In several past posts, I’ve looked at different ways in which Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s hypothesis of Empire, the current transnational order, is composed and operates through its various methodologies and influences. In one of these, Life in the Shadow of Protocol, Hardt and Negri’s claim that Empire, as a network structure, ala Manuel Castells, operates along two intersecting lines, is examined. In their schema, Empire is composed of both a democratic line and an oligopolistic line: the democratic line, one that exists on a horizontal plane, boasts “an indeterminate and potentially unlimited number of interconnected nodes with no central point of control; all nodes regardless of territorial location connect to all others through a myriad of potential paths and relays.”1 The oligopolistic line, by contrast, is vertical – unlike the unfixed ether of connecting nodes, relays, and paths, the territories here are fixed in place and hierarchical, typified by “centralized production, mass distribution, and one-way communication.”2
This dual horizontal/hierarchical-democratic/oligopolistic Imperial model is exemplified by Alexander Galloway’s analysis of the democratic and anti-democratic tendencies in the internet’s structure, which he dubs “protocol.” In his work, Galloway depicts an internet that is made democratic through the TCP/IP system, which “work[s] together to establish connections and move data packets effectively through those connections… any computer on the network can talk to any other computer, resulting in a nonhierarchical, peer-to-peer relationship.”3 The horizontalism implied by the TCP/IP, however, works in tandem with the DNS’s requirements that “maps network addresses to network names,” fixing the nodes and paths of digital space to fixed territories, “specific space on the physical networks.”4 That the two forms, the internet itself and the supra-structure of Empire, exhibit largely identical tendencies is no mistake; as a manifestation of post-Fordist capitalism, Empire’s existence, for Hardt and Negri is intimately bound to the shifts generated by the rise of information technologies and the world wide web.
In another post, Notes on Empire as an Environment, I looked at Hardt and Negri’s assessment of the Empire’s formal structure itself and at how contemporary developments in the neoliberal economic system may have altered their initial vision, which saw Empire as a pyramid. Here, the US would sit at the top of the pyramid and exert power down through various rungs – each inhabited by states, corporations, transnational institutions, before settling at the base, where the interconnected and global people, the multitude, exist. The problem arises when takes into account the withering effects of globalized capitalism, which perpetually works against national sovereignty. It might be better that instead of visualizing Empire as a linear structure that we instead view it as a series of uneven plateaus through which power and economic flows move through – a flexible process, not a rigid and singular machine. That said, if not the US, who forms the hegemonic bloc that composes Empire?
The answer here comes from the sociological analysis provided by William I. Robison, with his theory of the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC). Just as the transition neoliberal opened the doors to a globe where goods and capital flow across borders with ease, there too has been a sudden shift in that national elite, the dominant interests or “leading strata” from the business, economic, and policy worlds “have experienced ongoing integration across borders…”5 For Robinson, the development of the TCC becomes indistinguishable from what is commonly understood as globalization, and what Hardt and Negri dubbed Empire:
Transnational class formation in the developing countries is a major dimension of capitalist globalization. As global capitalism penetrates new spheres and subjects them to the logic of transnational accumulation, pre-globalization classes such as peasantries and artisans tend to disappear, replaced by new dominant and subordinate class groups linked to the global economy. We have generally seen in developing countries: the rise of new dominant groups and capitalist fractions tied to the global economy; the downward mobility – or proletarianization – of older middle classes and professional strata and the rise of new middle and professional strata; proletarianization of peasants and artisans and the rise of new urban and rural working classes linked to transnational production processes; the working class itself become flexibilized and informalized; the appearance of an expanding mass of supernumeraries or marginalized. A global working class has emerged that runs the factories, offices, and farms of the global economy, a stratified and heterogeneous class, to be sure, with numerous hierarchies and cleavages internal to it – gender, ethnicity, nationality, and so on.6
In an alternative order of Empire provided by Graeme Chesters and Ian Walsh in their Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos,7 the supra-structure is seen not with the US inhabiting the top spectrum of the system, instead having been replaced by Robinson’s TCC. Robinson maintains his own correlation to Empire when he speaks of the emergence of the “transnational state apparatus,” (TNS) a “loose network comprised of inter- and supranational political and economic institutions together with national state apparatuses that have been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces, and has not yet (and may never) acquired any centralized form.”8 In this theory, the TNS is the states, corporations, and institutional platforms that allow the TCC to operate as a hegemonic bloc; it also becomes, for Robinson, the prime motor of globalization by urging the rapid spreading of free-market ideology across the world and by reworking the traditional methods of labor relations and modes of production. Institutions imbedded in the TNS matrix would include the World Bank, the International Monetary, the World Trade Organization, and others that promote economic integration and act as ‘staging-grounds’ for the TCC to plan and cooperate. As an aside, we could also consider organizations like ICANN, which owns and manages the DNS registry of Galloway’s protocol, as existing within the TNS system.
In a contemporary state, power operates on multiple levels. The dominant classes and their political counterparts maintain the mass majority of domestic power; like Hardt and Negri’s theory of Empire, it inhabits a narrow submit with wider and wider rungs below it have less power than the preceding rung above it. Yet power cannot squarely be situated in the governing body itself, nor in corporations or blocks of corporations; it operates in dispersed lines, through institutions and modes of thought and being, and most importantly, on the citizenry for the proper reproduction of power through a sense of trust and confidence in the given system. On a rhetorical level at least, it seems that despite existing as a loose network, a TNS structure would operate in the same fundamental way, albeit one far more complex and in a more processual manner.
