The end of democracy? Hello plutocracy

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By Dorothy Bruce

The dithering, vacillation and obfuscation of the Prime Minister as she tries to keep her party together is a sight to behold. Remainers and right-wing Brexiters are engaged in a tug-of-was with Mrs May birling in the centre, pulling first the rope on one side, then on the other. But her clumsy footwork in her kitten-heeled shoes only ensures that she gets thoroughly tangled in the rope and ends flailing on the ground, arms waving, legs cycling, pleading with her audience in the EU stalls to give in and let her have her way, otherwise the whole clanjamfry will collapse and they could have to start again. Perhaps with another leader, perhaps with another party.

They of course are stifling laughs and guffaws behind their hands, aware that the fankle is putting the UK on a direct course for a hard Brexit, yet at the same time feeling some sympathy for the hapless Mrs May, caught between a vice and a grape press.

 In her parliamentary, and parliamentary committee performances, and on television Mrs May looks to all the world like an incompetent performer, not on top of her brief, merely programmed to repeat a given number of phrases whether relevant or not, whether answering the question or not.

Ad nauseam

Yet behind all this bluff and bluster, looking like someone drowning or suffocating in a vortex of her own making, there is a niggling question of whether this charade is being acted out on purpose, if for no other reason than that it seems inconceivable that a UK Prime Minister could be so staggeringly incompetent.

At the beginning of the Brexit negotiations May’s stock phrase was “No deal is better than a bad deal”. It was repeated ad nauseam until she eventually moved on to another equally opaque phrase. At the time the expectation was that there would be a deal, though it may take time to achieve. But no sane commentator expected the foot-dragging, the chaining and padlocking themselves to the UK railings approach displayed by the Tory Government. The EU made their position eminently clear from the outset, a position signed up to by all twenty seven other members.

Mrs May has laid down red lines, refusing to cross or move them, whilst not accepting that the EU also has it red lines, accepted by 27 governments. A deal was there to be done but the UK seemed strangely reluctant to even talk about a deal, or listen to what EU negotiators were telling them. There was that famous photo taken on the first day of negotiations when David Davis and his team sat at one side of the table without one piece of paper in front of them, whilst the EU side sat behind piles of documents and reams of paper. It certainly looked as if only one side was serious.

In recent weeks, the no deal phrase has come back into use along with blame being heaped on the EU for being intransigent, unbending in their opposition to what they think Mrs May and her cohorts want, though they remain unsure exactly what this is. Is this beginning to look like a no deal strategy? She can say she has worked hard to negotiate a deal (albeit with the warring factions of her own party rather than the EU) but the EU has refused to budge. The EU is fast becoming a whipping boy to conveniently blame when the effects of a hard Brexit make themselves felt on the citizens of the UK. The message is already being dripped out. It’s all the fault of those nasty foreigners across the Channel.

Industrial scale job losses

Now it looks as if we are indeed headed for a no deal. But no deal might be eminently worse than we anticipate, might mean more than a massive hit to the UK economy, job losses on an industrial scale, businesses going to the wall and a huge hike in those living in poverty and those just managing with a struggle. No deal might well be the signal for the end of democracy as we have known it for over a hundred years.

A few days ago I read a piece on Richard Murphy’s blog about Donald Trump, Is the incompetence of May and Trump deliberate?

Disrupt democracy?

Murphy writes about a rudderless UK, May’s determination to use every change of direction and manipulative ploy to stay in power and keep her party together. He compares her with Trump, just back from a summit with Putin in Finland, and forced into an admission that he had ‘misspoken’, uttered the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’ when talking of the comment he made about Putin and his own intelligence agencies.

Set aside Trump and May’s avid use of expediency, their lack of principles, their incompetence – after all these accusations can be levelled against many in power whether in politics or business. Imagine for a minute their aim was in fact to disrupt democracy, do away with it as we know it. Rubbish! Fantasy, you might say. But it has happened in other countries, even some in the EU like Poland and Hungary, and some might even add Spain, in the light of their treatment of the Catalans.

Murphy goes on to say, The two party systems of the US and UK have always been vulnerable. Suppose they fall? And suppose the fall is already in planned progress?”

Ping pong

Murphy then wonders whether, “ The possibility that the process of democratic failure in the UK is much further advanced than I had thought possible is one that I have to, at least, consider possible. The time has come when it would be negligent not to do so.”

With such dire thoughts ping-ponging around my mind I came across a tweet referring to a sequence of propositions in a book co-written by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg, father of the ERG stalwart Jacob.

1) The democratic nation-state basically operates like a criminal cartel, forcing honest citizens to surrender large portions of their wealth to pay for stuff like roads and hospitals and schools.

2) The rise of the internet, and the advent of cryptocurrencies, will make it impossible for governments to intervene in private transactions and to tax incomes, thereby liberating individuals from the political protection racket of democracy.

3) The state will consequently become obsolete as a political entity.

4) Out of this wreckage will emerge a new global dispensation, in which a “cognitive elite” will rise to power and influence, as a class of sovereign individuals “commanding vastly greater resources” who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.

Cult of the billionaires, ‘the sovereign individual

Davidson and Rees-Mogg’s book has been described as “an obscure libertarian manifesto.” The Sovereign

Sovereign individual

Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State, was published in 1997, and in recent years something of a minor cult has grown up around it in the tech world largely as a result of the endorsement by a billionaire venture capitalist by the name of Thiel who has cited it as the book he is most influenced by. Others have followed in their praise, including Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Balaji Srinivasan, the entrepreneur who advocated Silicon Valley should secede from the US and form its own corporate city-state.

