The Origins of Neoliberalism

Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault

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Dotan Leshem
  • New York, NY: 
    Columbia University Press
    , June
     248 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In The Origins of Neoliberalism, Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault, Dotan Lesham provides a complex history of the use of the term “economics” in religious writing and reference works. Unfortunately, the complexity in this book is not necessarily related to the history presented but rather, to the presentation of the history. Contextual explanation is generally omitted, and as a result, the text does not inform the reader in the manner that the title suggests. The Origins of Neoliberalism, Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault is merely a literal expression of the text’s intent. Leshem traces the Greek origin of the word “economics” (oikonomia) over historical time, starting with the Septuagint. In the first five chapters, he provides a chronology of the term in ecclesiastical usage, and in chapter 6, the final chapter of the text, he infers the relationship between the religious use of the word and the secular adoption of the word, including its meaning and the socio-political structures it implies.

Arguably the meaning of a word may evolve over time as a result of environmental influence, changing social norms, and other factors. However, Leshem only provides reference to the use of the term “economics” without the added dimension of the meaning being conveyed. This void can initially lead to confusion until readers ultimately realize that they are left to research the historical context of the word’s use themselves. However, to the extent that history of the use of the word is of value, irrespective of the meaning conveyed, Leshem’s book gives a robust chronological accounting.

Leshem also provides some insight with respect to the relationship between economics and society as well as politics. However, this is most directly communicated in the last chapter of the text, which consists of short sections related to market economics from the perspective of the religious use of the word “economics.” Again, Lesham provides his explanation in complex form, using analogy and inference where the reader might have benefitted from direct explanation.

To his credit, Leshem does provide a condensed assessment. Given the challenges of the text, its length does not directly translate into easily retrievable information. However, with the last fifty pages Leshem does includes a robust explanation and reference that may benefit readers, especially those looking to build a bibliography in this area of study.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Madhavi Venkatesan is an Assistant Professor of Economics and the Consultant to the Center of Economic Education at Bridgewater State University.

Date of Review: 
October 22, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Dotan Leshem is senior lecturer in the department of government and political theory at the School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa.


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