The Place Of Direct Democracy

This part draws a picture of globalization and the resulting double crisis of capitalism and humanity which we are facing today. Mankind’s recent ascendence to a biogeological force has created an unprecedented situation. It is not only mankind but the entire Earth community that has become the last effective survival unit for humans. The human species is at a crossroads and we are facing the challenge to safeguard the survival of humankind. It is in this context that direct democracy has to find its place.

Global Integration

Globalization can be conceptualized in many different ways. My understanding of it is based on the theories and concepts of Norbert Elias who provides us with a process model of social development that can be used to explain the processes of globalization. Norbert Elias himself does not use the term globalization, instead he uses expressions like “the rapidly increasing integration of humanity” or “global integration”.1

As a descriptive term, globalization commonly refers to processes that expand social relations in many fields beyond national boundaries to gradually encompass mankind as a whole. It means increasing integration of all the states and groups that constitute mankind into global networks of interdependence. “It is as if first thousands, then millions, then more and more millions walked through this world their hands and feet chained together by invisible ties. No one is in charge. No one stands outside. Some want to go this, others that way. They fall upon each other and, vanquishing or defeated, still remain chained to each other.”2

Globalization processes advance or regress in different dimensions and at different speed. For example, since 1945 the global integration of finance has been advanced more than the global integration of industry and trade, economic globalization has moved faster than political globalization, not to speak of the globalization of the human mind and habitus, which tend to trail behind the material realities of people’s lives.

In his process model of human development Elias distinguishes four organizational levels: social relations within and between states, self relations, and the relations of humans to the forces of non-human nature.3 The four levels have their own structural characteristics and figurational dynamics and are relatively autonomous with respect to each other. However, they do not develop separately but in close interdependence, propelled by changing (im)balances of power and the dynamics of group images or social imagination. For example, the development of individual personality structures is connected by invisible ties to the dynamics of their nation-state figuration (symbolized as “we”, strong and positive identification with members of ones own nation, we-feelings) and the international or inter-state figuration (symbolized as “they”, weak or negative identification with members of other nations and the European Union, they-feelings).

In Elias’s perspective globalization is a long-term process that began in the era of feudalism. Since then social development has followed a path whereby competition and struggles between smaller social units resulted in the formation of ever larger and more complex social and survival units. Globalization developed over many stages, taking steps forward and backward, showing a certain continuity but also change. During the transition to a higher level of integration new realities emerge that did not exist on the previous level. For example: the city-state and then the nation-state (Robert Dahl: the first and second democratic transformation); the industrial regime that grew out of the agrarian regime;4 the emergence of a transnational production and financial system and a transnational capitalist class after the Second World War.5 In other words, globalization is a creative process that evolves in stages over time and space; it involves both, quantitative and qualitative change. Today mankind is emerging “as an effective integration level of the highest order”6 and “the chances of survival depend largely on what happens on the global plane. It is the whole of mankind which now constitutes the last effective survival unit.”7

The Great Acceleration

Since 1945 the state of the world has changed dramatically. This period of intensified globalization is also known as the Great Acceleration and corresponds to the ascent of humanity to global power that is comparable to the great forces of nature. Tremendous material progress has been made, many people live longer and healthier lives, they are connected and bound to each other in unprecedented ways. Mobility, communication and the relationship to body and space have been transformed. Every individual has the whole world in the palm of her hand. But all these developments have a dark side and have come at a price, which is the devastation of planet Earth. Michel Serres (2008) rightly calls this “La Guerre mondiale” in his book of the same name: the war that humanity as a whole is waging against the world – that is, against itself.
The Great Acceleration

Source: The “Great Acceleration” in human activity since 1950

Mankind’s ascent to global power has created an entirely new situation, new questions and challenges, that never existed before. “The last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in the history of humankind.”8 Global nature, the world of things, enters history. This is a game changer.9 Before, humanity caught in the eternal cycle of war and violence between states, endless competition and hegemonic struggles that consider the world as merely an environment and object to be dominated, exploited and possessed. “In its burning heat, history remains blind to nature.”10 Now, the Earth, dominated by humanity, strikes back. “Conquered, the world is finally conquering us.”11

