Conversation with Jean Ziegler
Translated for The Crisis Papers from the French by Siv O'Neall.
Jean Ziegler, rapporteur at the UN (60.000 civil servants) on questions
of food resources has just published a book translated in 14 languages:
Empire of Shame (Editions Fayard).
In this 11 MB video [in French] ... which corresponds to his
recent interview on TV5 (Canadian television), Jean Ziegler presents his
work. He explains why, at the time of the French revolution, the idea of
providing enough food for all human beings on Earth was still a utopia, a
dream, but how today that would be a technically possible thing. But it is
impossible because of the way the wealth in the world is captured by a few
people, whom he calls the Lords of the Economic War. Those people
constitute a Feudal Order and their principal weapon is nothing other than
the American military power, which operates from now on without the
approval of the UN, without any control. The United States from now on
uses torture and assassination as "a necessary thing" and they have
withdrawn from the Geneva Conventions. The author announces that the
nomination of Wolfowitz as the director of the World Bank is one more
disaster, since, in the future, the World Bank, instead of trying to work
towards justice, will put itself in the service of the most powerful.
Ziegler reminds us that Bush signed a decree that authorizes armed
American commandos to operate outside of the USA while physically
eliminating not just guilty people, but mere suspects. He talks about the
New Barbarism and an "Organization of Hunger" in the service of the New
World Order, murderous and absurd. Ziegler talks about the need for a
The tone of this man is impressive. The interview on a [French-]Canadian
television channel (TV5) took place during prime time.
Listen to what this man is saying, read his book, spread his message. It
is your future as a human being that is at stake. (Gian Paolo
The Complete Interview:
Jean Ziegler: "We are going towards a new feudalization of the world"
In his new book, ‘Empire of Shame’ (Editions Fayard), which was
published on March 10, 2005, [Jean Ziegler], the subversive Geneva
sociologist and intellectual - today serving as the UN Special Rapporteur
on the Right to Food under the UN commission for human rights - moves on
to attacking the "private transcontinental companies". Accused [by
Ziegler] of maintaining [3rd world] famine, of destroying nature and of
subverting democracy, these corporations extend their influence over the
world and they aim at the annihilation of the conquests of the
Enlightenment. In order to resist them, we will have to return to the
spirit of the French revolution and to stand up, the way president Lula da
Silva in Brazil already does.
Your book is entitled Empire of Shame. What is this empire? Why "shame"?
What is this shame?
Jean Ziegler: In the favelas (= shantytowns) in the north of
Brazil, some mothers may, in the evening, put water in a pot and then put
stones in it. They explain to their children who are crying because of
hunger that "soon the meal will be ready…", while hoping that meanwhile the
children will fall asleep. Can one measure the shame felt by a mother
facing her children who are tortured by hunger and whom she is unable to
However the murderous order of the world - which kills 100,000 people every
day from hunger and epidemics - does not only make the victims feel ashamed,
but also us, Westerners, Whites, rulers, who are accomplices of this
massacre, aware, informed and nevertheless silent, cowardly and paralyzed.
Empire of shame? It could be referring to the generalized impact of the
feeling of shame caused by the inhumanity of the world order. What is
actually implied here is the empire of the private transcontinental
companies, directed by the cosmocrats. The 500 most powerful of these
companies last year controlled 52 % of the gross world product, i.e. of the
entire wealth produced on the planet.
In your book, you talk about a "structural violence". What is the meaning
Jean Ziegler: In the empire of shame, controlled by organized
scarcity [of food and essentials], war is not sporadic any more, it is
permanent. It is not any more a crisis, a pathology, but normality. It does
not any more imply the eclipse of reason - as Horkheimer expressed it - it
is the very raison d’être of the empire. The lords of the financial
war have put the planet under the scalpel of organized economic destruction.
They attack the normative power of the States, challenge the sovereignty of
the people, subvert democracy, wreak havoc on nature, destroy human beings
and their freedoms. The liberalization of the economy, the "invisible hand"
of the market, is their way of dealing with the universe; the maximalization
of profit is the way it works. I call this practice and this cosmogony
Also you talk about the "death throes of the right". What do you mean by
Jean Ziegler: In the future, the preventive eternal war, the
permanent aggressiveness of the lords, the arbitrary and the structural
violence rule without constraints. The majority of the barriers of
international law are collapsing. The UN itself is anemic. Cosmocrats are
above the law. My book describes the collapse of international law,
quoting numerous examples drawn directly from my experience as special
rapporteur at the United Nations for the right to access to food.
