- / -
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (George Santayana)
The unusual procedure of requiring that the Irish engage in a second democratic vote on the EU Lisbon Reform Treaty sets an unusual precedent with regard to democratic voting more generally -- particularly in the very period when it is being decided whether Afghanistan should vote a second time. The Irish referendum is also striking in that Ireland is one of the few EU countries to allow its population the right to a democratic vote on the Lisbon Reform Treaty -- despite promises made by various governments, including that of the UK. What was the nature of the "assurances" provided to Catholic Ireland, to whom were they provided, by whom, and in exchange for what? A remarkable possibility would be the election of Mary Robinson to the position of President of Europe -- being eligible as the former President of Ireland (1990-1997).
Following the Irish vote on 2nd October 2009, ensuring ratification of the treaty, much is now made of the probability that Tony Blair, former prime minister of the UK, will become the first "President of Europe" -- President of the European Council. His interest in the position has been recognized as one of the worst-kept secrets. The inevitability has been noted by one of Rupert Murdoch's prime popular media outlets in the UK, prior to the outcome of the Irish election (Graeme Wilson, President Blair 'within weeks', The Sun, 1st October 2009). The probability was also voiced in Murdoch's upmarket outlet following the election (Tony Blair Likely to Be EU President, Despite European 'Reluctance', The Sunday Times, 4th October 2009).
The question is whether Blair's support for the American-led invasion of Iraq has been forgiven by his many European critics (Stephen Castle (Blair faces a battle for the EU presidency, The New York Times, 16 July 2009; Unwelcome, President Blair, The Economist, 30 July 2009; Tories warn of British backlash to Blair 'presidency', TimeOnline, 3 October 2009; Simon Taylor, Opposition mounts against Blair for Council president, European Voice, 8 October 2009; Esther Addley, Blair faces critics from pulpit and public as Britain remembers Iraq, The Guardian, 10 October 2009). He is remembered for having shunned the single currency. He is the only prospective candidate with a website protesting his candidature. However Blair would only require a qualified majority among the 27 European heads of state and government -- who meet for the purpose of that election at a summit at the end of October 2009.
Would it be possible to appoint any European more implicated in both the development of the financial bubble and in the most costly and destructive military operations since World War II -- as well as being part of the culture of abuse associated with the expense scandal of British MPs? All of these have resulted in an unprecedented call on remedial support from taxpayers -- possibly for generations to come. Given the momentum towards the inevitability of his appointment, what are the unlearnt lessons with which Europeans could be fruitfully confronted by that appointment?
Prior to the re-election of José Manuel Barroso as President of the European Commission on 16 September 2009, a report in the Financial Times described the possible Blair-Barroso team in highly controversial terms (Wolfgang Münchau, Blair and Barroso: Europe's team from hell, FT.com, 19 July 2009). In summary Münchau concludes: To say this combination of leaders does not reflect the diversity of European opinion would be an understatement.
Contrary to such assessments however, the following arguments highlight the vital necessity of the appointment of Blair to that role as a means of engendering rapid collective learning by the peoples of Europe regarding the credibility and practice of democratic governmental leadership in the 21st century -- at least in a Europe already remarkable for its democratic deficit (Democratic deficit in the European Union, Wikipedia).
For a related development of this theme see: George Monbiot, Making this ruthless liar EU president is a crazy plan. But I'll be backing Blair. The Guardian, 26 October 2009 [with over 570 comments by readers]
The necessary collective learning is between the image and demonstrated reality. Europeans need to distinguish between the unquestionable merits of such qualities and what it is easily forgotten they have been used to hide.
There is no open contest for the job; no official contenders; no public campaign. The powers are undefined, the job description is sketchy. Issues of budgets, staffing, offices and division of powers among other top EU posts have not been resolved. And there is no national or European conversation between leaders and voters over who should be president.
