Dr. Quinn Slobodian delivered the Chet Mitchell Memorial Lecture entitled “Distressed Neoliberalism” on November 19, 2019.
Dr. Quinn Slobodian teaches history at Wellesley College. His most recent book is Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Harvard, 2018). He writes about the far right’s capitalism for publications like Dissent, Boston Review, and the New York Times.
The twin ruptures of Trump and Brexit in 2016 presented a challenge to scholars of neoliberalism. Were we witnessing a backlash or a frontlash against the dynamics of neoliberal globalism? Through the idea of “distressed neoliberalism,” my talk suggests two ways of answering these questions. The first focuses on the intellectual networks of neoliberalism connected to the Mont Pelerin Society. Here we see a neoliberalism distressed by the failures of the constitutional fixes of Maastricht and Geneva. Far-right neoliberals from Prague to London rediscovered the necessity of shared culture and even race, turning against supranational integration and immigration and opting for varieties of secession. The second approach is not through ideology but the practice of corporate capitalism over the last forty years. Trump’s economic policy is shaped by his advisors who come from the world of distressed debt investment–also known as vulture capitalism–buying bankrupt and ailing companies to flip them for short-term gain, feeding what one could see as bankruptcy as a style of politics. Perhaps we best understand the present as a move ever further from fairy tales about the “magic of the market” and toward an ever more frank admission that the state and laws are intended, above all, for the enrichment of the few against the many.
Watch the video here.
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