You qualify famine as a "weapon of mass destruction." What
solutions do you recommend?
Jean Ziegler: Through the debt, hunger is the weapon of mass
destruction which is used by the cosmocrats to crush - and to exploit - the
people, in particular in the Southern hemisphere. A complex set of
measures, immediately feasible and which I describe in the book, could
quickly put a term to hunger. It is impossible to sum these up in one
sentence. One thing is certain: world agriculture, in the current state
of productivity, could feed twice the number of today’s global population.
So it is not a matter of fate: hunger is man made.
Some countries are crushed, you say, by the "odious debt". What do you
mean by "odious debt" and what solutions do you recommend?
Jean Ziegler: Rwanda is a small farming republic of 26 000 km2,
located on the mountain ridge of central Africa which separates the water
from the Nile and the Congo River. Rwandan farmers grow tea and coffee. From
April to June 1994, a dreadful genocide, organized by the Hutu government
allied with France at the time of François Mitterrand, caused the death of
more than 800,000 Tutsi men, women and children. The machetes that were used
for the genocide were imported from China and Egypt, and were financed,
essentially, by the Crédit Lyonnais. Today the survivors, farmers as poor as
Job, must refund to banks and creditor governments even the credits which
were used for the purchase of the machetes used by the genocidal Hutus. That
is an example of an odious debt. The solution is immediate debt cancellation
and without conditions attached or, to begin with, by an audit of the debt,
as the International Socialist Organization recommends and the way president
Lula did it in Brazil, and then renegotiate the debt item by item. For each
item, there are actually criminal components – corruption, hugely padded
bills, etc. - which must be reduced. International audit companies, like
PriceWaterhouseCooper or Ernst & Young, can perfectly well be in charge of
these audits, the way they are each year responsible for auditing the
accounts of the multinational corporations.
On several occasions you quote President Lula da Silva as a model. What
inspires you with this high consideration for his actions?
Jean Ziegler: I feel both admiration and concern when I consider the
political objectives and actions of President Lula: admiration because he is
the first president of Brazil who dares recognize that there are 44 million
citizens seriously and permanently undernourished in his country and the
first who wants to put an end to this inhuman situation; and also concern,
because with his country’s foreign debt of 235 billion dollars, Lula does
not have the means to put an end to this situation.
In your book you also talk about a "new feudalization of the world". What
do you mean?
Jean Ziegler: On August 4, 1789, the deputies of the French National
Assembly abolished feudalism. Their action had a universal repercussion.
Today, however, we witness a tremendous step backwards. September 11, 2001
did not only provide George W. Bush with the pretext for extending the
influence of the United States over the world, the event also served as
justification for the staging of organized economic destruction of the
people of the Southern hemisphere by the large private transcontinental
In your book, you very often refer to the French revolution and some of
its protagonists (Danton, Babeuf, Marat…): In what way do you consider that
it still has something to teach us, two centuries later, in such a different
Jean Ziegler: Read the texts! The Proclamation of Jacques Roux and
the Enragés (radical extremists in the French Revolution who demanded strict
economic controls) sets the horizon for any struggle for planetary social
justice. The founding values of the republic, or more than that, of
civilization itself, date from the time of the Enlightenment. However, the
empire of shame destroys even the hope for the realization of these values.
In your book, you accuse the total war against terrorism of diverting
resources necessary to other more important struggles such as the struggle
against hunger. Do you think that terrorism is a false threat, cultivated by
some States? If so, what makes you think that? Do you think that this threat
is not real or that it deserves a different treatment?
Jean Ziegler: The State terrorism of Bush, Sharon, Putin... is as
appalling as Islamic Jihad terrorism of small groups or other insane and
bloodthirsty men of that kind. They are two faces of the same kind of
barbarism. They are both quite real, since Bush kills and Ben Laden
kills. The problem is the eradication of terrorism: it can be done only by
the total disruption of the empire of shame. Only through global social
justice will it be possible to cut the Jihadists off from their roots and
deprive the cosmocrats’ lackeys of their pretexts for counterattacks.
