Oil is a curse, it is often said, that condemns the countries producing it to an existence defined by war, corruption and enormous inequality. Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story, arguing that no nation escapes the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil. It shapes the body politic both in regions such as the Middle East, which rely upon revenues from oil production, and in the places that have the greatest demand for energy.
Timothy Mitchell begins with the history of coal power to tell a radical new story about the rise of democracy. Coal was a source of energy so open to disruption that oligarchies in the West became vulnerable for the first time to mass demands for democracy. In the mid-twentieth century, however, the development of cheap and abundant energy from oil, most notably from the Middle East, offered a means to reduce this vulnerability to democratic pressures. The abundance of oil made it possible for the first time in history to reorganize political life around the management of something now called "the economy" and the promise of its infinite growth. The politics of the West became dependent on an undemocratic Middle East.
In the twenty-first century, the oil-based forms of modern democratic politics have become unsustainable. Foreign intervention and military rule are faltering in the Middle East, while governments everywhere appear incapable of addressing the crises that threaten to end the age of carbon democracy—the disappearance of cheap energy and the carbon-fuelled collapse of the ecological order.
In making the production of energy the central force shaping the democratic age, Carbon Democracy rethinks the history of energy, the politics of nature, the theory of democracy, and the place of the Middle East in our common world.
Hardback, 288 pages
$26.95 / £16.99 / $33.50CAN
Ebook, 224 pages
If 2011 saw a monumental change in the governments of the Middle East, 2012 has demonstrated that revolution takes some time, that conflict is sustained and that some of the same challenges are not consigned to history.
Protests continue in Egypt’s capital Cairo, as over one hundred thousand demonstrators have recently taken to the streets and gathered once again in Tahrir Square in opposition to dictatorial decrees by President Mohammed Morsi. With only one hundred days in power, Morsi’s fledgling tenure as president has resulted in examples of sweeping authority, transferring all executive and legislative powers from the military council to his offices.
Such actions are reminiscent of the power exercised by former President Hosni Mubarak. The on-going distrust of Morsi’s presidency returns the chant of the 2011 revolution: "The people want to bring down the regime".
These are Verso’s key titles on the challenges facing Egypt and the Middle East, where uprising continues from the hopefulness of the Arab Spring to the challenges ahead.
Coal, because strikes could cut off its supply, made modern social democracy possible. Oil, because its supply has been pretty much guaranteed, compromised democratic gains.Visit Electric Politics to download the podcast in full.
Last Saturday, Timothy Mitchell appeared on The John Batchelor Show on News Talk Radio 77 WABC New York to discuss his new book Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. Mitchell sat down with guest-host Chris Riback to discuss the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil and its larger role in shaping the contours of our contemporary political landscape.