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Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

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4.15  ·  Rating details ·  285 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Chosen by Pankaj Mishra as one of the Best Books of the Summer

Neoliberals hate the state. Or do they? In the first intellectual history of neoliberal globalism, Quinn Slobodian follows a group of thinkers from the ashes of the Habsburg Empire to the creation of the World Trade Organization to show that neoliberalism emerged less to shrink government and abolish regulations
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Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 16th 2018 by Harvard University Press
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Conor Ahern
I visited Stanford University for the first time in years this past summer, and saw that the author was giving a talk on this book at some point. I looked it up and it sounded interesting--why not find out more about this neoliberal impulse that benights those who have had power in Western and especially U.S. politics over the past 70 years? Overall this book was way above my pay grade, but I'll take a stab at summarizing it.

This dense but expertly researched work traces the development of world
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Otto Lehto
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Neoliberal is a slippery label that is more often used to obscure reality rather than illuminate it. It is usually the domain of various bogeymen and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Given the fact that most vocal critics of "neoliberalism" have little interest in treating libertarian thinkers like Hayek with sufficient respect or scholarly accuracy, this book is a pleasant surprise. This book does not create bogeymen and it does not engage in unsubstantiated conspiracy mongering. Instead, i ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
The neoliberal order which has dominated most western governments since the 1970s was incubated in the Austrian school of economics and the Mont Pelerin society. The tension between capitalism and democracy was foremost in the minds of people like Hayek and Von Mises. Their project was to protect global markets from democratic influence. The market was the ideal to be protected by the state and international agreements and from the meddling of democracy from below. They saw the crises following ...more
Peter
Speaking as someone who has confronted “anarcho-capitalists” on the other side of the line at counter-fascist demonstrations (including one where these supposed anarchists came out to support ICE), the idea that neoliberalism and empire might have some elective affinities was not a new one to me. But historian Quinn Slobodian opens up some new angles by looking at the “Geneva School,” a circle of mostly German-speaking economists and lawyers and a counterpoint to the much more celebrated “Chicag ...more
Mehrsa
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is such an important history and needs to be read by all academics and policymakers. It is sort of a revisionist history on neoliberalism--the thesis is that Hayek and others understood that their theories of the economy were aspirational ideals and not reflective of actual reality. They would make them come to pass through laws and so they did. To me, what was particularly fascinating in this account was how the neoliberal turn was rooted in racism (not Hayek, but some later advocates). Sp ...more
Laura
Traces the development of neoliberal thinking from the Austrian School of Economics (Baron Ludwig von Mises! I almost don't scream anymore when I hear his name) to the establishment of the World Trade Organization. Posits that neoliberalism starts with the idea the market his the ideal form of social coordination and ends with property rights being elevated over civil and civic rights.

Had some great lines. "Against Roosevelt's Four Freedoms -- of speech, of worship, from fear, from want -- neol
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Steve Bowbrick
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a headspinning read. A history of the branch of neoliberalism that you probably haven't heard of - the Geneva school. Sounds dry. But seriously, it's a must-read if you want to understand 'the present conjuncture'. All the intellectual strands that came together after the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire to form Reaganism/Thatcherism, the grim international order of GATT, WTO, the International Chamber of Commerce (and the EEC/EU!) and their various offshoots and national representations. ...more
Nils
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely brilliant, field-redefining history of neoliberalism; one of the best works of intellectual history of this century.
Matthew Hall
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a great example of an academic book that could've used a perusal by a non-academic editor. The ideas are fascinating and thought-provoking, ponderous and infuriating, but it needed maybe a slightly more human touch. The narrative thread of the book follows the life of Friederich Hayek and his ideas and work, and while those ideas are particularly human (idiosyncratic, at times baffling, at times contradictory and yet without a doubt wildly influential) Hayek the man comes off as an ...more
Supriyo Chaudhuri
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book is a thoughtful and extensive introduction to neoliberal globalism coming from the 'Geneva School', from its origins in Viennese intellectual tradition through the founding figures such as Mises and Hayek, to its influences on various post-war institutions to present day crisis. It's intellectual history as it should be, highlighting connections and conversations between various thinkers and institutions, and the development of the core idea - that of a global economic law and its insti ...more
The Nerdwriter
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think from now on four out of five stars will be my baseline rating for books. You can essentially take it to mean: this book is worth reading, I learned something and/or I enjoyed the experience and I don't regret having spent the time. The reason I preface these comments with that is because Quinn Slobodian's Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism isn't exactly a rip-roaring read. I suspect many people would find it dry and rather boring. I know at times I did. Despite ...more
Josh Friedlander
Before hearing Quinn Slobodian (in this 2018 podcast) on the topic, I'd decided that neoliberalism - despite the ubiquity of the term - could be dismissed by a useful intellectual history rule I have: in any "neo-x" (sometimes "x revival"), you can just ignore the prefix (or suffix); the differences are invariably historical but not substantial. So critics of neoliberalism are critics of liberalism - an important debate, sure, but old-hat. This learned, fascinating book is full of interesting de ...more
Rj
Jul 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at neoliberalism. Slobodian places the ideology and practice in a larger historical context tracing it back to a group of Geneva theorists pre-1947. He argues that previous interpretations which place the birth of the ideology with the Mont Pelerin Society are too late and that it is necessary to trace the ideas back to the death of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the beginning of the 20th-century.