Europe's leaders ritually declare that the Lisbon treaty will make the EU more democratic, more open, and more aacountable, but the clandestine manoeuvering over the job makes a papal conclave look like an exercise in transparency. (Ian Traynor, The Guardian, 23 October 2009)
Especially problematic might be assumptions arising from Christian exceptionalism as so dramatically challenged by the behaviour of a significant percentage of the primary representatives of those values (Catholic sex abuse cases, Wikipedia).
Today, however, there is mounting evidence that torture is still regarded by some agents of the British state as a useful and legitimate investigative tool. There is evidence too that in the post-9/11 world, government officials have been prepared to look the other way while British citizens, and others, have been tortured in secret prisons around the world. It is also clear that an official policy, devised to govern British intelligence officers while interrogating people held overseas, resulted in people being tortured. The Guardian has established that Tony Blair, when prime minister, was aware of the existence of this policy. What he knew of its terrible consequences is less clear: he has repeatedly been asked, in a series of letters from The Guardian, what he believed to have happened to those who were subjected to the policy, but he has repeatedly failed to answer the question. There is a growing suspicion that Blair could not have been alone, and that other very senior figures in government may have been aware of the existence of Britain's secret interrogation policy.Relevant to the argument here is the demand by UK Liberal Democrats at their annual conference that Tony Blair should not be allowed to become EU President while it is "unclear" what his role was over allegations of British complicity in the torture of terror suspects (Ben Padley, Blair 'torture policy' inquiry demanded, The Independent, 21 September 2009). Blair's spokesman responded that his government had never "authorised, condoned or colluded in torture" (Blair torture claim 'total lie', BBC News, 22 September 2009). This would be consistent with the point made by Ian Cobain (Torture policy: look but don't touch, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 2009) -- perhaps to be equated with Bill Clinton's famous defence: I tried marijuana once. I did not inhale?
Given the momentum towards the inevitability of Blair's appointment, what are the unlearnt lessons with which Europeans could be fruitfully (and urgently) confronted by that appointment?
Democratic dictatorship: Given Blair's widespread unpopularity as a result of his leadership on Iraq, and his support of the Bush regime, what measure of democratic deficit in Europe is to be construed as indicating emergence of some form of "democratic dictatorship" -- through which higher degrees of dictatorship are enabled, despite use of spin to claim the contrary? Already in September 2009, unelected ambassadors to the EU began holding an extra meeting every week to thrash out the rules and procedures of the new post-Lisbon EU.
Reframing traditional monarchy: For the many opposed to the legacy of traditional monarchical systems, considered by them to be outdated in the 21st century, the President of Europe will presumably take precedence over any head of state -- namely ensuring that those such as Queen Elisabeth II are put in their place in matters of protocol. Why have those citizens appreciative of their monarchies been neither informed nor consulted on this matter?
Institutional cynicism: As noted above, would it be possible to appoint any European more implicated in both the development of the financial bubble and in the most costly and destructive military operations since World War II? Since his resignation as premier Blair has also epitomized the income inequality which has been the focus of such widespread concern in the economic aftermath of the collapse of the financial bubble. In the midst of that collapse Blair was reported to have earned £12m since resigning (Deborah Summers, Tony Blair is 'highest paid' public speaker in world, The Guardian, 29 October 2008).
Is there any evidence that the strategic consequences of his appointment would be other than "more of the same"?
Evolution of "democracy"? Is visibility and name recognition increasingly considered to be replacing the need for any European democratic electoral process?
Collective learning: If policies promoted internationally increasingly take the form of what might be termed "snake oil" remedies:
Eliciting vigilance: How does the exercise elicit vigilance in preparation for any future wanabee European dictator -- especially if he or she is able to offer even more glowing promises, untainted by widespread popular knowledge of Blair's documented track record?
Democratic deficit: As the candidate allegedly aspiring to replace David Cameron as the probable future UK prime minister, Boris Johnson (currently mayor of London) considers a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty to be vital: If Tony Blair is going to be president of Europe I want a referendum on the matter and a lot of people will agree with me.... The British people are entitled to one. (Nicholas Watt, Cameron and Mayor deny rift over Lisbon referendum.The Guardian, 5 October 2009)
What legitimacy has the "voice of Europe", as articulated by its President, when the 27 governments do not dare to allows their electorates to elect such a president by popular vote -- and have reneged on commitments to do so? Is it appropriate that Blair should assume the public office of President of the European Council, given that he had promised Britons a referendum on the original Treaty that created the post of EU president?
