How neoliberalism hijacked human rights

The return of Democrats to the White House is very interesting, both for neoliberalism and for human rights. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said the Biden administration will put human rights at the center of its foreign policy. It is very clear that this is part of the new cold war with China. As much as Blinken and Biden have affirmed their commitment to a universal human rights discourse that does not distinguish between allies and adversaries, so clear is their focus on China.

Following Israel’s recent devastating bombardment of Gaza, the Biden administration has repeatedly blocked UN Security Council statements calling for an end to the offensive. This demonstrates that the Biden administration is just as selective about how it applies human rights to foreign policy as any previous US government. In many ways, this is no surprise.

I think there is a more fascinating change under Biden, at least in rhetorical terms. His administration is explicitly turning away from the results and rhetoric of decades of neoliberal restructuring. You can see it very clearly from his statements that the trickle down economy never worked, that great government is back. It also emerges from his assertion that the state must play a substantial role in creating the physical and social infrastructure to enable economic participation and foster greater equality.

The United States appears to be moving towards more state-led capitalism on the inside. This raises an interesting question: how will this shift alter the country’s international human rights advocacy? In a speech in March 2021 on the occasion of the release of the United States Annual Report on Human Rights, Secretary of State Blinken argued that countries that respect human rights are better markets for American products, while countries that deny human rights are also those that violate trade rules. .

It is a classic statement of the neoliberal human rights paradigm. If the Biden administration does move towards economic policies that give government a greater role in the ownership and management of capital, it will be interesting to see how this changes the United States’ political rights agenda. of man. The defense of human rights may well be less central in a world of state-led capitalism, in which the language of national interests takes on renewed importance.

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