The Age of Consent

By George Monbiot (Harper Perennial 2004)

Reviewed by Kenn Taylor

Veteran political activist and writer George Monbiot has long been at the forefront of what he calls the global justice movement, his first publications were investigative travel books tackling little reported human rights abuses in the likes of Indonesia, East Africa and the Amazon and saw him shot at, beaten up, shipwrecked and stung into a coma by hornets trying to get these stories out.

After being pronounced clinically dead as a result of malaria he returned to the UK to write the best-selling Captive State which documented the threat to democracy caused by the corporate takeover of Britain and the fallings of the New Labour government and the grass-roots activism against it.

In his latest book The Age of Consent he tackles the main criticism levelled against him and other activists in the global justice movement of demonstrating against the problems and injustices of the current world political and economic system without coming up with a viable alternative.

Monbiot begins by saying, like many he feels a major change or “mutation” is on the way but protest alone is not enough and proposals are needed to fill the current vacuum and it must include the whole world. He goes on to debunk the popular radical philosophies of Anarchism and Marxism as deeply flawed in a persuasive argument and that he feels that democracy is the “least worst system”, the only one that can accommodate constant change in the needs of people and ensure fairness to all. He continues to say that globalisation in itself is not a bad thing but that it must be taken hold of and democratised, leading to an “age of consent” not coercion.

He then describes in detail how the current democratic and economic systems set up after WWII like the UN and the world bank to level the global playing field have failed by being taken over by corporate and western political power and then sets out in detail his own proposals for “levelling”.

Monbiot’s wide ranging proposals are based around 3 core ideas; A “world parliament” with complete universal suffrage with representatives based around areas of population rather than current political boundaries, world wide economic protectionism to enable developing countries to come up to speed with the rest and an international “clearing bank” to bring an end to world debt and that these three big changes would have an effect on everything to climate change to unemployment.

The book sets out a range of radical and positive ideas for levelling the world system, and bringing it under the control of the people. It is a good mixture of investigative journalism and philosophy which despite going into some very deep economic and political theory is still reasonably easy to read and one of the most admirable aspects of the book is that Monbiot doesn’t say that his ideas are the only way forward, they are just his proposals and he invites the reader to come up with better ideas for change, it is up to them to make things better.

Monbiot’s theories add up to a very persuasive argument and he backs up all his ideas, however big, with detailed proposals of how they might be implemented by the will of enough people and makes you feel instead of something should be done, that something can be done, a real call to arms.