Future governance: Is the behind-closed-doors procedure, the only way that Blair could achieve the position of President of Europe? In the absence of democratic safeguards, what precedent does this set for the appointment of even less satisfactory candidates to that position -- to face the critical challenges of governance in the turbulent future of the 21st century?
Future "dodgy dossiers": Aside from his much-challenged complicity in allegedly "egging up" the "dodgy dossier" in support of intervention in Iraq, on what other critical issues might analogous processes be adopted in the larger framework of Europe? (Blair's 'dodgy dossier' on Iraq set to be revealed after Government loses appeal on keeping it secret, MailOnline, 24 January 2008; Scott MacMillan, Blair's "Dodgy Dossier", Slate, 25 June 2003). Can Europe afford another "dodgy dossier"? But the great advantage of a Blair appointment is that it may well offer Europeans a new opportunity to learn how better to constrain such tendencies by their leadership.
Historical comparisons? From a historical perspective, are there useful comparisons to be made between the first President of the USA and the first President of Europe and the challenges they faced?
A comparable appointment?: How might the election of Blair as President of Europe be fruitfully compared with the election of someone of the moral and ethical probity of his colleague George Bush as President of the Organization of American States (OAS) -- with the challenge of finding people to fulfil the roles of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld? It is very probable that such an appointment would elicit a high degree of democratic integration across the Americas.
Blair's "cherry tree": Is it to
be expected that, like George
Washington, Tony Blair will be enwrapped (by spin) in questionable myth
and urban legend -- given the religiosity of both and their purported claims
with regard to lying? Not to be forgotten in this respect is the famous tale
regarding Washington having chopped down his father's cherry tree. When
asked about it, he is alleged to have responded with the famous line "I
cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet."
The tale long recounted to children, but for which there is no evidence, was part of a myth-making exercise by Mason Weems that made Washington a legendary figure beyond his wartime and presidential achievements. Will the Commission of Inquiry into Iraq be the occasion for creative myth-making regarding Blair's own "cherry tree" -- perhaps to be framed by Alistair Campell?
The learning experiences for Europeans, so fortuitously offered by the Blair appointment, are clearly superior to those which might be offered by someone likely to be described as a "nonentity". Europeans need President Blair urgently.
It is because of the highly challenging nature of the points raised above that Tony Blair would be an ideal President of Europe. Given the trend in European democracy and the framing of the agenda to "spread democracy" across the cultures of the world as an unmitigated good, Blair could provide an ideal catalyst for the emergence of a vital new pattern.
Healthy tradition: There is a valued tradition in many cultures across the world of a Lord of Misrule (Prince des Sots in French; Precentor Stultorum in Latin). In Europe it can be traced back to pagan times. It was a feature of the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, and of the Holy Roman Empire. Notably celebrated on carnival occasions, the incarnation of such a role triggers valuable psycho-social learning processes -- correctives to an accumulation of social ills. Such a possibility is given credibility by the fact that one of Blair's closest subordinates during his premiership was widely known as the Prince of Darkness, subsequently appointed as EU Trade Commissioner and ennobled as Lord Mandelson (Andrew Grice, Peter Mandelson: 'Prince of Darkness', The Independent, 21 April 2003; 'Prince of darkness' returns, BBC News, 12 October 1999). Appropriately one reviewer of the TV comedy Lord of Misrule (1996) says of the actor playing a smooth-talking Tory Prime Minister that he "eerily resembles Tony Blair". With regard to the Montol festivities in Penzance, "mock" officials are traditionally appointed, such as the Mock Mayor -- who in 2008 was Tony 'Mock' Blair (Alex Langstone, Montol and the Lord of Misrule, Spirit of Albion, 26 December 2008).