We are living at the end of both the Holocene and the Cenozoic Era. We are entering a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene (or Zoocene),12 and a new geological era, the Ecozoic era.13 This transition is unique: “we are terminating sixty-five million years in the biological history of the planet. (…) These changes reach far beyond the civilizational process, beyond even the human process, into the biosystems and even the geological structures of the Earth itself”.14 Mankind becomes responsible for the well-being of nature of which it is an integral part and on which its survival depends. This implies an expansion of the political. We are responsible not only of building our societies but also for taking care of nature.15 At the same time the universe and planet Earth impose limits on human power and activity. We humans can transcend these limits, and science tells us that we are in fact doing it, but we can continue doing it only at the price of denial and death. “At stake is the Earth in its totality, and humanity, collectively.”16

Awareness that humans impact Earth arose together with modern geology. Today more and more people are becoming alert to the dangers mankind is facing because of its destructive relationship with the planet Earth. Not mankind but Earth community has become “the last effective survival unit” and highest level of integration. In terms of Elias’s process model of social development this means that the power relation between humanity and the world becomes dominant. Not only nuclear war but also a worldwide pandemic and the war between mankind and the world are fatal threats to life on Earth.17 The relationship between the human species and the other constituents of the Earth community becomes the most encompassing dimension of global integration, a dimension that limits and penetrates all other levels of organization or figurations – interstate, intrastate and self. It is no longer possible to treat the Earth as merely an object nor to put humans at the center of the universe. First comes the Earth system as a living being and only second, as an integral part of it, mankind and human society.

Process model of social development

Crisis of Capitalism

The period of the Great Acceleration is paralleled by the rise and global expansion of corporate power, a process of monopolization of economic power in the hands of ever larger private companies and the subordination of politics and nation-states to these economic powers. What is at stake here is the social contract, something like a struggle between “Voltaire” and “Rousseau”. Voltaire is playing the part of the corporate lobbyist in advanced capitalism: for him/them a well organized society is one in which the few put the many to work, are nourished by them and rule over them. Rousseau, in turn, is an advocate of the people, emphasizing that democracy is possible only under conditions of relative economic equality, where people are neither rich nor poor.

Voltaire vs Rousseau

The 1970s mark the end of the Keynesian post-war capitalism and the beginning of neoliberalism. Streeck (2013) argues, that this turnaround was caused by the discontent of the capitalist class, not the citizens. He sees the development since then as a stepwise dissolution of the social contract that founded the post-war settlement. In this process the economy has been de-democratized and social justice increasingly replaced by market justice. Norberto Bobbio has analyzed the neoliberal phase of capitalist development already in the 1980s. His diagnosis was that neoliberalism is not only about destroying the welfare state, rather “under attack is democracy pure and simple”.18

The transformation of industrial capitalism into finance capitalism has exacerbated these developments, especially in the Anglo-American countries. Wolfgang Streeck (2011) points out “the drama of democratic states being turned into debt-collecting agencies on behalf of a global oligarchy of investors”. Michael Hudson (2003) describes the neoliberal global economy as a form of imperialism dominated by the USA. It is a tributary system in which the rest of the world is made to cover the trade and budget deficits of the US and pay for its wars.19 Yanis Varoufakis (2011) used the metaphor of the “Global Minotaur” to describe this system. It is backed and partly driven by US military power, in it the US Dollar plays a privileged role as the world’s only reserve currency. Earlier, military warfare was used to gain control over a country’s economy. Today the same can be achieved through the credit system, which has become “the major modern lever for the extraction of wealth by finance capital from the rest of the population.”20 Debt has become a powerful weapon of dispossession and social control (Graeber 2012), using it makes it possible to literally own a country (Offe 2013). The war of finance capital against society at large and against the real economy is “being waged in the ideological arena, as if it is all for the best” (Hudson 2012).

