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Law and disorder: the leftwing mantra for the coming years?

By Kristof Decoster
on December 2, 2014

Yesterday, coinciding with the start of the Lima climate change conference, a number of Belgian celebrities and climate activists went to court to sue all governments in this country (and trust me, we have quite a few over here), because Belgium isn’t doing enough to comply with its international climate commitments. (Eat that, Bob Geldof!)

As you know, current climate agreements aren’t very ambitious in the first place, and we’re not even reaching them. Also, a lot of the progress made is due to so called ‘embedded carbon’ (when you notice the word ‘embedded’, you should always be a bit cautious, just ask a US army general in Iraq or the Alliance): in countries like Belgium, we’ve increasingly been importing products from other (more carbon intensive) regions in the world and have thus “outsourced” quite a bit of our problem. But even allowing for this, our different governments are failing us big time, the celeb activists argue.

Belgium is obviously not alone in this, and our decision makers were quick to point out that ‘the state, that’s us, people!’. Unfortunately (for them), that’s is only true to some extent. Yes, there is individual responsibility, and we’re all to blame, but that’s far from the whole story.

Similar legal battles have been started recently in Holland and the US and I think they should definitely become part of the democratic “toolbox” on the road towards Paris next year. It’s a great way to put the climate issue again on global and national agendas, and it’s exactly what is needed in times when shady trade agreements are being negotiated with murky ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement ) clauses. If multinationals are ready to use an army of lawyers for their causes, let’s do the same.  I know this sounds populist – it’s intended to.

There’s no time to lose, by the way, with the oil prices going down again for reasons not entirely clear to me (although provoking the Bear in Russia might have something to do with it), and an increasing risk of economies and societies being locked into unsustainable paths if we don’t get it right next year in Paris. I never thought I’d utter these words, but we need more lawyers! Lawyers that combine a sense for justice with a House of Cards cynicism to get things done.  Let’s hold our governments accountable, then hopefully they’ll start to do the same with the corporate sector. (It’s Sinterklaas in this country, so we’re allowed to make a wish )

That’s for the law part of the new mantra.


Normally ‘law & order’ go hand in hand (just ask your average rightwing/slightly xenophobic  politician down the street), but in this era we probably need more law & Disorder – as in civic disobedience, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the ECB, and all other corporate and financial centres that have contributed to excessive financialization of our global economy, with all the disastrous consequences we’re seeing on a near daily basis.

Coming back to my country, believe it or not, Belgium is the place to be these days for mass protest and strikes. We are fast becoming a powerhouse of revolutionaries – Lenin would be proud of us. There is a lot of social commotion in the streets and in workplaces on the austerity policies of our various new (Flemish & federal) governments, who go for austerity four years after all the others did so in the Eurozone (and largely failed) – we’re rather slow in this country, as you can see (it’s part of our dumb charm); it’s also a rather light version of austerity for the time being (again, very Belgian), at least as compared to what Southern European countries have had to endure. Nevertheless, common people are getting really angry and beginning to connect the dots. More and more citizens are noticing that the system is only working for the benefit of some people at the top, that they have to work harder and harder for so called ‘structural reforms’ that seem to benefit only a minority and perpetuate a system which already has disastrous ecological consequences on the planet. Piketty and to a lesser extent Naomi Klein and others are beginning to “trickle down”, and more and more of us are realizing that we’re on the road to nowhere. But ostensibly all the reforms are ‘necessary’, ‘inevitable’ and about the ‘sustainability of our welfare state’, and so we have to accept more labour market flexibility & flexicurity,’doing more with less’ and more of these neoliberal toys disguised as entrepreneurship, smart government and the like.

But people are getting tired and fed up of TINA. Unfortunately, that also implies that sometimes parties with some ugly sides are gaining momentum, but I’m afraid that’s the price we have to pay for an era with no more certainties and an obvious need for a Great Transition.

In sum, if we want to take back our representative liberal democracies in the North, and turn them into ‘permanent democracies’, we’ll have to use all tools available, including legal battles, civic disobedience, divestment campaigns, naming and shaming of multinationals,…

Sounds like a lot of fun.

We might all end up like broke Indignados in the end and go down heroically against the lawyers’ armies of Big Business, in our own version of the Hobbit, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing so. It’s a global fight now, even if this sounds perhaps for people in the South like a Western-centric (and rather spoiled) rant.

And yes, one might worry about the governability of ‘permanent’ democracies like these, but I prefer chaos over a structured path towards destruction a thousand times.

But then again, many people don’t.

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