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     Sep 26, 2012

Exit democracy, enter tele-oligarchy
By Claudio Gallo

Danilo Zolo is professor of philosophy of law and of philosophy of international law at the University of Florence. He has been a visiting fellow at the Universities of Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton and Oxford and delivered courses at universities in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. In 2000 he founded Jura Gentium: Journal for Philosophy of International Law and Global Politics. His publications include: Reflexive Epistemology, Boston 1989; Democracy and Complexity, Cambridge 1992; Cosmopolis, Cambridge 1996; Invoking Humanity, London 2001; Globalization, Colchester 2007; Victors' Justice, London 2009.

Claudio Gallo: First Kosovo, then Libya and now perhaps Syria: "Humanitarian war" is becoming a consolidated paradigm that you have criticized since its first appearance as a "subversion of


international law". Why, according to the title of a book of yours that is a quotation from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Carl Schmitt, is it so that "Whoever says 'humanity' wants to cheat"?

Danilo Zolo: In the early 1990s "humanitarian intervention" was a key element in the international strategy of the United States. It claimed that "global security" required that the great powers responsible for world order felt the Westphalian principle of non-interference in the domestic jurisdiction of national states to be out of date. The United States therefore considered itself to have not only the right but above all a moral duty to intervene militarily to resolve internal crises in individual countries, in particular to ensure respect for human rights.

The war sparked off by the United States against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - the war in Kosovo in 1999 - finally established the practice of humanitarian interventionism. The humanitarian motivation was thus taken explicitly as justa causa of a war of aggression. And the United States has stated that the use of force for humanitarian reasons was legitimate, even though in contrast with the United Nations Charter, the principles of the statute and the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal, as well as with international law in general.

In front of this bloody subversion of international law, the reaction of the Security Council of the United Nations was substantial inertia and subordination, if not outright complicity with Western powers. The death penalty was actually imposed on thousands of Yugoslav citizens regardless of any investigation of their possible culpability.

Thousands of innocent people have died in terrorist bombings by US, British and Italian warplanes. The humanitarian militarism of the Western powers led to a collapse of international order. The doctrine and practice of "humanitarian war" were thus the first step of a systematic use of military force by an "imperial" superpower that meant and still means to impose its economic, political and military hegemony to the whole world through terrorist means. "Humanitarian wars" have therefore been the prelude to the next "preventive wars" against Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. So the aphorism of Pierre Proudhon, later picked up by Carl Schmitt, Wer Menschheit sagt will betrธ gen ("Whoever says 'humanity' wants to cheat"), remains confirmed once again.

CG: The Bangkok Declaration of 1993 opposed "Asian values" to the universalistic conception of human rights spread from the West. It was argued that the universality of human rights is a rational assumption that only makes sense in reference to the Western liberal tradition. Is it therefore only an ideology among others?

DZ: In 1948 the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave to all human beings a series of individual rights, including the "right to life". They hoped to eradicate the violent practices of the past and erase forever the tragedy of the Second World War. But the formalization of basic human rights, including the "right to life", did not get the expected results. In particular, in recent decades there have been phenomena such as the massacre of thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians, the bombing of entire cities and the summary killing of hundreds of people allegedly responsible for terrorist acts.

All this proves, in my opinion, that the process of globalization tends to contradict the principles affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and tends to obliterate the very principle of the "right to life". So the Bangkok Declaration of 1993 that opposed "Asian values" to Western universalism is not unfounded.

As Amnesty International reports prove, human-rights violation is an occurrence of increasing proportions. It affects a large number of states, including all Western states. Bodies and agencies that have to keep human rights respected - primarily the Council for Human Rights of the United Nations - lack any executive power. And their decisions are systematically ignored and disregarded.

Think of the crimes committed by the US at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, Fallujah, not to mention those committed by Israel in Palestinian territories, particularly in Gaza and the massacre of December 2008 to January 2009. Those responsible for these crimes against humanity have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the most absolute impunity, thanks to the connivance of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Luigi Ferrajoli authoritatively wrote: "The age of human rights is also the age of their most massive violation, where inequality is deeper and intolerable."

Very little data is needed to dramatically confirm that the sun is setting on the "Age of Rights" in the globalization era. The International Labour Organization estimates that 3 billion people are now living below the poverty line, set at US$2 per day. John Galbraith, in the preface to the Human Development Report of the United Nations in 1998, documented that 20% of the world's population cornered 86% of all goods and services produced worldwide, while the poorest 20% of them consumed only 1.3%. Today, after nearly 15 years, these figures have, unfortunately, changed: the richest 20% of the population consumes 90% of the goods produced, while the poorest 20% consumes 1%. It is also estimated that 40% of the world's wealth is owned by 1% of the world population, while the 20 richest people in the world have resources equal to those of the billion poorest people.