Global Plan vs Global Minotaur
The “global financial crisis of 2008” marked the end of the Global Minotaur. Nobody seems to have a solution, but the neoliberal project is continued, setting up a firewall between economics and democratic politics. So far governments opted for bailing out banks not people; blame and costs are shifted to workers, consumers and the real economy. The balance of power between capitalism and democracy continues to shift away from democracy. Like many others Streeck argues that in the USA government has largely been taken over by Wall Street.21 In Europe he considers “Hayekian market liberalism”, not nationalism, as the greatest danger.22 In his view, the completion of the common currency would mark the end of Europe’s national democracies and with it the end of the only institution that could be used to defend the idea of real democracy and to build a future without capitalism.23

Crisis of Humanity

However, these views take little account of the world or planet Earth. Michel Serres (1995), using Francisco Goya’s painting “Fight with Cudgels” as a vivid metaphor, reminds us what will happen if we forget about the place where our power struggles are taking place. Goya’s duelists are finally swallowed by quicksand, and just like them we humans will eventually be defeated by the world that we ourselves are turning into quicksand. By harming the world we are harming ourselves as individuals and as society, world destruction is always also self-destruction of body and soul. The rise and expansion of the Western industrial regime made humanity an equipotent force with nature. The relationship between humans and Earth became increasingly out of balance. Mankind is now in a situation without precedent: “in the 20th century, the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human”.24 In this perspective we humans are called to remodel the social contract and supplement it with a natural contract in order to replace the vicious cycles of war, violence, Earth devastation and self-destruction with a mutually beneficial human-Earth relationship.25 The last fifty years of globalization culminate not only in a crisis of capitalism, be it structural or systemic, but also in a crisis of humanity.26 Two kinds of war are fought simultaneously: war among humans and war against planet Earth. The two crises are intimately linked but the crisis of humanity poses a far greater challenge and operates on a much longer time scale than the crisis of capitalism.

There are many short- and long-term causes that have contributed to the present predicament and some of them have been mentioned in the considerations above. The deepest cause, according to Thomas Berry, was the establishment of a “radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and the bestowal of all rights on the humans”.27 Nature was stripped of its spiritual and divine dimensions, reduced to inert matter with no intrinsic value, completely separated from men and destined to be dominated and exploited by them. The creation of this gap between humans and nature (the world), mind and body (matter), subject and object was constitutive for modern consciousness. A crucial step began in the 17th century, in England and the Netherlands, in the context of the rising new science and political revolution against absolutism out of which the Age of Enlightenment was born.28 The new science and ideology of progress promoted and was promoted by commercial and industrial interests, and by the upper echelons of the Anglican church. It was associated to a typical upper-class world view that showed contempt for ordinary people.29 The desacralization of nature and the divide between elites and ordinary folk made it much easier to justify oligarchic rule, hierarchy, and religious authority, as well as exploitation of nature and labor. However, there were dissident currents within the Enlightenment which challenged the dominant world view precisely because of its political, economic, and human implications.30 Moderate Enlightenment was opposed by Radical Enlightenment which represented egalitarian and democratic ideas, struggling for republicanism and rejecting monarchism.31 Notably, Radical Enlightenment shared with its opponent, perhaps not contempt, but a certain distrust for the common people and was not ready to share power with them. Consequently it rejected – unlike Rousseau – the Athenian type of direct democracy and advocated instead a system of elective representation.32 In these struggles between opposing Enlightenment traditions the ground was prepared for a marriage between industrial capitalism and so-called representative democracy, which is in practice a form of oligarchy. After the “revolution of the mind”33 came the revolutions of the 18th century, but the imbalance of power between upper and lower classes remained high ever since and the promise of a real democracy still waits for its fulfillment.

