BOB DOUGLAS. Towards social and political transformation.

British writer and columnist, George Monbiot, has recently published an important  book about national and global politics and the need for radical, cultural and political transformation. Entitled “Out of the wreckage: a new politics for an age of crisis”, the book boldly tackles economics, environmental threats, widespread voter alienation and the political corruption that pervades modern  democracies.   The author offers a  new narrative to replace neoliberalism, which he considers responsible for many of the crises that now confront humans everywhere. 

Central to Monbiot’s critique of neoliberal ideology is his rejection of the idea that people are  simply self-centred, acquisitive, individualistic and competitive beings. He recognizes that the neoliberal narrative has greatly reinforced those attributes and contributed to widespread loneliness and social alienation. But he cites evidence that  humans are also incredibly altruistic, generous, loving, empathetic and unique co-operators, and that the new story must build on these attributes and cease promoting a culture of  consumption and self-aggrandizement.

Global preoccupation with markets, economic growth and government minimalism, that  ignores or downplays the consequences of wealth and income inequality and environmental damage, is threatening the viability of human civilisation.

This narrative which has dominated human culture everywhere for four decades and has been adopted by political parties on both the left and the right,  has persisted through and in spite of the disastrous global financial crisis of 2008. The author believes it has persisted, because a compelling alternative narrative that addresses current problems was not available to displace it at the time. Representative democracy in its present form has been corrupted in most places by the needs, interests and dictates  of international corporations and the super rich, who have systematically entrenched their control over political processes and will not surrender it lightly.

But he claims that the two surprisingly successful campaigns of  Bernie Sanders in the 2016 US Democratic Primary race and of Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 UK election, offer a lesson in the kind of political campaign that can activate the electorate, including young voters, and restore ownership of democratic ideas to the community.  Personal engagement by volunteers with every voter  about the new story that motivates the candidate is central to the “Big Organising” approach that lifted both these candidates from obscurity to unexpected  near-victory.

Monbiot’s new story is called “The Politics of Belonging”.   It places  the well-being of all humans, and the ecosystems on which all life depends, as the central focus of  the economy and public policy. He thinks that a flourishing human future will result from a new emphasis on community collaboration, equity, empowerment of families and neighbourhood groups, as well as the development of new measures of human progress, to replace our spurious dependence on growth in the Gross Domestic Product.

The new story seeks an approach to “the commons”, which are the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including air, fresh and sea water and habitable land. In the ideal world these resources might all be held in common and managed for collective rather than individual benefit.  But much of the commons is currently owned and managed privately for profit; some is managed by the state and much is not really managed at all. Monbiot argues strongly for long term reform of land ownership while recognizing that for now there are commons that are currently owned and “managed” by the state that would be better managed by local communities.

So, how realistic is all of this and how relevant to Australians is Monbiot’s politics of belonging?  Continuing with “business as usual” driven by the neoliberal narrative is seen by millions of thoughtful people around the world to be guaranteeing a catastrophic human future.  But displacement of the current narrative by a new one will require an enormous effort and a huge army of advocates for this new story. Monbiot is certainly not alone in recognizing that without a compelling new one, the neoliberal story will persist.

I, for one, am persuaded that the politics of belonging might rescue our species. But there is no time to lose.

Bob Douglas is a former ANU Public Health Academic, a Director of Australia21
( ) and a committee member of The Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy  (

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4 Responses to BOB DOUGLAS. Towards social and political transformation.

  1. Vern Hughes says:

    George Monbiot has picked up the theme of ‘belonging’ from a number of communitarian and mutualist thinkers and activists in the UK, notably John Milbank and Phillip Blond from the Red Tory movement; Maurice Glassman from Blue Labour; and David Goodhart from Demos’ work on ‘post-liberalism’ work. See Goodhart’s A Post-Liberal Future.

    But Monbiot has, typically, tried to attach this theme to traditional social democratic thinking, with its residual commitment to big government and big services, without the radical rethinking about the nature of belonging, community, family and relationships, that these other writers all insist is necessary for a serious politics of belonging. Big government and big services do not create belonging and community: we have a century of compelling evidence from around the globe that tells us that government expansionism (like that of the market) strangles civil society by restricting the space in which it can grow, and depriving it of nourishment. We also know that the basic unit of belonging, in all societies, is familial and kinship relationships, extending outwards to encompass neighbours, friends and communities, but social democrats retain an unease about ‘family life’ and prefer to talk about non-familial social networks as an alternative source of belonging, again in defiance of the insights from serious thinkers across the political spectrum. David Goodhart from Demos has explored this social democratic unease with the ‘relational’ in very insightful ways.

  2. Susan Walmsley BA Philosophy says:

    I love George Monbiot.
    My hand is up. Pick me. I want to live in that world.

  3. Thanks, Bob, for that elegant and, I assume, accurate summary. I doubt that anyone can deny Monbiot’s observations. But what about the ‘confounders’?
    1. Around the democratic world, voters no longer trust politicians. (In theocracies, dictatorships and oligarchies, they can only hope for the best.) Trump did not WIN that election; the reality is that every politician in the contest LOST. Since then, the politicians lost (or lost seats, mostly to unknowns) in France, the UK, Italy, Germany, Austria and Poland.
    2. There is no alternative to demand and supply in relation to price. Price controls simply do not work.
    3. What do Australian (and other) voters have in mind when they vote? There used to be two choices – MY interest and the interest of the NATION. I doubt that many now vote in the NATION’s interests. We now, increasingly, see a third choice – MY GROUP – whether religious, ethno-linguistic, sexual, labour or profession.
    Is there any real hope that voters will vote with the interests of the NATION as their first concern? Without that, Monbiot’s and your ideals are chimaeras.
    Facts, ie reality, do trump (no pun intended there) dreamy political correctness, sorry.

  4. Colin Cook says:

    The new story seeks an approach to “the commons”,
    The concept of ‘commons’ is not part of modern, ‘white’ Australia. See my essay, ‘1788 The biggest enclosure of them all’ at

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