The Contribution of the International Economic Constitution to Authoritarian Liberalism

This paper explores the responsibility of the current international economic constitution for the authoritarian liberalist backlash against free markets and the emergence of nationalist, protectionist policies. While the authoritarian liberalist claim of unfair trade practices collapses at closer scrutiny, the structure of the international economic constitution makes societies vulnerable to such claims. Drawing on Polanyi’s insights about the preconditions of a stable, “embedded” version of capitalism, the paper shows that crucial elements of the international legal regimes governing trade, investment, taxes, money, and sovereign debt entrench a disembedded version of capitalism, which detaches the economy from its social function. Confronting authoritarian liberalism requires not only reshaping the international economic constitution, but also revealing the social conflicts behind the surface of the nationalist, protectionist discourses sustaining authoritarian liberalism.