Historical roots
Considering the damage we humans inflict on Earth, Thomas Berry (2003) concludes: “We are into a deep cultural pathology – in ordinary language, we are crazy. To think that we can have a viable human economy by destroying the Earth economy is absurd.” Edward Bond, coming from a very different trajectory, arrives at the same conclusion with regard to our collective insanity.34 Simplified: Society’s story, its ideology, explains why things are as they are; it seeks to justify the existing order. This story determines our future. In an unjust society like our present one the dominant neoliberal story seeks to justify injustice. The story is mad; it does no longer provide meanings and guidance for living and understanding what is happening around and to us. Society may do what the clinically mad is not allowed to do: it may enact its fantasies and delusions in reality; they are recognized as culture, not as symptoms of our social madness.35 Storytelling is the way in which societies preserve themselves. But if the mad are not restrained, they will ultimately destroy themselves. Finally we must face reality or be destroyed. The alcoholic must acknowledge his alcoholism, otherwise he or she will end up in self-destruction; likewise it is with society and its collective madness. Denial operates at the individual and social level, it helps to maintain our preconceived ideas about a given situation. A strong interest in the status quo deepens the propensity for denial. Edward Bond gives two reasons why we cannot live for ever with our madness. First, a structural reason: The sense of justice is not ideological but practical: only in a just world can we live sanely, without destroying ourselves. Second, an existential reason: Our story needs to be coherent, reason and justice are internally linked, the need to be at home in the world is the need for justice. Put together: We can become and remain sane only if we seek justice.
Justice or Revenge

We know ourself and say: I cannot give up the name of human
All that is needed is to define rightly what it is to be human
If we define it wrongly we die
If we define it and teach it rightly we shall live
(Source: Edward Bond. The war plays. Choruses from after the assassinations)

Since decades science provides facts of climate change and earth destruction that speak with a clear and increasingly loud voice: if mankind is to survive, it must learn how to know and respect the limits imposed on it by the Earth.36 Earth boundaries do exist regardless whether people are conscious of it or not. No amount of corporate money and propaganda that denies global warming can change this reality. However, there is disagreement about the nature of the crisis and the possible solutions and future prospects. For people like Rex Tillerson (chairman and CEO, Exxon Mobil Corporation), climate change is “an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.” According to him, mankind will adapt to climate change, not prevent it; the main challenge is how to convince an “illiterate public” that corporations can mange the risks of climate change. Mike Hulme, on the contrary, points out that climate change cannot be reduced to a technical problem with a technical solution, rather it must be approached as culture if we want to understand what it signifies for us and how we should respond. Jonathan Marshall emphasizes that our response to climate change is a mythical or archetypal process.37 And Stanislav Grof sees yet another dimension of the present global crisis, which in his view is “basically a psychospiritual crisis; it reflects the level of consciousness evolution of the human species” and cannot be resolved “without a radical inner transformation of humanity on a large scale”.38 Many people, like for example Thomas Berry, argue that profit-seeking corporations, in competition for land and resources, are among the main drivers of earth devastation; also for them fundamental change is imperative.39 “Capitalism’s real “grave-diggers” may end up being its own delusional Cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. Despite their strategic brilliance, they seem to have trouble grasping a simple fact: Capitalism is destroying the planet. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises —War and Shopping—simply will not work.”40 Along the same line Uruguay’s president José Mujica insists that climate change “is not an ecological crisis, but rather a political one. (…) The cause is the model of civilization that we have created”. We are ruled by the market and forced “to work and sustain a culture of “use and discard”, (…) it’s time to start fighting for a different culture”.41