What I would like to do in this essay, then, is recount a brief history of the some of the institutions that make up the TNS/Empire system, and look at the way in which neoliberal power seeks to reproduce itself by gaining a sense of legitimacy from the multitude, primarily through the establishment of a global civil society. The first institution to examine is a fairly high-profile US-based think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, and see how its influence has been fundamental in crafting the world as we know it today.
Building World Order
While the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) itself does not fall into the category of transnational organizations, limiting its membership to US citizens, the work that the mega-think tank has done has without a doubt played a major role in the global shift towards transnationalization, even if these developments largely started during the exportation of the Fordist-Keynesian social contract that marked the years following World War 2. The importance of the CFR to the neoliberal process, however, becomes fully measurable when one takes into consideration that it was exactly this international sphere of interest that laid the groundwork and opened the door for globalization. From its very inception in 1921, the rationale behind the CFR’s creation was to promote a sort of progressive internationalism: the organization largely grew from “The Inquiry,” a post-World War I study group brought together by President Woodrow Wilson. The goal of The Inquiry, writes the CFR’s historian, was to “assemble the data they thought necessary to make the world safe for democracy.”9 This particular phrasing, in turn, would foreshadow the rhetoric deployed today by the transnational institutions today operating across global borders and by the memberships themselves of the TCC.
Major funding from the organization has flowed from the coffers of many of the large, capitalist-led philanthropic foundations, with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation topping the list. While philanthropies such as these have played a role in promoting activism, humanitarian awareness, poverty alleviation, and furthering educational, medicinal, and soft and hard scientific research, their explicit relationship to the fostering powerful hegemonies goes, for the most part, overlooked and under examined. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation helped subsidize the University of Chicago’s School of Economics, where professors like Milton Friedman were crafting the free-market ideology that is currently known as neoliberalism; other Rockefeller grants went directly to the economic theorists themselves, to help further their research. As writers like Naomi Klein have pointed out, the proto-neoliberal experiment that took place in Chile under Augusto Pinochet was made possible by a strategy that imported economy students trained at the University of Chicago to the country – an exchange program that was, in fact, funded by a partnership between USAID and the Ford Foundation.10 This is not particularly surprising – at this time there was an extensive interlocking relationship between the two foundations and the top foreign-policy making circles in Washington. President John F. Kennedy’s close adviser John McCloy, for example, served at as chairman of the Ford Foundation from 1958 to 1965, having previously served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation between 1946 to 1958. President Kennedy’s National Security Adivsor, McGeorge Bundy, had become the Ford Foundation’s president in 1966 (a position he would hold until 1979), while the Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, had begun serving as president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1952. Importantly, all these men were also members of the CFR, with McCloy acting as chairman of the organization from 1954 to 1970; when he stepped down, he was succeeded by David Rockefeller.
The CFR’s major entry point into the mainstream of the foreign-policy circles had begun earlier than this point, having been integrated in President Roosevelt’s wartime State Department through its War and Peace Studies Group. This unit of the CFR, financed primarily by the Rockefeller Foundation,11 tasked itself with devising and planning the state of the global power ad economics during and after the end of World War 2. Among the CFR’s concerns was the establishment of the “Grand Area,” a massive international trading bloc that included the Western nations and the bulk of the British Empire. Seeing Japan as problematic by the threat it posed to China, the Council recommended and drew up plans for a trade embargo to placed on the nation. The results of this policy were disastrous, as Laurence Shoup and William Minter point out: “These policies, which the Council proposed and the government adopted, had extremely important ramifications, leading to American entry into World War II.”12 It also marked the expansion of American economic power bolstered by a state-led war machine on a mass-mobilized scale.
In the immediate post-war years, CFR planners from the War and Peace Studies cranked out policy recommendations that would have widespread global impact. In 1946, a subgroup led in part by David Rockefeller crafted plans for reconstruction in Western Europe, filtering into policy as the Marshall Plan. Through this plan, the Fordist-Keynesian modes of production became less an American phenomena and more of an international one – “Atlantic Fordism,” for a moment, seemed to be the primary hegemon encapsulating the globe. These developments were in turn aided and accelerated by the new international economic cooperation promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), both of which also had grown from the CFR’s regime of experts. Five years prior to reconstruction subgroup, the War and Peace Studies group had begun planning the integration of the Grand Area into a stable and global economic system. Recommendation P-B23 had insisted on the need for “stabilizing currencies and facilitating programs of capital investment for constructive undertakings in backwards and underdeveloped regions.”13 In follow-up recommendations, the CFR advised that efforts to curb tendencies towards recession and depression be taken, as well as the establishment of a joint America and British board to work on the logistics of implementing such a system. To quote Shoup and Minter at length,
While it was the Council which initially proposed during 1941 and 1942 the idea of international economic institutions to integrate the new world order, it was Harry Dexter White of the Treasury Department who worked out the actual technical details which led to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Although not a Council member, White probably had contact with its ideas, perhaps through Viner, who was a Treasury adviser, or through Hansen, who was active in many federal agencies. In any event, White produced a memorandum on the subject of both a monetary fund and bank by March 1942. This was the plan which Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau gave to
Roosevelt in mid-May. Following discussions with Secretary Hull, a special interdepartmental committee was established to refine the plan. This was the Cabinet Committee which began meeting on May 25, 1942. The Cabinet Committee, organized a group of experts, called the American Technical Committee, which did the actual planning work. These two committees, largely responsible for. the final form of the Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were centered in the Treasury Department and had only informal ties with the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy. There was considerable overlapping of personnel, however, between the two groups. White served as the Treasury Department’s man on the economic subcommittee of the Advisory Committee. Acheson, Berle, Feis, Pasvolsky of the State Department, and Cohen of the White House staff were on either the Cabinet Committee or the American Technical Committee, which White chaired. The Council was well represented on these latter two committees by the last three men and by Hansen, who attended many of the Technical Committee meetings. A full-blown international conference to establish a monetary fund and world bank convened at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, creating institutions whose aim was integration of the expanded Grand Area to create one world economy dominated by the United States.14
The Council on Foreign Relations and the Neoliberal Turn
The early economic perspectives of the World Bank and IMF were essentially quasi-Keynesian in nature, adopting a position built atop a series of compromises worked out between the American-led interests who resisted a large multinational structuralization, and the British led by Keynes himself, who advocated for far-reaching reforms, such as a universal lending currency called the Bancor. The developments that were underway in Chile in the early 1970s, instigated in part by American interests bound and affiliated with the interlocking nexuses between capital, the state, the CFR, and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, would soon come to dominate the economic policy of the World Bank and IMF, albeit one eventually cast in a more ‘democratic’ light. The transition of the developing world beyond the Fordist-Keynesian framework came on the heels of what is now known as the “Nixon Shock.” Faced with a monetary inflation triggered by the Federal Reserve bank and a public debt resulting from the conflict in Vietnam and the Great Society programs initiated by the Kennedy administration, the American dollar found itself in a crisis. Compounded by the collapse of the London Gold Pool, a grouping of gold reserves held by leading central banks, the dollar faced a steady trajectory of devaluation.
