The Morals of the Market

Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism

Paperback, 240 pages

Published Nov. 5, 2019 by Verso.

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4 stars (1 review)

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 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.

3 editions

Lots there, but hard work

4 stars

Really interesting description of the interplay between neoliberalism and human rights, starting with the drafting of the UDHR and the battles over the inclusion of social or economic rights. Goes on to describe the way in which neoliberals saw economic freedom as the highest priority, and anything more egalitarian as the road to totalitarianism. Interesting detour into the early days of Amnesty, HRW, and the LSF (a short-lived offshoot of MSF), and the way at least the first two were willing to ignore economic hardship and focus solely on torture and political repression, while the LSF was explicitly anti-socialist. Lots of interesting stuff here, but the inclusion of frequent quotes from prominent neoliberals makes it a hard read -- they're all such thoroughly unpleasant people!