Great! Another book I’ll have to read one day, when I’ve finished a more pressing career transition.which seems to explode with the revolutionary pro-democracy passion I feel on my better days.Not only that, the book actually sounds sane! Many wanting to overthrow the world order are either anarchists or Marxists. But as Global Solutions points out:
This book aims to redirect the thinking and actions of the mostly young people who protest against the power of multinational corporations and the World Bank and the IMF and the rich and powerful generally. They mistakenly think the problem is globalization. Consequently they tend to overlook the possibility of political globalization, of democracy at the global level, which is the only thing that can defeat the existing unjust economic globalization. Monbiot wants to correct this lack. To do that he needs to make the case for democracy as “the least worst political system,” which he aims to do in chapter 2. He provides an incisive critique of Marxism (pp. 26-30) and anarchism (pp. 30-40). Monbiot recognizes that democracies can experience some difficulties such as the tyranny of the majority but concludes that a democratic political system is a “self-refining experiment in collective action” (p. 46). At the national level the superiority of a democratic system is generally recognized. What still needs to be recognized is the superiority of democracy at the global level.
Having topped “Political economy of the welfare State” back when I studied Social Sciences, I’ll be interested to see which arguments Monbiot employs. It is also good to see that he does not argue ‘small is beautiful’. Globalisation seems here to stay, and wishing for protectionism or extreme, peaknik localism is not the answer. Global solutions again:
In chapter 3 Monbiot critiques the ideas that the way to undercut the present power of transnational corporations is to localize activities or to practice voluntary simplicity. Such approaches are available only to the fairly well off and are not going to help the poor of the world because they do nothing to check the power of the powerful. Monbiot rejects the approach of ”realists” like George Soros who confine their proposals to what the authorities who control the world “are ready to consider.” If we so restrict our thinking, “we may as well give up and leave the authorities to run the world unmolested” (p. 63). It is characteristic of every revolution that it was “described as ‘unrealistic’ just a few years before it happened” (p. 65).
I like the sound of this book! I like the fact that Monbiot seems to be a pragmatist and realist, while also remaining an idealist – believing in global democracy. He’s done his homework. He’s investigated the ideals of the hippie survivalists and extreme anarchists, Marxists, and peakniks, and found them wanting. But he remains optimistic about global parliamentary solutions anyway! Many Australians seem to scoff at such an idea. But maybe Monbiot is optimistic because he’s witnessed the rise of the European Union first hand? Us Aussies are somewhat removed from the situation.
But how to get there?
The challenge is how to create a world parliament. The first step is to realize that the U.N. as presently constituted isn’t democratic and can’t be made democratic. The same is true of the Inter-Parliamentary Union composed of members of national parliaments. A parliament of representatives from NGOs also wouldn’t work because someone would need to decide which NGOs get to participate and which ones don’t. Monbiot concludes that a world parliament must consist of directly elected representatives from 600 districts of 10 million people each and with no regard to national boundaries. The meetings of the World Social Forum provide a model. An election commission to draw district boundaries could be established. Monbiot outlines how obstacles such as funding and resistance from national governments, especially nondemocratic ones, could be overcome. He notes that “building a world parliament is not the same as building a world government” (p. 93) because the world parliament he proposes would, at least at first, have only moral power. But history shows that popular groups exercising only moral power have exerted much influence. Monbiot discusses at length various difficulties that a world parliament would likely encounter and gives his proposals for how to deal with them.
Now over to the Sydney Morning Herald’s review:
The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order
By Morag Fraser
July 12 2003
George Monbiot, the latest guru of anti-globalisation, wants world revolution – but he tolerates those who don’t.
The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order
By George Monbiot
Flamingo, 256pp, $35.
Two years ago, Naomi Klein, the Canadian activist and author of No Logo, held a packed Adelaide audience spellbound as she unpicked the workings of corporate brands and global capitalism.
By question time, however, some of the lads were growing restless. They wanted revolution and they wanted it now, on the streets of the City of Churches. Klein’s activist credentials are unimpeachable; ask any Nike executive. But on that day she clearly wasn’t interested in the warm inner glow of instant protest. Strategy and tactical deployment of the endangered human resources of hope and energy to effect change – that’s what she was about. Nor was it clear that this canny user of every global communication trick in the book believed that globalisation was the bogyman.
