Occupy Wall Street and the Legitimacy of Government

Glen T. Martin

November 2011

In traditional democratic theory, legitimate government rests upon the consent of the governed and the ability of the government to serve the overall common good of its entire population. Traditional democratic theory, however, was formulated in the 18th century by such thinkers as Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Kant and refined further by thinkers of the 19th century such as Mill, Hegel, and Marx. Before the 20th century, however, two factors had not yet developed to any significant extent that together challenge the traditional conception of the legitimacy of today’s governments: (1) Wall Street along with comparable stock exchanges around the world and (2) global crises like climate collapse, global pollution, global population explosion, global poverty, and global WMDs.

Today, around the world people are camping out, marching in protest, and occupying public parks in protest of the strangulation of the world’s economy by the 1% who control the lion’s share of the world’s wealth and power. These 1% have further empowered and entrenched themselves by owning the industrial military complexes of the world that make immense profits from a world of perpetual wars, conflicts, and violence. They have entrenched themselves by owning or controlling the mass media of the world, which then spins the news to cover, protect, and legitimize the 1%. Finally, these 1% have colonized governments around the world directly (as, for example, the government of Saudi Arabia) or indirectly through buying politicians (as, for example, the government of the US).

The 1% by and large have transcended national loyalties and are at the helm of multinational corporations and banks, doing business on a global scale, and willing, for example, to export the industrial base of the US (and its jobs) overseas in order to maximize their margin of profit. They travel the world in private jets, stay at exclusive five star hotels built in every country for their convenience, and associate with one another in exclusive clubs and forums closed to the 99%. In response to these obscenities, the 99% have not yet presented a set of coherent demands, but implicit in their anger at the 1% are rather obvious demands for jobs, decent benefits like health care and social security, ending wars, protecting the environment, and protecting democracy with its rights to dissent, free speech, assembly, due process of law, and effective political participation.

For decades, the 1% have used their effective control over the big imperial governments to manipulate the fragmented world system of some 192 nation-states to their advantage. They have controlled the foreign policy of the US and its imperial allies in their service, overthrowing the democratically elected governments of Guatemala and Iran in 1954 and instituting dictatorships in both countries who flung their countries open to exploitation by multinational corporations. They were behind the wars against Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the 60s and 70s, supported the invasion of East Timor in 1975, and the overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973, where the US installed a dictator who instituted the Neo-liberal "shock therapy" of unfettered privatized capitalism. These examples could be multiplied by the dozen. As Noam Chomsky has repeatedly asserted, the principle of the 1% controlling the militarized imperial nations has been to remove "the threat of a good example" anywhere it might appear in the world. The fragmented system of 192 independent nations facilitates their power and control. It keeps the people of Earth divided, so that the 1% can conquer.

The 99% have recognized that their issue with the 1% is a planetary issue, everywhere basically the same. Everywhere governments have been colonized, everywhere the military and police serve the interests of the colonizers, and everywhere the 1% act out of interests that are not national interests but rather global plutocratic interests: their wealth and power over the rest of us. What can occupiers in city parks in New York, San Francisco, Madrid, London, Athens, or Tokyo do in the face of the reality of this global plutarchy that has colonized their governments? The first thing they must recognize is that an effective solution no longer lies in the hands of their respective governments.

To be legitimate a government must govern as a democracy with the consent of the governed and in the interests of the common good. This consent must not be engineered by a mass media and government propaganda distorting the facts and claiming to represent the people while really representing the 1%. Such engineering of consent within the US has been repeatedly demonstrated as, for example, in Chomsky’s 1989 book, Necessary Illusions. Secondly, to be legitimate a government must be able to promote the common good of its citizens and, in fact, really promote that good. However, with the development of global crises like the population explosion, pending climate collapse, ever-growing planetary poverty, and spreading weapons of mass destruction, no government can any longer protect the common good of its population. The threats are planetary and the common good is now planetary.

Our common good, one involving reasonable economic prosperity, a sustainable and healthy environment, a pacified world without WMDs, and global cooperation to control population, feed and house everyone, and protect human rights for all is today utterly beyond the scope of any nation-state, even the most powerful. For this reason as well, no government on Earth is legitimate any longer. They simply cannot do what the Occupy Wall Street movement is expecting them to do. In the very unlikely event that control of governments could be wrested from the 1% and returned to the 99%, this would not restore the legitimacy of governments. The global climate is collapsing, the global population exploding, global pollution wrecking our life prospects, essential natural resources like fisheries, agricultural land, and forests are rapidly diminishing – and no government, nor treaty of a group of governments, can deal effectively with these foundations of the common good of us all.

In both democratic theory and in fact, we are beyond the historical time of national governments and face the moral and factual demand for democratic world government. This is the only force on Earth today that would have the effective ability to deal with these global crises, bring the 1% back under the rule of effective democratic law, and eliminate WMDs and war from the world. In fact and in theory, we are living in the age of democratic world law as this is outlined in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. This Earth Constitution was written by thousands of world citizens who understood the facts cited above and realized that our only hope for addressing the needs of the 99% and the needs of future generations lies in the democratic ratification of this Constitution.

The Earth Constitution can be found in many locations on the worldwide web. It needs to be embraced by the Occupy Wall Street movement as the only truly practical and effective means to deal with their demands. Their demands, after all, are essentially for government that operates with the consent of the governed in the service of the common good of all (that is, the 99% worldwide). Only such planetary government can create peace, prosperity, true freedom, sustainability, and justice for the 99%. No national government on Earth can even begin to do this for the people of Earth who are suffering under our present world of domination and exploitation by the 1%. This is the only possible route to the success of Occupy Wall Street worldwide. We need to ratify the Earth Constitution and place effective democratic government in the service of the people of Earth and future generations.

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