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 Let's hope it goes out of date before the next.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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
George Monbiot has been named by the Evening Standard as one of the twenty-five most influential people in Britain and by the Independent on Sunday as one of the forty international prophets of the twenty-first century. He is the author of the investigative travel books, Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man's Land. He writes a column for the Guardian and is Honorary Professor at the Department of Philosophy, University of Keele, and Visiting Professor at the Department of Environmental Science, University of East London.