JWZ blog written by Jamie Zawinski, programmer, one of the founders of Netscape and Mozilla.org, and involved in the free software and open source community since the mid-80s, had this to say about the book.

Like gods of myth

 “The Sovereign Individual is, in the most literal of senses, an apocalyptic text. Davidson and Rees-Mogg present an explicitly millenarian vision of the near future: the collapse of old orders, the rising of a new world. Liberal democracies will die out, and be replaced by loose confederations of corporate city-states. Western civilisation in its current form, they insist, will end with the millennium.

“The new Sovereign Individual,” they write, “will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically.” It’s impossible to overstate the darkness and extremity of the book’s predictions of capitalism’s future; to read it is to be continually reminded that the dystopia of your darkest insomniac imaginings is almost always someone else’s dream of a new utopian dawn.”

The book is available on Amazon – authors James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, First Printing edition 1997. There is also a book The Sovereign Individual: The coming economic revolution. How to survive and prosper in it. The authors are the same, Macmillan, 1997, Hardcover £399.00. However a similar book The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the transition to the information age is also available, authors again the same, Simon and Schuster, 2008, selling for considerably less. So this was a theme the authors returned to time and again.

According to the author information on Amazon: “Davidson is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, with investments in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and New Zealand, as well as high-tech projects in North America.”

‘Incompatibility of freedom and democracy’

In a fascinating article in the Guardian, Mark O’Connell, a freelance journalist and author based in Dublin, writes about the doings of  Peter Thiel, billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook. Thiel apparently considers New Zealand to be “the Future”.

Thiel, according to O’Connell “was the only major Silicon Valley figure to put his weight behind the Trump presidential campaign; he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didn’t like how they wrote about him;

he is known for his public musings about the incompatibility of freedom and democracy, and for expressing interest – as though enthusiastically pursuing the clunkiest possible metaphor for capitalism at its most vampiric – in a therapy involving transfusions of blood from young people as a potential means of reversing the ageing process.”

Making money from the utopian dream

According to O’Connell’s article, Thiel purchased citizenship of New Zealand, buying (as part of a consortium) a 477-acre former sheep station in the South Island, the suspicion being that he was looking for a bolt-hole where he could wait-out the imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it. New Zealand has apparently become the favoured burrow for the tech elite of Silicon Valley. In the wake of President Trump’s inauguration, the New Yorker published a piece about the super-rich making preparations for “a grand civilisational crackup”. In New Zealand, far from political and economic upheavals and environmental tsunamis, where clean water is plentiful and they can even build bunkers to protect themselves from the coming apocalypse, they map a possible future, a utopian dream, and how they can make money from it.

Apparently, it’s easier to envisage the end of the world than the end of capitalism. So with Trump in the White House billionaires appear to be preparing for the collapse of civilisation. Those who survive will be those who can afford “the premium of salvation”, that seems to be the price of a former sheep farm in New Zealand, about as far away as you can get from the rest of the world.

A post-democratic future

O’Connell’s description of James Dale Davidson is perhaps more telling than Amazon’s: “a private investor who specialises in advising the rich on how to profit from economic catastrophe”, with the book presenting “a bleak vista of a post-democratic future. Amid a thicket of analogies to the medieval collapse of feudal power structures, the book also managed, a decade before the invention of bitcoin, to make some impressively accurate predictions about the advent of online economies and cryptocurrencies.”

“To read The Sovereign Individual was to see this ideology laid bare: these people, the self-appointed “cognitive elite”, were content to see the unravelling of the world as long as they could carry on creating wealth in the end times.”

Thiel is a man who doesn’t believe in the compatibility of freedom and democracy and is said to have told a friend that he wanted to have his own country and anticipated he would pay around $100bn to get it.

The Rees-Mogg doctrine

From the utopia and apocalypse bunkers of New Zealand back to the looming apocalypse in the UK

where it appears Jacob Rees-Mogg has followed in daddy’s footsteps. Daddy William, or Lord Rees-Mogg, was a journalist at the Financial Times, Sunday Times, and the Times, also writing a column for the Independent. He was a member of the BBC’s Board of Governors and chairman of the Arts Council. Rees-Mogg also served as chairman of the London publishing firm Pickering & Chatto Publishers and of NewsMax Media, and wrote a weekly column for the Mail on Sunday. He died in 2012.

So, fairly well embedded in the establishment, and apparently he introduced Jacob early on in his life to the delights of investing. And with a background like Jacob’s you do have to wonder if Richard Murphy has indeed sussed out what is happening in the UK. You have to wonder if indeed the right-wing of the Tory party has been influenced by the Rees-Mogg (father and son) doctrine and sees itself heading towards a new global dispensation, in which the elite (cognitive or otherwise), having already risen to power and influence as a class of sovereign individuals, are set on “commanding vastly greater resources” who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.

If Brexit goes ahead then those who promote or acquiesce to this doctrine will believe they are well on the way to seizing further power and stripping the rest of us, the 99%, of whatever remains to us.

(The sequence of propositions listed in this article and posted on Twitter as a screenshot is from Mark O’Connell’s Guardian article.)