On Sunday, the biggest name in football, Kylian Mbappé, scored the goal that made it clear to all that France, Mbappé's team, had defeated Croatia for the biggest prize in the sport, the World Cup. Mbappé is 19. He is also one of the 15 French players with roots in Africa. Eighty percent of France's players are not directly French. They are the sons of—or are—immigrants. But they live in a country that hugely views immigrants (particularly from former African colonies) negatively. There are too many of them, they say; and some fear that the classic French identity is in danger of being swamped. This is not a fringe feeling. It's very mainstream. The current president's opponent in the last election, Marine Le Pen, is an outright French fascist. A regular Hitler who ran for the most important political office in that country. True, Emmanuel Macron, a pro-market and eurozone "moderate," won that race overwhelmingly. But still, the toxic blond Le Pen, the head of the National Front, is not on the fringes of French politics; therefore, anti-immigrant racism constitutes a considerable amount of her country's national feeling.
But a black African French player, Paul Pogba, and a player with mixed Arab African and black African roots, Mbappé, sealed the deal for France. They could have played for their respective African national teams, and in the case of Mbappé, the Republic of Cameroon (the country on his father's side), the official offer to play on the national team was considered but ultimately rejected. Mbappé is of course, French—he was born and raised in that country. But also, there is the allure, the powerful attraction of participating in the French tradition of world-recognized prestige. Do you want to be a part of the perimeter? Or do you want to be a part of a narrative that includes Napoleon, Debussy, Renoir, Hugo, Balzac, de Gaulle, Camus? Mbappé's decision was not that hard to make. But understating why millions of white French citizens were, like Macron, so overjoyed by a victory made possible by citizens who look like the sans papiers—a class of people the French government constantly harasses, detains, and deports—is not so easy. And I think a large part of this difficulty is dissolved if one reads and grasps the two key insights of a new book by the American historian Quinn Slobodian. It's called Globalists: The End of Empire and The Birth of Neoliberalism.
Most of the books I have read about the rise of neoliberalism describe this movement in two ways. One, how it survived, and kept the flame of free markets alive in a hostile post-war environment (poet and cultural critic Joshua Clover calls this period between 1947 and 1973 "the long boom"). This is when, in Europe and the US, the memory of the great depression, and what caused it—a massive capital strike after the collapse of capital markets—was still alive in the minds of ordinary citizens in industrial capitalist states. These thinkers, who met on Mont Pèlerin in Switzerland, not only survived the cold of the social democratic moment (the long boom), but also developed new tools and concepts about the role of a pro-market state in the age of strong states and huge public budgets. The other story that is told about the neoliberal movement during this period is that it developed, particularly at the University of Chicago, a whole new kind of subject, one that replaced the citizen with the entrepreneur. This part of the movement named the cultural assets of such a subject "human capital."
Weirdly enough, the third and most important story of the rise of neoliberalism cannot be found in the books and lectures by theorists like David Harvey, Michel Foucault, Wendy Brown, or Werner Bonefeld. It is, as far as I can tell, only in Slobodian's Globalists. And what he makes very clear is that neoliberal thinkers of the post-war period were not dormant, but indeed very active, though in areas that most in the West, even the leftist West, fail to appreciate: one, the reconstruction of market/power relationships between the Global North and Global South in the post-colonial context; and, two, reviving (or better yet, sustaining) 19th century racist discourses and in the context of Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia. Slobodian devotes the fifth chapter, "A World of Races," to this untold story.
"My narrative," writes Slobodian, "thus far has focused on the ways in which law and economics complemented each other in attempts to design a world safe for capitalism. Now I will highlight a third term—the variable of race—through the overlooked example of the neoliberal relationship with Southern Africa." The first two terms dealt with neoliberal governance (a strong state protecting the market from the whims of democracy), and subjectivity (the human as capital—Slobodian, admittedly, does not give much space to this term, which can be called Foucaultian). But why is the third term so important? Because it defines exactly why France is the way it is today. You have a Macron and a Le Pen. Neither is not a neoliberal. But the former is a neoliberal globalist who, though supporting policies that have racist consequences, is not a racist. The latter is directly a racist, but sees the market or capitalism in the cultural or civilizational terms of a William F. Buckley. And if one does a genealogy of these forms, Macron's and Le Pen's political positions, you hit upon two famous 20th century economists: Friedrich Hayek (check out the Hayek/Keynes rap) and Wilhelm Röpke (no rap about that bloke).
