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The System that Kills the Peoples:
The Birth of Neoliberalism

2,744 words

Quinn Slobodian
Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018

One of the seminal ideological battles of recent history has been that between internationalism, in one form or another, and nationalism. Countless words have been devoted to dissecting the causes, effects, merits, and drawbacks of the various incarnations of these two basic positions. Neoliberalism has, however, succeeded in becoming the dominant internationalist ideology of the power elite and, because nationalism is its natural antithesis, great effort has been expended across all levels of society towards normalizing neoliberal assumptions about politics and economics and demonizing those of nationalism.[1] This all seems obvious now, almost like second nature to those involved in the conflict, but despite this – or rather because of this – it is necessary to investigate the intellectual history of neoliberalism so as to better understand how it took hold of the imagination of the world’s elites. The recent book by Canadian historian Quinn Slobodian, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, is an excellent, thought-provoking work on the subject and should be required reading for all White Nationalists. The book can serve as both an introduction to a serious study of neoliberalism and a valuable addition to any scholar’s library.

Slobodian argues that neoliberalism arose at the end of empire “not to liberate markets but to encase them, to inoculate capitalism against the threat of democracy, and to reorder the world after empire as a space of competing states in which borders fulfill a necessary function” (p. 2). Readers might be surprised by his statement about the neoliberal conception of borders. This, after all, differs remarkably from popular understanding, but the key to resolving this seemingly odd position can be found in the “two worlds theory” articulated by Carl Schmitt in 1950. Slobodian writes:

One was the world partitioned into bounded, territorial states where governments ruled over human beings. This he called the world of imperium, using the Roman legal term. The other was the world of property, where in people owned things, money, and land scattered across the earth. This was the world of dominium (p. 10).

As the author points out, for Schmitt this was “something negative, an impingement on the full exercise of national sovereignty” (p. 10), but neoliberals found in it an accurate description of precisely that which they had been trying to preserve and enhance for many years. This is a fundamental point and it underlies much of what is to follow. The neoliberal project is not one of anarchic, borderless economic activity but rather a supranational security apparatus designed to protect capitalism as a system of laws, both formal and informal, based on the ideas of individual consumer sovereignty, mobile capital, the human rights of capitalists and corporations, and an almost religious faith in market forces which take precedence over national interest. The author refers to this as “militant globalism.” Simply put, borders are for people and people are always secondary to capital in the neoliberal order. The nation-state and its borders are tolerated by neoliberalism only to the extent that they can be made useful to global capitalism.

Slobodian begins with the dramatic shift in political and economic conceptions of the world following the First World War. As he observes, the very concept of a “world economy,” along with other related concepts like “world history,” “world literature,” and “world affairs,” entered the English language at this time (p. 28). The relevance of the nineteenth-century classical liberal model was fading as empire faded and both political and economic nationalism arose. As the world “expanded,” so too did the desire for national sovereignty, which, especially in the realm of economics, was seen by neoliberals as a terrible threat to the preservation of the separation of imperium and dominium. A world in which the global economy would be segregated and subjected to the jurisdiction of states and the collective will of their various peoples was antithetical to the neoliberal ideal of free trade and economic internationalism; i.e., the maintenance of a “world economy.”

Many of the economists who were troubled by the rise of nationalism and who were sympathetic towards empire as a quasi-internationalist free trade system were at this time centered in Austria. Slobodian provides a valuable history of their activity, with a focus on Ludwig von Mises, the Jew who laid the groundwork for much of what became neoliberal orthodoxy. Mises was highly anti-democratic, approved of state violence against workers, and supported the use of military power to open overseas markets (p. 33). The author writes that, for Mises, the state “could find its legitimacy only in its defense of the sanctity of private property and the forces of competition” (p. 33). In a 1921 policy paper in which he advocated free trade for Austria, he also suggested “[lifting] prohibitions on imports and ports . . . privatizing pubic enterprises, eliminating food subsidies . . . [and] lifting entry and residence requirements for foreigners ” (p. 43). In 1930, while Mises was an adviser to the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, the organization urged the government to pass an “anti-terror law” to combat worker strikes (p. 46). But much of his efforts and those of his colleagues were directed towards the elimination of tariffs, including international propaganda missions on behalf of this idea through the International Chamber of Commerce, an organization that tried to liberalize the global economy in a fashion similar to what the League of Nations was trying to do in the realm of politics.

