If both George Monbiot's Captive State
and Naomi Klein's No Logo
are the two Zeitgeist books of the beginning of the 21st century, then it is good old-fashioned late-20th century capitalism that has put them there. While Klein investigates how the counter-culture has been bought out by big business, Monbiot takes a close look at how this green and pleasant isle has been delivered into unaccountable corporate control with disastrous results for local communities and for democracy itself. The project of investigating this process is vast and strewn with problems, not least that a great deal of the material Monbiot needed was not in the public domain. Thus, the book itself is the result of "stargazing on a cloudy night": an impassioned attempt to understand what stellar corporate influence is brought to bear on which governmental constellation before the clouds close over again. Depressingly, he demonstrates how New Labour has smoothly transitioned from anti-corporate opposition to big business bedfellow. Like Klein, Monbiot celebrates grassroots action, but his local heroes are more likely to be drawing up battle lines in Skye, rather than Seattle. In his evocative dealings with those at the rump end of corporate mismanagement and greed, the sense of betrayal is palpable, and Captive State
can be seen as a warning shot across New Labour's bows. The devil, though, is in the details. Anonymous brown paper parcels arrive full of classified documents and Monbiot is to be applauded for bringing together a wealth of material and rendering it intelligible and intelligent, if sometimes he doesn't shy away from big theatrical deliveries, especially at the end of chapters. Ironically, it seems from reading Captive State
that one of the victims of the corporate infiltration of the government is choice as well as voice. Whereas some resistance has come from consumer power--for, as Monbiot reminds us, the things that join us together are the things we are sold, he goes on to make the pertinent point that consumer power is diluted when choice is restricted to a local superstore or one hospital on the edge of town. Monbiot asks the right questions, but his answers remain elusive and caught up in a foggy democratic rhetoric that is less effective and inspiring than the tales of local activists clogging up the system that was supposed to work for them in the first place. Captive State
is the first big ideas book of this decade. Let's hope it goes out of date before the next. --Fiona Buckland
In the most explosive book on British politics of the new decade, Monbiot uncovers what many have suspected but few have been able to prove: that big business is taking over Britain. Captive State documents the end of representative government in Britain. The traditional business of government - economic and development planning, law and order, protection of the workforce, consumer and environment - is rapidly being twisted out of its hands. The state is no longer the initiator of policy but an increasingly helpless bystander. Quietly, the state, the police, academia and the nominally independent media are falling into the hands of private business. And as institutional corruption strikes at the heart of public life, in a contest between the desires of big business and the needs of the electorate, the electorate loses out every time.