Slobodian explains that Hayek, a hero of the indirectly racist wing of the Republican party, was opposed to Apartheid, and not because it oppressed black people, but because it convinced black people that power was in the state, which was supporting the interests of the white minority, and not the market alone. For Hayek, this distorted the price system, which only worked well when it didn't represent the interests of this or that group—white people, black people, a labor union, a monopoly, and so on. The function of the state was to keep politics (democracy) out of the market. And politics was about white people wanting more economic power than blacks, or black workers wanting more power than the white owners of capital. But why was this view of the state and the economy indirectly racist or unfavorable to labor? Because the moment of its initiation (or the moment it was instituted), it locked the history of those social/racial structures or differences permanently into an economy that was, ostensibly, a-historical. White supremacy did not go away, nor did class divisions; they continued, but now in a legal framework that was, in essence, post-racial and post-class. This is your Macron.
German economist Wilhelm Röpke, on the other hand, saw black power as a threat to a side of capitalism that even Marx admired: Its civilizing mission, its world-wide spreading of the flame of progress.
From The Communist Manifesto:
[B]ig industry has brought all the people of the Earth into contact with each other, has
merged all local markets into one world market, has spread civilization and progress everywhere
and has thus ensured that whatever happens in civilized countries will have repercussions in all
Slobodian explains that the German economist Röpke—who fled Nazi Germany, and eventually settled in Geneva—became an influential thinker for the founders of the wing of the Republican party that's directly and unapologetically racist (it was then—the 60s—called the New Right). If you read the books of the radical critical theorist Werner Bonefeld, or listened to his lectures, you will have to conclude that Röpke was one of the brilliant and unwavering architects of what the Germans now call the social market economy—it's also called ordo-liberalism, the German brand of neoliberalism. There is nothing in Bonefeld's work about Röpke being a hardcore racist. And when I mean hardcore, I mean fucking hardcore. Slobodian writes: "Röpke's described the 'South African Negro' as a man of an utterly different race, who 'stems from a completely different type and level of civilization."' Yes, Röpke made a principled decision to leave Nazi Germany (something Bonefeld mentions again and again); but yes, again, he gave the full weight of his support to the repressive Apartheid regime, and so was also the key architect of a theory of capitalist civilization that leads right to Le Pen.
But there is more. Why is the Global South so underdeveloped (poor)? Because, in part, the neoliberal theorists were not just smoking pipes and dreaming in Switzerland of the day their ideas would become official policies of the WTO, IMF, and the EU. No. These men actively attacked every effort the Global South made to become self-sufficient and self-governed economies. This included the means by which the West itself became rich, as the South Korean economist
Ha-Joon Chang pointed out in his 2002 book Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective: protection of infant industries, import substitution, and capital controls.
The Global South demanded autonomy. This was de-colonization done their way, the New International Economic Order (NIEO) way. But the neoliberals wanted, and succeeded in convincing policymakers to implement a de-colonization program that was in every way at odds with the Global South's demands for autonomy from the West. The neoliberal development program, which became known as the Washington Consensus, actually retarded the majority of developing countries, known as the G77. (This group is almost never mentioned these days, and nor is the revealing 1948 Havana Charter, a New Deal-leaning global framework for economic development that was ultimately replaced by the anti-democratic WTO.)
Structural adjustments to floating currencies, capital mobility, and decreased government spending, a program that started in the 1980s, actually slowed growth in the Global South (again, see Ha-Joon Chang). The IMF (one-third of the Washington Consensus) only admitted this fact after the crash of 2008. Nevertheless, Greece still got a taste of its very bad medicine in 2011. We now call it zombie economics: cut everything that matters to democracy; protect the owners and traders of money at all costs. These policies only work for a few people. They have caused an enormous amount of suffering for billions in the Global South. To understand why Mbappé, a black African Arab born in France scored the last goal in this year's World Cup, one must also understand how the neoliberals helped cripple the Global South's economic independence from the West.