"U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan put the point most bluntly in 2007
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Michael
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's an interesting time to read an intellectual history of neoliberalism and Quinn Slobodian's dense but fascinating book gives a curious reader much to think about. Slobodian's history of neoliberalism focuses mostly on the time period from the beginning of the 20th Century until the 1970s, with some discussion of the Seattle protests against the WTO in 1999 at the end. In Globalists, we learn that neoliberalism was not really an economic theory or even a political theory. It was a theory of p ...more
Sam Seitz
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: econ-ipe, history
This book is excellent and does a great job of expanding upon our understanding of neoliberal thinking. Specifically, Slobodian attempts to trace the history of the Geneva School of neoliberalism, which I believe to be fairly underappreciated in the U.S. given the utter hegemony of the Chicago School. The book is too wide-ranging to adequately summarize here, but the core message seems to be that a large segment of neoliberal thought – particularly Ordoliberalism – supports strong regulatory reg ...more
Jeff Schauer
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
An important read and an excellent historical study of neoliberal thinking and its origins. Probably the most thorough and convincing that I've read on the subject. Slobodian ties neoliberals' thinking to the demise of the Austro Hungarian Empire, and also explores how their ideology responded to and was shaped by the process of decolonization in Africa and Asia later in the century.
Raul Vergara
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really illustrates what neoliberalism is: a system that devises international institutions and interdependency between national economies as a way to shield markets from democratic pressures.
Eoin Flynn
Aug 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Good content, somewhat tediously presented. Worth a read if you're unfamiliar with what a racket neoliberalism is.
Jesse Morrow
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a set of Austrians largely based in Geneva sought to remake it in their own image.

Slobodian argues the idea for these neoliberal acolytes of Hayek was to "encase" the market. By creating a superstructure that would protect the markets from authoritarian or social democratic capital seizure, neoliberals thought they could create a world safe for capital.

In the interesting title "Globalists," Slobodian plays off the right-wing populist attack on globa
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Nathan
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting look of the evolution of the Geneva school of neoliberalism and the guiding philosophy of the early libertarianism of Von Mises and Hayek, detailing important forces in their thought not often discussed in libertarian histories and biography. It took as it’s framing the rise of neoliberalism and ordoliberalism as a response to the loss of colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and shows how the arguments of this group arose in relationship to the enfor ...more
Timothy Dymond
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
“Against Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms — of speech, of worship, from fear, from want — neoliberals posed the four freedoms of capital, goods, services, and labor.”