The appointment of Blair offers such a corrective possibility, exemplifying as he does so many problematic aspects of governance. It is with these that Europeans can most beneficially engage collectively. Following the analysis of John Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995), the misrule of which Blair is a proven exponent, thus provides a means of engendering a collective European consciousness of higher degree. In the terms of Jungian psychology, it offers the opportunity of consciously integrating the collective shadow of Europe -- giving healthy institutional expression to that shadow, otherwise suppressed (Megge Hill Fitz-Randolph, The Collective Shadow in Jungian Psychology, 2008; Paul Levy, Shadow Projection: the fuel of war, 2009; Attacking the Shadow through Iraq, 2002). This may indeed be the fundamental challenge of "European integration" -- a process of European conscientization and critical consciousness.
The potential was well-demonstrated by the Europe-wide mass anti-war protests (15 February 2003) -- often with carnival-like elements -- triggered by the policies Blair was instrumental in engendering in relation to the intervention in Iraq. His appointment would elicit a level of discernment currently inhibited by the distraction of his unquestionable communication skills -- best understood as miscommunication (in the light of 1,000,000 Iraqi deaths).
Civil defence: Blair's appointment is then best to be seen as a pre-emptive appointment to elicit the collective skills necessary as protective "cognitive anti-bodies" to respond to the emergence of manipulative leaders in the future -- compared to whom Blair may be but an apprentice. In this sense his appointment can be usefully understood as a precautionary act of civil defence -- a vital training exercise in collective vigilance with respect to future socio-political emergencies. As with the metaphorical cure of the "hair of the dog", a Blair appointment might then be understood as a form of homeopathic remedy for Europe's strategic ills (Remedies to Global Crisis: "Allopathic" or "Homeopathic"? Metaphorical complementarity of "conventional" and "alternative" models, 2009).
If increasing proportions of European populations believe that their governments are lying, then there is a case for deliberately institutionalizing lying at the European level so that a healthy, collective, corrective response can be elicited.
However, given the frequency with which opposing political parties in parliamentary democracies already formally accuse each other of "lying", to what extent should parliament be "re-cognized" as an institutional framework for dealing with lying -- by the "other"? (Us and Them: Relating to Challenging Others, 2009). Is the voice of the majority necessarily the "voice of truth" in such a context?
Is such an institution adequate to discernment of any future "Big Lie", so notoriously recognized in the past in the following terms: The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders...tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.
Relevance of early European history: In considering "European integration" in terms of "conscientization", it is instructive to recall what might be considered the "G8" or the "G20" of the time -- and its "Lisbon Reform Treaty" -- in a period when economic challenges were considered secondary. The relevant example is known as the Council of Basel (or the Council of Florence), namely an Ecumenical Council of bishops and other ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic Church, meeting from 1431 to 1439. The parties seeking integrative reform sought to meet outside the field of influence of the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. Its organization was disrupted by the threat of plague -- reminiscent of the current threat of a flu pandemic in Europe.
The Council adopted an anti-papal attitude, proclaimed the superiority of the Council over the Pope and prescribed an oath to be taken by every Pope on his election -- issues analogous to those currently faced in the appointment of Blair by the European Council? The Council successfully negotiated reunification with several Eastern Churches (most notably the Eastern Orthodox Church) -- reaching agreements on such matters as papal primacy, purgatory, and the Nicene Creed.
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, a subsequent Council declared the Basel group heretics and excommunicated them, affirming the superiority of the Pope over such Councils -- effectively institutionalizing the religious fragmentation evident today. Parallels might be fruitfully drawn with current attempts to integrate the "Eastern economies" and the challenging role of "Brussels" (as the present-day Rome) -- with the continuing underlying influence of the "Rome" of history through current arguments for "Christian values". The parallel is even evident to a degree in the schismatic alternation of the papacy between Rome and Avignon in that period (currently reprised by that between Brussels and Strasbourg). Worse however, in the light of its complicity in the financial bubble, is the manner in which institutional Europe has effectively "excommunicated" the "alternatives" represented by the constituency of the World Social Forum with no exploration of how their perspectives might be integrated (All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord through polyphony? 2007).
