The Philosophy of Cant
The Philosophy of Cant
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 16th September 2003
Were there a Nobel Prize for Hypocrisy, it would be awarded this year to the European trade negotiator, Pascal Lamy. A week ago, in the Guardian's trade supplement, he argued that the World Trade Organisation "helps us move from a Hobbesian world of lawlessness, into a more Kantian world -- perhaps not exactly of perpetual peace, but at least one where trade relations are subject to the rule of law".1
On Sunday, by treating the trade talks as if, in Thomas Hobbes's words, they were "a war of every man against every man", Lamy scuppered the negotiations, and very possibly destroyed the organisation as a result. If so, one result could be a conflict, in which, as Hobbes observed, "force and fraud are ... the two cardinal virtues."2 Relations between countries would then revert to the state of nature the philosopher feared, where the nasty and brutish behaviour of the powerful ensures that the lives of the poor remain short.
At the talks in Cancun, in
Of course, as Hobbes knew, "if other men will not lay down their right ... then there is no reason for anyone to divest himself of his: for that were to expose himself to prey." A contract, he noted, is "the mutual transferring of right", which a man enters into "either in consideration of some right reciprocally transferred to himself, or for some other good he hopeth for thereby."3 By offering the poorer nations nothing in return for almost everything, Lamy forced them to walk out.
He took this position because he sees his public duty as the defense of the European Union's corporations and industrial farmers against all comers, be they the citizens of
I dwell on Pascal Lamy's adherence to the treasured philosophy of cant because all that he has done, he has done in our name. The
Several European governments, recognizing that it threatened the talks and the trade organization itself, slowly distanced themselves from his position. To many people's surprise, they included
But while this man has inflicted lasting damage to
That they have not done so before is testament first to the corrosive effects of the Cold War, then to the continued ability of the rich and powerful nations to bribe, blackmail, and bully the poor ones. Whenever there has been a prospect of solidarity among the weak, the strong, and in particular the US, have successfully divided and ruled them, by promising concessions to those who split, and threatening sanctions against those who stay. But now the rich have become victims of their own power.
Since its formation, they have been seeking to recruit as many developing nations into the World Trade Organization as they can, in order to open up their markets and force them to trade on onerous terms. But as they have done so, they have found themselves massively outnumbered.
The EU and the
Their solidarity is itself empowering. At
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had better watch their backs now. The UN Security Council will find its anomalous powers ever harder to sustain. Poor nations, if they stick together, can begin to exercise a collective threat to the rich. For this, they need leverage and, in the form of their debts, they possess it. Together they owe so much that, in effect, they own the world's financial systems. By threatening, collectively, to default they can begin to wield the sort of power which only the rich have so far exercised, demanding concessions in return for withholding force.
So Pascal Lamy, "our" negotiator, may accidentally have engineered a better world, by fighting so doggedly for a worse one.
This is the final installment of George Monbiot's series on trade. www.monbiot.com
1. Pascal Lamy, 8th September 2003. Opinion piece, The Guardian.
2. Thomas Hobbes, 1651, Leviathan.
George Monbiot's book The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order is now published