‘Security, economy and the mundane practices of liberal exceptionalism’ – Jacqueline Best, 13th March

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/11/2018 - 10:26pm in

Security, Economy and the Mundane Practices of Liberal Exceptionalism

Jacqueline Best

University of Ottawa

13th March


The 2008 global financial crisis was met with a host of exceptionalist measures, as bailouts, stimulus and then austerity measures were rammed through legislatures or introduced through executive powers. A quick survey of economic history reveals that exceptionalism has played an ongoing role in liberal democratic government, such as in early efforts to put down major strikes, and in emergency legislation like the New Deal. Yet, not all governments have been as keen to use such measures, even when faced with powerful crises. While British Prime Minister Heath and American President Nixon both declared states of emergency to respond to economic crises in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s administration avoided such explicitly exceptionalist measures. What do these differences tell us about the place of economic exceptionalism in the evolution of liberal government?

In this talk, I seek to rehabilitate the concept of exceptionalism, which many scholars have rejected in recent years for its Schmittian overtones. I do so in a way that steps away from such absolutist conceptions and reconceptualizes exceptionalism as an everyday practice, or tool, of liberal political and economic government. After developing a conception of economic exceptionalism that identifies two complementary logics—emergency and technocratic—I then go on to discuss some of the preliminary findings from my ongoing archival research into British and American economic policies of the 1970s and 1980s. By examining both the politics and the practicalities of exceptionalist policies, we can develop a more nuanced understanding of how these techniques are used to resolve some of the constitutive tensions in liberalism—tensions that are becoming all too apparent in recent years.

Jacqueline Best is a Professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. Her research is at the intersection of international relations, political economy and social theory. She has recently published Governing Failure: Provisional Expertise and the Transformation of Global Development Finance with Cambridge University Press. She a currently co-editor of the journal Review of International Political Economy.


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The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Anti-Semitism and the Aristocracy

Last night I put up a piece debunking the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, based on the chapter about this vile book in Jon E. Lewis’ The Mammoth Book of Cover-Ups (London: Constable & Robinson 2007), pp. 433-50. The Protocols are a notorious anti-Semitic forgery, probably concocted by Matvei Golovinski of the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, to make his master, Nicholas II, even more anti-Semitic and to intensify the persecution of the Jews.

The Protocols purport to be the minutes of a secret meeting of a group of elite Jews, intent on destroying all non-Jewish religions and conquering and enslaving Christians and gentiles. They claimed that the Jews were at the centre of a massive conspiracy controlling the banks and were encouraging the downfall of Christian civilization by promoting liberalism, democracy, socialism and anarchism. At the same time they were distracting gentiles from uncovering this plot through using alcohol, gambling, games and other amusements.

There is absolutely no truth in any of this whatsoever. But the book became an immense success and was read and influenced many Fascists and anti-Semites. These included Adolf Hitler, who made the book a compulsory part of the German school syllabus.

Like much of Fascism, it’s a rejection of modernity – the mass society of modern politics that emerged in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Modern politics and secular ideologies were attacked. At one point, the Protocols claim that Darwinism, Marxism and Nietzscheanism have been successful because they have been promoted by the conspiracy. (Lewis, Mammoth Book of Covers-Ups, p. 444). The forger’s own view of what constitutes the best society is revealed very clearly in another passage, in which the conspirators celebrate their destruction of the aristocracy.

The people, under our guidance, have annihilated the aristocracy, who were their one and only defence and foster-mother for the sake of their own advantage, which is inseparably bound up with the well-being of the people. Nowadays, with the destruction of the aristocracy, the people have fallen into the grips of merciless money-grinding scoundrels who have laid a pitiless and cruel yoke upon the necks of the workers. (p.446).

Historically, some of the persecution of the Jews in the later Middle Ages was due to the fact that a large number of the aristocracy had become seriously in debt to Jewish bankers, and tried to get out of their obligation to pay it back by urging for their persecution and expulsion.

A significant number of aristocrats and the upper middle class were supporters of Nazism before the Second World War. The leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley, was a baronet. Aristocrats and landlords joined pro-Nazi and appeasement organisations like the Anglo-German Fellowship. Martin Pugh on his book on British Fascism between the Wars describes how the aristos welcomed members of the Nazi elite at dinner parties on their estates, when the swastika was discreetly flown from the flagpoles.

And there still seems to be a fascination and dangerous sympathy with Nazism even today. Way back in the 1990s and early part of this century, Private Eye published a number of stories about one Cotswold aristocrat, who had very strong anti-Semitic, racist and anti-immigrant opinions.

And then there’s the Traditional Britain Group on the far right of the Tory party. These also have the same, genuinely Fascist attitudes, and one of their leaders is fascinated with the Nazis and the Third Reich. It was the Traditional Britain Group, who invited Jacob Rees-Mogg to their annual dinner, which Mogg accepted. When the Observer published the story, Mogg claimed that at the time he hadn’t known anything about them. If he had, he wouldn’t have gone. Which doesn’t really sound convincing, as people don’t normally accept dinner invitations from organisations and people they know nothing about. But perhaps Mogg, as well as being viciously right-wing, is also very naïve.

As for the Tories being good friends of the Jews, as the current head of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyle claimed in a speech, David Rosenberg posted up in response a series of incidents across the decades which put the lie to it. These showed very clearly how anti-Semitic the Tories had been, and which parts of it may very well still be.

And one of the attractions of anti-Semitism, apart from sheer racism, is that, in the form of conspiracy theories like the Protocols, they blame the Jews for all the forces of modernity that threaten the aristocracy and the upper middle class, and celebrate the aristocracy itself as the people’s saviours, and so appealing very strongly to certain types of Tories.

Pankaj Mishra On The Entwined History Of Liberalism And Imperialism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/07/2018 - 4:43am in

A bit old, from Dec 2015 but still fresh.

Pankaj Mishra in London Review Of Books:

Visiting Africa and Asia in the 1960s, Conor Cruise O’Brien discovered that many people in former colonies were ‘sickened by the word “liberalism”’. They saw it as an ‘ingratiating moral mask which a toughly acquisitive society wears before the world it robs’. O’Brien – ‘incurably liberal’ himself (at least in this early phase of his career) – was dismayed. He couldn’t understand why liberalism had come to be seen as an ‘ideology of the rich, the elevation into universal values of the codes which favoured the emergence, and favour the continuance, of capitalist society’. This seemed to him too harsh a verdict on a set of ideas and dispositions that appeared to promote democratic government, constitutionalism, the rule of law, a minimal state, property rights, self-regulating markets and the empowerment of the autonomous rational individual.

Liberal ideas in the West had emerged in a variety of political and economic settings, in both Europe and North America. They originated in the Reformation’s stress on individual responsibility, and were shaped to fit the mould of the market freedoms that capitalism would need if it was to thrive (the right to private property and free labour, freedom from state regulation and taxation). They did not seem particularly liberal to the peoples subjugated by British, French and American imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Contradictions and elisions haunted the rhetoric of liberalism from the beginning. ‘How is it,’ Samuel Johnson asked about secession-minded American colonists, ‘that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?’ John Stuart Mill credited India’s free-trading British overlords with benign liberal intentions towards a people self-evidently incapable of self-rule. ‘Despotism,’ he wrote, ‘is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.’ Alexis de Tocqueville, by contrast, felt no need of the ingratiating moral mask; the French colonial project in Algeria was a glorious enterprise, a vital part of French nation-building after decades of political turmoil.

It wasn’t only the entwined history of liberalism and imperialism that in the 1960s made many Asians and Africans suspect American and European liberals of being ‘false friends’ …