Saturday, April 15, 2006

Economic Globalization and the Role of the Nation-State in a Global System

The contours of the debate about the effect of globalization on the global state system are well known. Perhaps less well understood is the way in which major views of globalization all tend to posit the end of the state system. The result does not change even when considering state friendly conceptions of globalization. More interesting still is that even the great anti-globalization perspectives do little to defend the traditional state system. Whatever the form of opposition, each also essentially posits a global system in which the state plays a subordinate role.

The result is the same whatever the perspective one adopts about the relationship of globalization and the nation-state. Consider three very different perspectives on globalization and the state. The first proceeds from the logic of the so-called Washington Consensus of private economic transactional neo-liberal globalization. The second looks at economic globalization from a more traditionally state centered perspective. The third embraces the analytical framework current in certain parts of the developing world and among some major Western religious institutions in which it takes the form of a moral critique of Western led economic globalization. All three ultimately posit the same consequence for state systems as the foundation of world order – a replacement of the traditional state system as the foundation of law making in the global system of political governance. Each differs only in the nature and form of the system that will replace this system. In the first view all states ultimately suffer the same fate, though perhaps not all at the same time. Political power becomes more diffuse and shared among political, economic, religious, scientific and other communities. The second and third produce a perversion of the state system with a few hyper-states acting as the driving force of international norm making over an amalgamation of other actors, including states, and other political, economic, scientific, religious and related communities.

In the much earlier language of classical political theory, each of the perspectives on globalization and the state suggest the rise of one or another form of Aristotelian aristocratic governance—in which a few states, alone or in concert with powerful private entities, will effectively govern for the community of nations subject to a set of norms that transcend national boundaries (ARISTOTLE, POLITICS (WILLIAM ELLIS, TRANS. 1912)). Of course, Aristotle noted that aristocracy comes in a wide variety of forms, from simple semi-democratic to monarchical aristocracy. Applied by analogy to the governance by states within a community of nations, the former is likely to prevail where a large body of the community is of moderate means, and the latter where few in the community have enormous wealth and power. (See id., at 118-119 (Bk. IV, Ch. VI)). To the extent that any such form of governance takes into account the common good, Aristotle tended to be indifferent as to the form of governance; however, in their corrupted form “a tyranny is a monarchy where the good of one man only is the object of government, an oligarchy considers only the rich, and a democracy only the poor.” ( Id., at 79 (Bk. III, Ch. VII)).

The first suggests a more vestigial role for all states and the rule of amalgamations of private and public power, the characteristics of which will be determined by the aggregate desires of individuals pursuing private benefit. In effect state and non-state actors will share more equally in increasingly broad areas of global governance. This is the sort of governance corresponding to Aristotle’s notion of aristocracy. Aristotle describes an aristocracy as a polis “governed by the best men, upon the most virtuous principles. . . . which is the best of all governments.” (Id., at 120 (Bk. IV, Ch. VII)).

The second suggests a larger, though subordinate role for some but not all nation-states, but views this transition as benefiting all people. States continue to play a dominant role in governance, but only the most powerful of states will reserve to themselves the full range of power and authority to manage global governance. This corresponds to Aristotle’s notion of oligarchy. Aristotle describes four classes of oligarchy: where the right to offices is restricted by a certain census that effectively excludes the poor from any share; where those in control are all of small fortune but retain the power, among themselves to control the institutions of government (this, Aristotle suggests, is the closest in form to aristocracy where the selection is made from among the best of the community at large and closest to an oligarchy when the choice is restricted to a n arbitrarily small group); where power is hereditary (that is based on a characteristic other than worthiness; in a modern context, for example, perhaps race, ethnicity, or the like); and lastly, where the hereditary nobility rules without regard to law but only with regard to its own desires (this corresponds closest to the form of monarchical tyranny). Aristotle, supra, note 16, at 117 (Bk. IV, Ch. V).

The third perspective indicts this transition as the embrace of multiple systems of subordination: racial, economic, ethnic, social, political, and the like. In this view of globalization, certain powerful members of the community of nations will appropriate for themselves not only all of the power, but also all of the benefit of power for themselves and to the detriment of others. I provide context for this assertion by looking briefly at the current debate over sovereign debt and its amelioration. This suggests the form of Aristotle’s aristocratic or even monarchical tyranny. Aristotle describes tyranny as a corruption of either monarchy or democracy, but shows his greatest concern with what he describes a third distinct class of tyranny “which is the very opposite to kingly power; for this is the government of one who rules over his equals and superiors without being accountable for his conduct, and whose object is his own advantage, and not the advantage of those he governs.” (Id., at 125 (Bk. IV, Ch. X).

