Neoliberalism’s Anthems

by | 3 Aug 2021

As I sit down to write a response to John Reynolds, Julia Emtseva, and Richard Clements, who generously reviewed my book, the musical accompaniment are the tunes of the Olympic Games of Tokyo 2020. National anthems in particular ring out. The familiar tunes and lyrics of glory, pride, flags, and victory, blared out on an international stage appear like an idealised international community imagined by liberal internationalists. Competition stands at the forefront, and certainly there is an unevenness in opportunities for the athletes depending on which flag they compete for, but they all rally around the international organisation, and everyone has their place. The Opening Ceremony with its pomp and circumstance – each with a nod to its ancient European ancestry – must indeed be a spectacle to the taste of liberal internationalists. Here, it is the Olympic Hymn that brings everyone together. Forgotten are liberation movements, repression of minorities, indigenous extermination, discrimination due to race, class and gender. It is curious really that there is no anthem for the United Nations or the International Criminal Court. But, there is a distinct tune of global justice.

My intention with Marketing Global Justice was first and foremost an understanding of the noise around global justice. I wanted to show that the din of global justice, so comfortable and attractive to Western ears, has a certain rhythm, tune, beats, and repetitions. The simplicity of the global justice tune that is familiar and catchy turns into global justice’s ‘earworm’ and then its anthem. The triad of infantilised, racialised, and feminised victims can be repeated ad nauseam in many global injustice contexts. I had hoped that this tune might become recognisable to others, and that readers might point out other instances in which the tune is being played, perhaps with different instruments and soloists. Julia Emtseva and Richard Clements both generously do this. Indeed, Richard takes up the invitation not only to recognise the tune, but also to listen to it differently, to identify that it might be bland, at times grating, at other times menacing. But, focusing on noise can also mean that the silences, the dissonant chords, the forgotten or marginalised tunes and rhythms can remain implicit only. This was in part the contention of John Reynolds’s excellent review.

When writing a book, one dreams of reviews like Julia Emtseva’s: reviewers who take up the themes of the book with enthusiasm and apply it to a related area with dexterity. Julia reads Marketing Global Justice in the context of privatisation with a view to privately funded organisations that take up justice causes, becoming key actors in the global justice sector. Private philanthropy in particular is an important prism for understanding how capitalism’s myths of trickle-down economics continue to be perpetuated. There are many upsides to using the privatisation frame as a means of speaking about neoliberalism. It highlights the capital flows within areas dedicated to public goods, it spotlights the hollowing out of the public sphere, and it draws attention to the lack of state accountability in favour of individual accountability. Julia and I share many of these concerns. And yet, with the private-public distinction, she has hit on a nerve that troubles me. This no doubt merits a far deeper study, but let me list at least some of my concerns: I worry that the public-private distinction can have a reifying effect – the distinction after all is one that has served liberals well, and has upheld more than troubled the neoliberal order. I worry that there is a temptation to glorify a public sphere that in the end is very much like what liberal internationalists imagined – and is teased by the International Olympic Committee. I worry that there is a temptation to focus on regulation through the state rather than thinking about the role of the state itself; after all, regulation is often the very thing which appeases critics without affecting systemic change. I worry too that the privatisation frame swallows and delegitimises the private funding of resistance movements against oppression. Hence, my contention in the book to think about market values and social values, rather than mapping this onto a public-private distinction. To stick to my metaphor here, I worry that the public-private distinction is part of the rhythm of the global justice anthem. Rather than this being a ‘review of the review’, this is to indicate that I look forward to having these conversations with Julia in the future.

Richard Clements refers to rallying to the flag of global justice, very much in tune with the anthems of the Olympic Games metaphor. His choice of comparison between the cover of Paris Match magazine, depicting a young black soldier saluting to the tricolour, and Diplomat magazine, depicting the black female Chief Prosecutor in front of the ICC building is inspired. Just as the soldier in his uniform is a ‘purposeful mixture of Frenchness and militariness’, the Chief Prosecutor in her robe is what one might consider a purposeful mixture of internationalism and interventionism. Richard has, of course, been generous with picking this particular comparison. So, I wonder with Richard, what the incoming Chief Prosecutor’s image might mean for the ICC’s brand of global justice, and the broader hegemonic interpretation of global justice? Is Karim Khan QC, a British-Pakistani barrister, also a purposeful mixture of internationalism and interventionism? What will the next era of prosecutions mean for the tired brand of global justice? Indeed, this leads to John Reynold’s question: What of the Situation of Palestine before the ICC? Could the new Chief Prosecutor, who must deal with crimes committed against Palestinians (the litmus test for the progressive potential of any international organisation) change how we view the ICC and its brand of global justice? Could this change the tune of global justice?

To do John Reynolds’s questions justice merits a further research project – of the relationship between the ICC, Palestine, decoloniality, and global justice. So it is with some relief that I point to a collaborative project with Nahed Samour and Michelle Burgis-Kasthala in which we take up this challenge together. Indeed, in which we engage with John’s own fantastic work with the brilliant Noura Erakat, who contribute crucial critical voices to this debate.  As John indicates, I am sceptical of the progressive potential of the ICC when it comes to the Palestinian cause, but that is not to say that it is without potential, or that the moment of attention directed to it should not be exploited. It offers opportunities to highlight the inequalities that are often hidden through references to ‘both sides suffer casualties’, or the distraction of a two-state solution. The language of international crimes has purchase with a global audience and so a framing through the crime of apartheid is at the very least discursively powerful. Certainly, it is not my place to criticise the immense legal, emotional, and material efforts that go into the preparation for the situation at the ICC. For now, let me say that here too the anthem metaphor may be useful. In order to bring the Palestinian struggle to the ICC, Palestinians must adhere to its tunes – its tune of sovereignty and statehood, its tune of victimhood, and its tune of punitive justice. Moreover, in the context of the great attention afforded to the important Human Rights Watch report, finding Israeli officials to have committed the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, I believe it is important not to overlook the discomforting fact that HRW has happily marched to the tune of marketised global justice in the past. Finally, even if the Palestinian struggle adheres to the tunes and rhythms of the ICC, the ICC remains a limited and limiting forum. For despite its hegemonic position in the global justice sector, the ICC is not the Pied Piper, rallying all global justice audiences behind its tunes. Indeed, the aim of my book was to highlight that the ICC may at times be the first chair violinist (the ‘concertmaster’), but it too is following a tune of the neoliberal order.

I look forward to continuing to be in conversation with Julia, Richard, and John about these matters…and all that jazz.


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