cj#682> Letter from Elias Davidsson


Richard Moore

Date: Mon, 9 Jun 1997
Sender: Elias Davidsson <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#679> cj Mission Statement

Dear cj,

I agree with your perspective Richard, that the focus should be structural
not sectorial, namely how to ensure a democratic environment to tackle the
multiple problems to be resolved, including environmental problems. Unless
we have a truly democratic environment, solutions for all problems will be
a reflection of vested corporate interests, not those of society as a

I also agree that educational work is paramount at this juncture, education
for independent and critical thinking, the development of new or revived
conceptual tools permitting to overcome material weaknesses, the
reaffimation of basic principles and values of justice and fairness...

One of the major problems with many political groups and parties is that
they don't acknowledge explicitely the fundamental, peremptory principles,
that underlie their political line. Thus, most such groups, in the heat of
daily struggle, and attempting to create ad-hoc coalitions which are not
based on principles, slowly compromise their basic principles and thus
their credibility.  We must therefore turn back and identify these basic
principles before continuing to search for a political implementation of
these principles.

Just to give an example,  How do we prioritize principles that society uses
to assess policies, principles such as 'justice', 'freedom', 'efficiency',
'democracy' ? Is it possible to quantify these principles ?  Is there
something nearing a universal consensus about fundamental, peremptory
principles, from which no derogation is permissible ?  If so, what are
these principles ? I believe that such principles can indeed be identified.
In fact, the concept of 'jus cogens' in international law is an eminent
example of such a concept. It has moreover an operative meaning. Its
contents cannot be circumscribed with mathematical exactitude, but this
does not mean that the concept lacks substance. In spite of its relative
fuzziness, the concept of 'jus cogens' is considered as one of the elements
to be taken in consideration by the World Court of Justice in adjudicating
conflicts and interpreting treaties. The legal norms derived from 'jus
cogens' are all related to justice and equity.  One can even say that the
whole system of law, as established by all nations, rests on principles of
justice and equity. Thus, one could state it as an axiom that civilized law
is the antithesis of neo-liberalism, an ideology which puts other values -
such as 'efficiency' and 'market freedom' and 'profits' above human values
such equity and justice.

The status of law today is very peculiar and provides very interesting
possibilities. On one hand law is made and implemented by the elite. But
the very basis of law - which is by definition a norm pertaining to all
members of society - is democratic.  To uphold its legitimacy, an elite
needs to state the 'rules of the game' by which it plays, that is the laws
of the society in question. But by announcing these rules, they can become
tools (norms) by which the elite's own behaviour can be judged. This is one
of the most interesting dialectics of the rulers and the ruled.  Arbitrary
rule is possible, but only at the cost of losing legitimacy and repressing
violently any opposition.

I see therefore the realm of Law - in its widest acceptance - as a potent
tool for political liberation.  I am sorely aware that few people have yet
come to this conclusion and wish therefore to engage in an in-depth debate
regarding this matter.  The matter seems at first sight specialized or
esoteric. But in fact we are dealing here with the core substance of our
endeavour, which we need to explicite and conceptualize. Would you
Richard, be able or willing to moderate such a debate ?

Elias Davidsson, ICELAND


Dear Elias,

You're looking at the fundamentals and seeking a point of leverage to shift
the system, a place where a limited amount of popular activism, let's say,
could actually make a difference.  You propose to use the elite's need of
legal legitimacy to coerce them into behaving more reasonably.

This has been tried before, and with some success.  The Warren Court (civil
rights, Miranda, etc.) showed how the US Constitution could be used - given
judges so inclined - in just the way you prescribe.

The bug in this approach is that the elite are not slow to shift their
direct attention to the point of leverage itself.  In this case, they've
responded in several devastating ways: politicians were funded into power
who were willing to appoint reactionary judges; media propaganda (ever
since Dirty Harry) has openly attacked the Bill of Rights; anti-crime
measures and the War on Drugs have set civil liberties back decades.

The bug is actually much more general: there can be _no_ simple,
mechanistic solution to the problem of democracy / liberty.  The US
Constitution was as carefully crafted, I'd say, as any document in history
- and it incorporates explicit measures to preserve itself against
anticipated subversion (balance-of-powers, bicameral legislature, etc).
But, as we have seen, concerted action by determined interests can never be
held back forever by any mechanism - least of all paper.

Labor unions were at one time the flagship mechanism by which people could
exert counter-force to the elite - but persistent elite pressure (on many
fronts, again including decades of mass propaganda) has succeeded in
decimating the union movement.

The environmental movement at one time made major political waves,
resulting in an activist Environmental Protection Agency, etc.  But again
the reactionary response was ultimately effective: the EPA was undermined
from within; environmentalists were demonized as economy-stifling,
extremist owl advocates.  The environmental movement has degenerated into a
mailing list plus a handful of lawyers - whom the polluters have learned to

Similar stories could be told about the Populist Movement, the Socialist
Party, the Communist Party, the Wobblies, the New Left, ad infinitum.
Infiltration, cooption, demonization, direct suppression - the arsenal of
reactionary tools is awesome.  Each foray by the people serves as a
vaccination to the elite system - teaching it to produce effective
suppressive antibodies to the latest mode of popular
rebellion/assertiveness.  Their defenses are cumulative, while our tactical
options seem always to dwindle.

Success can ony come by having a correct goal - some kind of genuinely
responsvie society - and by seeing objectives in their proper context: as
pragmatic and often temporary means toward the goal.  The confusion of
objectives with goals - dropping the eyes from the prize to a means - is
the universal bane of movements.  Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
- and that vigilance must always be watchful for the servant that would
become master, the representative bottom-up institution that beomes,
enantiodromially / dialectically, top-down dictatorial.

This may sound defeatist, but only by owning the full extent of a problem
is it ever possible to develop - or even recognize - appropriate solutions.
Narrowly pursuing cul-de-sac solutions - eg, special-interest causes -
only adds to the problem by diluting resources, pitting us against one
another, and by further strengthening elite defenses.

The same causes/movements become, however, part of the solution - if they
are seen primarily as means of building solidarity - as fragments of
people-power reaching out toward one another, striving to coalesce/evolve
into a grass-roots body politic.  There needs to be a coherent "us" that
can make rational tactical decisions as a counter-player to the elite.  The
elite, for their part, _have_ learned to plan coherently (eg, Council on
Foreign Relations).

"Popular conciousness" itself is the missing basic ingredient.  Strategies
in the absence of an actor are but paper in the wind.  Great leaders - eg
Ghandi, ML King - focus first on development of popular consciousness.
Only after conciousness can come engagement and tactics.  And only then can
successes be achieved.



Posted by Richard K. Moore - •••@••.••• - PO Box 26   Wexford, Ireland
  Cyberlib:  ftp://ftp.iol.ie/users/rkmoore/cyberlib    |   (USA Citizen)
  * Non-commercial republication encouraged - Please include this sig *
      * Please Cc: •••@••.••• directly on forwards & replies *