In this essay, I interrogate the racialized roots of the early neoliberal conception of (Western) civilization. I do so by placing that conception in a broader genealogy of early Austrian economic theory, focusing in particular on the writings of Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich von Wieser, and Ludwig von Mises. Rather than directly analyzing their understanding of civilization, however, I approach this topic by centering the way they construct the figure of the “savage.” This figure, as historians of racial discourse have shown, has long played an important role in European thought, often serving as the constitutive racial other to the “civilized” European. I proceed by asking what role the figure of the “savage” plays in the writings of the early Austrian economists. In doing so, I argue that while Menger and Böhm-Bawerk utilize deeply racialized tropes about “savage” peoples to establish the limits of their own theory of subjective valuation, Wieser not only adopts these tropes but also folds them into a broader racialized philosophy of history that sees historical development as a function of racial endowment. In the final section, I explore Mises’s writings in more detail, arguing that his understanding of race partially overlaps with Wieser’s but also departs from it in several crucial ways. In particular, Mises sees racial hierarchy as a historical rather than a natural phenomenon, prompting him to articulate a mode of “racial historicism” that sees racial hierarchy as a precarious system that could be overturned. In closing, I argue that Mises’s position on racial hierarchy anticipated several key elements of later neoliberal approaches to the question of race.
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Research Article| May 12 2021
Savage Economics: Race, Futurity, and Civilizational Hierarchy in Early Austrian Neoliberalism
Collections: Section: Politics, Governance, and the Law
Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
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Global Perspectives (2021) 2 (1): 23667.
June 29 2020
March 22 2021
Lars Cornelissen; Savage Economics: Race, Futurity, and Civilizational Hierarchy in Early Austrian Neoliberalism. Global Perspectives 1 February 2021; 2 (1): 23667. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gp.2021.23667
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