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The Disciplining Capitalist Fantasy of Authoritarian Good Governance

The hegemony of international actors for determining national policies along capitalist lines is underpinned by an affective discourse presenting them as the actors best able to protect the stability of the global market. It reflects a similar authoritarian dynamic as found in the “self- disciplining” state. More precisely, international and regional actors must use their growing power to safeguard the world economic order and as such the prosperity of all its citizens. Accordingly, akin to states, international sovereignty is enhanced and made more authoritarian in direct correlation to the global expansion of economic marketization.

This capitalist fantasy of political authoritarianism draws upon the unpredictability of the international marketplace. The World Bank and IMF must be strengthened exactly due to the fact that international capitalism is so volatile. Hale exemplifies this view in a 1998 article, maintaining it is “precisely this turbulence in global financial markets [that] demonstrates why the world needs the IMF: no other organization can serve as lender of last resort to buffer extreme economic turmoil during market stress” (Hale, 1998). In this regard, the inherent threat of an economic downturn creates the need for the strong hand of an international sovereign.

Critically, the explanation for this volatility has been shifted from an inherent characteristic of a capitalist system to the actions of “bad” nations and governments. The 2008 financial crisis, in particular, was blamed on international financial actors and bankers. However, this has now been redirected to individuals and states that refuse to be economically “responsible” - a demonized figure ranging from the evicted homeowner who should never have taken out a mortgage they couldn’t afford to profligate governments who refuse to cut public spending. This general redirecting of accountability shaped, in turn, the relation between IFIs and those nations they lent money too. The problem was now framed as a failure of “good governance” and the requirement of international lenders to be more active in resolving these issues. Good governance initiatives like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in sub-Saharan Africa, despite their ineffectiveness on the policy level, reinforced ideas that development failures can be exclusively attributed to corruption and fiscal “irresponsibility” (Hilson and Maconachie, 2008).

More generally, it is argued that donors should use a range of incentive-based and regulative measures to ensure these universally accepted governance values are adopted (Gisselquist, 2012: 1). This reflects earlier “strong” globalization perspectives that see the shift from nations to trans-national capitalist actors (Strange, 1996). This view risks, as discussed throughout this analysis, minimizing the strengthening of the state for spreading neoliberalism nationally. Yet it does point to the uptake of this capitalist authoritarian logic by IFIs. Tellingly, early official statements on “good governance” highlight the enhanced authority and coercive power it grants international organizations. Quoting from a 1992 World Bank report at length on the subject:

Governance, in general, has three distinct aspects: (a) the form of political regime (parliamentary or presidential, military or civilian, and authoritarian or democratic); (b) the processes by which authority is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources; and (c) the capacity of governments to design, formulate, and implement policies, and, in general, to discharge government functions. The first aspect clearly falls outside the Bank’s mandate. The Bank’s focus is, therefore, on the second and third aspects. (World Bank, 1992: 58)

This affective discourse of “good governance” legitimizes economic marketization and political authoritarianism both nationally and internationally. De Angelis (1997: 43) argues, that corporate globalization ideologically “naturalises the market and the economy, to such an extent that it presents the latter as [an] autonomous force to which we must bow.” Yet this inevitability of neoliberalism globally is sustained by an acceptance of and investment in the sovereignty of international organizations. The widespread call for economic regulation in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis was soon translated into the need for the “reregulation” of “irresponsible” national economies by IFIs and if needed by regional authorities. “Discourses of capitalist development exist as a sequential trajectory to be followed by all countries” according to Sheppard and Leitner (2010: 185), they “legitimate expertise located in the first world, and global capitalist governance, irrespective of serial policy failures.”

The contemporary sovereignty of international actors results in a reconfigured and in some ways enhanced form of political authoritarianism globally. More precisely, globalization is characterized by the regulative rule of international and regional organizations. Those countries that fail to conform to their neoliberal edicts must be punished politically and economically through such means as higher interest rates, lower credit rating and currency speculation (Andrews, 1994; Goodman and Pauly, 1993; Mishra, 1999; Stewart, 1994). FDI largely goes to countries with “good policies” such as economic liberalization as well as protection of property rights (Alesina and Dollar, 2000). Consequently, Krastev (2010: 117) notes “the politics of normalization replaced deliberation with imitation,” an imitation enforced by the increasingly strong hand of IFIs.

In terms of national politics, this can often mean supporting oligarchy in the name of preserving “good government” - such as in the case of Indonesia in 1990s (Robison and Rosser, 2003). Similarly, in Africa the World Bank framed development failures on the lack of “good governance” and the continued “neo-patrimonial” regimes of former colonial nations - rather than open democracy and debate they want states to conform to economic orthodoxy (Olukoshi, 1998). Fundamentally, the introduction of market reforms is “best explained” according to Robison and Rosser (2003: 173), “not as technical arrangements defined by self-evident rationality but as political products defined by power and interests.” More precisely, it represents a deeper power struggle between various actors and coalitions for power, one that often can result in “oligarchic capitalism.” The overriding prioritization by IFIs of “good governance,” in this sense, has “obscured corruption of the political process and the subsequent repression of popular demand for distributive justice” (Thomas, 1999: 551).

The current case of Syriza exemplifies this international global tyranny. The electoral rejection of austerity by the Greek population produced an authoritarian response from the so-called international “Troika” (composed of the International Monetary Fund, Germany and the European Central Bank). Economically, the question of debt was almost exclusively framed as one of the Greeks needing to be paying their loans back and doing so by becoming more “economically responsible” through implementing austerity policies. This was despite the fact that Germany and France profited greatly from the Greek debt (Schultz, 2012) as well as the broader reality that austerity increased rather than decreased debt due to its recessionary effects (Krugman, 2015). Nevertheless, politically it was seen as a direct challenge not only to the ideology of neoliberalism but the sovereign authority of its international protectors. As such, Syriza needed to be coerced, or in some views, punished for their failure to exercise their democracy “responsibly.”

This is the international capitalist fantasy of authoritarian “good governance” on full display. It is the disciplining of nations and populations in order to safeguard marketization. It does so as linked to an affective promise of future development achievable as long as states do not act “irresponsibly.” Their failure to do so, to be “self-disciplined,” necessitates strong and often coercive sovereign measures by the international community. The political tyranny of the neoliberalism extends, thus, beyond its border, producing in its wake an authoritarian global order.


This chapter explored the international dimension of political authoritarianism in the age of globalization. More precisely, how internationally imposed conditions and governance led to the respective “self- disciplining” and “disciplining” of nations and populations to implement neoliberal “reforms.” Globalization and its international governance structures invests the state with new powers to police itself to fulfill its international financial obligations. It also empowers supranational actors with the same authoritarian task. It is not only economic marketization that is now global but also the political authoritarianism needed to implement and enforce it. The affective promise of “good governance” is a sovereign reality of national and trans-national capitalist regulation and coercion.

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