Autonomy or Heteronomy

Based on the degree of democracy, that is the extent to which people are involved in the decision-making processes, the following three kinds of scenarios can be imagined. Scenarios A (domination): a continuation of corporate rule beyond neoliberalism and possibly beyond capitalism which excludes people from decision-making ((post-)capitalism without democracy). Senarios B (reform): a reform of capitalism and representative-electoral “democracy” that wants to involve people more but without changing the basic oligarchic power structures (oligarchy dressed up in a facade democracy, plebiscites and agenda setting initiatives are considered but not direct democracy). Scenarios C (transformation): a fundamental transformation or the creation of democratic societies where people actually decide themselves about how they want to organize their living together on this planet (direct and real democracy without capitalism and without empire/imperialism).42 Regardless of which scenario is attempted, the question remains whether there is enough time available to avoid planetary catastrophes. Again, estimates of just how urgent the crisis of humanity is vary greatly; however, empirical evidence consistently shows that climate change is occurring more rapidly and intensely than predicted by the IPCC models.43
Three scenarios table
Estimates of the likely outcome of the present crises vary greatly. Based on their analysis of capitalist development Streeck and Hudson come to the same conclusion: that finance capitalism is now on a path “leading to what threatens to be a terminal stage of debt peonage and neofeudalism (Hudson)”.44 According to Negt there are signs hat politically ambitious members of the capitalist and managerial class are trying to build their own political system.45 On the other end of the spectrum, Jill Stein, began a speech at the Left Forum 2013 in New York by pointing out what she considers to be obvious: “that we are in this incredible historic moment where democracy and justice are basically breaking out all around us. And that really does, I think, just create a whole different landscape for what we can now achieve.” The field of possible futures seems wide open, spanned between heteronomous projects on the one end and autonomy projects on the opposite end. If the present power relations remain unchanged, the formation of authoritarian regimes seems very likely; in fact, such developments are well on their way.46

However, the list of popular struggles and uprisings of the last two decades is long. It includes the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Argentina in 2001, the indignados in Spain, Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and Brazil, water struggles in all continents, and the struggle of indigenous people in Latin America, India and elsewhere. There is also an increasing number of movements and communities of people experimenting with and aiming at achieving sustainable ways of life. All these struggles and movements testify that the project of autonomy is still alive, although always challenged from within and without, and in danger of being undermined by heteronomous forces.47 They can be seen as part of a historical struggle of people and social movements that are seeking to make society more equal and more democratic, both materially and in terms of dignity. These are non eradicable struggles against servitude and against the institution of heteronomy that has dominated most societies throughout history. Most of the time the struggle for autonomy has been smouldering underground; it peaked from time to time when antisystemic and counter-hegemonic movements reached a critical mass.

The global crisis since 2008 has shown that like “really existing socialism” also capitalism and representative democracy have failed and are unable to organize society in a humane and just way. In addition, both the Earth and human nature impose limits on capital that cannot be overstepped ad infinitum. Human nature is pliable only up to a certain point. Human beings have an inbuilt sense of justice that can be distorted and corrupted but not silenced.48 To paraphrase Kant: nothing upsets people more than injustice.

In Castoriadis analysis the modern West has been animated by two core social imaginary significations: “the project of individual and collective autonomy and the capitalist project of unlimited expansion and mastery”. The two projects are complete opposites but also partly confluent, starting, at least, from the Age of Enlightenment.49 Perhaps Castoriadis would agree with Wallerstein that we are in the midst of a structural transition from global capitalism to a new kind of system, which can be better or worse.50 In his view, since the late 1960s we are witnessing a growing triumph of the capitalist imaginary, and the decline of the autonomy project.51 With Castoriadis we may ask: will an ecological catastrophe lead to a democratic awakening or rather to the formation of totalitarian regimes?”52 Obviously, the answer to this question can only be given in practice.53

Three Scenarios

Based on the previous reflections the situation of today’s world can be summarized in the following short formula: We are at the beginning of a new geological epoch/era, in a double crisis of capitalism and humanity, whereby corporate-driven globalization dominates people-driven globalization, there are three programmatic scenarios (domination, reform, transformation) and two types of projects and historical traditions (heteronomy and autonomy). The double crisis is caused by the “system”, that is, by a complex heteronomous system that produces and reproduces inequalities of wealth and power mainly through the partnership between the capitalist market economy, the monetary system and oligarchy in the guise of democracy (“representative democracy”). This dominant global system allows privileged social minorities to impose their rule over the many, forcing and seducing people onto the treadmill of the market and growth economy, using methods like perception management, surveillance, repression, war and terror to quell resistance, sterilize political imagination and prevent the rise of autonomy. The “system” destroys planet Earth and in the same movement also downgrades/deadens peoples’ inner lives.54

