Western regimes’ democratic character has declined in general since the 1980s, becoming less pluralist, more elitist and more plutocratic. In large part due to the collapse of mass organizations (trade unions, churches, political parties), to the end of serious threats to Western elites, and to transnational elite collaboration.
Western regimes are collaborating with one another against their respective citizenries (to wage wars, to form a transnational surveillance State, to help oligarchs and corporations avoid taxes, to suppress wages, to replace relatively democratic national government with elitist transnational “governance”).
The European monetary regime is a particular example of these trends.
The end of national sovereignty and the absence non-alignment (instead we have transnationalism and forever war), are broader examples of these trends.
We don’t know how we can re-democratize Western regimes, the Internet will probably be a big part of the answer.
The Nation-State will continue to be critical to both democracy and equity.
Nation-States continue to be economically viable.
The incredible influence of Anglo-Western media (broadly defined) is a huge quasi-epistemological problem, heavily distorting our vision.
Borderlessness strengthens plutocratic elites, that is why the media promote it (whether it leads to “economic growth” is highly debateable), this could lead to a global plutocracy.
Historically and internationally, multipolarity is necessary to liberty, diversity is necessary to progress.
This post provides a reading list of major authors, with summaries, on the origins and nature of the lack of democracy in the eurozone. I will refer to it in future instead of repeating myself what others have already said better.
Most everyone today acknowledges that the European Union is becoming, as the europhile German philosopher Jürgen Habermas argues, a “post-democratic” regime. So does, in his way, a French euro-federalist likeJean Quatremer. But most people, including many EU professionals, are largely ignorant about the actual workings of the EU’s core, the Economic and Monetary Union (eurozone), and why it is so problematic. (It’s true that macroeconomic policy is presented as an abysmally boring science.)
At best you’ll get some criticism of the “Monnet method” born in the 1950s of elitist market integration through the discrete work of diplomats and transnational bureaucrats in Brussels. Ultimately however this method largely preserved the primacy of democratically-elected national governments and its authority was mostly restricted to technical market regulation and an agricultural budget which, though often wasteful and dysfunctional, represented less than 1% of GDP.
In fact, there is a huge break in the history of European integration with the 1992 Maastricht Treaty which put European nations on the path to fusing their currencies to form the euro, creating a regime which transfers regalian economic powers crucial to managing economic crises and social problems to a non-democratic transnational elite which is, by design, unresponsive to public opinion and electoral politics.
So for the curious citizen or observer, this list explains how Maastricht gave primacy to the euro-regime over national democracies and why this regime has proven so undemocratic. Each article makes a key point, with a summary below:
Philippe Séguin (1992): “for there to be a democracy there needs to be a feeling of community belonging strong enough for the minority to accept the will of the majority.” [In French, I may translate the key parts of the speech at some point.]
Paul Krugman (1998) on how this led to the ECB being made a hyper-independent institution to allay German fears of inflation: “The answer was to put the new system on autopilot, pre-programming it to do what the Germans would have done if they were still in charge.”
Paul De Grauwe (1998) on how the euro-bank was made much more unaccountable than other central banks: “The ECB is a law unto itself.” (Also explained by Dyson & Featherstone.)
Handelsblatt (German business daily) on how the ECB has used its power to finance (or not) governments to blackmail them, notably to force them to “reform” and bailout banks: “The ECB can at any time decide the fate of at least half a dozen governments, supporting them or bringing them down – and that number is increasing.” (Corrolaries: Karl Whelan and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on Ireland, Matt Yglesias on Italy, and Leigh Phillips more generally.)
This is actually an old article by Transparency International’s Jana Mittermaier (“New ECB Powers: The Buck Stops Where?”), from September 2012, but it remains entirely relevant. The article succinctly and eloquently explains the accountability of the European Central Bank, over which no elected parliament has any effective supervisory powers, and of its exponentially-growing authority as it seizes powers for itself (bailout of banks and governments, pressuring of governments) and is granted new powers (notably the “Banking Union,” giving it supervision and policy powers over the eurozone’s 6,000 banks with some €30 trillion [sic] in assets (almost 250% of GDP).