You were appointed special rapporteur at the UN on the right to food in
2002. What reflection did you draw from this mission?
Jean Ziegler: My mandate is fascinating: I am totally independent and
answerable to the General Assembly of the UN and the commission for human
rights. I have to make a new human right justifiable, through statutory or
conventional rights: the right to food. It is a Sisyphus task! It advances
millimeter by millimeter. The essential center of this struggle is the
collective conscience. For a long time, the destruction of human beings
by hunger has been tolerated with a kind of ice cold acceptance. Today,
it is regarded as intolerable. Public opinion puts pressure on governments
and on the international organizations (WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, etc.)
so that basic measures are taken to slay the enemy: land reform in the
Third World, suitable prices paid for the agricultural produce of the South,
rationalization of humanitarian aid in the event of sudden catastrophes, the
closing of the Chicago Stock Exchange for agricultural products and raw
materials, which speculates in the rise of prices of major food products,
fights against the privatization of drinking water, etc.
In your book, you seem to defend the cause of the "altermondialistes",
even as if you were a spokesman for this movement. How is it that you so
seldom participate in the "alternative" demonstrations and that you are
generally not regarded as an "alternative" intellectual?
Jean Ziegler: What do you mean? I spoke in front of 20,000 people in
the "Gigantino" of Porto Alegre in January 2003. I feel like an organic
intellectual of the new planetary civil society, of its multiple faces of
resistance, this tremendous fraternity of the night. But I remain faithful
to the principles of the revolutionary class analysis, in Jacques Roux,
Babeuf, Marat and Saint-Just.
You seem to attribute all the misfortunes of the world to the
multinationals and to a handful of States (the United States, Russia,
Israel…): isn't that a bit simplistic?
Jean Ziegler: The order of the current world is not only murderous,
it is also absurd. It kills, destroys, slaughters, but it does so for no
other reason than the desire for maximum profit for some cosmocrats who are
driven by an obsession for power and unlimited greed.
Bush, Sharon, Putin? Lackeys, henchmen. I will add a postscript on Israel:
Sharon is not Israel. He is the perversion of Israel. Michael Warshavski,
Lea Tselem, the "Rabbis for human rights" and many other resistance
organizations incarnate the true Israel, the future of Israel. They deserve
our total solidarity.
Do you think that morals have a place in international relations, since
they are rather dictated by economic and geopolitical interests?
Jean Ziegler: There is no choice. Either you choose development and
normative organization or you choose the invisible hand of the market, the
violence of the strongest and the arbitrary. Feudal power and social justice
are radically paradoxical.
"Ahead towards our roots", urges the German Marxist Ernst Bloch. If we do
not urgently restore the values of the Enlightenment, the Republic,
international law, civilization such as we have built it for two hundred and
fifty years in Europe will be annihilated, absorbed by the jungle.
Since the departure of the Taliban, the Middle East and the Arab-Muslim
world seem to be hit by a wave of more or less spontaneous democratization
(elections in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine, the opening of the
presidential election to multiple candidates in Egypt…). How do you feel
about that and do you think that democracy can be exported to those
countries? Or do you believe that they are condemned to having despotic
Jean Ziegler: It is not a question "of exporting democracy". The desire of
autonomy, democracy, popular sovereignty is innate in human beings, whatever
the area of the world where they were born. My friend the great Syrian
sociologist Bassam Tibi wants lo live a life in democracy and has a right to
it. However, for thirty years he has been living in Germany, in exile from
the dreadful dictatorship which prevails in his country. Elias Sambar, the
Palestinian writer, another one of my friends, has a right to a free and
democratic Palestine, not to an occupied Palestine, nor should he have to
live a life under the obscurantist iron rule of the Islamists. Tibi, Sambar
and I want the same thing and we all have a right to it: democracy. The
problem: the cold war, the instruments of the systems in place by the great
powers, and finally the cowardice of the Western democrats, their lack of
active and real solidarity have made it possible for the tyrants of the
Middle East, of Saudi Arabia, of Egypt, of Syria, of the Gulf and of Iran to
last until today.
Gian Paolo Accardo
Source: La Libre Belgique