In his dystopian classic, The Managerial Revolution (1941), the American political scientist James Burnham coined the concept of “controlled democracy“. According to Burnham, the civil democracies of the second half of the 20th century would – more or less gradually – be overgrown with backroom bureaucratic networks that make the actual decisions, all far away from the electorate and public debate.
While this would slowly but surely erode the democratic mandate of governments, Burnham explicitly didn’t expect that this would lead to the dissolution of the European nation state – in name, that is.
“The many nations that are in fact being absolved will remain existent in name; they can function as administrative subdivisions, but have no sovereignty.”
Elections will also remain in place; they will provide managers valuable insights into the preferences of the consumer-citizen, while at the same time functioning as an exhaust valve to possible opposition forces. Burnham predicted a form of political theatre in the guise of sham elections between candidates who happen to be like-minded on every fundamental subject, who are paid to debate in front of clueless spectators in mock parliaments, while the results were known in advance – after all, the actual decisions have already been made.
Not only did James Burnham’s work serve as the most important inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984, chances are Burnham also had a decisive influence on Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann – the founding fathers of the present day European Union. For after they tried to openly guide their “United States of Europe” through national parliaments, they chose, after the French parliament (while loudly singing the Marseillaise) voted down their plans in 1954, to use exactly the gradual and stealthy approach described by The Managerial Revolution to achieve their goals.
These Eurocrats label their strategy as “functionalism“, behind which the idea is that due to the so-called “spillover effect“, inevitably, ever more power ends up being centralised. One ‘function’ automatically forces another ‘function’. So: you sell open borders as a nice convenience, and after a while, you act surprised when they force you to adopt a centralised immigration policy. You present a monetary union as a facilitator of trade without having to hand over national sovereignty; and when the (inevitable) credit crisis presents itself, your push through a centralised budgetary system.
In the mendacious words of Monnet himself:
“We wish the community to take shape in a gradual process of change. Attempts to predict its final form are a contradictio in terminis.”
While he previously proclaimed to strive towards a federal European state, now all of a sudden it was an ‘open future’ he was after. He even went as far as to claim that it’s harmful to ask too many critical questions:
“Trying to anticipate the results will only smother ingenuity. Only by persevering, forwards and upwards, will new horizons present itself.”
In an attempt to provide some sort of philosophical justification for the European project, the German-American administrative scientist Ernst Haas wrote at the end of the 60’s that:
“We don’t have an alternative. We must seek refuge in graduality, in detours, in functionalism, if we wish to integrate the region. The functionalist who trusts in graduality and detours to fulfil his goals, must choose a strategy that unites the masses and alienates as few people as possible. Only with small steps and without a clear and logical plan, can he move in the right direction. For if he was to take great leaps, he would lose the support of many.”
Haas explains that walking down this path makes integration seem “almost self-evident” until it morphs “from mere customs union into an economic and political union.”
And that’s exactly the way it all went. Behind the seemingly spontaneous cooperation between national democracies resides a continental super-state ― built step by step and hidden in the immeasurable corridors of Brussels’ vast bureaucracy, in Commission meetings and shady administrative backrooms, in guidelines that sometimes come into effect years after they were written and in strategic agreements of the “Committee of Regions”. The wiggle room for member states has practically been reduced to zero.
An example. Last summer the Dutch parliament ratified the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. The organisations GeenPeil, Civil Committee EU and Forum for Democracy subsequently collected over 300.000 signatures in under six weeks, forcing an advisory, non-binding referendum on the matter. It was held on April 6, 2016, and resulted in an overwhelming 61% against the treaty.
Then something rather odd happened. The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte stated even if The Netherlands revoked its ratification, the treaty would still be implemented. In other words: the entire national ratification process had been one big sham.
All those debates about the usefulness and necessity of the treaty had been little more than window dressing. Of course, the member states still use national parliaments and national ratification procedures; of course, they won’t fully abolish the institutions that deliver the democratic bread and circuses, but they have been reduced to mere symbols. It is, exactly as Burnham coined it, a form of “controlled democracy“.
A few months later, another poignant example presented itself. The Dutch parliament was given a few hours (!) to study one hundred pages of EU directives on a centralised pension system. The parliament was asked if it would allow the Dutch Finance minister to approve this grand scheme that would place over 1200 billion euro in Dutch savings under Brussels’ control.