George Monbiot’s The Age of Consent carries the word “manifesto” in its subtitle. That should appeal to the frontline brigade. Where Klein is forensic, Monbiot is exhortatory. The revolution (he uses the word freely) depends, he says, “on your preparedness to exchange your security for liberty; your comfort for elation. It depends on your willingness to act.”
The Age of Consent is provocative, a clear call to action against the global forces that constrain freedom and cause human misery. However, Monbiot is also the son of the deputy chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party – and it shows. He has both high rhetoric and a habit of liberal tolerance, a readiness to take on the arguments of those who will, inevitably, contend with him. He invites passionate debate and brooks opposition: “I hope this manifesto will contribute if only because it might incite such revulsion that other people will feel obliged to quash it with better proposals of their own.”
So what is Monbiot’s analysis of the state we’re in, and what are his proposals?
“Everything has been globalised,” he writes, “except our consent. Democracy has been confined to the nation state. It stands at the national border, suitcase in hand, without a passport.”
And who are the villains?
“A handful of men in the richest nations use the global powers they have assumed to tell the rest of the world how to live. This book is an attempt to describe a world run on the principle by which those powerful men claim to govern: the principle of democracy. It is an attempt to replace our Age of Coercion with an Age of Consent.”
That’s it, in brief. Clearly, Monbiot’s proposal is ambitious. Not for him any local, protectionist, small-focus reform initiatives (though he does not discount their efficacy in his overall plans). Speaking for what he terms the “global justice movement”, Monbiot argues for three macro reforms. He wants the establishment of a democratically elected world parliament, an international clearing union to discharge trade deficits and prevent the accumulation of debt, and a fair trade organisation “which restrains the rich while emancipating the poor”.
Utopian? Yes – but with a lot of the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. This is a liberal Englishman, remember, and one who has done his homework. He’s also an Englishman who has grown up with the strains of Blake’s Jerusalem in his ears. He wants to change the way people act and think (“a metaphysical mutation”), and he understands quite clearly the dangerous exultation (“which Christians call joy”) that accompanies such intense collective purpose concentrated by adversity. He has also done the footwork for his economic analysis, having lived and worked in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
He is hot, you could say, where Naomi Klein is cool. But both want global change and understand that it will require astute mobilisation of forces, including the power of sheer numbers in the debt-ridden poor world. What might happen if developing countries were to act collectively and refuse to pay their debt? Or refuse to pay in dollars?
Monbiot finds cool confirmation of much of his economic and political diagnosis in the work of Joseph E.Stiglitz, the 2001 Nobel Prize-winning economist, former chief economist of the World Bank and cabinet member of the Clinton administration. His 2002 book, Globalisation and its Discontents (Penguin), was its own kind of bombshell, detailing Stiglitz’s disillusion with the workings of the International Monetary Fund and “Washington consensus” doctrines, particularly as they have affected developing nations. Stiglitz’s criticisms of IMF policies during the Asian financial crisis, and in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, are severe and underpin Monbiot’s critique. But Monbiot is a revolutionary where Stiglitz is a deeply troubled academic, so one might expect the former’s scorn for the activities of bodies like the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation to be more hectic. And it is.
But his list of the suffering caused by the “dictatorship of vested interests” and by “corruption and misrule” in the developing world (Monbiot is never simple-minded about “them and us”) demands response and change. Here is one small part: “Almost half the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day. Despite a global surplus of food, 840 million people are officially classified as malnourished. One hundred million children are denied primary education. One third of the people of the poor world die of preventable conditions, such as infectious disease.” And things are getting worse, not better.
Answers? Monbiot offers them through his detailed proposals for democracy as a disciplining global force (the world parliament), freer and fairer trade, reformed labour and banking regimes to eliminate rather than generate debt in the developing world. None of his proposals is rocket science, or even new. A scan through Tim Rowse’s Nugget Coombs: A Reforming Life (Cambridge University Press) shows how much of the detailed thinking has been done, some of it in Australia, but discarded under neo-liberal economic orthodoxy.
Judging by the evidence, that orthodoxy is broken. Stiglitz is only one of many prophets of its doom. Monbiot’s fixing revolution could be bloodless – there are English precedents for that. So it is advisable to read him, if only to disagree and do better.