Friday, July 08, 2005

The future of "Europe"

All this goes far beyond the referendum. It signifies the breakdown of the principle of representation, inasmuch as the representative institutions no longer function in the ‘democratic’ direction —from the people and the citizens towards the authorities— but in reverse: from the authorities down, by means of a booby-trapped consultation and the circular game of questions and answers, where the question only answers Yes to itself.

The breakdown of democracy, then.

—Jean Baudrillard, in The New Left Review

Read the entire essay here.

There seems to be little understanding in North America of just how undemocratic the E.U. can often be. So many decisions are made that are attributed to "Brussels" as a part of some effort on the part of elected officials to avoid responsibility. National leaders who attempt to hide behind the bureaucracy of Brussels are not held accountable for their actions. These decisions are often presented as inevitable, and opposition to them is characterized as a return to the bloodbaths of the two World Wars.

With such rhetoric being martialed in favor of the European Constitution, and with EVERY establishment organization from national governments to labor unions to news media to churches hectoring voters to ratify the will of their leaders is it any wonder that the French and Dutch voters voted no? This may be the only chance these people have to effectively voice their displeasure with the E.U. and the neoliberal world order.

Here in the U.S. the specter of the Second World War is not quite as potent of weapon to use against the populace; most Americans still believe that the U.S. exclusively played the role of the hero in that war. Getting the U.S. to accept some responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese and German citizens has never been very successful. Forget about trying to get the U.S. to accept some responsibility for failing to do more to lessen the impact of the Holocaust. And don't even bother trying to get most Americans to admit any responsibility for unleashing the nuclear arms race.

It is not that the governments of the West are completely evil. Opposing the Soviet Union was the right thing to do, for example. But our governments are run by people who are certain they know better for us than we do. In the U.S. the government does appear to be better (than its European counterparts) at convincing average Americans that their interests coincide with those of the rich and powerful. In Europe the leaders opt instead for giving their citizens the illusion of debate while those leaders go on and do whatever they were planning to do anyway. Debate in the U.S. doesn't often go beyond questions of the guilt of Michael Jackson.

I am not sure if convincing the population that they are having a meaningful debate is preferable to convincing them that opposition to official policy is treason. In each case the average people lose. This is why I have some sympathy for the protesters who turn-out at the G-8 summits. At least they are taking the debate outside the parameters prescribed by the established leaders. That said, I still want the grocery store to be adequately stocked and I haven't seen any practical alternatives to the current neoliberal captitalist system that would keep those shelves stocked. So I suppose we must continue to try and change the system from within. And if that doesn't make you want to get up in the morning I can understand why.

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