And as was to be expected, the parliament just went with it. An MP highly critical of the plan, Pieter Omtzigt (Christian Democrats), commented that it had simply been impossible to study the consequences of this plan, in such a short amount of time. And as it turned out, hitting the brakes was not longer an option either. The Netherlands no longer had the right to veto in the EU departments where such matters are decided!
One cannot help being reminded of the stringent teacher who assigns a student his homework and says: “This is your task, alright? Do we have an understanding?” The question is merely rhetorical – and is as humiliating to the student who has nothing to offer but his artificial concurrence, as it is to the peoples of this continent.
Meanwhile, national leaders are being co-opted by offering them future EU-positions accompanied by very high (and mostly tax-free) paychecks, a driver and other exquisite working conditions – without the possibility of being relieved by their annoying electorates.
During his national career, the Dutch Finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem was appointed as the head of the Eurogroup ― right at the moment, The Netherlands was about cause trouble by doubting yet another EU bailout package for Greece. A more severe conflict of interest was hard to imagine, since Dijsselbloem had now become both prosecutor and judge. But anything is possible in Eurotopia; and even before the ink of his signature had dried, he abolished the parliamentary work group tasked with exploring exit strategies in case of a next euro crisis.
Universities and civil society
Civil society too has been gripped by the EU. Oxfam, World Wide Fund for Nature, One World Action and hundreds, if not thousands of other ‘charities’ receive annual EU subsidies – and who will bite the hand that feeds him? And to make matters worse, there’s the ‘professional associations’ like the ‘European Union of Journalists’, the ‘European Women’s Lobby’, the ‘European Cyclists’ Federation, and so on – all an integral part of Brussels’ management system, and of course they propagate the virtues of EU expansion almost round the clock.
In universities in the meantime, the EU project is being propagated by professors in the Jean Monnet chairs, creating a pensée unique so visceral that employees at economy faculties frequently whisper my way that it’s categorically impossible to publicly criticise the euro. It would rule out promotions or future appointments, not to speak of research grants.
Does anyone truly expect a critical sound from the European ‘Horizon network‘ (which is allowed to spend billions in previously national research grants)? No, they would rather have one study the perils of ‘nationalism’ and ‘xenophobia’, as criticism of open borders is called in today’s Orwellian newspeak.
The EU has also revealed itself as the big corporations’ best friend. Even though it presents itself as an anti-cartel institution, it actually facilitates the formation of cartels by sitting corporate lobbyists right next to the so-called ‘expert groups’ of the European Commission who draft guidelines and regulations that enable multinationals to expand their operations throughout the EU, while at the same time excluding competition from smaller businesses by making entry conditions next to impossible. The prohibition of the slaughtering of animals on farms, with the official goal of “the protection of public health”, for example. The bio-industry thrives on it, while it kills smaller bio-friendly entrepreneurs. Think of strict regulations for bed&breakfasts regarding sanitary facilities and pets, making it harder for them to compete with large hotel chains.
Think of regulations for window-cleaners and condoms, vegetables and fruits, raw milk cheeses, white and yellow car headlights, vacuum cleaners above 1800 watt, coffee machines and vitamins. If you look closely it’s always a small club of large multinational companies pushing out the middle and small level companies with regulations seem to serve some kind of abstract purpose. Animal welfare, women’s emancipation, or something vaguely environmental.
Big business and big government thus go hand in hand and form a conglomerate of managers who pass each other the ball. This is also why Goldman Sachs executive Draghi’s transfer to the European Central Bank (ECB) went so smoothly, while the ex-president of the European Commission seamlessly transferred to Goldman Sachs. It’s why ALDE’s party leader Guy Verhofstadt cashes 190.000 euro a year as an advisor to investment funds with interests in shale gas (in Ukraine among other places) and why European Parliament member is also a commissioner at Mercedes-Benz.
Can one still be surprised that the automobile industry ‘together with the European Commission’ succeeded in creating legislation that was very advantageous to… diesel engines? While Japan was experimenting with electric cars, during the 90’s Volkswagen had a whole arsenal of TDI diesel engines for sale. A whole body of regulations was drafted to ‘protect the environment’ since diesel engines emit less CO2 than gasoline engines. But in the meantime, diesel does pollute more than twenty times as much as gasoline. The consequence of this EU stimulus package: the market share of diesel engines grew from 10% in 1995 to over 50% in 2012.