I can’t read without having the itch to write, but then who has the time to gather one’s notes to write a “full-on” book review? Life necessarily being a series of compromises, I’ve decided to write some mini-reviews of some recent books I’ve read based on what in them still sticks in my mind rather than comprehensiveness.
Today we have: Julian Assange’s Cypherpunks, a biography of Charles Maurras, conservative Éric Zemmour’s history of France, Alain Soral’s “sociology of game,” a Statist history of the U.S. economy, and a biography of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
An Establishment view: Le Monde cartoonist Plantu’s take on nationalist leader Marine Le Pen and leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has rejected an appeal by Dutch nationalist leader Geert Wilders to form a vast anti-EU coalition by joining the “European Alliance for Freedom”. Euroskeptics will then continue to be divided into several political groups in the European Parliament. Continue reading →
While on a recent trip to Paris I was able to meet with none other than Emmanuel Todd, who was kind enough to speak with me over a long lunch. Of course you see more detail in the flesh – a sixty year old, proud of his still-full head of hair – but he was in person the exact same as he is in his numerous online videos and media appearances. One difference: he was unshaven, which had prompted the warning “I’m disgusting” with his trademark self-deprecation.
Earlier this year, French billionaire François-Henri Pinault agreed to return two bronze animal heads to China. The bronze statues had been stolen over a century-and-a-half ago, in 1860 during the Second Opium War, in which Anglo-French forces invaded the country and torched the imperial Summer Palace, in part to force the country to open up to international free trade. In an ironic historical twist, the statues’ return also involves trade: the offer was made as part of an official French presidential visit to Beijing to improve diplomatic and, especially, economic ties. Continue reading →
I don’t list these bits of news to praise or condemn them, but to note that they are remarkable: This is the sort of stuff that countries normally vote on, concrete things which, in the cases of cigarettes and female board members, have a direct and very visible impact on people’s day-to-day lives.
Gaulish leader Vercingetorix surrenders his arms to Caesar after defeat at Alesia.
There is a banality to everyday existence. Days pass, the cycle of work-eat-play-sleep activities blur into each, most experiences forgotten and the rest selectively remembered, with the nagging fear that we might just be “shambling meat.” Science has contributed to this in disenchanting the world, explaining most of everything by strikingly arbitrary natural laws, leaving precious little room for the unknown, the divine, miracles. The Internet has accentuated this: it lets you see everything now, from a twenty-year-old newspaper article to a Los Angeles street, including on occasion what the most secretive government organizations and world leaders are doing, there is ever-less mystery. Ten years ago I might find engrossing a film showing some adventure involving an Amazonian jungle mystery or elite officers at Interpol. Today I am unfazed: If such cool stuff could happen, I would have heard about it already.
There is however one major exception: the eternal mystery of death. Death is the ultimate mystical event, a gateway to another form of (non-)experience of which we can know nothing. Perhaps, on the other side, it will be the oblivion of a dreamless sleep. Perhaps it will be a void not unlike that which preceded an individual’s conscious existence. Quite likely it is beyond our comprehension. This is how we know we are not, simply, shambling meat, because a plant or a computer cannot (yet?) fathom such a mystery, which is the flip side of the mystery of being.
I used to not believe in European, or for that matter Western, decadence.
Concerning the West, like Raymond Aron, I would have said that, notwithstanding its debauchery, Western liberalism is superior to other forms of government: more humane, more creative, more scientifically advanced and more economically powerful than the major alternatives (communism, fascism). I would add like Machiavelli that the politics of Republics, while messy, is the greatest source of liberty. Individualism might seem narcissistic and selfish but, concretely, jeans and rock & roll would always conquer hearts and minds better than the austere charms of Socialist realism and Sharia law.