The Morals of the Market

The Morals of the Market

Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism

Jessica Whyte


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The fatal embrace of human rights and neoliberalism
Why did the rise of human rights in the 1970s coincide with the institutionalisation of neoliberalism? And why has the neoliberal age also been the age of human rights? Drawing on detailed archival research on the parallel histories of human rights and neoliberalism, Jessica Whyte uncovers the place of human rights in neoliberal attempts to develop a moral framework for a market society.In the wake of World War Two, 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. Honing in on neoliberal political thought, Whyte shows that the neoliberals developed a stark dichotomy between politics, conceived as conflictual, coercive and violent, and civil society, which they depicted as a realm of mutually-beneficial, voluntary, market relations between individual subjects of rights. In mobilising human rights to provide a moral language for a market society, neoliberals contributed far more than is often realised to today’s politics of human rights.


Jessica Whyte:
Jessica Whyte is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. She is a political theorist whose work integrates political theory, intellectual history and political economy to analyse the political stakes of claims to act on behalf of humanity. She is the author of Catastrophe and Redemption: The Political Thought of Giorgio Agamben (SUNY, 2013).