Our Broken System Has No ‘Moderate’ Devotees
IN FOCUS, 17 Sep 2018
13 Sep 2018 – Western politics is tearing itself apart, polarising into two camps – or at least, it is in the official narrative we are being fed by our corporate media. The warring camps are presented as “moderate centrists”, on one side, and the “extreme right”, on the other. The question is framed as a choice about where one stands in relation to this fundamental political divide.
But what if none of this is true? What if this isn’t a feud between two opposed ideological camps but rather two differing – and irrational – reactions to the breakdown of late-stage capitalism as an economic model, a system that can no longer offer plausible solutions to the problems of our age?
Neighbouring news headlines this week offered a neat illustration of the media’s framing of the current situation. Representing the “moderates”, German chancellor Angela Merkel made a “passionate address” in which she denounced the outbreak of far-right protests in east Germany and reports of the “hunting down” of “foreigners” – asylum seekers and immigrants.
She observed: “There is no excuse or explanation for rabble-rousing, in some cases the use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, to the owner of a Jewish restaurant, attacking police.”
Ostensibly pitted against Merkel, is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s “extreme right” prime minister. Hungary risks being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union because of Orban’s “rabble-rousing” policies and his anti-migrant agenda.
Shortly before the European parliament voted against Hungary, accusing its government of posing a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law, Orban argued that his country was being targeted for preferring not to be “a country of migrants”.
He is far from an outlier. Several other EU states, from Italy to Poland, are close behind Orban in pursuing populist, anti-immigrant agendas.
But does this civil war in Europe really reflect a divide between good and bad politics, between moderates and extremists? Are we not witnessing something else: the internal contradictions brought to the fore by a turbo-charged neoliberalism that is now so ideologically entrenched that no one dares question its suitability, let alone its morality?
In truth, the row between Merkel and Orban is a family feud, between sister and brother wedded to the same self-destructive ideology but in profound disagreement about which placebo should be administered to make them feel better.
What do I mean?
Merkel and the mainstream neoliberal elite are committed to an ever-more deregulated world because that is imperative for a globalised economic elite searching to accrue ever more wealth and power. That elite needs open borders and a lack of significant regulation so that it can plunder unrestricted the Earth’s resources – human and material – while dumping the toxic waste byproducts wherever is most profitable and convenient.
In practice, that means creating maximum damage in places and against life-forms that have the least capacity to defend themselves: the poorest countries, the animal kingdom, the forests and oceans, the weather system – and, of course, against future generations that have no voice. There is a reason why the deepest seabeds are now awash with our plastic debris, poisoning and killing marine life for decades, maybe centuries, to come.
Interestingly, this global elite makes a few exceptions to its policy of entirely open borders and sweeping deregulation. Through its pawns in the world’s leading capitals – the people we mistakenly think of as our political representatives – it has created small islands of opacity in which it can stash away its wealth. These “offshore tax havens” are highly regulated so we cannot see what goes on inside them. While the elite wants borders erased and the free movement of workers to set one against the other, the borders of these offshore “safe deposit boxes” are stringently preserved to protect the elite’s wealth.
Meanwhile, the global elite has created international or trans-national structures and institutions precisely to remove the power of nation-states to regulate and dominate the business environment. The political class in the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Mexico or Brazil do not control the corporations. These corporations control even the biggest states. The banks are too big to fail, the arms manufacturers too committed to permanent war to rein in, the largely uniform narratives of the corporate media too powerful to dissent from.
Instead, global or trans-national institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, NATO, BRICS and many others, remake our world to promote the globalised profits of the corporations.
The United Nations – a rival international project – is more problematic. It was created immediately after the Second World War with the aim of imposing a law-based international order, premised on respect for human rights, to prevent future large-scale wars and genocide. In practice, however, it chiefly serves the interests of the dominant western states through their capture of the Security Council, effectively the UN’s executive.
A few UN institutions – those in charge of human rights and prosecuting war crimes – that have the potential to restrain the power of the global elite find themselves ever more marginalised and undermined. Both the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court have been under sustained assault from US officials, both before and after Donald Trump became president.
