The best way to combat the likes of Trump, Le Pen and Farage and the politics they represent is to rescue power from the grip of transnational corporations
A wave of revulsion rolls around the world. Approval ratings for incumbent leaders are everywhere collapsing. Symbols, slogans and sensation trump facts and nuanced argument. One in six Americans now believe that military rule would be a good idea. From all this I draw the following, peculiar conclusion: no country with a McDonalds can remain a democracy.
Twenty years ago, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman proposed his golden arches theory of conflict prevention. This holds that no two countries that both have McDonalds have ever fought a war against each other since they each got their McDonalds.
Friedmans was one of several end-of-history narratives suggesting that global capitalism would lead to permanent peace. He claimed that it might create a tip-over point at which a country, by integrating with the global economy, opening itself up to foreign investment and empowering its consumers, permanently restricts its capacity for troublemaking and promotes gradual democratisation and widening peace. He didnt mean that McDonalds ends war, but that its arrival in a nation symbolised the transition.
In using McDonalds as shorthand for the forces tearing democracy apart, I am, like him, writing figuratively. I do not mean that the presence of the burger chain itself is the cause of the decline of open, democratic societies (though it has played its part in Britain, using our defamation laws against its critics). Nor do I mean that countries hosting McDonalds will necessarily mutate into dictatorships.
What I mean is that, under the onslaught of the placeless, transnational capital that McDonalds exemplifies, democracy as a living system withers and dies. The old forms and forums still exist parliaments and congresses remain standing but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it.
The political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action. It has slipped into the diktats of the IMF and the European Central Bank, which respond not to the people but to the financial sector. It has been transported, under armed guard, into the icy fastness of Davos, where Friedman finds so warm a welcome (even when hes talking cobblers).