to Social Neoliberalism’, as part of the ongoing sociology seminar series.

During the Occupy movement one of its key slogans drew attention to the conflict of interests between the 1% and the 99%. While this was undoubtedly effective in identifying the relative smallness of the global ruling class, it was sociologically quite misleading in suggesting a degree of common interest among the 99%. Neoliberalism, like all earlier variants of capitalism, could not have survived without a social base much wider than the groups constitutive of the 1%. As is usually the case, a section of the middle classes were key, in this case the group variously referred to as the salariat, the technical-managerial strata, or the New Middle Class (NMC). This paper examines the shifting basis of NMC support for the neoliberal project as it moved its vanguard ‘transformationalist’ phase, associated with Thatcher, Reagan and Pinochet, to its social ‘consolidationist’ phase, associated with Blair, Clinton and, in Scottish terms, Salmond. I will attempt to show that the key achievement of the latter for capital was the way it generated previously resistant public sector and cultural NMC support for the economic aspects of neoliberalism, mainly by emphasizing social questions and particularly those concerning personal identity. I will conclude by exploring the extent to which this support has been eroded by the crisis which began in 2007-8.