Relevant to the argument here is that one of the few measures to survive, agreed by the Council of Basel, was the outlawing, under the very severest penalties, of the traditional Feast of Fools at which the Lord of Misrule was traditionally appointed. Known also as the festum fatuorum, festum stultorum, festum hypodiaconorum, or fête des fous, such popular medieval festivals were notably celebrated by the clergy and laity from the fifth century until the sixteenth century in European countries -- as a Christian reprise of the Roman Saturnalia. In the medieval version the young people, who played the chief parts, chose from among their own number a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, or abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule. The primary function seems always to have been a brief social revolution, in which power, dignity and impunity are briefly conferred on those in a subordinate position.
The question to be asked is whether prohibition of such popular celebration has not been fundamentally damaging to processes of "European integration" and healthy conscientization -- damage only too evident in European voter apathy, the democratic deficit and the alienation of the young. The most evident symbol of this has been the unprecedented European popular vote for the demonic Lordi, a heavy metal/hard rock band, on the occasion of the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest. But the style of the Feast of Fools is only too evident in the popular protests by which European institutional summits are now typically accompanied and mocked. Echoes of this process are to be found in the UK where the Official Monster Raving Loony Party was registered as a political party in 1983 -- long led by Screaming Lord Sutch. Equivalents have been created in other European countries, as discussed elsewhere (Liberating Provocations: use of negative and paradoxical strategies, 2005). Appointment of Blair, under the pressure of key European government leaders, could however be construed as a celebration of their complicity in the foolishness of the democratically unpopular intervention in Iraq through the undemocratic Coalition of the Willing.
Far more controversial is the challenge of healthy integration of sexuality into processes of conscientization. Its problematic manifestation on the occasion of the Feast of Fools was used as primary justification for the prohibition of that celebration in the light of "Christian values", as helpfully discussed by Gordon Rattray Taylor (Sex In History, 1954), especially in relation to the Feast of Fools (The Minor Themes). Sexuality has effectively been driven out of any consideration of the challenge of European integration (or the overpopulation problems faced by a resource-challenged globe) although only too evident as the cognitive context in which it must necessarily take place. European institutions are essentially "cognitively asexual" (if not "infertile"), irrespective of what goes on behind closed doors (Women and the Underside of Meetings: symptoms of denial in considering strategic options, 2009). In that respect also the European Commission echoes the long-standing policies of the Roman Catholic Church -- most evidently called into question by the current abuses of its own clergy in practices consistent with those it condemns in the Feast of Fools.
As with the Catholic Church, the European project is already embodying the most pathological aspects of that which it rejects -- as characteristic of the process of enantiodromia. Strategically it is itself in danger of becoming a kind of Feast of Fools -- perhaps well-recognized through frequent allusions to "gravy train", "trough" and "feeding frenzy" (Fran Abrams, Politics: Lord Neill Inquiry: British MEP `gravy train' may dry up, The Independent, 28 October 1998; Nicola Smit, Select aboard! Eurocrats get gravy train, TimesOnline, 1 June 2008). The deliberate appointment of Blair -- a Lord of Misrule -- would constitute a corrective to that tendency. Ironically there is place for a satirist such as the 12th century monk Nigel Wireker (Speculum stultorum -- A Mirror of Fools) to reframe popular understanding of the European project.
"Re-cognizing" criminality: Given the increasing recognition of the percentage of those involved in national and international governance -- often at the highest level -- who have some form of criminal record (or are the subject of judicial inquiry), there is even a case for exploring a more radical proposal. It is widely understood that such a record does not imply that the person is not potentially of great value, often precisely because of the mindset that resulted in illegal activity. Following the forthcoming UK Commission of Inquiry on Iraq, Blair himself might be subject to indictment for war crimes -- as with many valuable people before him, such as Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat, both Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Blair himself is noted for his "miracle" in resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland and has been duly endorsed by Silvio Berlusconi following the loss of his own legal immunity against pending prosecution (Berlusconi backs Blair for EU job, BBC News, 14 October 2009). However, Tom Lehrer said of Kissinger's award in 1973, It was at that moment that satire died. But, with the appointment of Blair, it would be reincarnated -- the cherry on the cake of European democracy (James Corbett, Lisbon Treaty: Will War Criminal Tony Blair become President of the European Union? Global Research, 3 October 2009).
