GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY FINANCIAL REPORTING

By Linda M. Lowson

Climate Change and Sustainability Financial Reporting (CCSFR) is a complex, swiftly evolving, and now crucial area for issuers and capital providers globally. It has arrived front-and-center in global capital markets with the entrance of G20/Financial Stability Board (FSB) oversight. The Trump Administration’s resolute efforts to retract, revoke, or otherwise invalidate the climate protection progress made by the Obama Administration, as well as Trump Executive Orders aimed at scaling back financial regulation, will not diminish or derail the global tidal wave of investor demand for “full and fair” CCSFR, nor will Trump Administration actions alter or impede the seismic shift of global governmental support for this disclosure.

President Trump views environmental and financial deregulation as main tools to stimulate economic growth and job creation. The EOs issued to date have focused upon Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules and the repeal or revision of the Dodd-Frank Act. CCSFR is governed by securities laws worldwide, and in the U.S., Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation, which implements and enforces the U.S. securities laws, is the controlling authority. CCSFR is not legally impacted by EPA rules or the Dodd-Frank Act. The SEC has not yet issued any final or proposed rules on CCSFR, but the “materiality” principle inherent throughout the SEC regime applies to all issuer SEC filings. The SEC issued an “Interpretative Release” on Climate Change Guidance in 2010, which identified four main areas of climate-related risk that issuers should consider, but this release does not have the force of law.

Neither President Trump nor his Cabinet or agency officials have mentioned CCSFR, even in the context of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, and the substantive linkage between CCSFR and economic growth/job creation is attenuated at best. The new SEC Chair appointee, Jay Clayton (Senate confirmation pending), in his March 2017 nomination hearing testimony to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, supported the 2010 SEC Climate Change Guidance in response to a direct query from Senator Jack Reed: “public companies should be very mindful of that guidance as they are crafting their disclosure.” The SEC Chair has a dominant influence on SEC rulemaking and enforcement policies, and will be appointing a new Corporate Finance Division chief and a new Enforcement Division chief after Senate confirmation. However, the entire five-member Commission must vote on new rules and regulations, currently comprised of Kara Stein (Democrat), Michael Piwowar (Republican, current Acting Chair), and three vacancies to be filled by President Trump appointees (SEC Chair and two Commissioners), who will be expected to consider President Trump’s political philosophy. Thus, it is prudent to consider the potential relevance of certain Trump EOs.

It is noted that EOs have certain legal restrictions: (i) EOs which are not issued under specific statutory authority from Congress can be legally challenged as overstepping Presidential authority or the spirit of the Constitution; (ii) EOs do not directly compel the SEC to act because it is an independent regulatory agency; and (iii) the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. Subchapter II) (APA) applies, and has stringent agency notice and comment requirements for amending or rescinding existing rules or adopting new rules.

Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, January 30, 2017: This EO, known as the “two-for-one” EO, requires that two regulations must be repealed for each new one issued, and seeks to reduce the regulatory burden. This EO is supported by three House bills, each addressing different aspects of the regulatory process: H.R. 998—searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act; H.R. 1004—Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017; and H.R. 1009—OIRA Insight, Reform, and Accountability. These House bills, if passed by both the House and the Senate and signed into law, could restrict SEC action on new rulemaking, or encourage the SEC to seek revision or repeal of existing SEC rules (subject to the APA).

Executive Order on Financial Regulatory Reform, February 03, 2017: This EO directs the Treasury Secretary to consult with the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) (consisting of U.S. federal and state financial regulatory heads, including the SEC Chair) and report to President Trump within 120 days, identifying any laws, treaties, regulations, guidance, reporting and recordkeeping requirements, and other Government policies that inhibit Federal regulation of the U.S. financial system in a manner consistent with the “Core Principles’, which include making regulation “efficient, effective, and appropriately tailored.”

It is unclear how FSOC members should conduct this broad wholesale evaluation process, especially in the face of expected stiff agency budget cuts. The SEC likely will treat this EO and the “Core Principles” with deference, but may be reluctant to fully implement this directive, given that the SEC’s Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative is already tackling the modernization and streamlining of SEC issuer disclosure rules.

Executive Order on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, February 24, 2017: This EO requires each federal agency to form a task force to review existing regulations and recommend whether to repeal or simplify those deemed to harm the economy and job creation. It is unclear whether this task force regulatory evaluation is meant to include the “Core Principles” evaluation directive of the February 3rd EO (described above), or meant to be an entirely separate review. Again, this massive regulatory review process will require scarce agency time and resources, and the SEC may be disinclined to carry out this directive, given that the SEC’s mandate is not to protect the economy and job creation, but to protect investors and capital markets (both of which are served by “full and fair” CCSFR).

Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, March 28, 2017: This EO directs federal agencies to take steps to rescind or significantly revise existing climate regulations in the interests of “promoting energy independence” and “economic growth.” Its implementation is subject to varying agency interpretations, is legally restricted by APA requirements, and has already provoked vehement protest from various U.S. stakeholder constituencies as well as Congressional backlash. U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and more than 30 Democratic Senator co-sponsors, immediately introduced legislation to rescind this EO, entitled The Clean Air, Healthy Kids Act which would block federal agencies from implementing it. CCSFR arguably has no rational relevance to economic growth and job creation and thus it would seem that this EO technically should not apply to CCSFR, especially considering that issuer “full and fair disclosure” of climate change and sustainability risks clearly reduces investor and capital market financial risks and thus can promote economic growth. Given the strong global investor demand for proper issuer CCSFR disclosure in SEC filings, it would be injudicious for the SEC to respond by putting CCSFR on the back burner or by failing to take into consideration the preponderance of public comment letters on the SEC’s 2016 Concept Release which expressed a clear preference for mandatory CCSFR disclosure.

There is a clear and compelling business case for SEC mandatory issuer CCSFR and for rigorous SEC enforcement in this area, consisting of five principal global market and regulatory forces (space limitations preclude detailed discussion of these factors):

Inescapable Transition to Low-Carbon, Clean Tech Economy: Implementation of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to which G20 Finance Ministers remain firmly committed, will cause a profound and fundamental adjustment of the global economy over the next 20 years. See, e.g., June 2016 policy paper by two prominent climate scientists; Speeches by Governor Mark Carney, Breaking the Tragedy of the Horizon – Climate Change and Financial Stability (Sept. 2015) and Resolving the Climate Paradox (Sept. 2016).

Irrefutable Global Investor Demand for Full and Fair CCSFR Disclosure: Investors want mandatory, comprehensive, consistent, and comparable CCSFR, and nothing less. See, e.g., CERES, Investors Have Their Say on Sustainability & Stock Exchanges: Feedback on the WFE ESG Guidance and Recommendations, March 2017; and SEC public comment letters on the Concept Release.

Issuer SEC Disclosure Deficiencies Harm U.S. and Global Financial Markets: Lax enforcement by the SEC on climate-related disclosure has led to investigations by the New York Attorney General and the California Attorney General against several energy companies, including, most recently, Exxon in November 2015, for alleged inadequate climate risk disclosure under U.S. securities laws causing harm to the investing public.

Securities Regulators and Stock Exchanges Worldwide Are on Board: There are now over 40 OECD and emerging market countries that mandate sustainability disclosure, and 55 stock exchanges have joined the Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative.

G20/FSB Supervision: This global macroprudential leadership involvement signals a critical, highly consequential, global power shift from the voluntary sustainability reporting sphere to a financial regulatory-dominated sustainability reporting world, and sets in motion a de facto directive compelling national securities regulators worldwide to issue a definitive position on climate-related reporting, including enforcement.

It is undeniable that escalating climate change and an increasingly resource-constrained world are creating serious financial system systemic risks and have made CCSFR critical to investment and lending decisions, as acknowledged by the G20/FSB. As well, “full and fair” CCSFR is now an essential risk mitigation tool for issuers. Its inherent transparency and accountability, as well as the checks, balances, and safeguards inherent in SEC reporting, force companies to implement the systematic, rigorous policies and processes upon which proper strategic and operational management of these issues depend.

The only question for the SEC to decide is what specific CCSFR disclosure regime best protects investors and markets, which was the inquiry posed in the April 2016 SEC Concept Release, and whether this disclosure should be mandated by issuing a new proposed rule, or solely by application of the materiality principle, ideally with issuance of additional SEC interpretative guidance. This CCSFR disclosure then should be designated an enforcement focus for the SEC’s Enforcement Division Financial Reporting and Audit Task Force, given current widespread (and documented) issuer filing deficiencies in this area.

Governor Mark Carney, in an April 2017 speech entitled The High Road To A Responsible, Open Financial System, stated that “financial market leaders must fulfill their responsibility in establishing a responsible, open financial system,” and that this requires international regulatory cooperation “for establishing common minimum standards and consistent implementation which deliver similar outcomes … Such an approach would allow capital to move more freely, efficiently and sustainably between jurisdictions …. robust standards consistently applied [would support] greater trade, investment and innovation. This high road leads to more jobs, higher sustainable growth, and better risk management across the G20.”

This is cogent advice that speaks directly to the Trump Administration agenda, and countenances only one course of action—for the U.S. to remain a signatory to, and timely implement, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, and for the SEC to mandate and properly enforce “full and fair disclosure” of climate-related and sustainability risks. Any Trump Administration or SEC action to discourage or delay CCSFR is ill-advised, as it will only serve to complicate issuers” CCSFR compliance, increase investor and capital market systemic risk, and erode global market perception of U.S. financial system stability and historical SEC investor protection leadership.

WALPURGIS NIGHT

 

By Owen Davies

In modern British and American popular culture, Halloween is the night most associated with the nocturnal activities of witches and the souls of the dead. But in much of Europe the 30 April or May Eve, otherwise known as Walpurgis Night, was another moment when spirits and witches were thought to roam abroad. The life and death of Saint Walpurga, who was born in Dorset, England, in the eight century, has nothing to do with witchcraft or magic, though. She travelled to Germany on missionary work, and became abbess of a nunnery at Heidenheim, dying there in the late 770s. The 1 May became her feast day because it was when her relics were transferred to Eichstätt in the 870s. The association of witchcraft with May Eve is actually to do with venerable rituals for protecting livestock at a time in the agricultural calendar when animals were traditionally moved to summer pastures. Bonfires were lit by communities across Europe to scare aware predators. In sixteenth-century Ireland, hares were killed on May Day, in the belief that they were shape-shifting witches bent on sucking cows dry and stealing butter. In Scotland, pieces of Rowan tree were placed above the doors of cow byres to keep witches away.

