The Globalists: Law, Race, and Empire In and Beyond Intellectual History

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

Ntina Tzouvala –

9780674979529‘We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not’, proclaimed Tony Blair in 1999, possibly the high-point of (neo)liberal internationalism. In his masterful Globalists, Quinn Slobodian reconstructs the intellectual history of a particular group of thinkers who were instrumental to the ideological and institutional ascendance of a particular idea of neoliberal internationalism that emphasized the role of law and institutions for the maintenance of global capitalism. Self-described as the ‘Geneva School,’ this group included members such as the German ordoliberal Wilhelm Roepke, the noted international lawyer Ernst-Urlich Petersmann and, according to Slobodian, Friedrich von Hayek himself. Notably, Globalists situates the formulation and diffusion of the ideas of the Geneva School in the intersection of two imperial collapses: the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rapid collapse of European empires in the decades following the Second World War. The question of how to create and maintain economic order in the face of political collapse and re-organization led the Geneva School to undertake an effort to decouple the juridical protections of competitive markers from political authority, an effort accompanied by the Geneva School’s fundamental distrust in the proliferation of mass democracy and workers’ power at home and abroad.

Situating the Geneva School within this post-imperial context is important not least because this aspect of neoliberal thought was previously neglected or misconstrued through a selective reading of some neoliberals’ earlier critiques of empire as ways of building trade monopolies and rent-seeking. Perhaps more importantly, this particular way of contextualizing neoliberal thought enables Slobodian to clarify the neoliberal understanding of the state, not as a monster to be slayed but rather as a necessary guarantor of competitive economic order, but only when it is effectively disciplined and remade by international laws and institutions. The role of law is, thus, central in Slobodian’s account, given its very centrality in the thought of the protagonists of this book.

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