By Jessica Whyte
Drawing on detailed archival research on the parallel histories of human rights and neoliberalism, Jessica Whyte uncovers in The Morals of the Market the place of human rights in neoliberal attempts to develop a moral framework for a market society. In the wake of the Second World War, neoliberals saw demands for new rights to social welfare and self-determination as threats to “civilisation”. Yet, rather than rejecting rights, they developed a distinctive account of human rights as tools to depoliticise civil society, protect private investments and shape liberal subjects.
Table of Contents of The Morals of the Market
- Introduction: The Morals of the Market
- 'The Central Values of Civilization Are in Danger'
- There Is No Such Thing as 'the Economy': On Social and Economic Rights
- Neoliberalism, Human Rights and the 'Shabby Remnants of Colonial Imperialism'
- Human Rights in Pinochet's Chile: The Dethronement of Politics
- Powerless Companions or Fellow Travelers? Human Rights and the Neoliberal Assault on Post-Colonial Economic Justice
- Afterword: Human Rights, Neoliberalism and Economic Inequality Today
Talk by Jessica Whyte on the Book
"Rather than treat human rights and neoliberalism as two distinct, global logics [...] Whyte illuminates how human rights 'became the dominant ideology of a period marked by the demise of revolutionary utopias and socialist politics.' Beautifully written, theoretically sophisticated, and excoriating all at the same time, Whyte’s book follows the efflux of this ideology, from its origins in the 1940s, through the postwar period, the Chicago Boys’ involvement in Chile, the rise of Amnesty International, and the perverse anti–Third Worldism and anti-statism of human rights NGOs in the 1980s. [...] common claim [...] that neoliberalism is, as Whyte explains, 'expressly amoral at the level of both ends and means,' an ideology that relies exclusively on an account of human essence as homo economicus. By contrast, Whyte argues, what 'distinguished the neoliberals of the twentieth century from their nineteenth-century precursors' was not 'a narrow understanding of the human as homo economicus, but the belief that a functioning competitive market required an adequate moral and legal foundation.' [...] By blending historical inquiry with theoretical critique, Whyte’s account clarifies that neoliberal human rights did not emerge 'from nowhere' but, rather, flowed from a long-standing, self-conscious, neoliberal tradition of forging rhetorical links between market morals and human rights. [...] Whyte thus convincingly shows that rather than serving as neoliberalism’s 'powerless companions,' key human rights NGOs of this era actively embraced a neoliberal approach to freedom, twinned with a neoliberal suspicion of politics, that all too eagerly transferred the entirety of the blame for violence, instability, and poverty in the Third World onto Third World states themselves. [...] their support for a blinkered, market-proscribed notion of 'freedom' made these NGOs complicit in furthering neoliberalism’s obfuscation of the actual 'coercion and political intervention' necessary to uphold 'existing ‘free’ market relations.' [...] Whyte’s brilliant piece of scholarship slices through this unseeing like a scythe, exposing the violence and ugliness sustained by a liberal world order in which neoliberalism and human rights work in tandem to sustain a toxic politics of deflection. At the end of the day, only by coming to terms with that historical complicity is it possible to imagine a different kind of human rights politics for the future."
- Podcast with Whyte about the book in ABC's The Philosopher's Zone, 27 May 2018
About Jessica Whyte
Jessica Whyte is Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Languages (Philosophy) and the School of Law, University of New South Wales, and an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow. She is a political theorist whose work integrates political philosophy, intellectual history and political economy to analyse contemporary forms of sovereignty, human rights, humanitarianism and militarism. Her work has been published in a range of fora including Contemporary Political Theory; Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development; Law and Critique; Political Theory; and Theory and Event.