Max Weber Lecture, 19 March 2014, 17.00-18.30, Refettorio, Badia, San Domenico di Fiesole
Human Rights and Market Fundamentalism
by Mary Nolan, New York University
In the 1970s human rights and market fundamentalism gained prominence in the United States, Europe and Latin America. These were simultaneously discourses, ideologies, national movements and transnational networks, and policies that states and NGOs sought to impose. Human rights and market fundamentalism both claimed universal applicability and dismissed previous ideologies; they adhered to methodological individualism, critiqued the state, and marginalized the social. But despite striking affinities, there is no single relationship between human rights and market fundamentalism from the 1970s through the 1990s.
This talk explores three cases where human rights were defined and new human rights policies developed, and where neoliberal policies were debated and implemented. In Eastern Europe human rights and neoliberalism emerged separately and sequentially, coming together in problematic ways only after the collapse of communism. In Latin America human rights violations, the defense of human rights, and the promotion of neoliberal reforms occurred simultaneously. Both proponents and opponents of human rights constantly weighed the economic implications of their positions, just as those favouring or opposing neoliberalism argued about the possible effects on human rights promotion. The third case involves women’s economic rights as human rights. Debates and development policies were shaped by neoliberal discourse and structural adjustment policies that sought to make women rational and entrepreneurial actors, primarily via microcredit programmes.
The relationship of human rights and market fundamentalism depended on the region and policy in question as well as on Cold War understandings, priorities, and anxieties. Whatever degree and type of entanglement, the dominant understandings of human rights from the 1970s to the 1990s encouraged governments, NGOs, and international organizations to focus on the individual, the legal and the political, and to ignore how neoliberal structural adjustment violated the economic and social human rights of so many. Market fundamentalism, in turn, encouraged governments to envision nation building in neoliberal terms and development economists to promote neoliberal models. It provided the human rights movement with a further rationale for ignoring collective and economic rights.
All are welcome to attend the lecture, for organizational purposes please register.