Towards the abyss
The internal contradictions of this globalised system – between the unfettered enrichment of the elite and the endless resource depletion of the Earth and its weakest inhabitants – are becoming ever more apparent. Historically, the toxic waste from this system was inflicted on the poorest regions first, like puddles forming in depressions in the ground during a rainstorm.
As the planet has warmed, crops have failed, the poor have gone hungry, wars have broken out. All of this has been an entirely predictable outcome of the current economics of endless, carbon-based growth, coupled with resource theft. But unlike puddles, the human collateral damage of this economic system can get up and move elsewhere. We have seen massive population displacements caused by famines and wars, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. These migrations are not about to stop. They are going to intensify as neoliberalism hurtles us towards the economic and climate abyss.
The political class in the west are now experiencing profound cognitive dissonance. Merkel and the “moderates” want endless growth and a world without borders that is bringing gradual ruination on their economies and their privileges. They have no answers for the “extremists” on the right, who acknowledge this ruination and say something needs to be done urgently about it.
Orban and the far-right want to fiercely resurrect the borders that globalisation erased, to build barriers that will stop the puddles merging and inundating their higher ground. This is why the right is resurgent. They, far more than the moderates, can describe our current predicament – even if they offer solutions that are positively harmful. They want solid walls, national sovereignty, blocks on immigrants, as well as racism and violence against the “foreigners” already inside their borders.
The system is broken
We have to stop thinking of these political debates as between the good “moderates” and the nasty “extreme right”. This is a fundamental misconception.
The deluded “moderates” want to continue with a highly unsustainable form of capitalism premised on an impossible endless growth. It should be obvious that a planet with finite resources cannot sustain infinite growth, and that the toxic waste of our ever-greater consumption will poison the well we all depend on.
The west’s deluded far-right, on the other hand, believe that they can stand guard and protect their small pile of privilege against the rising tide of migrants and warming oceans caused by western policies of resource theft, labour exploitation and climate destruction. The far-right’s views are no more grounded in reality than King Canute’s.
Both sides are failing to grasp the central problem: that the western-imposed global economic system is broken. It is gradually being destroyed from within by its own contradictions. The “moderates” are doubly blind: they refuse to acknowledge either the symptoms or the cause of the disease. The “extremists” are as oblivious to the causes of the illness besetting their societies as the “moderates”, but they do at least recognise the symptoms as a sign of malaise, even if their solutions are entirely self-serving.
Squaring the circle
This can be seen in stark fashion in the deep divide over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, so-called Brexit, which has cut across the usual left-right agendas.
The Remain crowd, who want to stay in Europe, believe Britain’s future lies in upholding the failed status quo: of a turbo-charged neoliberalism, of diminishing borders and the free movement of labour, of distant, faceless technocrats making decisions in their name.
Like a child pulling up the blanket to her chin in the hope it will protect her from the monsters lurking in the darkness of the bedroom, the “moderates” assume European bureaucrats will protect them from economic collapse and climate breakdown. The reality, however, is that the EU is one of the trans-national institutions whose chief rationale is accelerating our rush to the abyss.
Meanwhile, the Brexit crowd think that, once out of the EU, a small island adrift in a globalised world will be able to reclaim its sovereignty and greatness. They too are going to find reality a terrifying disappointment. Alone, Britain will not be stronger. It will simply be easier prey for the US-headquartered global elite. Britain will be jumping out of the EU frying pan into the flames of the Atlanticists’ stove.
What is needed is not the “moderates” or the “extreme right”, not Brexit or Remain, but an entirely new kind of politics, which is prepared to shift the paradigm.
The new paradigm must accept that we live in a world that requires global solutions and regulations to prevent climate breakdown. But it must also understand that people are rightly distrustful of distant, unaccountable institutions that are easily captured by the most powerful and the most pitiless. People want to feel part of communities they know, to have a degree of control over their lives and decisions, to find common bonds and to work collaboratively from the bottom-up.
The challenge ahead is to discard our current self-destructive illusions and urgently find a way to solve this conundrum – to square the circle.
Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001. He is the author of: Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish State (2006); Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008); and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (2008). In 2011 he was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. The same year, Project Censored voted one of Jonathan’s reports, “Israel brings Gaza entry restrictions to West Bank”, the ninth most important story censored in 2009-10.
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