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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Presentation Details

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It's the Economy, Stupid!: The Primacy of Politics and the Market-State

Peter Thompson.

A great epochal war has just ended. The great competing systems of the contemporary nation-state (fascism, communism, parliamentarism) that fought that war all took their legitimacy from the promise to better the material welfare of their citizens. The market-state offers a different covenant: it will maximise the opportunity of its people. What Philip Bobbit is giving voice to here is the realistic assessment of what has happened to politics in the 21st century. Essentially, we have already entered the Next World Order. This paper will argue that the collapse of communism and the apparent end of ideology actually represent the crisis of politics and the return of the primacy of economics. This reprioritisation of the market has its roots in the economic crisis of the 1970s. At this point the primacy of politics and social cohesion which had prevailed in its various forms since 1917 began to break down as a result of technological and economic change. The end of communism will be analysed very much as a symptom of this wider crisis rather than a causative event. The shift towards the globalisation of production and the dislocation of community and labour has therefore brought with it the end of politics as such, understood as the inclusive rule (or indeed proxy rule) of the mass of the people. Communism collapsed because of its inability to resist the global degradation of the social imperative. The crisis facing the humanities is also predicated on this fact and can only really be addressed by the reestablishment of the primacy of politics, which in turn requires a re-subordination of the market to human needs.


Peter Thompson
Germanic Studies
University of Sheffield

  • Social-state
  • Market-state
  • Primacy of Politics
  • End of ideology

(30 min Conference Paper, English)