We Live in a Market State

3 Jun

In 2002 Philip Bobbitt published The Shield of Achilles, his response to Francis Fukuyama’s prediction of an era of world peace based on the triumph of capitalism over Soviet communism.  In a brilliant review of this book published the following year in New Left Review, Gopal Balakrishnan summarized Bobbitt’s predictions for the future of the capitalist society to come:

“An entirely new political form [of state], the market-state has arisen to supplant [the nation-state]. . . . the market-state ceases to base its legitimacy on improving the welfare of its people.

Instead, this new form of polity simply offers to maximize opportunities—‘to make the world available’ to those with the skills or luck to take advantage of it.  ‘Largely indifferent to the norms of  justice, or for that matter any particular set of moral values, so long as law does not act as an impediment to economic competition,’ the market-state is defined by three paradoxes.  Government becomes more centralized but, yet weaker; citizens increasingly become spectators; welfare is retrenched, but security and surveillance systems expand.  Bobbitt etches the consequences imperturbably.  The grip of finance on electoral politics may become so tight as to erase the stigma of corruption.  Waves of privatization will continue to roll  over the state, eventually dissolving large parts of it into a looser, shifting ensemble of subcontracted and clandestine operations . . . .

Public education will implode as parents seek to augment the human capital of their children with early investments in private school.  Inequality and crime could grow to Brazilian proportions.  Civil liberties will have to be reconceived to accommodate far-reaching anti-terrorist dragnets.  Some of the fictions of citizenship will gradually give way to more realistic weighted voting systems.  Representative government itself will become increasingly nominal as media plebiscites openly assume the function f securing the assent of atomized multitudes.  National security spin-doctoring will become so pervasive as to engender a new epistemology of managed opinion.”

Gopal Balakrishnan, Antagonistics (London: Verso, 2009), pp. 54-55

By Hayden White, via ARCADE: Literature, the Humanities, and the World.


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