Humankind is at a crossroads. The double crisis concerns not only finance, work and industry but the whole of society and the whole of humanity. Mankind as a species has become an adult and must take care of Mother Earth of which it is a part and on which all our lives depend. This, then, is the real challenge: to apply human power in ways that a) safeguard the survival of humankind and b) either preserve the power and privileges of corporations and politicians (Scenarios A and B) or enable every individual to live an autonomous life as a member of the Earth community (Scenarios C).

Three scenarios
What about the place, role and potential of direct or real democracy in the above framework? Obviously the dominant tradition of heteronomy has no place for real democracy. In the market-driven version (scenarios A) democracy is considered as an obstacle that has to be pushed aside if necessary. In the social-democratic version (scenarios B) the state plays an active role and the citizens are invited to participate more, but under guidance and control by the government/corporations. Neither of the two versions foresee a need to change and democratize the institutional setup of the political system.
Downgrading life
But how could we resolve the double crisis and avoid structural change? What kind of solution would that be? The “system” destroys planet Earth, reproduces inequality and social injustice, downgrades and deadens inner life. In my view, these are not just “pathologies of capitalism”55 but intrinsic properties of the “system”, unavoidable consequences of the way it operates. There is no way to fix these “pathologies” and to create a just society without fundamental structural change. Take for example the monetary system: It is a machinery that systematically transfers wealth from the vast majority to a small minority, it promotes competition and requires limitless economic growth.56 The entire monetary system that drives financial capitalism is rigged to favor a few. A change of paradigm is required, monetary reform and a transformation of the institutional setup of our societies on all levels, from the local to the global. As will be shown in a following part (Transformation) the citizens’ initiative can be used as an instrument to advance monetary reform.
Upgrading life
The transformation of the contemporary capitalist societies into more humane, more just and freer societies is a collective learning process and a struggle against powerful opponents. It is crucial that those who aspire to build a better world do so with means that do not contradict their ends. If the aim is to create a just society in which every individual treats others with respect and as fully human, then practicing democracy and nonviolence is the way to act out the future society in the present and to match means with ends. From its inception, the “system” has been challenged by emancipatory movements that want to transform it. In a sense transformation has always already begun, and all emancipatory and humane alternatives to capitalism recognize real democracy as a necessary (but not sufficient) ingredient.

So the place of direct democracy is within the tradition of autonomy, as a constitutive element of any emancipatory project of truly humane societies. Next we turn to the question of the role and potential of direct democracy in a future world. In order to get an idea about that, in the next part, I will look at the use that is and has been made of direct democracy in the world of today – as a means of resistance and transformation.


