I'm posting one of my longer threads: a book review of Monbiot's "Age of Consent," cause i think it's an important book.
Review of George Monbiot, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order. (Harper Perennial: London), 2003. [261 pages].
British journalist and political writer, George Monbiot, has produced an important book that is on the shelf at OPIRG. The Age of Consent (as opposed to the “age of coercion” that Monbiot says we are presently living in) is a book that starts off with the premise that a new world is necessary, and that strives to show how a new world could be obtained.
Monbiot begins by making the case that our present system of representative democracy is the soundest foundation for this project. He rejects Marxism as inherently authoritarian and he rejects Anarchism because he sees the Anarchist call for statelessness as naïve in the face of human behaviour. Monbiot says that we need laws, and states, because in the absence of a system of law, humans revert to warring tribes. Personally, so long as Monbiot’s concept of anarchism focuses only on statelessness, he has a point. But the anarchist project is generally about opposing oppressiveness in whatever guise it presents itself in. The murderous behaviour of the small tribes of cattle grazers that Monbiot mentions would be discouraged in a truly anarchist society. Regardless though, Monbiot’s claim that we should stick with the devil we know while moving forward is a sensible one.
The basis of Monbiot’s manifesto is that the Third World could lead the way towards overthrowing the undemocratic, and insane, corporate world system that is presently dominating the political scene. Monbiot rejects calls for “small is beautiful” of alternative local economies, and the extra-political “change yourself, change the world” logic of consumer activism. According to Monbiot, the major decisions and the major impacts, are made by global actors, and it is these global actors that we must confront if local autonomy is to be preserved.
The Third World must begin this process because it is the people of the Third World who are being so completely oppressed by the system of corporate globalization. The Third World will begin this process when the people of the Third World force their governments to actively oppose the “Washington Consensus” and to work together in a debtor’s cartel threatening their creditors in the developed countries with default unless they agree to set up an International Clearing House (ICI). The ICI is a resurrection of an idea of John Maynard Keynes presented at the Bretton Woods Conference for the post-1945 international economy. Keynes had argued that in an international trading environment, persistent international creditor nations were just as dangerous as persistent international debtor nations. While the former should take steps to put their houses in order, the latter should be forced to spend their surpluses back into the international economy as well. Monbiot takes this idea and says that it would be an excellent way to remedy the obscene annual transfer of $382 billion from the poor nations to their creditors in the rich nations. In the ICI scenario, creditor nations that do not take steps to curb their constant surpluses are penalized by the ICI. Monbiot says that these financial penalties could be used for many progressive purposes, most notably, an International Parliament.
The International Parliament is an exciting idea. Monbiot provides estimates for the size of the assembly (with justifications) and the possible constituencies that its members would represent. Unlike the United Nations, the International Parliament would be based on representation by population. This means, of course, that the peoples of China and India, and the rest of the Third World, would dominate the assembly. Monbiot also explains that some of the constituencies of the International Parliament would transcend international borders, connecting similar peoples on both sides of the arbitrary accidents of states. Members of the International Parliament (MIPs) would not be the representatives of their governments, but of their peoples, freeing them from subservience to their nation’s politicians. MIPs of people from undemocratic countries (where any selection process would almost certainly be corrupted by the dictatorships there) could conceivably be chosen from among the exiles of these places living in the democratic countries. (Monbiot admits that this is a problematic exercise, but he feels it is the best alternative. I must say that I am persuaded.) The International Parliament would start off as a fairly powerless body. Its major power would be its moral influence. Furthermore, it would not have any power to intervene in national affairs. Citizens of countries should go to the politicians in charge of local, federal, national, or international issues according to the level of the problems in question. The International Parliament could draw attention to violations of international law, to the corrupt and violent behaviour of multinationals, but its growth as an institution should be a natural, organic process.
Finally, Monbiot discusses his Fair Trade Organization (FAO). This body will be assigned to assure justice for the majority in the international trading world, as opposed to the undemocratic, and unjust status quo that is perpetuated by the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. Monbiot’s brief exposé of the present world trading system is itself worth the price of the book. Suffice to say, the present system is a disgrace. Monbiot’s FTO would insist on regulating multinational’s behaviour, and would also outlaw the protectionism and two-faced inconsistencies of the rich nations and the WTO.
Monbiot’s book is a much needed addition to the (still) slender number of works providing alternative visions for the world democracy movement. While Monbiot’s blasé acknowledgement of the many rich country sacrifices that will inevitably have to be made in his new world order might appear problematic, it remains the case that settling only for what we in the rich countries will accept is insufficient to the task at hand.
Finally, I would like to add that while it might seem that Monbiot is engaged in the undemocratic act of imposing a fully formed model of international polity on the peoples of the world, this is not the case. The Age of Consent manages the necessary balance between productive suggestions and acceptance of the possibilities of democratic adaptation.