In 1971, President Nixon issued a mixed-bag of economic policies to combat this trend. Wage and price ceilings were implemented with a 10% tariff atop the already-existing tax on import goods, and an end was put to the utilization of gold as the material backing of the dollar. The Bretton Woods system, of which the World Bank and the IMF were a part, had been built with the goal of gold acting as a measure for a stable exchange rate; without gold, the global financial system moved towards a free-floating exchange rate and the Bretton Woods system was formally dissolved. This marked the important moment in which control of capital itself by a given nation declined sharply. One a short-term level, the shock allowed for a stabilization to occur in the US financial system and a rise of the dollar itself against other currencies; in the long-run, the new and ‘free-floating’ economic system came with a new-found flexibility in economic policy that helped to completely undo the Keynesian supremacy. While globalization and neoliberalism cannot be pinpointed to the Nixon Shock – there are other innumerable historical shifts, events, and transformations to give any one instance the spotlight – it was a major leap forward into the era of transnationalization, and required a retooling of the world system.
In 1970, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a member of the CFR since 1961, wrote a book titled Between Two Ages: American’s Role in the Technotronic Era. His argument was an urge towards a “Community of Developed Nations,” a multinational interdependent economic and political system based around what he considered the “most vital regions of the globe” – the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.15 In Brzeznski’s vision, such a system would require a “high-level consultative council for global cooperating,” networking together heads of states for a conversation, debate, and mutual planning. Also critical to his assessment was the decline of national sovereignty through the increasing forces of globalized trade and rise of the multinational corporate as a dominant fixture in the world economy. The developments of the Nixon Shock, which had pushed transnationalization while simultaneously engaging in an act of protectionism that had significant follow-out around the world (most particularly Japan), led Brzezinski to organize a series of “Triparite Studies” at the Brookings Institute; the procedures impressed CFR chairman David Rockefeller, who called together an international council to draft the groundwork for what would come to be known as the Trilateral Commission. With $500,000 in seed money provided by the Ford Foundation (whose president, McGeorge Bundy, had been a participant in the initial planning council),along with other philanthropy funds,16 the Trilateral Commission was formally launched in 1973.
Among the majority of the Trilateral Commission’s early goals were directly in line with promoting a global free trade order: recommendations included a “progressive, across-the-board, and autonomic reduction and elimination of tariffs on industrial products.”17 This move towards a fluid space where goods could flow across borders uninhibited by the state was accompanied by the decision to retain the floating exchange rate, the replacement of the IMF’s gold reserves with ‘standard drawing rights’ (SDRs), and a reorientation of the World Bank’s lending programs to help ease turbulence in Third World nations. These lending programs, of course, come with the stipulation of structural adjustment programs, inciting a mass privatization of a developing nation’s public sector and the rejection of protectionism for local markets in order to foster a opening into the uneven plateaus of global trade.
As Shoup and Minter illustrate, the majority of US members of the Trilateral Commission, including Brzezinski and Rockefeller, were members of the CFR, leading to a close uniformity between the policy recommendations of the two organizations. In 1974 the CFR launched its “1980s Project,” a multileveled task force dedicated to study and planning for the global transition from the international system of independent nation states towards the interdependent world of transnational capital. “The time is ripe,” wrote CFR president Bayless Manning (a founding member of the Trilateral Commission), “for an attempt to analyze the characteristics of the kind of international system that would be suited to deal with the conditions and problems of the upcoming decade. Systematic intellectual effort is required to identify the coming changes in policies, institutions, and attitudes that such an international system would imply and suggest ways to bring about those changes.”18 Modeled directly on the earlier War and Peace Studies that had helped produce the Bretton Woods system, this approach to analyze the post-Bretton Woods world drew heavily on Trilateral Commission members and brought them into the channels of the think-tank.
