In a revelatory dispatch from the frontier of capitalist extremism, an acclaimed historian of ideas shows how free marketeers are realizing their ultimate goal: an end to nation-states and the constraints of democracy.
Look at a map of the world and you’ll see a colorful checkerboard of nation-states. But this is not where power actually resides. Over the last decade, globalization has shattered the map into different legal spaces: free ports, tax havens, special economic zones. With the new spaces, ultracapitalists have started to believe that it is possible to escape the bonds of democratic government and oversight altogether.
Crack-Up Capitalism follows the most notorious radical libertarians—from Milton Friedman to Peter Thiel—around the globe as they search for the perfect space for capitalism. Historian Quinn Slobodian leads us from Hong Kong in the 1970s to South Africa in the late days of apartheid, from the neo-Confederate South to the former frontier of the American West, from the medieval City of London to the gold vaults of right-wing billionaires, and finally into the world’s oceans and war zones, charting the relentless quest for a blank slate where market competition is unfettered by democracy.
A masterful work of economic and intellectual history, Crack-Up Capitalism offers both a new way of looking at the world and a new vision of coming threats. Full of rich details and provocative analysis, Crack-Up Capitalism offers an alarming view of a possible future.
About the Author
Quinn Slobodian is the author of the award-winning Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, which has been translated into six languages. A frequent contributor to the Guardian, Foreign Policy, Dissent, the Nation, the New Statesman, and the New York Times, he is a professor of the history of ideas at Wellesley College. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Slobodian has done us a great service, identifying a phenomenon that needs unmasking…Crack-up capitalism, for all its spread and the enthusiasm of its advocates, is ultimately a blind alley.”
“Ranging from Liechtenstein to Somalia, and from Hong Kong to Silicon Valley, Quinn Slobodian's Crack-Up Capitalism exposes how zones of exception promise capitalism an escape from the confines of the modern state and the constraints of democracy. Revelatory reading. A worthy successor to Slobodian’s brilliant Globalists.”
—Adam Tooze, author of Crashed
“In Crack-Up Capitalism, Quinn Slobodian takes us on a wild ride through the fenced-in compounds and failed states of today’s capitalist world, and invites us to imagine a future where the rich have privatized safety, turned working people into a disposable servant class, and bought entire countries outright. This sharp and wickedly entertaining book is a necessary field guide to the LARPers, bloggers, and grifters of the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist world, a warning that they are closer to fulfilling their fantasies than we might think, and a clarion call for collective action to preserve—and greatly expand—democracy as we know it.”
—Sarah Jaffe, author of Work Won’t Love You Back
“Revelatory. In this head-spinner of a book, Quinn Slobodian shows how zones, islands, micronations, gated communities, and cyber realms are remaking our planet. The capitalist future they portend isn’t a borderless utopia but a jurisdictional shatter belt, where democracy is a distant dream.”
—Daniel Immerwahr, author of How to Hide an Empire
“Quinn Slobodian’s eye-catching case studies warn against the powerful movement seeking a radical capitalist future…The story is told over the course of 11 lively and engaging chapters…[a] unique and highly entertaining collection of case studies of the logic of capitalist Exit.”
“So many debates about contemporary capitalism get bogged down in false dichotomies: markets versus states, empires versus nations, global economy versus local sovereignty. With a bracing argument and a brisk style, Quinn Slobodian cuts through those thickets, disclosing some 5,400 interconnected zones, across the world, of capitalism without democracy. From London to Hong Kong, Singapore to South Africa, the governors of these zones haven't done away with cops or rules, bureaucrats or borders. They've dispensed with elections and popular control. They’ve created a feudalism of the future. Thank God we have Slobodian to think our way through it.”
—Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind
“An instant political classic. Quinn Slobodian has produced an extraordinary book, showing how capitalists have been punching holes in national governance to enrich themselves and marginalize democratic self-determination. Filled with characters too strange for fiction and written with engaging brio, Crack-Up Capitalism confirms Slobodian’s reputation as our leading historian of neoliberalism.”
—Samuel Moyn, author of Humane
“A fascinating and important book, which brings to the surface some of the deepest political undercurrents of our times. Crack-Up Capitalism is an exemplary use of history to illuminate the present, forcing us to reassess what we thought we knew about the contemporary world.”
— Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears and Red Pill
“Slobodian has written a fascinating account of the sheer hubris of the market radicals who have sought to free capitalism from democracy first by transforming the world’s political geography and now by abandoning the material world. He tells this important story with verve and considerable insight.”
—Helen Thompson, author of Disorder
“With each new book, Quinn Slobodian adds extraordinary new detail to his ongoing account of 21st-century political and economic arrangements. Crack-up Capitalism is concerned with the ‘zones’ of global space: the micro-divisions and gradations from which the real atomic force of our system derives. It’s very convincing: get ready to throw out all previous maps.”
—Rana Dasgupta, author of Capital
“Brilliant. A vital contribution to the ‘whither democracy’ debate.”
—Wendy Brown, author of In the Ruins of Neoliberalism
“Compelling…Quinn Slobodian’s vivid description of zones shows us why our political system can no longer be said to be democratic…Slobodian wakes us up to democracy’s underthrow: decentralization is a strategy for its unraveling, not its salvation.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“After reading historian Quinn Slobodian’s new book, you are not likely to think about capitalism the same way…Crack-Up Capitalism is an important guide to the current struggle over how the ruling class rules. And Slobodian ultimately raises the question of whether there are cracks in the system, or whether the cracks are the system.”