BOOK REVIEW: “Reclaiming the State." Mitchell & Fazi (2017) Pluto Press

“Reclaiming the State. A progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World.” William Mitchell and Thomas Fazi (2017) Pluto Press.


The book starts with an interesting INTRODUCTION title: “Make the left great again.” I immediately had to ask myself, “why the left?” In any case, the first sentences already mention Trump in the United States, Matteo Renzi in Italy and the European Union “unprecedented crisis of legitimation” (all p. 1) as “rejections of the (neo) liberal order that has dominated the world – an in particular the West – for the past 30 years.”

The authors claim “[t]he reasons for this backlash are rather obvious.” From the financial crisis of 2007-9 to the post-crisis policies of fiscal austerity and wage deflation, they explain the “decline of the left” in terms of both “the electoral decline” and “the decline of core left values.” (p. 2)

Quoting Gerbaudo the authors think that sovereignty is a master-frame of contemporary policies “given neoliberalism’s war against sovereignty.” (p. 3) They add that national sovereignty was the centre of Trump and Brexit campaigns. (p. 3) They follow this idea by saying that the problem “is not national sovereignty as such, but the fact that the concept in recent years has been largely monopolised by the right and the extreme right […] through its xenophobic and identitarian agenda.” (p. 4)

The authors pose questions: “why has the left not been able to offer working classes and increasingly proletarianised middle classes a credible alternative to neoliberalism and to neoliberal globalisation?” and “why has not been able to develop a progressive view of national sovereignty?” (p. 4) According to them, and following Streeck, “a progressive vision of national sovereignty should aim to reconstruct and redefine the national state as a place where citizens can seek refuge ‘in democratic protection, popular rule, local autonomy, collective goods and egalitarian traditions.” (p. 13)

Part I goes from Keynes to neoliberalism, touching upon the Great Depression, austerity, Hitler, World Word II, the welfare state,  Bretton Woods, the dollar instead of gold, the UK’s embrace of monetarism, Friedman. In the end, globalisation has resulted in the state increasingly powerless against the “forces of the market” and countries have no other choice than to abandon national economic strategies. (p. 74) As a result, by “mid-1990s, no less than 57 developing countries had become poorer in per capita income than 15 years earlier – and in some cases than 25 years earlier.” (p. 103)

Part II starts with the promising heading “Towards a progressive vision of sovereignty.” (p. 161) It fails to deliver. Or if there is a new vision, it is a very burry one.

The monograph is interesting in what has to do with the historical account of the financial and monetary system in some countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and part of Europe. However, the way in which some others are addressed (notably Asia, Africa and Latin America) is extremely shallow.

Although “State” and “Sovereignty” are terms that appear in the title and subtitle, respectively, the book does not address any of these expressions from a jurisprudential, conceptual, or even substantial point of view. It is a criticism of financial and monetary theories and policies applied by some parties in some countries at some points in history.

Whether the authors’ critical views may be applied by analogy to other policies, theories, disciplines, countries or times in history is up to the reader to decide.

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