The Great Depression made their job harder by further weakening popular faith in the free market. Following its end, a number of important economists, including Friedrich von Hayek, moved to Geneva to escape what were for them unfavorable political conditions in various parts of Europe. It was here that the Geneva school of economists was born and neoliberalism coalesced as an ideology. One of the fundamental shifts that occurred here at this time was a shift away from the heavy reliance on statistics, data, and economic models which had been a feature of the earlier work of neoliberals, but had also grown in importance across the discipline as economists attempted to explain business cycles. Neoliberals now saw this as nascent economic planning and began “to take a step back and contemplate the core enabling conditions of the grander order itself” (p. 84). They began to believe that the world economy was “unknowable,” but that “this was not a dead end but the starting point for designing the order within which the world economy could thrive” (p. 84). They realized that theirs was an ideology that transcended the purely economic, or as the author puts it, ” . . . the defense of the world economy . . . was too important to be left to the discipline of economics” (p. 92).

Supposed libertarians like Mises and Hayek were quite comfortable with international governance, in violation of the ideals those who admire them today claim to hold. Slobodian describes how, during the 1930s, neoliberals had finally realized that the “self-regulating market was a myth,” decolonization was inevitable, and “that the era of the nation was irreversible” (p. 95). Their mission was to exert political pressure to manage this new reality in order to ensure that these developments did not allow for the rise of economic nationalism. Their answer was “loose federations within which the constituent nations would retain control over cultural policy but be bound to maintain free trade and free capital movement between nations” (p. 95).

A world federation or federations could guarantee the separation of imperium and dominium. The nation-state would remain useful as a legal entity to ensure territorial compliance with the federation’s legal structure, which, by design, would be unaccountable to the public and render the nation-states’ sovereignty “ornamental” (p. 112). It is of some interest that these ideas, supported by Mises and Hayek, were also pushed by Wilhelm Röpke (a German economist who fled Germany in opposition to Hitler’s anti-Semitism) as a way to prevent Germany from regaining its economic self-sufficiency following the Second World War (p. 113).

Slobodian next delves into the neoliberal use of rights in their quest for the security of global capitalism. He writes:

Against human rights, they posed the human rights of capital. Against the stateless person, they posed the investor. Against sovereignty and autonomy, they posed the world economy and the international division of labor. Their ‘national’ was both a person and a company (p. 125).

The author calls these “xenos rights,” from the Greek word meaning “guest-friend” (p. 123). As one might expect, for neoliberals the citizen is secondary to the cosmopolitan capitalist in the same way that the nation-state is secondary to the world economy. As such, in their conception of human rights, “the alien investor must actually have more rights than citizens” (p. 137). An example he discusses is the “Capitalist Magna Carta,” Deutsche Bank’s Hermann Josef Abs’ 1957 attempt to enshrine this concept into international law, which was supported in the United States by Emmanuel Celler, the infamous Jew behind the 1965 Hart-Celler Act.

The subject of race gets a chapter in the book as well. With the emergence of the Global South, often acting as a bloc on the world stage and often with political and economic demands quite different from those of the neoliberals, and with the simple reality of biological differences as factors in civilizational progression and any honest analysis thereof, race was bound to be a part of the discussion to some degree. But most neoliberals did not think in terms of race, and when they did, it was to minimize its importance, as in, for example, the case of Hayek, who publicly denounced apartheid in South Africa (p. 151). Worse than “racism,” however, were attempts to breach the separation of imperium and dominium with sanctions and other tools of economic control. “Moral demands,” writes the author, “even those legitimized through international organizations, had no mandate to disrupt the economic constitution of the world” (p. 180). Thus, neoliberals tended to oppose interference in South Africa and Rhodesia despite objecting to their “white supremacy.”[2]

Slobodian discusses at length the race-consciousness of Wilhelm Röpke, one of the few neoliberals who defended white rule in South Africa. He was less concerned with the Soviet threat than the brown threat and envisioned a white alliance spanning the Atlantic Ocean (p. 156). Slobodian quotes him:

The more the non-European great powers emerge . . . and the civilizations of other continents begin to regard us with condescending self-confidence, the more it becomes natural and necessary for the feeling of spiritual and moral homogeneousness among Europeans to increase powerfully . . .the spiritual and political integration of Europe . . . only makes sense as part and parcel of a higher combination and organization of the resistance potential of the entire western world on both sides of the Atlantic (p. 156).

He received a great deal of support among American conservatives like William Buckley and Russell Kirk, who saw in him a sensible attitude towards race as well as an identifiable Christianity lacking in other neoliberals (pp.164-174). A case could be made that in a strange and tragic way, Röpke did far more harm to American conservatism than Hayek or Mises by helping to popularize destructive economic ideas and an (at least partially) foreign ideology in American Rightist discourse by way of simply having sane racial attitudes in insane times.

