Colonize the XNUMXst century

Image: Robin McPherson


As a regressive response to the crisis of US hegemony, neoliberalism created a new language to legitimize colonialism in the XNUMXst century

The post-war period is usually identified historically as a time of decolonization: national liberation struggles in Asia, Africa, national developmentalism in South America. It was the time of Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, the Third World movement, the apogee of ECLAC as the construction of the paths of development in Latin America. A historical awareness of colonial crimes emerged as an inescapable paradigm of civilization.

How, then, in the XNUMXst century, was the legitimation of new colonialisms recreated, smothering and neutralizing that awareness of peoples' right to self-determination?

Already in the early fifties, the intellectuals who formed neoliberalism identified in this movement of self-determination of peoples, with the empowerment of national States and the notion of planning to overcome underdevelopment, a Siamese enemy of socialism and Keynesianism. It was about understanding the struggle for supremacy of the West, now identified with the leadership of the US State, as part of the fight against the totalitarian threat, expanding and deepening the dynamics of the “cold war”.

Dialoguing critically with John Toye (The counterrevolution in development economics), Dieter Plehwe in “The origins of neoliberal discourse in development economics” already identifies the first neoliberal agendas and works on the subject of development in the early XNUMXs for countries emerging from experiences of colonial rule, the XNUMXs and XNUMXs as paradigm dispute and the eighties of the last century already with a dominant neoliberal discourse in the international development agencies and in the mainstream economic.

Peter Bauer, praised and decorated by Thatcher and partner of Friedrich Hayek in the Mont-Pèlerin Society, would become a neoliberal reference author in this area with his The Economics of Under-developed Countries (Cambridge, 1957).


six arguments

The first line of argument was exactly that of investing in a historical review of colonialism, offering an alternative to the “guilty conscience” of the imperialist experience: contrary to the critical discourse on the colonial experience, colonized peoples would have benefited from civilizing contact with countries advanced capitalists. The most backward peoples in the world would be those who would not have benefited from this contact. Hong Kong and New Zealand would be virtuous examples of this contact with the progressivism of these civilizations. Slavery itself would have its origin in practices already established among African peoples.

The ordoliberal Alexander Rustow, in controversy with the classic John Hobson of Imperialism (1902), proposed separating capitalism from imperialism, indicating the latter to the practice of centralized states and expansionist political power.

The second argument was the criticism of point 4 of President Truman's famous 1949 speech, in which he defended economic aid to underdeveloped countries in favor of their modernization dynamics, as an alternative to nationalist and revolutionary paths. Neoliberals would strongly argue that all financial aid would be useless, due to the corrupt elites that would direct the States of these countries and in face of the structural impasses to a development similar to those of the central capitalist countries. More cynically, Rustow would argue that a Western logic of security should prevail over the principle of self-determination and idealisms.

In practice, what was sought to neutralize was the right to historical reparation of these peoples subjected to colonization.

Thirdly, a polemic was established against the referential works of Gunnar Myrdal (Economic Theory and Underveloped Regions, 1957) and Raul Prebisch, founder of ECLAC, author of the theory of unequal exchange, whom Celso Furtado called a master. What was argued was that the database used by Raul Prebisch was insufficient to prove historically unfavorable trends for underdeveloped countries in importing industrialized products from central capitalist countries and in exporting primary products to them.

The national-developmentalist tradition, hegemonic in Brazil from the 1964s to XNUMX, would be taken in the following decades to the status of a heterodox economic theory on development.

The fourth field of neoliberal argument was in the sense of attacking the “myth” of peripheral industrialization, in the sense of confirming the agrarian destiny of these countries. The absence of internal capital accumulated due to the low propensity to save in these countries, the absence of a configured capital market and inadequate banking systems would be structural obstacles to an autonomous process of industrialization. In this sense, neoliberal authors even raised doubts about the economy and the return of broad public education or literacy campaigns.

It was a question here, in short, of crystallizing the international division of labor inherited from the XNUMXth century, hindering systemic policies and planning aimed at industrialization, keeping these captive and non-competitive markets.

A fifth neoliberal field was to propose the path of integration and international trade as the future for underdeveloped countries. Its modernization dynamics would become strictly dependent on the unilateral commitment to economic integration, via access to international trade.

It is still impressive how all these lines of argument were like a foundation for the great neoliberal economic options in Brazil, from Cardoso until today.

Finally, a sixth line of argument was directed against the International Labor Organization (ILO) and its efforts to universalize labor rights and the very notion of decent work. The criticism of salary regulation, made by Eugenio Gudin, was in the sense that this regulation would lead to the destruction of the most important comparative advantage of these underdeveloped countries, exactly the lower cost of labor.


Competitive selection of civilizations

Critics of neoliberalism from the so-called Global South have rightly questioned theories of neoliberalism that do not place its imperial dimension at the center. In this series, we tried to integrate this criticism by defining neoliberalism as a regressive response to the crisis of North American hegemony, that is, an imperial program of power based on force and extortion.

But how is this colonialist dimension integrated into Hayek's work, which, as we have seen, seems to be a kind of argumentative synthesis of this tradition?

This relegitimization of colonialism or, to use Aníbal Quijano's words, of the “coloniality of power”, is integrated with Hayek's general theory in its notion that history proceeds from a competitive selection of civilizations. Thus, the capitalist West would be victorious and the vanquished would be solely to blame for their historical backwardness.

Americanism, this strong trait of neoliberal culture, would thus be more than the very expression of the language, the very grammar of articulation of neoliberalism.

*Juarez Guimaraes is a professor of political science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Democracy and Marxism: Criticism of Liberal Reason (Shaman).

To access the first article in the series click on

To access the second article in the series click on

To access the third article in the series click on

To access the fourth article in the series click on

To access the fifth article in the series click on

To access the sixth article in the series click on

To access the seventh article in the series click on

To access the eighth article in the series click on


⇒The website the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters. Help us to maintain this idea.⇐
Click here and find how.

See this link for all articles