Introduction: Law and Neoliberalism

23 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2013 Last revised: 27 Dec 2014

See all articles by David Singh Grewal

David Singh Grewal

Yale University - Law School

Jedediah S. Britton-Purdy

Columbia University - Law School

Date Written: February 6, 2014


The concept of neoliberalism has been influential in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, but it has little foothold in legal scholarship, and its very coherence has been controversial, as it is often a polemical term. In this Introduction to a special issue of Law and Contemporary Problems, we argue for a meaning of neoliberalism that can help to organize the stakes of various areas of law while also showing the usefulness of the term more generally. We define neoliberalism as an overlapping set of arguments, value commitments, predispositions, and ways of framing problems that are unified by the context and purpose of their use: Neoliberal claims serve to protect and expand market imperatives in a persistent political conflict between those imperatives and countervailing democratic demands for values such as security, dignity, fairness, and solidarity. Our definition of neoliberalism helps to tie together various public and private-law areas by showing how market and democratic imperatives are in conflict there, and how law is mediating those conflicts. Legal scholarship, then, needs the concept of neoliberalism. But a useful theory of neoliberalism also needs law: as legal realism showed, and sophisticated economists agree, markets are not natural phenomena, but products of legal choices. Therefore, the contexts of conflict in which neoliberalism does its work are always specified in law.

Suggested Citation

Grewal, David Singh and Britton-Purdy, Jedediah S., Introduction: Law and Neoliberalism (February 6, 2014). Law and Contemporary Problems, Forthcoming, Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 313, Available at SSRN:

David Singh Grewal

Yale University - Law School ( email )

127 Wall St.
New Haven, CT 06511
United States


Jedediah S. Britton-Purdy (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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