 

 

In the era of the witch trials, the Danish Law Code of 1521 observed that witches were active at holy times such as ‘Maundy Thursday and Walpurgis Night, and that they are said to spend more time on these than on other (festive) times during the year.’ In 1579, the town council of Mitterteich, Bavaria, ordered a patrol on Walpurgis Night ‘in expectation of such people, but nothing happened.’ In one Swedish village, in 1727, youths gathered under the window of a suspected witch on Walpurgis Night to chant ‘Our Lord free us from this evil troll.’

In German folklore, though, Walpurgis Night is particularly associated with the tradition that witches gathered from across the land for a great sabbat on the top of the Blocksberg (now Brocken), a summit in the Harz Mountains of central Germany. This great witches’ meeting may have been much depicted in nineteenth- and twentieth-century art and literature, but look closely at the early-modern witch trial records, and one finds little evidence for it. From the hundreds of confessions, most produced under torture, it is clear that sabbats were thought to take place at any time of the year and not Walpurgis Night in particular. From the records we also find that nocturnal sabbats were believed as likely to take place in clearings and meadows as on mountain tops.

It was in 1668 that the Walpurgis Sabbath was first firmly located at the Brocken in a weighty tome about the history and geography of the mountain and the region, called The Blocksberg Performance by Johannes Präetorius. It included an illustration of orgiastic celebrations taking place around the mountain top. But the spread of the archetypal Walpurgis Night sabbat on the Brocken owes much to the creative mind of the German philosopher and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). He drew upon Präetorius’s book for his famous play Faust (1808), in which he depicts the legendary sixteenth-century magician and Mephistopheles travelling to the summit of the Brocken, accompanied by witches and demons. The witches strike up a chorus:

“Witches bound for the Brocken are we,

The stubble is yellow, the new grain is green.

All our number will gather there,

And You-Know-Who will take the chair.

So we race on over hedges and ditches,

The he-goats stink and so do the witches.”

Faust later reflects:

“It seems, forsooth, a little strange,

When we the Brocken came to range,

And this Walpurgis night to see,

That we should quit this company.”

Widely lauded and translated, Goethe’s Faust, provided inspiration for subsequent artists, including the likes of the writers Bram Stoker and Thomas Mann, and composers such as Brahms and Mendelssohn. The Walpurgis Night sabbat on the Brocken continues to be referenced in popular culture today by the likes of heavy metal bands and in horror films, while the tradition has also been adopted into the Neo-pagan calendar as an analogue of the supposed Celtic festival of Beltane.

So watch out this Bank Holiday weekend, for there might be witches abroad.

STORY OF FAKE NEWS

 

By Thomas Keymer

Fake news is not only a phenomenon of post-truth politics in the Trump era. It’s as old as newspapers themselves—or as old, Robert Darnton suggests, as the scurrilous Anecdota of Procopius in sixth-century Byzantium. In England, the first great age of alternative facts was the later seventeenth century, when they clustered especially around crises of dynastic succession. The biggest political lie was the widely believed Popish Plot of 1678, a fictitious Jesuit conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II that played into the Whig campaign to exclude Charles’s Catholic brother from succession to the throne. Conspiracy theorists of all political stripes got in on the act. At one point in his history of the period, David Hume writes wearily that “this was no less than the fifteenth false plot, or sham plot, as they were then called, with which the court, it was imagined, had endeavored to load their adversaries.”

Daniel Defoe, before his career as a novelist began with Robinson Crusoe (1719), was among the journalists who fought fierce running battles in rival newspapers during the reign of Queen Anne. In 1703, he was convicted of seditious libel for fabricating an incendiary pamphlet in the voice of his Tory opponents, and a year later his political stablemate John Tutchin was arrested and tried as “a daily inventor and publisher of false novelties, and of horrible and false lies” in his journal the Observator. Tutchin got off on a technicality, but was later beaten up to order (evidence points to the Duke of Marlborough) and died of his injuries. Defoe continued to flourish with his journal the Review, berating rival journalists for their own fabrications. One target was George Ridpath’s rabble-rousing newspaper the Flying Post, which Defoe called simply the “Lying Post.”

 

Henry_Fielding_-_Jonathan_Wild

 

We think of Henry Fielding, in the next generation, as a novelist above all else. But before writing Joseph Andrews (1742) and his masterpiece Tom Jones (1749), he was London’s foremost comic playwright, and, in the Champion (1739–41) and later periodicals, the funniest satirical journalist of the day. It was a gift to Fielding’s career that it coincided with the heyday of Sir Robert Walpole, the powerful, charismatic “Great Man” and longest-serving Prime Minister in history—if “serving” is the right word for a politician so thoroughly committed, his enemies alleged, to corruption and self-enrichment.

