Third Party & Independents Archives

A New Paradigm for Politics

The Greens have a saying, that they are “neither left, nor right, but out in front”. This speaks to the fact that our political dialogue is stuck in the 18th century model of “left” and “right”, established at the time of the French revolution, and reinforced by the long twentieth century battle between American “capitalism: and Soviet “socialism” and between political parties whose policies were based on socialist and free market economics (or a combination thereof).

George Monbiot recently posted an item (published in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper on the 18th of November) about a discussion that took place at the European Social Forum entitled “life after capitalism”. In it, to paraphrase generously, he came to the conclusion that while capitalism sucks, all the alternatives suck more - primarily because no one can offer a system to replace it that doesn’t depend on totalitarianism. As a result, he contends that advocates for social justice need to abandon the “anti-capitalist” moniker for something more accurate and functional (what that is, he wasn’t able to say).

This realization that market economics is like democracy - the worst of all possible systems, but better than any alternative available - may be responsible for the shift to the "right" of major political parties over the past few decades... as documented by the charts below from the Political Compass web site, in both American and British politics (outside of the Green Party) few fundamental differences exist between the parties in terms of the role of the state in people's personal lives and economic policy:

U.K. Extreme Right
U.S. Primary Candidates

In a sense, this is a signal that politics as we know it has come to an end. The choice between totalitarian statism and unbridled stateless capitalism is a non-starter. We need to conceptualize a completely different paradigm that addresses the transnational issues we face today.

This is my suggestion for an alternative language of politics, and an alternative spectrum to measure and evaluate the candidates and parties we are offered, developed out of an email exchange between Monbiot and myself, and rooted in the 10 Key Values of the Green Party:

The new division in politics is between "the politics of life" and "the politics of death". Nothing less.

The governing coalitions of the "developed" world, regardless of whether they governed from the "left" or from the "right", regardless of whether they've pursued "socialist" or "free market" economic policies, have followed policies that have either aggravated or failed to curb the following problems:

  • the ongoing destruction of the Amazonian rainforests (and tropical rainforests in general throughout the globe) and other sensitive ecosystems
  • the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that has led to global warming and all the attendant projected ills
  • depletion of the ozone layer and consequent possible devastation of global ecosystems exposed to unfiltered ultraviolet radiation
  • the projected death of all coral reefs within thirty years
  • destruction of global fishing stocks (and consequent devastation of an ecology we know almost nothing about)
  • the genoicide of our ape relatives
  • the ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples and cultures worldwide
  • the projected annihilation of a insane percentage of the populace of Africa from HIV (alone)

... to name just a few major problems.

Not to mention ongoing support for brutal dictatorships, undermining of democratically elected governments, strip mining of natural resources, etc., etc., etc.

These are the practical effects of the policies pursued by all political parties that have held power in the "developed" world over the past fifty years, regardless of whether they had a "socialist" or a "free market", a "left" or a "right" orientation... Clinton, Bush, Jr. … failures, the global eco-death clock has spun ever faster towards "midnight" during both terms… Major, Blair… ditto… Koch, Schroeder, ditto. This is "the politics of death".

I don't think anyone can credibly claim that the assumption or retention of power by the Democrats, Republicans, New Labor or Conservatives, Christian Democrats or Social Democrats will make a damn bit of difference in the ongoing devastation accounted for above - all of them have had plenty of chances over the past fifty years to make a difference on these issues, none of them have even begun to slow down the march to destruction.

This is why I am a Green… the political issues in our society go beyond economics and the distribution of wealth at this point--the question of capitalism or socialism is irrelevant if neither does anything to stop the destruction. Defining ourselves as "anti-capitalists" is participating in an outmoded paradigm of political dialogue - it is playing into the hands of the advocates of unbridled capitalism (which is not the same thing as "market economics") and letting them define the terms of debate.

I say, turn it around, put the onus on them: what alternative do they offer to "the politics of death" that they've pursued for the last few decades?

The Green vision is grounded in the unalterable principle that our first priority must be the preservation of the planet's ability to sustain life. We must stop drawing down on the world's "natural capital" - the planet's ecological systems, mineral and chemical resources, the biological and social diversity that allows the planet maintain a robust "immune system" resistant to catastrophe and capable of recovering from systemic damage of all sorts.

Ours is the politics of life, of abundance in diversity, of hope for the future - theirs is the politics of death, of ecological destruction, of social genoicide, of despair and ennui… we are the lush Tropical Rainforests, they are the arid Sahara. Once we adopt this paradigm, we can begin to talk about what really matters: how best to save the life of the planet (and the human beings on it) from total destruction.

Posted by at December 5, 2003 9:24 AM