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Democracy, oligarchy, ecology

The environmental issue, with climate change, has become the central political issue of the early twenty-first century, the first issue of truly global history. How will we allocate resources and « green space » between humans who have never been so many, knowing that the continued economic development as currently designed led to an unsustainable ecological crisis ?

The German philosopher Hans Jonas, in The Principle of Responsibility, published in 1979 in Germany, first raised the debate in these terms. To prevent the realization of the disaster, he advocates « to give prosperity to the benefit of other parts of the world » and adopt « the aim of self restraining humanity. » In concrete terms, and with other words, this means reducing material consumption and energy consumption.

How, in a democracy, could the majority of citizens decide this fundamental transformation of consumer culture ? Can the democracy answer to the challenge posed by the historical crisis of the biosphere ?

To answer these questions, we must return to what democracy is. To simplify, it is a triptych :
-  A time of collective deliberation informed by independent media ;
-  A process of decision – which is the law - taken by the majority at the end of these discussions ;
-  Respect of the right of the minority who can relaunch the time of collective deliberation on the consequences of the decision or on other problems.

But today, capitalism no longer sees democracy as essential to its existence, it rejects it even more clearly since it leads logically to the questioning of established authorities.

The conditions for an effective exercise of democracy are largely altered. Free deliberation is flawed by the fact that the media are heavily controlled by the oligarchy. The majority choice is truncated by the weight of lobbies and even sometimes by outright denial of the popular choice, as in the 2005 referendum in France, Netherlands and Ireland on Europe.

Respect for human rights and civil liberties are violated in the name of anti-immigration or security. Political power is subject to the financial powers.
In fact, the ruling classes drive us into an oligarchic regime, where a group of people controlling the political, economic and mediatic powers, deliberate among themselves and then impose their choices on society.

However, the present oligarchy seeks above all to maintain its privileged position. To this end, it stubbornly maintains the value system organized around the material growth and consumption - a system that accelerates our entry into the ecological crisis.

But if one wants to decide the appropriate policies to the ecological issue, we must revitalize the life and spirit of democracy. For example, a real democratic debate is needed to explain how a decline in material consumption implies a strong reduction of inequalities and the development of other social activities.

More broadly, we must restore the rule of policy on « contracts », the separation between the public interest and private interests, the independence of the media.

Will we be together guide the community non-violent and cooperative – which is the aim of democracy for a peaceful society - to the project not to have more, but to avoid the worst ? And move towards a better living wholly out of step with the consumer society in which we swim from our childhood ? It is not certain.

But what is certain is that staying in the current political system, weakening day by day the democratic ideal, while maintaining the illusion of eternal growth, stop us.

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