Possibilities of the Past: Histories of the NIEO and the Travails of Critique

In: Journal of the History of International Law / Revue d'histoire du droit international
Ingo Venzke Amsterdam Center for International Law, University of Amsterdam Amsterdam The Netherlands

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The resurfacing interest in the New International Economic Order (NIEO) is mainly driven by the ambition of regaining a sense for past possibilities in order to question the present and to open up different futures. This ambition resonates with the core of critical thinking which pushes toward an appreciation of contingencies. What was possible? When approaching this question, however, historical inquiries must not overstate the possibilities of different action at the expense of determining structures. More specifically, they need to deal with the low degree of institutionalized politics on the international plane. And they need to counter a tendency toward excess nostalgia for that which was not. More than anything else, the history of the NIEO testifies to the great difficulties in turning claims about contingency into compelling narratives. Another way of approaching the NIEO, however, does not place actual possibilities at its centre, but unrealized potentials.

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