A conceptual system defines, at the exclusion of others, a point of view toward its object of enquiry. The conceptual systems of the human sciences relate to their objects of enquiry in two ways that invite them to play an ideological function as well as an epistemological one. First, a social-science conceptual system can alter the objects of its enquiry by becoming part of the conceptual and belief apparatus through which humans define themselves, perceive others and make choices, thereby changing the structures and propensities of the human world. Second, unlike the natural sciences, the human sciences are ultimately a means from on high of preserving or reconstructing the basic realities that they study, these in total being the human project. Different conceptual systems present different sets of choices, real or imagined, to be chosen and acted upon by human populations at large. It can never be the case that each of these sets of choices will equally favour every group in society. This means that, regardless of value judgments, it is the nature of all social theorizing, economics being no exception, to favour some groups in society over others, so that any attempt to block enquiry and analysis from multiple theoretical perspectives, i.e., anti-pluralism, is an ideological move.
Starting from the observation that there is a great deal of confusion about the notion of “neoliberalism,” this study aims to clarify the meaning and the history of the doctrine. To do so, it first develops an original typology distinguishing four tendencies (ordoliberal, neoclassical, Austrian, and French) and then sheds light on the evolution of the movement over the past eight decades.