The Origins of Neoliberalism in France

Louis Rougier and the 1938 Walter Lippmann Conference
By François Denord

Neo-liberalism (in the European sense of the term liberalism) appeared in France at the end of the 1930s. In this context of crisis, the emergence of the doctrine was made possible by the action and the prophetic discourse of Louis Rougier, who then taught Philosophy at the University of Besançon. Louis Rougier advocated for an intellectual renewal of economic liberalism that would precede and sustain its political rebirth. He, therefore, organized the Walter Lippmann Colloquium in August 1938 in Paris. This international forum gathered some of the most influential company managers, State officials, and intellectuals, as well as members of a new rising generation of liberal economists. All aimed at defining a neo-liberalism, by taking into account the transformations of the government’s involvement in economic activities. They also wished to found an international liberal organization to fight the planned economy. This is how the Centre International d’Études pour la Rénovation du Libéralisme was born in Paris, in March 1939. Although it disappeared when France entered World War II, it did unexpectedly rally scholars, administration officials, managers, and trade unionists. It was thus a model for the Mont Pèlerin Society, founded by Friedrich Hayek and Wilhelm Röpke in 1947.

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