1 Already in his great study of “The Civilizing Process”, that was first published in 1939, Elias deals explicitly with globalization. Problems of Involvement and Detachment (1956) contains an expressive description of global integration. In Die Fischer im Mahlstrom (written 1980, published in Engagement und Distanzierung 1987) Elias presents his ideas about a multilevel process model of social development that can be used to explain what drives global integration of mankind. Questions of globalization are further developed in Humana conditio (1985), The Retreat of Sociologists into the Present (1987), Die Gesellschaft der Individuen 1987 (The Society of Individuals 1991), and Studien über die Deutschen (1989). The theory of established and outsider relationships (Etablierte und Aussenseiter 1990) can be considered as an essential part of Elias’ explanatory multilevel process model of social development. In the 1930s, when Elias wrote The Civilizing Process, he wrote that globalization, that is the dynamics of the global figuration, could point toward the formation of an earthly monopoly of violence, a central institute of the earth and global pacification (Elias 1976, Band2, 452). Later he saw the voluntary formation of a pacified global confederation of states as a possible, although not probable, outcome of the many hegemonic and elimination struggles between the states of the world (Elias 1985, 112).
2 Elias 1956, 232
3 Elias 1987c, 132-133
4 Goudsblom 2003
5 Robinson 2012, Sklair 2002
6 Elias 1991, 229
7 Elias 1991, 226
8 Steffen 2004, 18
9 Serres 2014; see also: Chakrabarty 2009.
10 Serres 1995, 7
11 Serres 1995, 12
12 Steffen et al. 2001, Williams et al. 2011
13 For the term Anthropocene see Steffen et al. 2001, Williams et al. 2011. The term can be criticized for being anthropocentric and a carrier of the conventional idea of human domination over nature. Instead of the term Anthropocene Andreas Weber (2013) proposes Zoocene: “This word derives from the Greek word zoë, meaning life in its felt sense, and including the whole animate earth.” Weber’s vision is compatible with the thinking of Thomas Berry who coined the term Ecozoic era (Berry 1991, see also
14 Berry 1991
15 According to Thomas Berry (2003) “the Earth will never again function in the future as it functioned in the past. In the past, it functioned independent of human beings. Now, almost nothing will happen on Earth that humans will not be involved in. We cannot make a blade of grass, but there is liable to not be a blade of grass if we do not accept it, protect it and foster it.”
16 Serres 1995, 4
17 An article by Amitai Etzioni indicates that the U.S. army is playing with plans of nuclear war against China.
18 Bobbio 1987, 115
19 See also Engdahl 2011
20 Harvey 2010, 245; Massarrat 2013
21 Streeck 2013, 217. See, for example, Bill Moyers on the corporate take-over of democracy in the USA: Justice for sale ( and also: Why ‘We The People’ Must Triumph Over Corporate Power (’we_the_people’_must_triumph_over_corporate_power)
22 In a speech the President of the European Commission Barroso said: “European unity, democracy and respect for human dignity have to be fought for every day. And today the resurgence of populism, sometimes extreme nationalism, threatens to destroy the dream made real.” (A new narrative for Europe, Brussels, 23 April 2013)
23 Streeck 2013, 256
24 Berry 2006; Friedrich Dürrenmatt in an interview with Fritz J. Raddatz (1985): “Die Welt verändert sich durch den Menschen, aber der Mensch verändert sich nicht und fällt der durch ihn veränderten Welt zum Opfer.”
25 The idea to complement the social contract with a natural contract can be found in Michel Serres 1995.
26 Thomas Berry was probably the first radical thinker to provide us with a comprehensive analysis of the present crisis of humanity (for example: Berry 1991, 1999). I use the term ‘crisis of humanity’ to indicate that we are not dealing with an environmental crisis or simply with climate change. The crisis concerns mankind as a species, the world will continue to exist also without us humans. In his address to the Rio +20 Earth Summit 2012 Uruguay’s president José Mujica emphasized the political character of the crisis of humanity: “the challenge ahead of us is of a colossal magnitude and the great crisis is not an ecological crisis, but rather a political one. (…) But we must realize that the water crisis and the aggression to the environment is not the cause. The cause is the model of civilization that we have created. And the thing we have to re-examine is our way of life.”
27 Berry 1999, 4; see also Elias 1987c, 224-225
