Politics does not need to be full of hypocrisy- #Conor_Gearty
We profess a belief in the power of nationalism, while all about us global pressures make a mockery of the power our leaders claim on our behalf.
In Europe this demands the double standard of, on the one hand, claiming that our destiny lies in our own hands while, on the other, scrambling desperately (and sensibly) to do what Germany requires.
Beyond Europe, countries have become simulacra of nation states, compensating with ostentatious shows of pseudo-strength for the real power that has ebbed away – to other, more powerful countries; to multinational corporations; to international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation.
(...) The democratic form of government has grown to pre-eminence at exactly the moment those “representing the people” have less and less to decide. National assemblies more resemble local authorities meeting the demands of capital than national legislatures controlling their own destiny (...)
The larger lies are to do with who we are, where we are going and what can be achieved.
The electorates of the democratic states demand to be told they are citizens of free, independent nations run by powerful but accountable leaders because this is what they were brought up to believe matters, a propaganda rooted in past achievement in which the pseudo-political elite colludes for its own purposes (“pseudo” because there is no hierarchy of importance among the powerless).
And yet when the facts collide with the national self-image (in Ireland, a visiting troika or a corporation demanding a tax break; in Britain the total unimportance of its view on, say, Iraq or Juncker; in France the inability of a president to deliver on his campaign promises; and so on), we react by condemning the politician for not doing what we knew in our heart of hearts was impossible, punishing him or her for being caught out by truth.
In this process there are invariably rows of fantasy politicians lining up to lead the attack – the Farages, the Sinn Féiners, the Le Pens – all protected by their status as “opposition” from the responsibility of delivering what, were they in “power”, would prove to be entirely impossible.
We are in this current predicament because our training as citizens has been overtaken by unpalatable facts on the ground, huge economic and technological changes that are wreaking havoc with our understanding of ourselves.
Conor Gearty is professor of human rights law at the London School of Economics and director of its Institute of Public Affairs
Money and power have only grudgingly yielded to the democratic agenda
With the Soviet threat gone, the field was clear for a frontal assault on the social justice that had been brokered by fear of revolution. Freedom became what markets delivered, not what humans aspired to. A new imperialism (“humanitarian intervention”) generated opportunities for freedom (aka the market) while dazzling the populace with the patriotism of war. Al-Qaeda’s exhibitionist violence kept fear at the front of “democratic” debate, using up space that might have been deployed to swing the political conversation more towards equality and justice.
The structures of international capital, created largely outside democratic control after 1945, became increasingly confident in their global interventions on behalf of wealth and privilege. Social democratic forces have buckled before the assault, their arguments about solidarity, trade unions and co-operation seeming quaint and out-of-date. The democratic left did not realise until too late how much of its apparent power had been down to fear of Soviet-style revolution.
True, national democracy survives, but in a hollow way, mocking the ambition that each term used to signal. It is this #mismatch – between claim and reality – that explains the perpetual anger (discussed last week) of our current politics, both in old and new democracies. Wealth has no intention of forgoing either term: they are useful illusions under which to rework the world to reflect the pre-democratic “Gilded Age” arrangements of opulence within, police guards and gated communities without and all under cover of a supposed democratic will, but one now damaged almost beyond repair by the pre- and anti-democratic forces ranged against it.
Law can hold power to promises it never meant to keep
... it is in exactly this space between facts and theory (between what we are and what we think we were, and can be again) that opportunity is to be found. The memory of democracy’s egalitarian promise survives. So too do those other bequests of modernism, “the rule of law” and “respect for human rights”. The last two of these in particular have grown lives of their own which neo-democracy cannot always be sure to control and which it is not (yet?) strong enough to destroy.
In times of radical progress this judicial independence can be barrier to social improvement – but in these neo-democratic days it is an important defence against double standards. For all its faults the courtroom remains a protected space where discourse gives truth a chance to shine. Its presiding judges have the capability of holding power to promises it never meant to keep, and sometimes makes the powerful do so.
It is important not to exaggerate. Neither the judges nor human rights are a cavalry riding over the hill to rescue the democratic convoy from its enemies. Judges can – and sometimes are – co-opted by elite interests, becoming tools and propagators of neo-democracy, rather than challengers of it. Governments respond to the risks of litigation by trying to ensure that only the rich can access the courts.
Populist political leaders
In subtler places they are condemned by populist political leaders as “undemocratic” and “out-of-touch” – for the crime of taking seriously what the society says it wants (human rights) but which in a neo-democratic world is impossible truly to have.
All this explains the turn to law that we have seen in all democratic cultures recently. The shift entails a move to the courts as centres of opposition to initiatives intended to benefit the rich, the “haves” of power and other crucial societal resources, but which are at odds with what society – through its laws; through its constitution; through its rights guarantees – declares itself to be committed to achieve.
But neither law nor human rights can on their own revive democratic culture.
Next week, in the final article in this series, we focus on democratic revival.