Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
One of the reasons for the current and widespread disillusionment with politics in our supposedly “advanced” democracies is that political narratives are too predictable, too starkly divided into “right” and “left”, too geared towards “winning” at the expense of truth or compassion. Worse still, perhaps, modern politics reduces and compartmentalises human experience beyond recognition. This is why it is so widely believed that the members of the “political class” speak a different language and live in a different world from “real” human beings, whose experiences are complex and ambiguous rather than simple and static. Politics is failing to express complex realities. In the relatively peaceful West, this produces large-scale alienation, a cult of direct action, and the temporary rise of maverick politicians and populist movements. In regions of profound cultural conflict, such as the Middle East, the failure of politics results in massive trauma and loss of life.
Sidney Du Broff is a staunch supporter of the Israeli cause, and precisely because of this he is one of Israel's most trenchant critics. In his contribution to this edition of New European, he takes a view that will surprise many readers, as to an extent it surprises the Editors. For he argues that Ariel Sharon, widely regarded as the strong man of Israeli politics, tends in reality towards vacillation and compromise. Both as General in the early 1980s, and as 21st century Prime Minister, his rhetorical flourish and occasional dramatic acts mask an essential indecision. Sharon's dilemma is the dilemma of Israel: how does a state founded on democratic values reconcile those values with its response to a ruthless enemy? There is also an underlying unease, by no means confined to the Israeli left, that the Palestinian Arabs have been treated unjustly, and that people who sought freedom from tyranny, the Jews, might themselves have become tyrants.
Du Broff in this paper does not seek to provide a simple answer to this Israeli dilemma, for no answer can be simple and no single individual can provide it. However, he makes a valuable point that commentators often overlook. It is not only Israeli occupation that oppresses the Palestinians and holds back their potential as a people. Instead, the weight of oppression they bear from their own political organisations, and many of their leaders, is at least as severe. In Palestinian-ruled areas, corruption is rife and the denial of human rights is common. Moderate political voices are muted. The choice, therefore, is usually between hard-line Marxism and a new breed of fundamentalist Islam based on self-immolation and terror. In these circumstances, it can be Israeli intervention that comes between the Palestinians and their own oppressive political vanguard. This argument is contentious and difficult, but it expresses fully the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which cannot be reduced to a conflict of “good” and “evil”, “imperialism” and “anti-imperialism”, or any of the other stereotypes of political discourse. And it is only when we transcend these stereotypes that we can begin to address the problem.
Aidan Rankin's paper is on a different theme, green politics, which despite the overwhelming importance of environmental concerns have yet to break through conclusively. If anything, they seem to be on the retreat, as the European parliamentary elections this year suggest. This retreat was caused in part by a sudden upsurge in right-wing populism, itself a response to the inflexibility of elites. It might therefore be temporary, but nonetheless demands a rethink. Rankin argues, therefore, that the green movement must be at once radical and conservative, or as he puts it “radically conservative and conservatively radical”. Radicalism in this context does not mean the politics of protest, but of finding the roots of social and political problems. Conservative in this context does not mean right wing, either in the sense of irrational attachment to tradition or support for heartless, devil take the hindmost economic policies. But the conservative approach acknowledges that attachment to tradition can often also be rational, and politics should involve a positive interaction between continuity and change, rather than the present polarisation. When the green movement arose as a political force, its rallying-cry was “neither left nor right but in front”, but it has since to a large extent become a continuation of the traditional left by other means. This is not enough, and so to move forward it would do well to revisit its founding principle. Green politics could therefore adopt a more genuinely holistic approach that acknowledges complexity in the social as well as the ecological realm.
Stephen Zarlenga, Director of the American Monetary Institute, is a well-known proponent of alternative economics in the United States whose reputation is growing on this side of the Atlantic as well. In his paper, based on a talk he gave at the US Treasury, he does much to “demythologise” money, which as a symbol of exchange has acquired an almost magical significance in the modern world. There is an anthropology thesis still to be written on the resemblance between modern neo-liberal economics and Pacific cargo cults. The belief in a “hidden hand” of the market, or the “tickle down effect”, reflects a superstitious rather than an enlightened view of the world. Money is made by human beings and so, Zarlenga argues, should be their servant, not their master. It is a theme that New European has visited before, that economics should be restored to its original meaning – the law of the household, or good housekeeping. Economic theories lose their meaning and purpose when they lose their sense of human scale. Yet, unfortunately the arguments of monetary reformers are often shrouded in obscurantist rhetoric. The clarity of Zarlenga's writing should serve as a healthy corrective to this tendency.
Finally, Aidan Rankin reviews the Web site of the Center for Visionary Leadership, an American think tank with a powerful message for the new Europe, because its main aim is to transcend the tired, old adversarial politics. Indeed its message of “both/and” rather than “either/or” could not be more appropriate for a diverse continent striving to reconcile national identities with the pooling of sovereignty, national (and regional) distinctiveness with finding an “European” voice in the world.