Fielding’s relations with Walpole make up a complex story including periods in which he sought Walpole’s patronage and ending, very possibly, with his acceptance of a bribe to desist. As a well-placed insider reported shortly before Walpole fell from power in 1742, Fielding “is actually reconciled to the great Man, and as he says upon very advantageous Terms.” Satirical hostility, however, is central to the story. At the height of his celebrity as a playwright, Fielding targeted Walpole’s ministry with innovative, incendiary dramas including Pasquin (1736) and The Historical Register for the Year 1736 (1737), a farce teasingly named after one of the period’s few objective news sources. These plays were not the sole cause of Walpole’s Stage Licensing Act of 1737, which required pre-performance approval of playtexts and prohibited improvisation, but they were a major catalyst. When Fielding then turned to journalism, it was widely feared that print censorship would follow. In 1740, another insider reported impending legislation to control “the Licentiousness (as they call it) of the press. There is not one of the Courtiers but I hear talk of such a Bill. The champion’s way of writing, they say, makes it necessary.”

Among the Champion’s most damaging themes was its ridicule of Walpole’s propaganda machine. One barbed issue (29 January 1740) offers spoof instructions in the “Art of Lying,” a word which “as it regards our interest, however it came to be scandalous I will not determine, comprehends Flattery and Scandal, a false Defence of ourselves, and a false Accusation of other People.” Fielding then outlines a poetics of disinformation in all its varieties (“the Lie Scandalous,” “the Lie Panagyrical,” etc.), necessary to the exercise of which is a brazen fearlessness of being contradicted. Flexibility is crucial, and sometimes the accomplished political liar must even “quit his Occupation, and dabble in Truth.” Preparation is essential—no careless ad libs about alternative facts—and “in spreading false News, especially Defamation, Care should be taken in laying the Scene.” In a precept discarded today, Fielding warns his ambitious politician “never to publish any Lie in the Presence of one who knows the Falsehood of it.”

The attack also spilled over into Fielding’s fiction. Shamela (1741) is on the face of it a parody of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740), subverting that novel’s premise by turning Richardson’s virtuous heroine (a servant rewarded by marriage to her master) into a cynical gold-digger. But Fielding also likens his falsifying anti-heroine, who has “endeavoured by perverting and misrepresenting Facts to be thought to deserve what she now enjoys,” to Walpole-era ministers whose “worldly Honours…are often the Purchase of Force and Fraud.” In Tom Jones, the mendacious villain Blifil (his name suggests both “lie” and “fib”) ends up as Member of Parliament for a rotten borough. Fielding’s most sustained political fiction, Jonathan Wild (1743), builds on a longstanding analogy in opposition journalism between Prime Minister Walpole and the historical Wild, an underworld kingpin. Politicians and thieves are engaged alike in “the great and glorious…Undertaking…of robbing the Publick.” Both succeed by clever ruses to distract the public’s attention, so that “while they are listening to your Jargon, you may with the greater Ease and Safety, pick their Pockets.”

Walpole was now out of office, but he remained a formidable operator. His last and most engaging imposture was to pretend that none of this had anything to do with him—or, if it did, that even a satirist as brilliant as Fielding couldn’t hurt him. Jonathan Wild was published in Fielding’s Miscellanies, preceded by a list of subscribers who could show special approval by buying expensive “royal paper” sets, sometimes in multiple copies. The most generous patron of all, subscribing for ten sets in royal paper, was Walpole himself.

A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE

 

By Will Schiebel

he Russian Front, 1944. A group of German soldiers happen upon a corpse encased in snow, apparent only by a frostbitten hand reaching towards them from the ground. “Looks like spring is coming,” one of the soldiers remarks. “That’s the one sure way to tell. The sun digs them up.” When the soldiers brush away the snow to find a man wearing a German uniform, they uncover the body and realize he is an officer from their regiment. “He looks like he’s crying,” one of the soldiers observes. Another replies with the blunt corrective, “His eyeballs are frozen and they’re thawing now.” So begins Universal International’s melodrama of love among the ruins, A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), an adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel published in 1954.

To commemorate the birthday of German-born director Detlef Sierck (1897-1987), better known to U.S. audiences by his professional name in Hollywood, Douglas Sirk, I want to revisit his penultimate film—also, I would argue, his greatest. Along with the making of The Tarnished Angels, another late career masterpiece released the previous year, Sirk was never allowed as much creative freedom on a production. A Time to Love and a Time to Die concerns a young, disillusioned German soldier, who falls in love with a woman in his family’s bombed-out village while searching for his parents during a three week furlough before returning to the Russian Front.

On location in Germany, the spectacular Eastmancolor and CinemaScope shooting gives the film the visual weight of an epic, but its focus is more intimate and, in fact, quite personal for the director. Sirk was a leftist intellectual living in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. His ex-wife joined the Nazi party and legally forbade him from seeing their son, Klaus Detlef Sierck, as he had remarried a Jewish woman. Over the years, his son attained stardom as the leading child actor of Nazi Germany, and the only way for Sirk to see him was to go to the movies. In the spring of 1944, Klaus was killed on the Russian Front, and Sirk viewed A Time to Love and a Time to Die as an opportunity to imagine his son’s last weeks onscreen: a story Sirk would never know and a film that the Nazis would have most certainly prohibited.