28 “At that moment, high culture distinguished itself completely and irrevocably from the culture of the people (Jacob 1997).” Collins (2010, 112) qualifies Lynn White’s well-known thesis that links Christianity and the present devastation of Earth: “So the notion that the earth exists for humankind predates the Bible by thousands of years, and blaming the Judeo-Christian tradition for the entire history of alienation from nature, while superficially attractive to some, does not survive scrutiny. Nevertheless, White’s claims are not without some truth. In terms of Europe particularly. Christianity has had its fair share of environmental ‘thugs’, and has become much more anthropocentric than it need have been. The dominant tradition of Christian theology has taken an unnecessarily negative approach to the natural world. The core reason for this is that Christianity for centuries failed to deal positively with the human body. There is an intimate connection between our feelings about our bodies and our attitudes towards nature. It is our bodies that tie us most closely to the materiality of the earth. If we devalue and despise our own bodies, there is little hope that we will value nature.”
29 “The scorn for “the inferior herd of people” was endemic to enlightened culture.” (Jacob 1997)
30 Bilgrami 2008 draws the line from the 17th century to Gandhi up to the present, showing how the metaphysical outlook and what he calls a thick notion of scientific rationality that was formed at the time of Newton and Descartes still underlies today’s mainstream thinking in the West, supporting ideas of Western superiority and resisting all atempts to form a real democracy.
31 Jacob 2006, Israel 2010
32 Israel 2010, 59-60
33 Israel 2010
34 Bond 2000, 87-97
35 Ours is “a pathology that is sustained intellectually by the university, economically by the corporation, legally by the constitution, religiously by the church” (Berry 1996)
36 Rockström et al. (2009) list 9 processes which people must look after and on which the stability of Earth depends. Climate change or global warning is just one of these processes, the others are: 2) ocean acidification, 3) stratospheric ozone depletion, 4) global phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, 5) rate of biodiversity loss, 6) global freshwater use, 7) land-system change, 8) aerosol loading, 9) chemical pollution.
Steffen et al. (2015).
For a critique of the Planetary Boundaries approach and a response see: Andrew C. Revkin. Can Humanity’s ‘Great Acceleration’ Be Managed and, If So, How? New York Times, January 15, 2015 (
37 Climate change and the psyche. 21 November 2009. Radio ABC (Australia), Mike Hulme and Jonathan Marshall join Natasha Mitchell to discuss mythology, mental ecology and a changing climate.
38 Grof 2005
39 Berry 1999, 117
40 Roy 2012
41 Speech by José Mujica on June 20, 2012 at the Rio +20 summit.
42 There are many projects out there that correspond to the three scenarios; to illustrate, here are a few examples:
Scenario A: Green New Deal Group (UK) ( ; UNEP Green Economy Report 2011 (
Scenario B: WBGU Berlin 2011: World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability (
Scenario C: Acosta 2010, Albert 2003, Alperovitz 2005, 2013, Foropoulos 1997, Hahnel 2012, Holloway 2002, 2010, Unger 2009, Wolff 2012.
43 Brysse et al. 2012
44 Hudson 2012, Streeck 2013
45 Negt 2011, 515
46 See, for example, Crouch 2004, Streeck 2011, Wolin 2010
47 About the concept of a project of autonomy, see: Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1993. The Project of Autonomy Is Not a Utopia. In: A Society Adrift, 5-15.
48 Bond 2000, 60-68
49 Castoriadis, RTI 379; see also above the paragraph on the Enlightenment.
50 Wallerstein 1999 and 2013
51 Castoriadis, RTI 107, 250.
A contrasting picture is presented by Amartya Sen (1999). For him, the most important thing that has happened in the 20th century is “the emergence of democracy as the preeminently acceptable form of governance”. Indeed, the acceptance of the modern democratic ideal has expanded since its inception, but at the same time its meaning has been changed. While Cornelius Castoriadis insists on the idea of autonomy which implies real participation of the people in the making of decisions, Amartya Sen embraces a concept of democracy in which representatives decide on behalf of the people.
52 Castoriadis 1994, RTI 145; see also Castoriadis 1989, RTI 309
53 “We are heading toward a totalitarianism that arises not from a revolution, but after an ecological catastrophe. The government would say: You’ve had your fun. The party is over. Here are your two liters of gas and your ten liters of clean air for the month of December, and those who protest are putting the survival of humanity in danger and are public enemies (Castoriadis 1989, RTI 309).
An imaginative narrative about a collapsed society can be found in the two novels of Octavia Butler: Parable of the Sawer (1993) and Parable of the Talent (1998).
54 See, for example, Engdahl 2011, Greenwald 2014, Herman and Chomsky 2002, Roy 2012, Scahill 2014, Vitali et al. 2011.
55 Barnes 2006
56 Lietaer 2001

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