The 1980s Project’s first published work, The Management of Interdependence: A Preliminary View, promotes a global economic system moored to the direction of the dominant nations (the trilateral complex of the US, Western Europe, and Japan). Dubbed “collective management,” regimes of experts, planners, and leaders from each country would come together in an array of institutions to enable the ‘proper function’ of the system. William Robinson has written about “polyarchy,” or “rule of many”, in which power flows upwards to the domain of “state managers and organic intellectuals.”19 While his conception is to deal primarily with the state-function under modern forms of capitalism, the system urged by the CFR in the 1980s Project conforms closely to his assessment. In Robinson’s view, polyarchic systems in government run contrary to variations of ‘popular democracy’ – “’political inclusiveness’ is limited to the right to vote, and mass constituencies have no institutional mechanisms for holding elected officials accountable to them and the platforms upon which they are elected.”20 It essentially forms a hegemonic bloc of the “dominant minorities,” a limited or restricted democracy that insulates power from threats from below, thus promoting an order of preservation that effectively depoliticizes the public sphere.
Importantly, much of the 1980s Project dealt with limiting the reach of democracies, particularly in regards to zones that would impact the inner-workings of the transnational order. The CFR’s planners called for “various methods of defusing or depoliticizing issues such as inflation or unemployment, and also of depoliticizing intergovernmental relations.”21 To achieve this goal would mean that primary economic policy would have to be removed largely from the sphere of political participation; to be unable to significantly alter the policies revolving around monetary fluctuations or job growth, the bulk of what constitutes the neoliberal system – the floating exchange rate, the flow of capital and production across borders, the generalized easing up on regulatory regimes – becomes a polyarchal complex par excellance. These attitudes were matched in the Trilateral Commission with the publishing of a book by Samuel Huntington (a member of the CFR’s 1980s Project) titled The Crisis of Democracy. Huntington takes aim at the youth revolts of the 1960s and the Keynesian welfare programs like Kennedy’s Great Society, characterizing the decade as inhibiting an “excess of democracy.” This excess, in turn, led to a crisis of governability and its adjacent institutions. For Huntington, the solution was a rollback of this democratic excess and a reorientation of the population towards the government as the dominant mechanism for power. A wide-sweeping proposition, some of the areas of interest in Huntington’s conclusion involve “a lessening of class conflict and assimilation of substantial portions of the population to middle class values, attitudes, and consumption patterns.”22
This rhetoric brings to mind the powerful and (neo)conservative passage towards the neoliberal state embodied by the “Peace through Strength” ideologues in the administration of President Reagan. Under Reagan, the perceptions of what constitutes “middle class values” became translated into the ‘universal’ American values of hard work and free enterprise; the expansion of freedom to pursue capital in a national context was matched here by a strengthened military-intelligence complex that wielded its power to both maintain its geopolitical supremacy in the face of the Soviet Union, and as a directly-related goal, foster neoliberal development paradigms abroad. Indeed, President Reagan, much like his predecessor Jimmy Carter, drew a great many Trilateralists into his administration. Yet as the rollback of Keynesian-era moderate democracy continued in the forms of deregulation and deconstruction of the Welfare state, the rhetoric of ‘democracy’ escalated, particularly in regards to affairs of economics and international relations.
Engaging Global Civil Society
In his analysis of polyarchal governing systems, Robinson draws on the Trilateral Commission report for evidence of a structural shift from the locus of control itself. With the emergence of systemic global ‘democratic’ crises, Huntington and his co-authors urged a “basic mutation in [the] mode of social control, [and to] experiment with more flexible models that could produce more social control with less coercive pressure.”23 This change in attitudes is reflective in the generalized shift from Fordist-Keynesianism, which can be understood as the culmination of Foucault’s Disciplinary Society, towards what Deleuze called the Control Society. Or as the Critical Art Ensemble describes it, focusing on the reliance of the neoliberal order on post-Fordist computational technology and its tendency towards flexibility: “One essential characteristic that sets late capitalism apart from the other political and economic forms is the mode of representing power: What was once a sedentary concrete mass has now become a nomadic electronic flow.24
Robinson sees the shift towards ‘flexible control’ as one that moved into civil society proper – “trade unions, political parties, the mass media, peasant associations, women’s, youth, and other mass organizations25 – as its motor and process of reproduction. Here, civil society, the so-called “third sector” apart from the public and the private, acts as a buffer zone of sorts between the mass constituency and the political and economic elites; if power flows accelerate upwards in a polyarchal system, then civil society becomes a ‘base’ for generating a “social control ‘from below’ (and within), for the purpose of managing change and reform to as to preempt any elemental challenge to social order.”26 Thus, power’s control operates not only through the rollback of democratic power from above, but also through an imposed self-regulation of the subjective experience of democratic participation itself. Through the process of globalization, the traditional notion of civil society as a sector based squarely in a national context has altered, growing to encompass the complex tapestry of transnational interdependence. Escalating Robinson’s examination of polyarchy and this governing system into the global context, where national class systems exist alongside and integrate with a TCC, the self-regulatory control generated from within civil society takes on new widespread and geographically dispersed implications.
Hardt and Negri take a somewhat different position on the global civil society, focusing instead on the sector’s institutional interfaces in the form of NGOs. For them, global civil society forms the base level of Empire’s pyramidal structure – the domain of the multitude, who exist at the margins or beyond the system and whose primary venue of interaction with comes in the form of representation, albeit frequently in a subdued or rather exclusive form. The NGOs that they cite, such as Oxfam, Medecis sans frontieres, and Americas Watch (a division of Human Rights Watch), by contrast, conduct “political action” that “rests on a universal moral call: what is at stake is life itself.”27 Furthermore, what these NGOs “really represent is the vital forces that underlies the People… the activities of these NGOs coincide with the workings of Empire “beyond politics,” on the terrain of biopower, meeting the needs of life itself.”28 In other words, these institutions of global civil society form the reverse or ‘other side’ of Empire, or the political, cultural, and social conditions of globalized neoliberalism; they embody the agency inherent in the static state of the multitude.
