In the context of globalisation and hegemonic neoliberalism, the state's ability to legitimate the economic system and its own policies cannot be assumed as a positive automatic effect. The economic and political conditions that once framed state action have changed, and it is reasonable to think that the emergence of a new accumulation regime implies also a shift in the traditional strategies used by the nation-state to legitimate its policy-making. This paper reviews how the neoliberal educational agenda develops a new political rationality that changes the traditional forms in which the state has managed its legitimation crisis. In addition, the paper argues that context-based factors, nationally specific, show that this political rationality may not be uniformly applied among different nation-states. The case of semiperipheral countries provides some evidence on the necessary combination of old and new strategies developed by the state to legitimate a neoliberal agenda.