The film has generated enough support to ensure a reputation among cinephiles, including important publications by Jean-Loup Bourget, Fred Camper, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and, most prominently, Jean-Luc Godard. At the time of their original release, Sirk’s Hollywood films were dismissed by reviewers in the U.S. who equated their melodramatic style with bad taste, but Godard’s review in a 1959 issue of the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma represented one of the first critical attempts to take Sirk seriously as a film artist (an “auteur”).

However, following Jon Halliday’s book-length interview Sirk on Sirk (1972) and Sirk’s subsequent take-up in English-language film scholarship of the 1970s, films such as All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), and Imitation of Life (1959) were reclaimed as exemplary of the Brechtian approach that he brought to his Hollywood projects, imbuing studio-assigned material with irony and contradictions at the level of film form. The midcentury family melodrama is thought to be the primary locus for his signature style and personal vision, as well as a genre that could be manipulated for progressive or subversive critique of postwar America’s bourgeois ideology. Thus, Sirk became a favorite both for auteurist film criticism and for Marxist, feminist, and psychoanalytic film theory, although perhaps at the expense of a film such as A Time to Love and a Time to Die, which belongs to the tradition of the romantic rather than the domestic melodrama and now occupies a marginal place in the Sirk canon.

As the title promises, the film is about love as much as it is about death, and they are inextricably linked in the film’s exploration of what it means to live and accept personal responsibility under the persistent threat of annihilation. The visual motif of cherry blossoms introduced in the opening credits metaphorically compares lovers Ernst (John Gavin) and Elizabeth (Liselotte Pulver) to a tree forced to bloom from the heat of a bomb’s explosion. Yet, as their blossoming romance is both enabled and interrupted by the war around them, they are constantly uprooted in their pursuit of a sustainable environment to make a home, from a one-room apartment to the rubble of an art museum to the cottage of a benevolent stranger (even a gourmet restaurant provides a temporary refuge as bombs are about to drop). The florid beauty almost overwhelms the story, and that seems to be the point. Sirk insists that self-discovery and emotional fulfillment may be born in these hostile conditions, if only apprehended in fleeting moments, for we know that the inevitable full bloom of spring has a moribund irony in this film.

The United States, 2017. An executive order barred travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the country. The federal budget plan proposed de-funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowmnet for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Academic integrity has been attacked by anti-tenure legislation and the appointment of an unqualified Secretary of Education who supports the privatization of public schools, to say nothing of the current administration’s claims of “alternative facts.” In these threatening political times, a case for revisiting a Classical Hollywood melodrama might be seen as a retreat from the present (at worst) or a quaint, even romantic appeal in the name of aesthetics (at best). But as historian Timothy Snyder warns us, “Post-factuality is pre-facism.” A Time to Love and a Time to Die is not only an anti-Nazi period piece and an underrated work of a canonical director, but a reminder of immigrant contributions to U.S. culture, the urgency for art and critical thinking to understand the world we live in, and the ongoing potential for cinema as a response to institutionalized oppression. Sirk may be relevant for us now more than ever before.

RAGE AND REVOLUTION IN MODERN TURKEY

By Nikos Cristofis

The Gezi Park protests that took place in Istanbul in late May 2013 started when a small environmentalist group protested the neoliberal ‘urban renewal’ plans of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) and then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to protect Gezi Park, one of the few green areas in Taksim. The Gezi Park project was just one of many sell-off plans initiated by the AKP to reshape Turkey and make it more actively part of the neoliberal market economy. In a purely symbolic act, the protests started exactly one month after the suppression of the 1 May demonstrations. Quickly they took on unprecedented proportions to become a mass social movement. In their brutal repression of the protests, the police burned tents and belongings. The violence unleashed by the authoritarian state triggered large-scale support for the demonstrators, and within hours it had transformed into Turkey’s largest anti-government movement in decades, inspiring protests in all of the country’s larger cities. In short, a minor event—the protests at the park—led to a widespread social uprising that faced unprecedented police violence backed by undemocratic statements by the Turkish Prime Minister that stand as testament to his authoritarian tendencies.

Under the Shadow: Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey, authored by Kaya Genç, is a day-to-day account of the Gezi protests that offers insights into the mindsets of the range of young Turks that took part in the resistance and examines the complex dynamics that shaped mentalities at the time. Under the Shadow lends an ear to the Turkish people, specifically the youth, as a way of bringing to light their thoughts and perspectives as regards the protests and Turkish society in general.

Indeed, based largely on oral accounts, i.e. interviews with young dissidents who were involved in one way or another with the Gezi protests, the book tells us less about events and more about their meaning. As such, the interviews often reveal either unknown events or unknown aspects of known events, and cast new light on unexplored areas of the daily life of the non-hegemonic classes. In this sense, the book’s approach evokes Alessandro Portelli’s observation that oral histories can provide historians with new ways of understanding the past, not just in terms of what is recalled, but also with regards to continuity and change in the meaning given to events (Portelli in Perks and Thomson 2006).