Hardt and Negri are correct in taking away that NGOs operate as a democratic mechanism within the transnational system; however, they fail to consider, beyond a few cursory musings, the ways in which this mechanism can be moored to the systems of neoliberal control. Human Rights Watch, for example, emerged from the political climate of the Cold War. In 1978, Arthur Goldberg, a lawyer affiliated with the AFL-CIO labor union, and the Ford Foundation and CFR’s McGeorge Bundy, devised a US-based platform to monitor the human rights situation in the Soviet bloc. With $400,000 from the Ford Foundation, Helinski Watch was formed29 In 1988, Helsinki Watch merged with a series of other “Watch Committees” – Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Africa Watch, and Middle East Watch – to form Human Rights Watch, now one of the NGOs, operating across the globe. While there is much to praise about the actions of Human Rights Watch, the organization’s relationship to the TCC and transnational policy will be examined more in depth in the second half of this article.
A more important NGO to take into consideration at this juncture is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-based and government-subsidized ‘democracy promotion’ organization that interacts with the public and private sectors and civil societies of developing or transitional nations in order to cultivate ‘good governance,’ representative democracy and liberal market systems. The NED’s own history marks the convergence of two trends: on one hand, the evolution of the Social Democrats USA from Trotskyite socialists to proto-neoconservatives (see my posts “From Socialism to Neoliberalism, parts 1 and 2, and the “Democracy from Above” timeline in the downloads section), and the drive for a quasi-privatized funding body, following the revelations in the 1960s that the CIA had been operating through a slew of front-organizations, including the AFL-CIO labor union and the Ford Foundation. The institutional groundwork for the establishment of the NED occurred in 1979 with the launch of the American Political Foundation to study the logistics of building an organizational body dedicated to promoting democracy abroad. With funding from the United States Information Agency, the “public diplomacy” outfit that manages propaganda platforms like Voice of America, the American Political Foundation brought together “representatives of all the dominant sectors of US society, including both parties and leaders from labor and business,” as well as “many of the leading figures… associated with the transnationalized faction of the US elite.”30 These included many from the CFR-Trilateral Commission axis, including the AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland, National Security Advisers Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, among others.
Based on the recommendations of the American Political Foundation, the NED was formalized by an act of Congress in 1983. The institutional structure made the NED itself a coordinating body and a clearinghouse for funds; while many of these funds would flow directly to local domestic NGOs in the targeted countries, the majority would be slated for four subsidiary units that would do the bulk of the work around the globe. Two of these organizations were aligned with the two primary American parties, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and a third was a program of the US Chamber of Commerce, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). The fourth was a web of internationally-oriented AFL-CIO organizations, later to conglomerated into a single body, the Solidarity Center, in the mid-90s. The NED went to work almost immediately, with funding and training spreading to various spaces of transnational interest: the Solidarity trade union in Poland, anti-Pinochet struggles in Chile, and the pro-democratic unrest in the Philippines. While many of these took on the aura of progressive political change, promoting centrist models of government that utilized a molded civil society to spur economic systems based on a combination of polyarchal governance, international trade and moderate labor unionism, NED money also found its way to organizations that ran to the far-right of center. These included France’s Force Ouvriere and the National Inter-University Union,31 both linked to the neo-fascist Service d’Action Civique militia; as well as Nicaraguan political forces aligned with the hard-right Contra rebels.32
These advances during the Reagan administration were matched by a generalized proliferation of NGOs across the globe in the 1980s, largely emanating by a shift in attitudes in the World Bank, which had relied largely on quasi-authoritarian regimes to prop up pro-capital economic reforms. As Nicholas Guilhot points out, by the mid-to-late 80s the Bank’s structural adjustment programs had become “hindered” due to the frictional nature of domestic private and public sectors and civil societies.33 Like the earlier Trilateral Commission report, this came to be seen a crisis of governability; what needed to be promoted then was something much akin to the democracy promotion agenda of the NED – a tendency towards “good governance” in the countries undergoing the economic transformations. Guilhot writes that “good governance” in this context “did not substantially modify the goals of the Washington consensus. Rather, it was meant to improve the performance of the structural adjustment programs by reshaping the state in accordance with the main tenets of economic globalization and free trade.”34 The World Bank’s then-president, Barber Conable, saw NGOs as a exemplay mechanism for such a policy-shift; he appointed James Clark, a high-ranking official at the British NGO Oxfam, as the lead coordinator with these civil society organizations. Under Clark’s guidance, NGOs became “subcontractors” for the World Bank’s activities, and by 1991 constituted 37% of all World Bank projects – a number that would jump to 47% in 1997.35
The relationship between the World Bank – and the NED, for that matter – and NGOs worked in several directions. Bodies promoting democracy and economic liberalization operate far removed from the actual spaces in which these transformations take place; this engenders a fundamental disconnection between the two, with the NGO stepping in to act as a conduit of information running from one to the other. Furthermore, NGOs (aside from the larger, transnational organizations) are frequently small and localized and have to operate on a situation-by-situation basis. To quote Monsiapile Kajimbwa, “most NGOs do not have any grand vision of society, nor are they guided by large issues; rather, they concentrate on small, day-to-day matters. In NGOs, we seldom spend time defining our vision in relation to the overall social and economic context of our societies.”36 Money, resources, and training by foreign entities helps alleviate these problematic, and these dominants interests work to retool the functions of the NGO towards programs like election monitoring and promoting, from a bottom-up grassroots level, the entrepreneurial ideology of market building. In doing so, the polyarchal conception of democracy, with its insistence on neoliberal markets and the “rule of minorities” via the electoral process, becomes conflated with what appears to be a robust (yet generally temporary) participatory democracy. As Sibille Merz writes in an ethnography of NGO activities in the Palestinian territories,
In development policy, the idea of civil society, mostly reduced to NGOs and aimed at the exclusion of other forms of collective action for the benefit of society as a whole, is closely tied up with the notion good governance and often equated with political as well as economic liberalization.