The empire in Quinn Slobodian’s ‘Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism’ is the almost forgotten but tremendously consequential Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ruled over by the House of Habsburg, the ‘Dual Monarchy’ was the great power in Central Europe between 1867 and 1918. Geographically it was the second-largest territo
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Van Jackson
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
The first 2/3 of this book deserves five stars, and the final third only three stars, or maybe two. In the first 2/3, Slobodian makes a persuasive, historically rich argument that neoliberals--or more specifically a subset described as "ordoliberals"--saw a crisis after WWI in the collapse of empires and rise of nationalism. They saw democracy as a threat to international trade, and developed the intellectual architecture for a system that defined the global economy as a connected, monolithic, a ...more
Jesper Döpping
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A concise definition of neoliberalism and its historical influence

Anybody interested in global trade, business, human rights or democracy today should read this book.

The book follow the Austrians from the beginning in the Habsburgischer empire to the beginning rebellion against the WTO. However, most importantly it follows the thinking and the thoughts behind the building of a global empire of capitalism with free trade, capital and rights. All the way to the new “human right” to trade. It narr
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Benjamin
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The five stars are for somebody who wants an intellectual history book, as which Slobodian's "Globalists" is a superb example.

This is the history of Austrian school of neoliberalism, particularly as represented by Hayek and the MPS, formed at Mont Pellerin in 1947. It explains the particular and very human origins of the ideas that drove so much economic policy in the last decades of the 20th century, taught around the intellectual life of MPS founding member Friedrich Hayek.

Of special note :
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aneez
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Though dozed off many times while reading this book, it simply is a delight. So full of nuances and details. I who consider myself firmly on the side of social-justice and used to use neoliberal as a kind of swear word the book was a revelation. Some personal highlights from the book, the geneva school liberal did not consider his primary challenge to be communism but rather populist democracy, mass enfranchisement and end of empire. They did not consider the inequalities in the system as a prob ...more
Justin Evans
Jan 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc
A well-chosen topic, but not the greatest approach to it, I think. Slobodian's subtitle hints at the interesting part of his book: neoliberalism as an approach to the economy and government that was well-suited for states leaving behind their empires. That would have been a great journal article, but here it's buried underneath a lot of information that is more easily available in the many other books about neoliberalism (Dardot & Laval's 'New Way of the World', for instance) and chapters that a ...more
Steve Birchmore
I have been surprised at how interesting and informative this book turned out to be.

The book traces the history of Neo-liberalism from its beginnings in post WW1 Austria - a rump state after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It goes onto give interesting developments of Neo-liberal thought such as supporting Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa and explains that much Neo-Liberal thought is anti-democratic, at least the universal suffrage variety, as democracies by their nature will tend
...more
Zach
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an adept corrective to misconceptions about the nature of neoliberalism, told through careful intellectual history of the “Geneva School,” (Mises, Hayek, Haberler, Ropke, et al.) Slobodian’s Central claims, which I find persuasive, are that neoliberals did not want to dissolve the state, but rather to use it to encase the world economy in order to keep it safe from democracy. As the title suggests, this is also a history of that school’s relationship to the institutions of global governa ...more
Zo
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great history that manages to combine storytelling with information density. Left me with a better understanding of the history of the development of neoliberal/globalist thinking, but also a much better feel for what exactly the grounds of current debates on neoliberal ideology should be about. Mostly made me want to read more about Hayek and critiques of Hayek, because I initially find his views persuasive, but am open to the idea that reading more I could swing the other direction. Gave me a ...more
Swami Avi
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author, Quinn Slobodian puts the notion that neoliberalism lacks a clear referent to rest in his seminal book. Instead, he argues that neoliberalism and globalism have existed as a coherent body of thought since the 1920s. Tracing the origins and consequent development of these ideas, he offers the readers a richer, more precise history of both the idea and practice of neoliberalism-globalism, with particular attention to their relationship with sovereignty and democracy. As such, he provide ...more
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“the neoliberal project focused on designing institutions—not to liberate markets but to encase them, to inoculate capitalism against the threat of democracy, to create a framework to contain often-irrational human behavior, and to reorder the world after empire as a space of competing states in which borders fulfill a necessary function.” 1 likes
“Ordoglobalism was haunted by two puzzles across the twentieth century: first, how to rely on democracy, given democracy's capacity to destroy itself; and second, how to rely on nations, given nationalism's capacity to "disintegrate the world".” 0 likes
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