But the processes I describe, which in every variation appears to claim the state as a casualty of globalization, is both messier and more complicated than the three models of crisis suggest. Simultaneously developing alongside globalization, or surviving its ascendancy, are other systems incompatible with and likely to engage in conflicts for dominance with both the current system and the ascending system of globalization. These threats arise primarily from three sources. The first include alternative universalizing systems of global organization, based principally in religion. The second include universalizing systems in decline, principally the Marxist-Leninist vision of the past century. The last include anti-universalizing systems and anarchistic systems, from anti-globalization groups, to eco-activists, to old-fashioned conservatives. It seems that the only defense of the traditional state systems is essentially reactionary and increasingly anachronistic. The consequence for the traditional state system appears to be the same, whatever the form of globalization embraced, from the most benign to the most aggressive, and whatever the character of opposition to globalization endorsed. The attachment to a particular nation-state bounded by a finite territory no longer appears to be the critical factor in the debate about globalization. Under any of these models, the state will effectively fall away for all practical purposes. Yet states continue to appear to be quite strong. The state’s continued utility today does not suggest any vitality in the primacy of the state system so much as the immaturity of the new global institutional system. The process of change is messy. It is always uncertain. It’s future can only be divined – but its vectors can be discerned. Globalization along the lines suggested, and the crisis of the state it suggests, is multi-layered, ushering in a new hierarchy of wealth and power based on levels of integration into emerging global systems. The world is being divided along different, more diffuse, and complex lines. Pockets of inferiority may exist within as well as outside even the most powerful states. Development will not necessarily be determinable within the borders of any states, but like other things, may also jump borders. The poor of Appalachia may have more in common with the slum dwellers of Manila than with the executives and other officers employed in transnational economic enterprises.
“The contemporary international political economy is actually multi-layered, with distinct ‘levels’ being characterized by differing patterns of action and interaction. Globalization may provide an effective metaphor for developments at some levels of contemporary activity, but be seriously misleading at others. Moreover, the differences amongst the characteristics and dynamics of activity at the different ‘levels’ may well be a major source of future change in the international system and, under certain conditions, the actual reversal of current tendencies toward greater globalization.” R.J. BARRY JONES, GLOBALISATION AND INTERDEPENDENCE IN THE INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMY: RHETORIC AND REALITY 226 (1995).

In any case, the state will be both a player and object of these processes. But the character of that process, and its moral value (is it good, bad, neither, or some combination) can vary significantly depending on the perspective of the judge. Looking at the very same process, agreeing even on the basic construction of the reality of globalization, it is possible to see three very different events unfolding. From one perspective, globalization is producing something like an Aristotelian aristocracy of global governance among the state and non-state actors who all serve the “law” and “custom” of the market. From a second perspective, globalization is a process of corruption of aristocracy, producing on a global scale, an Aristotelian oligarchy. This oligarchy, consisting of a few super states, uses globalization as a cover for the satisfaction of their own desires and perpetuation of their domination over a caste system of inferior states. From yet another perspective, globalization is the cover for a global tyranny by one hegemon, usually the United States (and its allies), to perpetuate a global system for its sole benefit and to the detriment of all other persons, entities or states.

By whatever perspective one views globalization, the state suffers a detriment to its status, in form or effect (or both). All states cede sovereignty either (1) to a host of actors in the service of the market and the quest for individual value maximization, or (2) to a few super states who alone exercise traditional state sovereign power in the name of and to further the global system, or (3) to a global tyrant seeking indirect global imperium. Those who would challenge the current system of economic globalization offer little of value to those who would defend the traditional state system, either because they seek to substitute another universalist ideology for that of economic globalization or seek to undo any sort of political order at all. Whatever the future brings, there is little question that the role of the nation-state will become more complex, less sure, more diffuse, and differentiated. This will be the case even conceding, as I am happy to do, that references to the traditional system is made in the full knowledge that the system never worked as perfectly as its theory would indicate, or that it was ever expected to perform that way. See generally, STEPHEN D. KRASNER, SOVEREIGNTY: ORGANIZED HYPOCRISY (1999). The meaning of this change will remain far less sure—and in that uncertainly lies the possibilities for challenge and change, opportunity and the fall of nations.

A longer version of this discussion will be published as Larry Catá Backer, Economic Globalization Ascendant: Four Perspectives on the Emerging Ideology of the State in the New Global Order, 17(1) BERKELEY LA RAZA LAW JOURNAL 141 (2006) (Published as Globalização Econômica e Crise do Estado: um estudo em quatro perspectives, SEQUENCIA No. 51: 255-276 (December 2005).

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