The NGO approach to development is thereby exemplary of this (neo)liberal logic. On one hand, the needs of marginalized groups are addressed in terms of encouraging self-help or empowerment which reflects the neoliberal dogma of individualizing risk and responsibility and fosters the privatization of social services and institutions. On the other hand, neoliberal thought and policies perfectly exemplify forms of biopolitical governmentality since they aim at governing subjects and the population as a whole through the transformation of general conduct, rationalities, and self-conceptions… Essentially, neoliberal development discourses and practices attempt to “govern from a distance,” from an almost invisible position through localized institutions and practices and the transformation of individual subjectivities into “enterprise men and women.”37
Networking Global Civil Society
The expansion of this NGO model continued to increase through the Clinton administration, with adoption of Democratic Peace Theory (DPT). DPT postulates that nations considered “democratic” are less likely to engage in wars with other democratic nations; a combination of complex webs of international relations and the need for relative stability in the neoliberal trade order makes the notion of armed conflict a less and less likely scenario. DPT had entered into Clinton’s policy-making circles through the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a centrist advising body aligned with the Democratic Party that had been founded in 1989 by Will Marshall, an affiliate of the Social Democrats USA, who had been so crucial to the creation of the NED. In fact, the PPI’s interest in DPT had started by a report written by Larry Diamond titled An American Foreign Policy for Democracy;38; Diamond, in turn, had been a co-founding editor of the NED’s Journal of Democracy and has served as an adviser to the World Bank. During his time at the PPI, Diamond had adopted DPT from the earlier work of academic Michael Doyle, who had written a series of articles on the concept between 1983 and 1986. The funding for Doyle’s research had come in the form of a $90,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, a part of a larger and costlier three-year study project titled “Support for Research on the Future of the International Economic Order.”39
President Clinton’s utilization of DPT included a “securitization” of the concept, “dividing the world into democratic and autocratic zones, the latter being a new threat to the former.”40 National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, a former staffer for Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Carter administration, articulated the US’s foreign policy strategy as enlarging and strengthening the ‘democratic zones,’ which he equated with regions that were following a path to market liberalization. This conformed largely with Diamond’s prescription’s for implementing the system, which he saw as not only requiring the full force and back of US, but also as needing a formal “association of democratic nations” that would expedite the process of global democratic integration. In 2000, this association came to the fruition in the form of the Community of Democracies (CD), established largely by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright a meeting of transnational government representatives in Warsaw.
The inauguration of the CD took place alongside a parallel meeting, the World Forum on Democracy, which had brought together representatives from NGOs operating in every corner of the globe; the Forum was a joint program of Freedom House, an American NGO aligned with the NED, and the Stefan Batory Foundation, the Polish division of George Soros’ Open Society foundations. Like the World Bank and the NED, the Batory Foundation had worked hand-in-hand with Poland’s civil society in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, largely to prepare the country for its transition to a market economy. But by 2000, it was helping to broaden the scope of these aspirations; one could view the World Forum on Democracy as the first major overture towards the network formation of the global civil society. Albright herself gave a speech at the World Forum, affirming the role of the NGOs as the “non-governmental process of the Community of Democracies.”
A year prior to the establishment of the CD and the World Forum, the NED launched its own transnational civil society organizing body. Called the World Movement for Democracy (WMD), the agency networks together activists, leaders from countries that have undergone democratic transition, and representatives from NGOs to “develop new forms of cooperation to promote the development of democracy.”41 To assist these efforts the WMD maintains a strong Eminent Person Group to bolster legitimacy for the organization; members have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, former revolutionary and president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and Egyptian dissident Sadd Eddin Ibrahim.42 The organization also maintains a Network of Democracy Research Institutes – an examination of these, something far too length to recount here, reveals a commonality in that most of these organizations are geared towards promoting neoliberal development programs and have received funding from the NED, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and the Open Society Institute. Likewise, the WMD’s founding statement reiterates the umbrella organization’s commitment to the transnational neoliberal order and the polyarchal paradigm it sets for civil society cultivation:
It has also become necessary–urgently so–as a means of responding to the unprecedented global interchange of people, ideas, and goods that has transformed the world. Only by successfully adapting to these new conditions can democrats remain an effective and influential worldwide force. The continued durability and dynamism of democracy globally requires a worldwide community of democrats–leading figures from politics, associational life, business, trade unions, the mass media, academia, and policy analysis organizations from all regions who are united by shared democratic values and a commitment to mutual support and solidarity.43
In 2001 the Open Society Institute launched its own organization aimed at democracy promotion coordination with the global NGO sector, the Democracy Coalition Project. Significantly, the Project’s staff includes many members firmly locked into this developing strand of the neoliberal ideology; the organization’s co-founder, Robert Herman, is a former director of programs at Freedom House, and is joined by Morton Halperin, a CFR member, as well as Larry Diamond. Madeleine Albright sits on the advisory committee, which helped lead the Democracy Coalition Project to work hand-in-hand with Freedom House and the CD in urging the United Nations to develop a “Democracy Caucus,” an institutional body that would allow for a far greater cooperation between nations and NGOs in ease the transition into transnationalization. Other considerations for a UN Democracy Caucus came from a CFR report titled “Enhancing U.S. Leadership at the United Nations”, drafted by an independent task force partially coordinated by Freedom House. The directors of the task force included Adrian Karatnycky, the chairman of Freedom House and a member of the Social Democrats USA; Lee Feinstein, a former Clinton security adviser and authority on the Responsibility to Protect (which will be discussed in the second half of this essay); and Lee Hamilton, a former US representative and director at the NED.44
Returning to Protocol
Let us now return to the theme of Imperial protocol, which Hardt and Negri had identified as being an axis between a hierarchical line (indicating centralization) and a horizontal “democratic” line (indicating distribution). For the, Empire is a biopolitical machine that simultaneously allows inclusion and participation through the democratic line, while also excluding participation through centralized hierarchy. Entry into Empire, to use the understanding of protocol offered by Galloway, proceeds on a very certain understanding of a code that is managed from above. Presumably Hardt and Negri’s articulation of democratic entry into Empire operates through the representative processes at the national-level, which exists towards the base of supra-structure, and the direct voice of the multitude at the base itself, the array of NGOs operating around the world. While Hardt and Negri display a rather optimistic attitude about the functionality of the transnational civil society, we can take from this that the direction integration of the NGO sector into the neoliberal development paradigm and its subsequent production of subjectivity constitutes a blurring at the axis of the hierarchical and horizontal lines; what this means, effectively, is that grassroots power has become a central operator in the reproduction of the neoliberal order, utilizing the language of ‘democracy,’ ‘decentralization,’ and ‘participation’ itself as its own spectacled rhetoric.