The backgrounds of the people who participated in the protests varied widely, ranging from young leftist activists, like 21-year-old Cenk Yürükoğulları and his friends (27-37), to people like Beybin Somuk, an animal rights campaigner and project manager at the NGO Genç Siviller (Young Civilians), who initially treated the Gezi protests with suspicion (37). She feared that they would lead to an outbreak of civil war as she watched the news on CNN International whilst in The Netherlands; when she returned to Turkey, she realised that was not the case at all. For Somuk, the politicisation of the protests (in the sense that the young people who participated would soon fall under the hegemony of particular political groups) led her to not participate.

The following two chapters are devoted to young artists (Chapter Three) and journalists (Chapter Four). Aytuğ Akdoğan, a 22-year-old underground poet, Lara Fresko, a young artist who was conducting research for a show at SALT in Istanbul, and the filmmaker Can Evrenol are some of the figures that are given a central role in the former, and Berke Gol, Berkan Ozyer and Betul Kayahan in the latter. The personal stories of all these figures are very much of interest: for example, Fresko’s experiences of being the recipient of racism and discrimination from an early age, which contributed to her politicisation. Aytuğ, on the other hand, a young ‘White Turk’ and apolitical youngster who nonetheless has deep awareness of the social and political inequalities of Turkish society, became highly politicised through his participation in the protests, and even more in the months that followed. He wrote his first poetry book years before the protests when he was just 17 years old; not long after, he moved out of his parents’ home. After being falsely accused of attacking a police officer, his experience of the judiciary system for over eighteen months after the Gezi protests made him see things differently. Aytuğ was finally acquitted, but he had to pay a heavy price: unable to make ends meet, he moved back with his family to the site, the housing developments inside the city protected by private security guards. Isolated from the rest of the world, it is these that contribute to making the young people of Turkey apolitical: cut off from different social classes and socialising only with one another.

Equally of interest is the final chapter concerning ‘Turkey’s angry young entrepreneurs’: one of the central elements of the AKP’s power base. Indeed, when the party first came to power, it offered new hope backed by conservatism, pro-EU policies and the maintenance of Turkish-US relations. These elements all blended together with avid capitalism largely based on the construction sector. As the author rightly states: ‘the Turkish state and industrialists are twins born in the same instant’ (187). The author’s account, however, gives the impression that the construction sector is a well-oiled machine free of scandals and without ties to the government, which is not the case.

Genç’s historical knowledge is evident within the book by his bolstering of information about Ottoman and Turkish history to frame the context of the recent developments in Turkey and to offer an explanation for the rise of young dissident voices. In that respect, as one of the most critical issues of performing oral history is that of verification, the author manages to create a well-balanced account of the events that transpired and offers an impartial analysis that is generally not being swayed by the personal experiences of the interviewees.

Although in general the author does an exemplary job of describing events, there are points where clarification should nonetheless have been made. To name just two, firstly Genç implies that the coup of 1980 took place as a means of re-securing secularism. As he writes: ‘the armed forces brought Turkish society back to its Atatürkian factory settings’ (4). At the same time, however, through the ‘Turkish-Islamic Synthesis’, there was also an attempt to unite the country against the ‘enemy of the state’ (e.g. communism) by putting Islam at the centre of Turkish identity and history, thus opening the way for the rise of political Islam in Turkey and today’s ruling party. Although that point is an issue of perspective and interpretation, the author’s argument that Doğan Avcıoğlu theorized the rise of the MDD (National Democratic Revolution) in the early 1970s is plainly false. A major ideological break within the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP, 1961-71) became apparent in 1966 at the Malatya Congress, but the MDD’s first manifesto, albeit perhaps in primitive form, had already been made public by Mihri Belli, the leader of the MDD, who used the pen name Mehmet Doğu in an article he wrote for the review Yön (Direction) in 1962.

Under the Shadow is nonetheless a fascinating book written using magnetic language. Genç largely manages to avoid getting carried away by his own ideological views or those of dissidents. It is also the first book of its kind to use oral history as a methodological framework and to give voice to a mosaic of young Turkish dissidents, making it well worthy of praise.

ERDOĞAN PERSONALITY CULT PLAYING ON POPULAR FEARS

 

By Tahir Abbas

It was arguably the most important of all the referendums held in Turkey since 2002 and the rise of the AKP. For the last 15 years or so, one man, Tayip Recep Erdoğan, at the helm of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), has taken Turkey out of the dark of the early 2000s – a banking crisis, rampant inflation and a politico-ideological vacuum. Erdoğan thrust Turkey into the light of the 21st century, re-imagining the nation through globalisation, majoritarian nationalism (read as populism in the West) and moderate Islamism.

During this period, Turkey transformed its fortunes – it joined the G20, and became a significant player in the Middle and Near East. Once dubbed ‘the sick man of Europe’ as the Europeans prepared for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, it is now ‘old Europe’ that faces the possibility of breakup post-Brexit.

