The Bourgeois Internationale, Part II

This post is Part II of David Grewal’s response to Mutant Neoliberalism, Part I is available here. You can find the full symposium here

David Grewal – 

mutant neolib imageAs I noted in my first post, it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic will force a reckoning with the democratic deficit in the European Union and prompt a renewal of left-wing politics across the continent. However, the existing constitutional machinery of the five presidencies that make up the EU is both complex and considerably resistant to change, even (perhaps especially) in a crisis. In 2014, in a review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, I wondered what we could expect from “today’s unhappy alliance between the remnants of the old workers’ parties of Western Europe and the Bundesbank?” It was mainly a rhetorical question: I expected very little from the political alliance behind “zombie” neoliberalism in Europe. But in light of what Callison and Manfredi term neoliberalism’s mutations, it is worth noting what has in fact come to pass since then: electoral defeat after electoral defeat for the left (and even center-left). This trend should give pause to those who think further federalization will provide the answer to Europe’s deep ordoliberal tendencies, and yet that seems to be the only path that many progressives in Europe can imagine (another TINA, but a teleological one).

Following Cooper’s cogent analysis, what we should expect is precisely what we have been seeing: stasis at the level of the institutions and far-right electoral strategies that leverage anti-austerity sentiment among ordinary voters by promising something that the straitjacketed parties of the mainstream center-left and even the far left have been mostly unwilling to offer: a break with neoliberalism and, if that agenda requires it, a break with ‘Europe.’ Again, the COVID-19 pandemic seems more likely to consolidate rather than repudiate this trend. It will not soon be forgotten that even pro-EU governments in France and Germany called a panicked halt to the export of medical equipment to a stricken Italy while national borders were raised again across the continent.

These events brings us to the second piece I want to discuss, Slobodian and Plehwe’s history of the rise of Eurosceptic neoliberalism, “Neoliberals against Europe,” which presents an important counter to any simplistic equation of the EU with neoliberalism (or ordoliberalism) and hence of Euroscepticism with anti-neoliberalism.

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The Bourgeois Internationale, Part I

This post is part of our symposium on Mutant Neoliberalism. You can find the full symposium here

David Grewal – 

mutant neolib imageMutant Neoliberalism is an excellent collection of essays canvassing what editors William Callison and Zachary Manfredi rightly diagnose as the changing face of neoliberalism – really, the multiplicity of national, transnational and post-national neoliberalisms – evolving in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Instead of a mortal wounding, the crisis generated the paradox, as several authors in the collection note, that neoliberalism’s failures led to more, not less, neoliberalism. Crises generated by neoliberal prescriptions (privatization, financialization, austerity, etc.) are said to be solvable using more of the same, while radical reform proposals face the usual assessment (TINA = “there is no alternative”). This fact led to the conception of neoliberalism after the crisis as a “zombie” formation, the onward march of the undead, but Callison and Manfredi rightly note that events around 2016 seem to have altered this diagnosis. Instead, neoliberalism now seems less “zombie” than what they term “mutant,” proliferating in new forms, and hybridizing with traditional and new right social and political movements, sometimes in spite of manifest ideological and programmatic differences between them and the “pure” form of post-war neoliberalism (of Hayek, Mont Pellerin, and so ).

All this seems right and interesting. I want to focus in this brief response on the place of the “international” in this diagnosis, particularly as it concerns debates in the European context. It seems to me that both the undead (“zombie”) and the hybridizing (“mutant”) aspects of contemporary neoliberalism are deeply interrelated and best understood in relation to the problem of international economic integration (a.k.a. “global capitalism”). I will focus therefore on two excellent contributions to the volume, one by Melinda Cooper (“Anti-Austerity on the Far Right”), which looks at the anti-neoliberal politics of far-right movements in Europe during the interwar rise of fascism, and then again from the 1970s to the present; and another by Quinn Slobodian and Dieter Plehwe (“Neoliberals against Europe”), which studies right-wing Euroscepticism in relation to a politics of national neoliberalisms.

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Globalism and the Dialectic of Globalization

This post is part of our symposium on Quinn Slobodian’s Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of NeoliberalismRead the rest of the symposium here. 

David Grewal –

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Quinn Slobodian’s Globalists has rightly received praise and critical attention as a groundbreaking study of the ideologies operative in the cloistered domains of international economic law. Indeed, the book has been reviewed favorably by everyone from radical academic critics of global capitalism through to some of the figures responsible for the construction of the neoliberal world order, with some reviews even reposted on the IMF website. Rare is the historical book that can bridge such diverse audiences, providing not just an account of past institutional contestation and reconstruction but the fundaments of today’s politics.

In this post, I want to bring out a dimension implicit in Slobodian’s book but which has not received as much critical scrutiny: the political theory behind what he calls “globalism” or “ordoglobalism” in contrast with what we might call “internationalism.” A confusion about the varieties of cross-border activity and the national politics that each entails is now rampant on the left, with what I believe are increasingly deleterious consequences for democratic and progressive aims of all kinds. A full analysis of these problems is of course beyond the scope of a blog post. Here, I hope merely to suggest the outlines of such a distinction by drawing attention to a key passage in Slobodian’s book to which other interested readers might turn and then to contrast “ordoglobalism” with a prominent form of progressive internationalism that was articulated in the last century. I then want to suggest that the doubling down of ordoglobalism has produced the current and much discussed “crisis of international liberalism” through what I call the “dialectic of globalization” (but which – following Slobodian – I might have called more precisely the dialectic of ordoglobalism).

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