Losing grip by watering down
In addition, it’s critical to understand that all these processes and systems are not controlled from one central place – the trick is that European sovereignty is very hard to pin down. To the contrary even, one could say that European sovereignty has been watered down and diluted so much that it spread and branched out like vapour. Almost everyone has lost its grip on it.
The European Commission initiates legislation, the European Council debates (records are classified). The EU Council of Ministers has its say, and don’t forget the EU Court of Justice, counselling bodies of national politicians, formalised lobbies and the Committee of Permanent Representatives. Oh, and of course, there’s the European Parliament with its 751 members ― who can hardly communicate amongst one another due to language barriers ― claiming to represent 600 million Europeans. Enfin, the result of it all is a nightmare that no one actually controls and that no one can reform.
But now for the astonishing part: even the greatest europhile would admit to all this. In an exceptionally cynical manifestation of Orwellian newspeak – again – this is called the “democratic deficit“. They look very serious and serene and repeat: ‘yes, you’re right, there’s a democratic deficit‘.
Brilliant! As if it’s some sort of temporary flaw that can easily be overcome. A cash flow problem that just needs a small credit injection. A lack of vitamins. A mild form of sleep deprivation. Something, that in any case, will soon recover. A disbalance that will soon balance itself out.
But as Burnham’s analysis of the managerial revolution illustrates: the EU’s abolishment of democracy is neither temporary nor overcomeable.The EU is not so much undemocratic as it is anti-democratic. A democratic EU is impossible. The plans by Monnet and Schumann that were voted down when presented honestly in 1954, would suffer a similar fate in 2017. Nobody wants to live in a United States of Europe. Europe is not a country. We don’t speak the same languages. A population of 600 million is too large for a functioning and transparent democracy.
Government leaders, parliaments and politicians are pretending. They have to pretend the EU isn’t a super state and never will be; they must pretend they have a grip on EU decision-making; that EU officials are democratically elected and owe accountability to an electorate that can remove them – in Copernican terms; they must pretend as if they orbit the common voter. But that’s no longer the case. Mainstream politicians have been incorporated into the continental system. The EUdoesn’t orbit nation states – the nation state has become a satellite in the blue yellow galaxy of the EU.
In 1964 George Orwell wrote an elaborate critique of Burnham’s thinking. Eventually, he proposed, the reign of the managers cannot sustain itself because 1) it’s a closed circuit which will produce minds too weak to uphold the system, and 2) the human inclination toward liberty is too strong, and, due to modern communication, won’t let itself be chained.
While Orwell would expand on Burnham’s dystopian vision in his novel 1984, which is situated in a world where the power of the manager is complete and eternal, his political philosophy is a starting point of hope. The practical translation of which is: the referendum.
All over Europe, we see the call for a plebiscite, for direct participation in public affairs. The people are signing petitions by the masses. It’s become impossible for politicians to ignore, so they reluctantly promise their electorates a direct say. Despite the EU still claiming to be a force of democracy by and for the people, referenda are the management system’s Achilles heel. A public uprising can be put down; a new political movement can be incorporated, but referenda are beyond the grasp of bureaucratic rulers.
One referendum, of course, doesn’t win the war. In 2005, the French and the Dutch both overwhelmingly rejected a European constitution. A few years later, that same constitution was still pushed through, albeit under a different name; the treaty of Lissabon. What followed was a ten-year silence until in 2015 the Greeks had a referendum in which they rejected proposed new austerity measures. The EU decided to dethrone prime minister Papandreou and replace him with the unelected former vice-president of the ECB, Papademos.
How much longer do Eurocrats hope to maintain this state of affairs? The second Dutch referendum – on the treaty with Ukraine – cannot be ignored completely. The British choice to leave the EU will have severe consequences. Hungary held a decisive referendum on EU immigration quota. The Italian referendum was a victory for anti-EU forces. Finland is considering a referendum on the euro and the Czech president last year considered a referendum on leaving the EU altogether – the so-called Czexit.
The coalition of free nations has thus far been led by Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. With Great Britain as a fourth member, it’s starting to look like a winning team. Through British negotiations, the alternatives to a continental super-state will start to take shape; a vastly more attractive form of cooperation based on freedom, sovereignty and democracy.
Now is the time to pull through and bring down this managers’ empire. Now is the time to replace this controlled democracy by governments who are accountable to its citizens, and act in our interests.