— The Erimtan Angle —

Last January, George Montbiot wrote that the “UK government, like that of the US and 13 other EU members, wants to set up a separate judicial system, exclusively for the use of corporations. While the rest of us must take our chances in the courts, corporations across the EU and US will be allowed to sue governments before a tribunal of corporate lawyers. They will be able to challenge the laws they don’t like, and seek massive compensation if these are deemed to affect their ‘future anticipated profits’. I’m talking about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its provisions for ‘investor state dispute settlement’. If this sounds incomprehensible, that’s mission accomplished: public understanding is lethal to this attempted corporate coup. The TTIP is widely described as a trade agreement. But while in the past trade agreements sought to address protectionism, now they seek to address protection. In other words, once they promoted free trade by removing trade taxes (tariffs), now they promote the interests of transnational capital by downgrading the defence of human health, the natural world, labour rights and the poor and vulnerable from predatory corporate practices. The proposed treaty has been described by the eminent professor of governance Colin Crouch as ‘post-democracy in its purest form’.) Post-democracy refers to our neutron bomb politics, in which the old structures, such as elections and parliaments, remain standing, but are uninhabited by political power. Power has shifted to other forums, unamenable to public challenge: ‘small, private circles where political elites do deals with corporate lobbies’. Investor-state dispute settlement means allowing corporations to sue governments over laws which might affect their profits. The tobacco company Philip Morris is currently suing Australia and Uruguay, under similar treaties, for their attempts to discourage smoking. It describes the UK’s proposed rules on plain packaging as ‘unlawful’ if TTIP goes ahead, expect a challenge. Corporations, like natural persons, can use the courts to defend their interests. But, under current treaties, investor-state dispute settlement lets them apply instead to offshore tribunals operating in secret, without such basic safeguards as third-party standing, judicial review and rights of appeal. As Colin Crouch notes, this is not just post-democracy, but ‘post-law'”.[1]

Last month I posted a lecture, given by Professor Jan Blommaert, which spelt out a new understanding of democracy nowadays apparently commonly accepted by members of the political elite, an understanding that the benefits of trade and commerce should necessarily overrule democratic processes if need be. Blommaert calls this a “template” in which “democratic procedures and principles are suggested to be subject – inferior – to concerns of a higher order, and two such concerns stand out. One, the economic conjuncture which needs to be turned around by means of more market-less government strategies, in which the democratic system is asked to withdraw from large sets of previously entrenched decision-making powers. Two, and as a corollary of the first one, security: threats to ‘political stability’ are presented as danger for democracy and have to be met with new forms of informal justice and radical policing, jeopardizing (or undercutting) established civil liberties in a democratic society”.[2]  Below is a 2011 clip of Professor Crouch explaining his coinage of “Post-Democracy”.

And in November 2013, Montbiot explained that the “purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations . . . [including] the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing. The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It’s already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet”.[3]

And the TTIP seems to be nothing but the culmination of the processes described by Colin Crouch in his book. The political scientist Ingolfur Blühdorn explains that Professor Crouch regards what he calls “a predemocratic condition” as being “followed by an extended democratic moment in which political elites come under pressure ‘to admit the voices of ordinary people into affairs of state’ (Crouch 2004: 4), until in post-democracy ‘these voices [are] being squeezed out again, as the economically powerful continue to use their instruments of the influence while those of the demos become weakened’ (ibid.: 5)”. Blühdorn argues that “Crouch suggests that European societies have had their ‘democratic moment’ in the first few decades following World War II, and the phase of postdemocracy emerged in the latter part of the century. According to Crouch’s analysis the characteristic feature of post-democracy is that ‘virtually all the formal components of democracy survive’ (ibid.: 22), but ‘citizens have been reduced to the role of manipulated, passive, rare participants’ (ibid.: 21). Indeed, Crouch notes that ‘the forms of democracy’ not only ‘remain fully in place, but are ‘today in some respects . . . actually strengthened’ (ibid.: 6). Nevertheless, ‘politics and government are increasingly slipping back into the control of privileged elites in the manner characteristic of pre-democratic times’ (ibid.). Post-democratic politics, Crouch believes, has “little interest in widespread citizen involvement or the role of organizations outside the business sector” (ibid.: 3). Citizens remain indispensable as the source of political legitimacy, but this can be obtained by “means of encouraging the maximum level of minimal participation” (ibid.: 112). Ritualized elections, consultation processes and tightly managed exercises of public involvement fulfill this purpose, whilst “politics is really shaped in private by interaction between elected governments and elites that overwhelmingly represent business interests” (ibid.: 4)”. Blühdorn summarizes the Crouch argument as follows: “Thus, for Crouch post-democracy is the condition where (a) democratic institutions and rituals are maintained, but (b) the demos has been largely disempowered, and where (c) party politics and political competition are more or less void of substantive content, whilst (d) the substance of political decisions is dictated by ‘the firm’. Post-democratic politics, for Crouch, is neither representative, nor participatory, nor indeed responsible. On the contrary, the post-democratic fusion of populism and corporate dictates gives rise to highly irresponsible government”.[4]

[1] G. Montbiot, “Trade Secrets” The Guardian (13 Jan 2015). http://www.monbiot.com/2015/01/13/trade-secrets/.

[2] “The Limits of Democracy” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (03 April 2015). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/the-limits-of-democracy/.

[3] G. Montbiot, “This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy” The Guardian (04 November 2013). http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy.

[4] Ingolfur Blühdorn, “The Third Transformation of Democracy: On the Efficient Management of Late-modern Complexity” in Ingolfur Blühdorn and Uwe Jun (eds), Economic Efficiency—Democratic Empowerment (Lexington Books, 2006), pp. 307-8. http://staff.bath.ac.uk/mlsib/public%20access/Efficiency%20and%20Democracy%20-%20Contested%20Modernization%20in%20Britain%20and%20Germany.pdf#page=309.

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