The Morals of the Market
Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism
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288 pages / November 2019 / 9781786633118
November 2019 / 9781786633132

The fatal embrace of human rights and neoliberalism

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.


“Among the most brilliant and implacable younger intellectuals working today, Jessica Whyte has turned in a masterful and thrilling account of how neoliberals faced down and helped remake human rights for our time. With its intrepid documentation of how Friedrich Hayek and his fellows engaged with the annunciation of human rights in the 1940s, and its fascinating wealth of evidence about how deeply neoliberal assumptions about markets and nations affected the rise of humanitarian advocacy in the 1970s, The Morals of the Market is a fundamental challenge that no one can avoid.”

“We now know that neoliberals preached less the retreat of state and supranational institutions than their refashioning. What we did not know, and what Jessica Whyte teaches us in her propulsive and probing book, is how central a rethinking of human rights was to the neoliberal project. In her genealogy of market morality, Whyte offers the best history yet of how neoliberals put hierarchical ideas of civilization and race at the heart of their thought from its origins, and how they constructed their version of human rights as a barricade and battering ram against political projects premised on human equality and economic justice.”

“This beautifully written book combines historical inquiry, theoretical rigor, and archival research to explore the complicated relationship between neoliberal market morals, imperialism, and human rights politics in the twentieth-century. Whyte’s astonishingly original argument cuts through neoliberal deflection like a scythe offering us insights into human rights essential to imagining a better political future.”

“In this masterful book, Jessica Whyte explodes the common myth that neoliberalism and human rights are independent and incompatible projects. From the economists of the Mont Pèlerin Society to the humanitarians who founded Doctors without Borders, Whyte reveals a sometimes shocking covert history of the hijacking of human rights by neoliberal thinkers who recoded human liberty and dignity as the products of submission to a ‘free market’ and promoted inequality as a social good. The Morals of the Market is provocative, sobering, and indispensable reading for understanding how we find ourselves in our current state of rotten affairs.”

“Jessica Whyte’s new book provides a thorough, devastating and utterly convincing demonstration of the way neoliberal economists and thinkers hijacked once-revolutionary concepts of universal human rights, and turned them into weapons to be used against emancipatory and anti-colonial political projects all over the world. The full moral and political price of our abject surrender to ‘market necessities’ has never been so clearly calculated; anyone who reads this book will see that it’s high time we stopped paying it.”

“Beautifully written, theoretically sophisticated, and excoriating all at the same time.”

“[An] illuminating new book.”

“A compelling, rigorous, deep and passionate study of the morals underpinning human rights and neo-liberal markets.”

“Perhaps the best book on the subject yet … The Morals of the Market will be read and discussed for many years to come because Whyte has produced a rare work which makes interdisciplinary history and philosophy look not only easy, but necessary.”

“Engrossing and comprehensively researched, The Morals of the Market sparkles with erudite engagements across modern political theory that contextualises neoliberal thought.”

“A timely contribution to a field that, at least to some, could be facing its twilight. If we are to dislodge human rights of its condition of fellow travellers, it is important to maintain Whyte’s critical approach.”

“Whyte sets out to tell the ‘story of how neoliberal thinkers made human rights the morals of the market.’ On this score Whyte succeeds admirably: through a thorough, well-written, and cogent account of the work of the Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) and how its leading lights articulated a specifically moral account of the virtues of ‘free’ markets to embed and defend their civilizational ideals.”

The Morals of the Market, demonstrates the kind of scholarship we all aspire to: insightful, thought-provoking, and, above all, accessible and engaging.”

Morals of the Market is an excellent book, all the more so for its clarity and its combination of panoramic synthesis and issue-specific analysis.”

The Morals of the Market succeeds on every count. This fascinating book has a lot of new and surprising things to teach us about human rights and neoliberalism, those longstanding and cherished objects of left critical theorization. And the lessons it teaches us about them both are essential if we are to properly understand their historical trajectories (and hence to perform the necessary political work of contesting, reframing, or refusing them in the present).”

“A thought-provoking and engaging study on the relationship between human rights and the rise of neoliberalism.”

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