The Yes vote was a narrow win for Erdoğan: Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir voted ‘No’. Uncharacteristically, eighty per cent of British Turks also voted No. Turks voted Yes on 18 constitutional amendments, many of which will grant wide-ranging powers to the president. They include the ability to appoint members of the senior judiciary, do away with the office of the Prime Minister and directly appoint and fire ministers who will no longer be able to issue a vote of no confidence in the president. The number of parliamentarians will increase by 50 to 600. The voting age will be reduced to 18. For the Yes campaigners, these reforms were necessary to improve a system of government that is seen as generally ineffective and slow to react to events. The need to iron out unworkable aspects of the old constitution, established by the military junta after the 1980 coup, was seen as key.

The referendum campaign had an important international dimension. Erdoğan sent ministers to Germany and the Netherlands despite knowing that according to EU rules, parties are not allowed to campaign outside of Turkish territories. The negative response that the ministers received in the Netherlands was directly related to the Dutch general election, which was polarised along pro- versus anti-Islamophobia lines relating to domestic economic and social issues. Erdoğan exploited this opportunity to maximum effect, knowing that Turks inside Turkey would be galvanised by the idea of a strong leader standing up to external resistance. Both Dutch and Turkish sides took advantage of the opportunity to secure votes for their own campaigns. In both countries, a great deal of work is going to be required to repair long-standing diplomatic relations.

The No campaigners argued that the reforms will put too much power in hand of one individual – Erdoğan himself – who has been sliding towards greater authoritarianism since 2011. In particular, they argued that this authoritarianism is invasive – Islamist in character, design and impact – and that it is a throwback to the strongman politics that has brought much of the Middle East to its knees. It is where leaders, unable to govern their own people fairly and justly, look to the West for solutions to problems created by incompetence and self-interest (while the West has been complicit in installing and then propping up these so-called leaders in the first place). The No supporters argued that if the president got the powers he wanted, it would lead to greater isolation in the region and from the EU, as well as further strife for those Turks – especially in politics, academia and journalism – who feel their voices are being policed and silenced.

 

 

It was a fraught campaign, with inconsistent messages from the pollsters – although they mostly got it right, despite the difficulty of anticipating the power of social media to sway opinions and actions. Though Erdoğan will no doubt be overjoyed, the nation was deeply divided between the Yes and No camps, reflecting a polarised society. These divisions were exacerbated after the failed coup of July 2016.

Since that night, Turkey has been in a state of emergency. For a great many people, this state of emergency is real and urgent – but it also plays on existing fears, a sense of alarm and genuine issues of insecurity that have blighted Turkey internally and externally over the last two years or so. Internally, all the various peace processes have collapsed, namely the Alevi and the Kurdish openings. What was once a harmonious relationship between the AKP and the Gulen movement, which benefited both sides, has become an acrimonious, violent and wholly one-sided divorce. Erdoğan now characterises the enemy as a combination of FETO (the term used to describe the Gulen movement as a terrorist organisation) the PKK as emblematic of pro-Kurdish sentiment per se, and the suicide death squad known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. One Iraqi who speaks Kurdish, Arabic, Farsi and English was thrown in jail and then put on trial for 18 months. The charge: being a member of FETO, PKK and IS – all because he assisted the Western news media as a local fixer in south-east Turkey.

Turkish politics today is about power, but also authority – and in a climate where strongman politics is able to gain the upper hand by evoking notions of security, strength and stability. A frightened population welcomes this rhetoric with open ears, seeing in the current president all that is right about Turkey now and in the future. There are, however, also concerns about the role of religion – which is odd given that the country is nominally 99.9% Muslim. There is a particular fear that Islamism, while it does not aim for a caliphate, is encroaching on the daily lives of all Turks, whether they want it to or not. To No Voters, the delicate balance between a secularist and religious outlook that has kept Turkey as the bridge between East and West is potentially at risk.

It could be argued that Erdoğan had the best of intentions, certainly at the outset. But his personality has taken over. All the founding fathers of the AKP have been cast aside. He is alone and isolated, but surrounded by sycophants enthralled by his personality cult. During his leadership – while considerable economic and social improvements were made from 2002-2010 – the rise of Islamic State in 2014 was inconceivable, although not improbable. Now political, economic and cultural issues carry the most force. The arguments on both sides have weight, but the concerns were less with the general situation but the issue of Erdoğan himself – hence the vehemence of the division between the Yes and No camps.

The outcome of this referendum was too close to call. A No vote could have meant that Turkey fundamentally changed political direction, as it would have emboldened individuals and groups at the fringes as well as across the spectrum of No voters. Now the Yes supporters’ argument that strengthening the status quo will deliver a more robust, stable and secure society will be put the fullest of tests. Erdoğan’s win will silence his detractors within the AKP, but the urban elites in wider society will continue to ask tough questions. As Turkey awakes to a new dawn, the rest of the world will be watching to see what happens next: a brave new world, or more of the same.

