On “Commerce and Civilization” – The Question of Order in the Post-Colonial World

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. 

Kojo Koram –

9780674979529“Commerce and Civilization!” These two terms formed the dual mandate popularized by Lord Lugard, the first British Governor-General of a united Nigeria. Despite its promise as being the encumbered, pure logic of the market, liberal capitalist trade has always carried a civilizational imperative, a desire to make or remake the moral order of the world. Quinn Slobodian’s Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth  of Neoliberalism tells the story of capitalism’s most recent world-making revolution, giving us an intellectual history of the idea of neoliberalism. Spanning the breadth of the twentieth century, taking us from the chaotic disillusionment of the Habsburg Empire up to the triumphant establishment of the World Trade Organization, Slobodian’s book helps reframe the common understanding of neoliberalism as a project not of freeing the market but of instituting and safeguarding it. Through Slobodian, we come to think of neoliberalism as a productive and not a merely a destructive ideology; neoliberalism did seek to dismantle the model of labour power and social welfare that had arisen in post-war Europe, but it was also concerned with creating international institutions that could cultivate a fertile terrain for international capitalism. This post takes up the question of order as Slobodian articulates it, the quest for a fixed economic order underneath the potential disorder of competing nation states being a driver of neoliberalism. Specifically, I wish to reflect further on the history of neoliberalism as it was implemented in the Global South, a story that Slobodian points us towards in Chapter 5 of his book, but a story that remains underappreciated for its consequences upon the contemporary world.

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