Galloway quotes Deleuze and Guattari’s famous line “We’re tired of trees,” where they call for a model built on the rhizome to confront vertical power, but adds “the success of protocol today as a management style proves that the ruling elite is tired of trees too.”45 And as mentioned earlier, the Critical Art Ensemble drew on a visualization where the Fordist-Keynesian Disciplinary Society, the “sedentary concrete mass,” had given way to the post-Fordism Control Society, the “nomadic electronic flow.” Thus the importance emerges that Galloway examines protocol from an almost exclusively digital perspective, while Hardt and Negri argue that the horizontal and democratic line of Empire, which I here have associated with the NGO/civil society sector, is symbolized by the internet. Hardt, Negri, and Galloway all build their analyses and critiques based on the proliferation of digital countercultures, best exemplified by net art and hacker subculture. Access to spaces beyond the exclusion that power dictates leads the hackers looked for “exploits,” “pre-existing bugs that are leveraged to gain access to a computer.”46 For Galloway, this transforms protocol of force of possibility, a medium for openness, exploration, and experimentation. But perhaps the evolution of Empire, this could cut both ways.
By the late 2000s, democracy promoting bodies had latched onto digital activism as a means for furthering grassroots globalization. Even more so than the preliminary NGO models, this continued to conflate the notions of democratic access with neoliberal expansion. In 2008, Republican adviser James K. Glassman and Jared Cohen, a young new media expert and former State Department strategist Jared Cohen assembled the Alliance for Youth Movements, which aimed at linking together participants in struggles worldwide with tech-savy digital activist – as well as pro-democratic individuals in the various hacker communities. A formal summit was launched in 2008, sponsored by various media and technology firms such as Facebook, Google, AT&T, and Howcast, and with additional support from the State Department proper and organizations like the Open Society Institute and Freedom House.47 Importantly, Freedom House paid for Ahmed Saleh, the leader of Egypt’s April 6th Movement, to attend the Summit and meet with State Department officials before returning to his home country, presumably to bolster his movement with the knowledge and contacts he would have made.48
Two years after the summit, Cohen left the State Department and along with J. Scott Carpenter (from the NED’s International Republican Institute) and formed Google Ideas, a “think/do tank” to assist struggling states and civil societies with digital activism. In this position he became in close contact with Wael Ghonim, the head of Google’s marketing division for North Africa and the Middle East – another important leader in Egypt’s anti-Mubarak struggles, and a strong proponent of the power of the internet in pro-democratic uprisings. As large sums of NED funding and trainers converged in Egypt, large steps were taken to ensure that the struggle was linked globally through the electronic infosphere. In one case, Ahmed Saleh travelled to Silicon Valley at the behest of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law to generate a space where hackers and activists could act in real-time with the individuals on the ground in Tahir Square, and cultivate technology that could aid the resistance in complex and unexpected ways.49 The Center on Democracy, incidentally, is a member of the WMD’s Network of Democracy Research Institutes, and boasts Larry Diamond (having participated earlier in the Alliance for Youth Movements summit), as a director.
Authoritarian regimes around the world have cracked down on the usage of the internet, fearing that the free exchange of information and communication could undo the grips these governments have on the population – and they do! Electronic flows are perpetually cutting at the root of the trees, creating autonomous spaces and war machines that can operate both visibly and, to a large degree, with a relative sense of invisibility, to allow for dissent to move forward in exciting and rapid ways. The US government has taken steps to promote this particular development continues: in February of 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech declaring that all forms of internet repression will be met with failure. Correlating internet freedom to economic prosperity, she announced that promotion of digital democracy “is a foreign policy priority, one that will only increase in importance in the coming years.”50 In July of that year, the State Department, along with support from Microsoft, Twitter, and the Community of Democracies, Clinton devised a series of “tech camps” to aid digital activism. At one training session, she reiterated the goal: “We have to be willing to keep coming up with new ways of getting over, under, around and through the walls and other techniques that are used to prevent people from freely communicating.”51
By 2013, we’ve seen a shift in attitudes. Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years of jail-time, and Wikileaks has been vilified for many years. Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who revealed that the NSA has been conducting an Orwellian surveillance program in the name of ‘protecting democracy,’ has been forced to live as a fugitive and has currently been granted asylum in Russia. With a greenlight provided by the US, the British government had essentially declared war on the press, deploying anti-terrorism laws to disrupt the movements and communications of journalists. Computers in the possession of a media firm where destroyed at the behest of intelligence agents. Control might be an electronic flow, but the autonomy of these flows is not absolute – they must operate within the parameters set, within the proper dictates of the protocol’s code. This isn’t limited, either, to the digital sphere; it holds true for the developments within dynamic dissident struggles and within civil society at large. The neoliberal passageway is one that proclaims entry and participation, but with stipulations and demands. To transgress these norms, pre-determined subjectivities and expected characteristics is to allow elements of the concrete mass to resurface, to re-impose the discipline that we have already begun to move past.
