The Fantasy of Neoliberalism
: Discursive Representations of the Left's Submission to Contemporary Capitalist Ideology

  • Stuart Bennett

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Slavoj Žižek’s critique of ideology has come to be one of the most influential yet controversial interventions in contemporary critical theory. Žižek’s existing work, which draws from fields as varied as cultural studies, philosophy and politics, and is combined with his own interpretation of Lacanian psychoanalysis, opens up novel spaces into which new critical evaluations of contemporary capitalism can enter.

This research project conceptualises contemporary capitalism, identified as “neoliberalism”, as an ideology, a structural edifice constituted and maintained by fantasy that has material effects on governance, policy and institutions, as well as effects on subjectivity. This project therefore brings together existing scholarly critiques of neoliberalism that have often been seen as conflicting by mediating said perspectives through Žižek’s Lacanian-founded critique of ideology.

Going back to the foundational moment of the neoliberal turn – the Pinochet-led military junta in Chile – this project explores the ideology-function of neoliberalism and the concurrent failure to successfully contest this ideology by analysing left-wing coverage of the ‘Milagro de Chile’ in Britain. This is achieved by operationalising Žižek’s ideology thesis, something yet to be done with concrete purpose, as a critical discourse analysis through which left-wing anti-capitalist newspaper and journal articles covering the Chilean experience are studied. Through this discourse analysis it is found that said left-wing coverage changes substantially as the neoliberal turn is instituted and concretised first in Chile and subsequently in the United Kingdom. Left-wing discourse falls quickly into line with neoliberal ideological tropes, evidencing a succumbing of the Left to neoliberal fantasy, and the totalising nature of contemporary capitalist ideology.

This thesis uncovers the function of neoliberal ideology as being that of radical depoliticization of the social sphere and the individualisation and compartmentalisation of the political subject. These processes reflect a subconscious fantasy that ascribes “politics” as the barrier to enjoyment, and as the root cause of ontological insecurity experienced by all subjects. Neoliberalism functions by changing entirely the frames through which political, economic and social issues are conceptualised and discussed, rendering established structuralist critiques of capitalism insufficient. This thesis thus offers a new insight into the foundations of contemporary capitalism – one that is built upon nullifying critique.
Date of Award13 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJuan Ferrero (Supervisor) & David Moon (Supervisor)


  • Neoliberalism
  • Fantasy
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Lacan
  • Marxism
  • Communism
  • Critique
  • Philosophy

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