Postcolonial Global Justice (Dissertation)

While many colonized peoples attained formal sovereignty in mid-to-late 20th century, deepening globalization has continued to draw charges of neocolonialism. Drawing on the political thought of Third World anticolonial thinkers, my dissertation investigates how structures of colonial injustice continue to manifest in global politics, and what principles of global justice they call for. While there is a longstanding tendency to read anticolonial thinkers as nationalists whose main concern was defending sovereignty for the nation-state, and/or as forerunners of postcolonial critique who eschewed talk of moral ideals, I shift our focus to a second strand of anticolonialism by engaging closely with key writings of Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Amílcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, and Aimé Césaire. I argue that an important set of themes within anticolonial thought can be theorized as a critique of relations of inequality, and decolonization understood as the construction of egalitarian global and domestic relations. This second strand of anticolonialism, which grounds what I call the egalitarian face of decolonization, pushes us to rethink decolonization as a project of global integration on terms of equality, and has radical implications for thinking about global justice today.

These implications for contemporary global justice are the subject of the rest of the dissertation. Based on my egalitarian reconstruction of anticolonialism and engaging more closely with Fanon, I develop a philosophical account of postcolonial global justice as social equality. While contemporary social egalitarians have theorized social equality and inequality within societies, I argue that it is a mistake to neglect social inequalities at the global level. I analyze three kinds of global (racialized) hierarchies—of political authority, esteem/status, and moral standing—and show how they are both objectionable in themselves, as well as objectionable as constraints on citizens’ capacity to realize domestic social equality.

I bring this account to bear on three different aspects of contemporary global politics, and explore the distinctive reforms needed to dismantle global hierarchies. First, I take up the question of economic decolonization by focusing on international investment. International investment treaties have been criticized for undermining states’ sovereignty over their economic policies and resources. Engaging with Nkrumah’s work on neocolonialism, this chapter argues that neocolonialism is best construed as an injustice of exploitation, rather than an affront to national sovereignty. State and non-state actors (such as transnational corporations) that have benefitted from exploitative economic relations have a duty to empower disadvantaged countries, and address the asymmetric economic dependence at the root of neocolonialism.

Second, I turn to the question of cultural decolonization by focusing on the global trade in cultural goods. Engaging with Aimé Césaire and Amílcar Cabral’s critiques of cultural imperialism, I argue that decolonizing cultural globalization can be understood as a project in overcoming a global racial hierarchy inherited from colonial discourses of civilization. This contrasts with a different view of cultural decolonization that emphasizes protecting a particular form of national culture against foreign influence. What matters is that historically oppressed groups are empowered to engage in cultural production so as to reclaim their equal status as value-makers.

Finally, I take up the question of political decolonization by focusing on the structure of the institutions that regulate interactions between (state and non-state) agents at the global level, such as the Bretton Woods institutions and their progeny. Engaging with Nehru’s writings and speeches on global governance, this chapter explores the extent to which global social equality demands democratizing these institutions and the difficult question of what democratization might look like in practice.

On The International Investment Regime: A Critique From Equality(Politics, Philosophy & Economics, May 2021; early online view)

The international investment regime has come under increasing scrutiny, with several developing countries withdrawing from bilateral investment treaties in recent years. A central worry raised by critics is that investment treaties undermine national self-determination. Proposed reforms to the regime have focused on rebalancing the distribution of power between states and investors to restore “enlarged regulatory space” for the former. Contra this critique from national self-determination, in this paper I argue that infringements on national self- determination cannot alone explain why the investment regime is morally problematic. Instead, on my egalitarian view, the regime is objectionable because it empowers a class of agents, whose interests are reliably opposed to egalitarian economic policy, to constrain national self-determination. In effect, the investment regime contributes to entrenching inequality between and within states, and is unjust for that reason. The moral and practical upshot is that reforms to the regime ought to empower disadvantaged groups to exert disproportionate leverage over the terms and practice of international investment, and to appeal to global institutions to do so. In other words, our moral assessment of a given global institution or practice should not depend on whether it constrains national self-determination, but on who it empowers to do so.