Also a factor is the increasing percentage of the population -- of voters and taxpayers -- who themselves have a criminal record, necessarily with some justification as they would also claim. Under such circumstances it is appropriate to consider institutionalizing the appointment of those with such a record to positions of public office -- perhaps alternating with those without such a record or as parallel appointments. A precedent in Egyptian pharaonic administrations was the appointment of a "speaker" to accompany an official -- to "articulate" any message, as a modern "spin doctor" would clearly consider appropriate. But at what point is "spin" to be considered criminally misleading -- as with "dodgy dossiers" and mis-selling of financial derivatives -- even a crime against humanity?
Safeguarding voters and taxpayers against abuse: An innovation of this kind is of course dependent on rendering transparent to collective awareness the nature of such a criminal record -- rendering conscious that which currently troubles the collective unconscious. It might therefore be considered extraordinary, at a time when databases of every kind are being developed and integrated to track those with such records, that such information is not readily available to voters on those associated with the processes of governance.
This is all the more extraordinary at a time when Blair's Labour Party has just passed legislation requiring that all persons in contact with children should be subject to a check of their possible criminal record -- given the scandalous level of child abuse. Under the Vetting and Barring Scheme, anyone taking part in activities involving "frequent" or "intensive" contact with children or vulnerable adults, must register with the UK Home Office's Independent Safeguarding Authority. It is expected that some 11.3 million people in the UK will need to be registered in the database (Chris Green, Vetting database will cost NHS and public bodies £170m, The Independent, 11 September 2009).
Is there not a case for a similar check on those in official positions who might be expected to constitute a threat to "vulnerable" voters or taxpayers? Lord Tebbit, a former UK cabinet minister, speaking at the 2009 Conservative Party conference, argued that voters should not be "treated like children". If voters are to be treated like children in the processes of governance -- as is an increasingly recognized tendency in European democracies -- then surely analogous measures should be taken against voter abuse? Is there a need for a European Independent Safeguarding Authority?
President of Europe as Orchestral Conductor?
At a time when the possibility of a future "Concert of Democracies" is envisaged, it is appropriate to consider the role of any conductor -- especially given the enthusiasm for Herbert von Karajan of Margaret Thatcher -- Tony Blair's own political inspiration. The following admirable account of the role of a symphonic conductor therefore merits consideration as a metaphor, especially when the role of President of Europe remains to be defined.
The Myth of the Maestro
Conductors are a mysterious breed. Oozing self-belief, elevated on a podium, they are endowed by critics and public alike with magical abilities. As the writer Elias Canetti observed: "There is no more obvious expression of power than the performance of a conductor." Yet for all this power, what they actually do remains an enigma....
You might say that while orchestras can play unaided, it is helpful if someone can follow a score and beat time clearly. That if they can also manage musicians with respect, as well as help shape a performance, so much the better. There are some who achieve this, whose passion is inspiring, whose insights provoke, reveal, or enhance. And there are a few who are great. They are usually the ones who place themselves wholly at the service of the music, who make working for them feel like a joyful, collaborative experience.
But how much difference does the average conductor make? What can be said is that music, given players sufficiently accomplished, speaks for itself. Even in the case of the talented few maestri, the skills on offer are subject to an indefinable alchemy of charisma and self-belief. And as is the case with any dictator, what seems paramount is the ability to inspire confidence in their powers.
You do not have to be a musician to wonder if such a nebulous yet omnipotent job description might be dangerous.
|For further exploration of the relevance of the metaphor
A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006
Reframing the EU Reform Process -- through Song, 2008
For further updates on this site, subscribe here