POPULISM AND THE LIMITS OF NEOLIBERALISM

By William Davies

The surge in so-called ‘populism’ over the past year, largely of a right-wing variety, has provoked an ongoing debate as to how we should characterize its central driver. To put this somewhat crudely (though not much more crudely than some of the debate’s protagonists), the choice comes down to a simple binary: economics or culture? Class or identity? An awkward new category of ‘the left behind’ has emerged in political discourse to capture the unexpected supporters of Donald Trump, Brexit, Marine Le Pen and other nationalist movements.

This debate cannot be resolved on these terms, for one simple reason. The economy is cultural: class and identity constitute each other. This is why the perspective known as ‘cultural economy’ (or ‘cultural political economy’) is now more valuable than ever, if it can illuminate the ways in which markets, property rights, work and consumption produce distinctive identities and affects, not as side-effects or as false consciousness, but as integral components of how they operate.

For example, welfare reforms over recent years do not simply operate with a cold logic of efficiency, which has the unfortunate side effect of making people feel responsible for their own inactivity and suffering. That feeling of responsibility is internal to how they work, and therefore to the broader project of fiscal and labour market reform.

The deep resentment that has become visible in rural, ex-industrial and ex-mining regions in Europe and the United States was a surprise to many people, but to comprehend it, two things are essential. Firstly, we need to accept that it has most likely been brewing for many years, but without an adequate outlet. Secondly, that it is cultural-economic and, I would argue, moral-economic (for reasons I will explore in a moment).

The research for my book The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition was conducted over 2007-10, meaning that it did not address much of the long aftermath of the global financial crisis, including austerity in Europe, and did not explicitly anticipate the political fallout of 2016. There are, however, a couple of ways in which I hope the book can support the type of cultural-economic and moral-economic enquiry that I think is needed right now, which I outline in the new Introduction written in September 2016.

First of all, the book treats ‘neoliberalism’ as a devotedly anti-political project, albeit one that can only be advanced by the state, producing various paradoxes as a result. It is anti-political in the sense that its intellectual framers (such as the Chicago School) shared a pessimistic view of political life, in which deliberation collapses into misunderstanding and ultimately violence.

By contrast, economic calculation (including the price system of the market, but also the various techniques of measurement and audit that characterise contemporary governance) is viewed as safer, more transparent and more honest. Hence, I define neoliberalism as the ‘disenchantment of politics by economics’. In my account, neoliberalism is less about the promotion of markets than a certain style of technocracy.

There are various reasons why this project cannot fully succeed, not least that it is executed by sovereign agencies, whose full power and authority is not reducible to economic logic. But I think populism indicates another reason: this economisation of public life creates a vacuum and a longing for something other than technocracy and efficiency. We need to avoid romanticising politics, and recognise that this longing can manifest itself in some ugly ways. In that respect, we need also to recognise some of the value in the neoliberal position: politics can and does authorise violence.

However, the sudden jolt of Brexit and Trump is partly due to identities, voices and needs being ignored or disenfranchised for so long that the desire for political agency became overwhelming. Populist agendas are condemned by mainstream voices as ‘unrealistic’ or even as ‘post-truth’. Yet – as my book details – neoliberal government involves careful delineation of what counts as ‘economic reality’, overseen by certain schools of economic expertise but not others. Where economic policy and regulation are concerned, stipulating what is ‘true’ is an important function of the technocrat. It is no surprise that a rebellion against this will be characterised by an apparent refusal of certain notions of truth, especially when those notions are as abstract as macroeconomics.

The second major contribution of the book, I hope, is to focus attention on the moral-economic logic of neoliberalism, which makes competition the basic normative principle of society and competitiveness the ultimate individual and collective virtue. Crucially, this logic is not limited to the sphere of market exchange, but is treated as a moral and political rationality that can be extended into all spheres of life, such as urban governance, education reform and personal responsibility. The prevalence of league tables, coaching, branding and auditing in various non-market domains is testimony to this.

Competition exerts moral force, because it stipulates that victors will have earned their rewards (as the ideal of ‘meritocracy’ proposes), but also that others will have earned their failure. Viewed from within the neoliberal framework, those regions, cultures, individuals now routinely known as the ‘left behind’ are not simply unfortunate or inefficient: they are less morally worthy because they are less competitive. The competitive ‘game’ that the state has been enforcing since the 1970s has revealed them to be losers.

The success of talent shows over the past fifteen years gives a glimpse of the moral framework of neoliberalism. For while those programmes are ostensibly about identifying ‘winners’, they do so through a steady stream of eliminations, often featuring emotional outbursts from the losers. It is one thing to suffer a misfortune or to choose a less ambitious path in life. But psychologically and morally, it is quite another to inhabit a society where ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are constantly being fought over, and another thing again to be constantly saddled with the latter.

The emotional and political outbursts of the past year only make any sense if this is carefully reflected on, not only in terms of economics but in terms of political, cultural and moral economy. One of the ‘limits of neoliberalism’ is its inability to carry on producing the sense of a ‘level playing field’, as inequality mounts up and becomes reproduced via intergenerational mechanisms. Another, as we’ve now discovered, is the inability to maintain a sense of shared ‘reality’ amongst those repeatedly ‘winning’ and those repeatedly ‘losing’, especially where the latter are a growing majority.