CG: Critics of the Western world say that the United States is using its influence over the UN to transform it into an instrument of its power. Do you think this is a credible argument?

DZ: I have no doubt that United States is using its absolute military and nuclear power to influence the political and military decisions of the UN Security Council. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States became the only authority capable of controlling or preventing the decisions of the Security Council. On the other hand, the United States makes decisions that seriously infringe the UN Charter without even taking into account the provisions of the Charter. Just think of the wars declared and conducted by the United States against countries such as Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya without the slightest reaction of member states of the Security Council.

CG: You wrote that you are skeptical about intellectuals whom Hedley Bull called, with a hint of irony, Western globalists (Richard Falk, David Held, Ulrich Beck, Zygmunt Bauman, Juergen Habermas). Why don't you believe that a world government would be the only antidote to war?

DZ: The idea of a world government that may assure peace in the world is empty of meaning. It makes no sense because, first of all, a world government should express the will of all countries in the world by a universal parliament, hierarchical and unipolar, in which the great powers should live side by side with the poorest countries. It has no meaning because the so-called five BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - are emerging to compete with the major Western powers, wiping out any military-political-economic possibility of a cosmopolitan pacifism. A world government, in continuity with existing international institutions and inspired by a cosmopolitan model, would necessarily be a Leviathan, despotic and totalitarian, and should oppose the spread of terrorism through the widespread use of weapons.

CG: You don't believe, as Pierre Bourdieu does, that globalization is only capitalist rhetoric. You define it also as a change in human relationships determined by technological revolution. What is, in your opinion, the positive aspect of globalization?

DZ: I do not agree with Bourdieu, who denies the very need to use the term "globalization". From my point of view, globalization shows very different aspects. On the one hand, I think we should firmly reject the Western rhetoric of globalization that makes it the main route to the unification of mankind, and to the advent of universal citizenship. At the same time, I tend to distrust the radically skeptical positions that explain globalization as capitalist rhetoric.

I don't deny the rhetoric and don't underestimate ideological manipulation. I argue, however, that rhetoric and ideology are developing from some empirical phenomena of which it would be very shortsighted to ignore the innovation and relevance.

In this sense, the well-known proposal of the definition of Antony Giddens, in my opinion, nails an element that we need to sort out: What we call globalization is in many ways the result of a series of compressions of space and time, originated by the great decrease of time and cost in transportation and communications, and the removal of many barriers (certainly not all) in the international movement of goods, services, capital and knowledge.
To maintain that the process of globalization is irreversible does not mean to consider it a natural phenomenon or the result of random and disorderly "anonymous forces" operating in a "foggy and muddy no man's land", as written by Zygmunt Bauman. Luciano Gallino is instead perfectly right saying that political, communicative and economic outcomes of globalization match a project designed and built consciously by major powers of the world and the international institutions they control. It is therefore necessary to distinguish, as argued by Joseph Stiglitz, between processes of globalization as such and their political management by the major economic and political powers of the planet. And that management cannot be in any way considered "irreversible".

CG: Your next book, which is about to be published by Laterza in Italy, will be titled Democracy without a Future. Do you think that our future will be very dark indeed?

DZ: There is no doubt, in my opinion, that in the West the institutions we call "democratic" are in serious trouble, especially in Europe and Italy. The political and legal sovereignty of nation-states has been greatly weakened, while the function of parliaments is limited by the power of public and private bureaucracies, including judicial bureaucracy and constitutional courts. At the same time the executive power tends to assume a hegemonic function without taking into account the division of powers that had been the hallmark of the Euro-continental constitutional state and the Anglo-American rule of law.

Parliamentary democracy gives way to "telecracy". Public and private television channels are very effective instruments for political propaganda. As Norberto Bobbio noted, the enormous power of television has caused a reversal of the relationship between citizens who control to citizens who are controlled: The restricted minority of elected representatives are controlling the masses of voters and not vice versa. We are therefore in a regime that it is not rhetorical to call "post-democratic tele-oligarchy", in which the vast majority of people do not "choose" and do not "elect", but ignore and obey.

Hundreds of thousands of young people, women and the elderly have no jobs, not even the most menial, and live in poverty. So is a "very dark" tomorrow awaiting us? It is not easy to answer this question. What seems absolutely certain is the progressive weakening of political and economic functions of individual states and the dominance of some economic and political elites serving untouchable private interests. It is the so-called "new transnational capitalist class" that dominates the processes of globalization from the top of glass towers in cities like New York, Washington, London, Frankfurt, New Delhi, Shanghai.

Claudio Gallo is world news editor of Italian daily La Stampa.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Sep 24, 2012)



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