The relationship between neoliberals and the European Economic Community is the subject of one of the final chapters of the book. In it, the author describes two different strains of neoliberal thought regarding Europe: the universalists (including Röpke), who saw in European integration a large protectionist scheme and in talk of Eurafrica (the incorporation of former colonies into the EEC) an extension of empire, versus the constitutionalists (influenced by Hayek), who believed that “the EEC was an example of how to integrate a market with a legal structure able to enforce competition across borders” (p. 214). Both sides held nearly identical views of the world but, as the author notes, the universalists were purists whose ideas “lacked the mechanism of enforcement” (p. 215). The constitutionalists were willing to work with available tools and make ideological compromises to lay the foundations for a future supranational government. Slobodian argues that their disagreement was fundamentally a matter of perspective: the Euroskeptic universalists thought exclusively in terms of globalism and saw the EEC as a move away from international free trade, while the constitutionalists saw in the EEC “new means of enforcement and oversight that the neoliberal federalists in the 1930s had not dreamed of themselves” (p. 215).

Throughout the 1970s, developing nations accelerated the assertion of their interests. In the United Nations, the G-77 demanded various forms of economic intervention, which to neoliberals was a “misuse of state sovereignty to unsettle world economic order” (p. 222). The nature of the threat was in the unequal economic treatment demanded by these nations and could only be remedied by legal equality. This legal equality was justified by what the author calls “cybernetic legalism,” an approach to law based on Hayek’s study of cybernetics and systems theory. It “saw individual humans as units within a self-regulating system for which the lawmaker had the primary responsibility of transforming the system’s rules into binding legislation” (p. 224). For neoliberals, the market is a fundamentally unknowable domain of nearly infinite transactions, always in motion, always fine-tuning itself, and always guided by a sort of wisdom. The role of a government is to provide a legal framework within which this sacred progression towards equilibrium can continue without interruption. Hayek had begun to think in terms of “self-generating order” and “self-generating structure” (p. 225). As the author notes at the end of the chapter, it was in the 1970s that references to and images of the globe and globalism became prevalent in popular culture (p. 258). Hayek’s cybernetic legalism seems perfectly in tune with the “spiritual but not religious” secular mysticism of globalism, intertwined as it is with faith-based egalitarianism and Whig history.

Though nearly a century old, Mises’ ideas sound contemporary and all too familiar. The neoliberal notions of a world of interdependent and largely interchangeable individuals absorbed into a system of economy with a mysterious yet sacred logic requiring international treaties and opaque supranational organizations to ensure its security from the suspicious or disaffected masses, wars against “terror” with clear economic motives, and various policies designed to benefit capitalists but bejeweled in the language of humanitarianism are so commonplace in contemporary political discourse that most people barely give them a moment’s notice. Neoliberalism is now the baseline of political thought across the mainstream spectrum. The ideas of Mises, the Jew who “conceded somewhat cheerfully that his understanding of the world coincided in many ways with that of Karl Marx” (p. 107), and those which developed from his contingent of capitalist enforcers, have managed to grip the globe. Even Wilhelm Röpke, who had at least a partial understanding of the reality of race, was complicit in the global steamrolling of national sovereignty and the reduction in the quality of life of countless white men and women (and indeed countless non-whites), all forced into a fundamentally unnatural world order beyond their control and without their consent.

Neoliberalism, a term widely misused and an ideology widely misunderstood, has been a threat to nationalist movements worldwide for a century. It is a secretive, unaccountable, supranational world order designed to cripple national autonomy. Neoliberals, of course, know this: remember that a happy byproduct of their model was the prevention of German self-sufficiency in the post-war years. So whenever a neoliberal begins espousing the benefits of his ideology for a specific country, he is simply lying. Neoliberalism is at its core a corrosive imperialism, absorbing all it touches into its global empire with largely unseen violence and without its subjects ever being entirely sure to whom or what they are subjected: It is an imperialism of cowards and bureaucrats, the most ignoble form of an ignoble system. Neoliberalism was born at the end of empire in the traditional sense, but it did not replace it; it merely reconfigured it with new emperors, new armies, and different weapons.

Notes

[1] The author rightly differentiates between “international” and “supranational,” but over time the two concepts have become roughly interchangeable in the popular imagination and so I will defer to common usage – barring a few specific exceptions.

[2] The Jew Milton Friedman managed to be correct in his prediction about black rule in Rhodesia. Slobodian quotes him: “. . . [black rule] would almost surely mean both the eviction or exodus of most whites and also a drastically lower level of living and opportunity for the masses of black Rhodesians” (p. 178).

11 Comments

  1. Ex-Proofreader
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    This might be off-topic, but I think that Eugene McCarraher’s recent book The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity looks like one that Donald Thoresen might care to review. McCarraher’s book appears to address how modern economic doctrines embody “secularized theological concepts . . . not only because of their historical development . . . but also because of their systematic structure,” to paraphrase Carl Schmitt. (The same subject is also addressed by Robert H. Nelson’s Reaching for Heaven on Earth: The Theological Meaning of Economics.)

