By Erhard Crome
[This book review of: Helmut Friessner, Democracy under Assault: The Attack of the World Economy on the Democratic Order, Vienna 2007 published in: Das Blattchens 10, March 19, 2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.dasblaettchen.de/GANZE.htm.]
The greatest enemy of democracy now is capitalist globalization. Although the liberal capital economy and democracy came out of the same upbringing of civil society, Cain is now killing Abel without escaping the restlessness of his wandering. This is also the conclusion of Helmut Friessner’s extensive study…
The complex facts and connections are described in a very understandable way. Friessner by nature is a lawyer and philosopher. Expert knowledge of economics, political science, social sciences, jurisprudence, informatics, culture and ethnology is important but not sufficient to analyze globalization. An interdisciplinary perspective is necessary along with a radical philosophical questioning of fixed realities. Texts of many important authors were systematically evaluated. His book is an excellent introduction to globalization criticism.
In the first part, the change of the world economy since the Second World War (from Bretton Woods to the WTO) is summarized. After first failing, the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) was brought in through the back door of further WTO negotiations as the “GATS” agreement on trade with services. Globalization agencies like the World Bank see here enormous cakes to be distributed through privatization of services not organized in a private capitalist way in the past. Water supply worldwide amounts to $800 billion annually, the “education market” $2 trillion and the “health care market” $3.5 trillion.
The European Union that once arose out of the debris of the Second World War was “reformulated” in the sense of neoliberalism with the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam. The “liberalization policy” is the core of integration. The severity of the EU commission in privatizing public enterprises is inconceivable without the agreement of the member states even if they denied this at home.
But this is the core problem of so-called globalization: the dismantling of democracy. Friessner refers to a sign at a demonstration: The elected are without power; those with power are not elected. Dissolution of the old social- and relational structures occurs. The bonds between the generations and between past and present burst. An “absolute asocial individualism” dominates in the “most progressive” states of capitalism, to quote the historian Hobsbawm. From the citizen, the bearer of social rights, has come an individualized buyer of goods and services according to ability to pay.
The goal of GATS and the WTO is fortification of privatization. After the national parliaments agreed, they had no rights to join in the conversation any more. The international law century obligation” should end discussions. Re-communalization or re-nationalization should be made impossible. WTO law – or the law of the EU – breaks national law.
Friessner identifies a “pincer movement.” On one hand, powers from the outside localize the nation state and other forms of community as targets on the international plane (e.g. WTO, GATS, IMF, World Bank, the EU and others). On the other, the attack on the democratic spectrum arises out of the interior – the phenomena of competition, consumer culture, the money logic, individualism and so forth. These phenomena destroy existing communities or prevent the formation of autonomous societies.”
According to democratic theory, Friessner says, national sovereignty amounts to a collective self-control without foreign authorities. In this sense, the democratic institutional structure can only be a “pure, value-neutral platform for decision-making.” “The democratic claim of universal participation in the political decision-making process (about the common good) should be ensured.” In the course of globalization, the opposite process occurs: “The deregulated economy emancipates itself from the field of the political and degrades the once democratic political system into a marionette game.”
The author relativizes this absolutizing at the end and refers to different measures within the present system beginning with the property tax, the inheritance tax, the foundation law, reflections on a basic income, anchoring a basic right to housing and so forth. Emancipation from the complete protection of private property is vital to introduce “the post-bourgeois age.”