We now find ourselves one what most likely is another transformation in the supra-structures of world order; there is very likely to be no rolling back of the transnationalization that the world has been moving towards for over a hundred years, nor will the composition of the TCC disperse its economic superiority and political power voluntarily. It is also unlikely that the rhetoric and promotion of neoliberal democracy will cease to be a consistent talking-point and matter of formal and informal policy agendas yet it is very likely that we will see a closing of the parameters in which neoliberal relative autonomy operates. Transformations and systemic crises always lead to new balances of power and new forms of class composition, both at the top of the hierarchy and in its middle and bottom rungs. They also provide openings, especially when coupled to technological shifts and advances, for new forms of solidarity and struggle. Faced with such a proposition, it will take an active engagement across the borders to understand the workings of the current world order and its class formations, to try and anticipate the possible avenues through which it will transform, and hopefully, the cultivate a counter-power that will reclaim the very notion of ‘democracy’ expunge it from the dangerous baggage to which its been so unfortunately attached.
[The second half of this essay will be an elongated appendix that will look at several different institutional interfaces of the TCC, ones that represent business, political, and civil society interests, and look at the way these organizations intertwine and work with one another.]
1Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 299
3Alexander Galloway Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization MIT Press, 2009, pg. 8
4Ibid, pg. 9
5William I. Robinson “Global Capitalism Theory and the Emergence of Transnational Elites” Critical Sociology December 19th, 2011
7Graeme Chesters and Ian Walsh Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos
8Robinson “Global Capitalism Theory”
9Peter Grose Continuing the Inquiry: The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996 Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2006
10Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Picador, 2007, pgs. 73-75
11Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy Authors Choice Press, 2004, pg. 119
12Ibid, pg. 135
13Ibid, pg. 166
14Ibid, pgs. 168-169
15Holly Sklar (ed.) Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management South End Press, 1980, pg. 76
16Ibid, pg. 86
17Ibid, pg. 71
18Shoup and Minter Imperial Brain Trust, pg. 255
19William I. Robinson Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony Cambridge University Press, 1996, pg. 58
20Ibid, pg. 59
21Shoup and Minter Imperial Brain Trust pg. 269
22Samuel Huntington, Michel Crozier, and Joji Watanuki The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission New York University Press, 1975, pg. 157
23Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 69; Huntington, Crozier, and Watanuki The Crisis of Democracy, pgs. 53, 55
24Critical Art Ensemble Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas Autonomedia, pg. 7; quoted in Galloway Protocol, pg. 242
25Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 69
27Hardt and Negri Empire pg. 313
28Ibid, pgs. 313-314
29Daniel C. Thomas The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism Princeton University Press, 2001, pg. 151
30Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pgs. 89-90
31Ben A. Franklin “Democracy Project Facing New Criticisms” The New York Times December 4th 1985 http://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/04/us/democracy-project-facing-new-criticisms.html
32See William I. Robinson A Faustian Bargain: U.S. Intervention in the Nicaraguan Elections and American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era Westview Press, 1992
33Nicholas Guilhot The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and the Politics of Global Order Columbia University Press, 2005, pg. 213
34Ibid, pg. 214
35Ibid, pg. 217
36Monsiapile Kajimbwa “NGOs and their Role in the Global South” The International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law Volume 9, Issue 1, December 2006
37Sibille Merz “Reforming Resistance: Neoliberalism and the Co-Option of Civil Society Organizations in Palestine”; in Rebecca Fisher (ed.) Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Organization of Consent Corporate Watch, 2013, pgs. 137-138
38Inderjeet Parmar Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power Columbia University Press, 2012, pg. 232
39Ibid, pgs. 231
40Ibid, pg. 233
42“World Movement for Democracy” National Endowment for Democracy website http://www.ned.org/docs/07annual/PDFs/NED_AR_WorldMovement07.pdf
43Founding statement of the World Movement for Democracy
44“Enhancing U.S. Leadership at the United Nations” Council on Foreign Relations Report, November 14th, 2002 http://web.archive.org/web/20050306081148/http://www.cfr.org/pdf/UN_TaskForce.pdf
45Galloway Protocol pg. 242
46Ibid, pg. 168
47Edmund Berger “Egypt and International Capital: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?”; in Fisher Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent, pgs. 319-320
48Ibid, pg. 321
49Sarina Beges “Bridging Silicon Valley and Tahir Square” Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, June 13th, 2013 http://cddrl.stanford.edu/news/bridging_silicon_valley_and_tahrir_square_20110613
50“Hillary Clinton: Internet Repression ‘Will Fail’” BBC News, February 15th, 2011 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12475829
51Nicole Gaouette “Clinton’s ‘Tech Camp’ Teaches Activists Web Savvy, Subversion” July 1st, 2011 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-01/clinton-s-tech-camp-teaches-activists-web-savvy-subversion.html