    It’s interesting that Julius Evola and Otto von Habsburg both referred to “the demon of economy” in a way that suggested that the term wasn’t original with them; I’m curious as to where it came from.

  2. Jud Jackson
    Posted September 3, 2019 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Great Article. Hayek was a hero of mine for many years but now I am skeptical about him.

    Could you give a quick, short explanation of the difference between Neoliberalism and Neoconservativism?

  3. nineofclubs
    Posted September 3, 2019 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Great review of a clearly important book.

    It’s long been a libertarian fantasy to reduce the role of the state to that of a night watchman for capitalism.

    As capitalism has gone increasingly global since WW2, it’s understandable that libertarians and globalists see nationalism more as a form of crime, rather than an alternative political position.

  4. Esoteric Du30ist
    Posted September 3, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    My question is this: how do we square the historical reality of private property and spheres involved in, cooperating with, and a part of community life but distinct from the community at large within the Indo-European/Aryan context with what we know about the many abuses of “private property” as a tool of the supranational capitalist ruling class and the liberal order? Going forward we absolutely have to resolve this issue. If the Greek city states could figure out individual responsibilities and civic rights then surely we can too.

    • nineofclubs
      Posted September 3, 2019 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      A good question. I think the answer lies in some form of paleo-socialism (ie pre Marx). A system where the means of production are owned by those who operate them, in an environment which ensures the operators are both efficient, and able to contribute to the goals of the nation.

    • Posted September 5, 2019 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      The problem is that the international ruling class doesn’t operate out of their own private property redoubts, but rather, act as managers of the commons, running them and increasingly consuming them for personal profit while ostensibly being technocratic caretakers and custodians.
      Personally, I can think of no solution other than an aristocratic monarchy where the local lord and ultimately the king own the commons and run them as private property (but with tenancy rights for the people), which should prevent the consumption of common capital.
      By the way, what nineofclubs proposes isn’t paleo-socialistic, but is the state of nature, or more precisely, pre-corporate, pre-bureaucratic capitalism, when the factory owner was also the CEO and company president, effectively a king. These owner-operators were also strongly rooted in their local communities and hostile to outsiders, even if they did want to sell them goods (the model here being Henry Ford).
      Allowing non-owners (managerialists) to operate productive capacities is analogous to giving over decision-making power to managerialists in government (technocracy) and leads to the rise of the agency problem, where the manager can enrich himself at the expense of the concern and the president can enrich himself at the expense of the country.
      Maybe new solutions will arise in the future.

  5. Digital Samizdat
    Posted September 3, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    BTW, an excellent article! I’m going to order the book right now.

  6. G.M.
    Posted September 3, 2019 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    At last! A month without a Donald Thoresen article is like a month without sunshine. 🙂

  7. Anon
    Posted September 3, 2019 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Excellent summary of what sounds like a valuable book. Understanding the enemy and diagnosing the problem are first steps in devising an effective counterstrategy.

    My only observation is that much of this seems to give too much credit to the intellectuals who devised neoliberalism and not enough to the wealthy individuals and multinational corporations who have the real power. Intellectuals are just hired hands working on behalf of the true power centers. They are plucked from obscurity only when their musings justify the interests of the true power elite.

  8. Syolmake
    Posted September 3, 2019 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    For decades, socialists have held neoliberalism to be the #1 enemy. From the left-socialist perspective, neoliberals and neo-fascists coordinated events like the 1973 Pinochet coup, and are simply two aspects of the new phase of capitalism, in the same way that China and America are two aspects. Socialism’s formula for changing the current world order is a movement of global youth which is fearful about world living conditions by the time they’re in middle age, and so they’re motivated by environmentalism and redistributionism. (Some eccentric forms of identity politics are presently tossed into the left-socialist mix as well, but these aren’t as essential to their formula for change as the right usually assumes. “Trans” stuff already is less central than it was in say 2015.)
    The nationalist right’s formula for paradigm shift is the ethnonational community — but why should anyone believe that this formula is better or has better potential?

    • Digital Samizdat
      Posted September 3, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      The nationalist right’s formula for paradigm shift is the ethnonational community — but why should anyone believe that this formula is better or has better potential?

      Because (among other things) ethnic nation-states are more efficient platforms for the “environmentalism and redistributionism” you have called for. Who better to look after you than your own kind? Who better to take care of the land than those who actually live on it–rather than just extract minerals from it? There are numerous other benefits to the ethnic nation-state as well; I just wanted to give you the short version here.

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