A broader identity for a ruled globalisation

, by Grégoire Kinossian, Léonard De Carlo

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

A broader identity for a ruled globalisation
Image credits: Stephen Edmonds from Melbourne, Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons

For the umpteenth time, intergovernmental forums such as COP26 have lacked results. This outcome highlights the existence of an unresolved issue that needs to be untangled in order to tackle the many challenges that endanger human communities. Globalisation: a totalising phenomenon that implies strong independence as well as integration between peoples across national borders, without a global government but ones that are confined to the outdated, purely national, level.

Globalisation without rule: new trends, outdated recipes

Beyond the State-centric definition that may picture it as an erosion of the sovereignty of the state, globalisation is an encompassing phenomenon combining processes of interdependence and integration.

This interdependence is enabled through factors such as technological innovations and the consequent proliferation of transnational infrastructures of transport and communication. The unprecedented intensity of physical and immaterial flows of all kinds (trade, migration, etc) has, on the one hand, substantially transformed the perception of physical space (although international trade and migration are anything but new phenomena), and, on the other hand, created the immaterial one, i.e. the Internet. Indeed, the current stage of globalisation is characterised by the widespread feeling of reduction of the two key orientation factors: space and time. In einaudian terms, the myth of traditional borders is devitalizing in this new context.

The encompassing effect of this totally new magnitude of global interdependencies has brought up another structural change: integration. Global integration, indeed, has many facets: economic when markets broaden; social when mobility of individuals increases for business, leisure, academic, or humanitarian purposes; and eventually cultural, when substantial groups of people move from one country to another and constitute multiple and various networks of diasporas that deeply reshape the culture of both their country of origin and their new home.

However, the current state of globalisation also generates disintegration. Unquestionably, not everyone is “in between”. For instance, economic and financial liberalisation induced by ungoverned globalisation generates a rift between “winners” – who have managed to adapt to the new context – and “losers” – who are negatively affected by the new rules of the game.

Hence, globalisation is, above anything else, a process that makes political, social and economic matters more complex than they were before the multiplication of interdependencies.

Notwithstanding the increasing complexity of reality, politics stagnates, leaving out several features of globalisation ungoverned - or ruled following principles driven by outdated narratives. The dyadic issue, here, lies in the non-government of globalisation by old-fashioned political institutions and logics.

To better understand the latter issue, one should first link it to the provision of public goods. In economic terms, these are non-exclusive and non-rivalrous goods, not provided by the market albeit necessary. Indeed, they constitute vital conditions for individuals: safety, health, environmental quality, knowledge, legal and economic stability. The preservation of global public goods belongs to the whole of humankind, implying a coordination among distinct communities with different interests. Current issues such as migration, tragedy, pandemics, international or civil wars, nuclear proliferation, arms exports, hunger, greenhouse gas emissions, trade imbalances, financial crises etc. are symptoms of the erosion of public goods.

As a matter of fact, the intergovernmental method is more paralysing than problem-solving, and undermines their provision. Political leaders stick to outdated institutions because they guarantee their own power. The intergovernmental method preserves (or gives the illusion of preserving) state sovereignty, thus the power of state leaders. Globalisation compels states to cooperate, but, often, the fear of losing control prevails over the rational redistribution of governmental prerogatives to an ad hoc institution. Hence, rather than gathering political means and putting them under a single authority in order to provide a substantial government of complex and interdependent phenomena, states leaders prefer the rights of vetoing or opting out. The absence of political outputs leaves globalisation ungoverned, to the expense of everyone, albeit to different extents.

Furthermore, in the media, public relation specialists (as much as the politicians they work for) are responsible for the spreading of state-centric narratives that shape the political thought of democratic countries. This affects civil society by creating a dissonance between the confused reality observed and cognitive maps, resulting in an identity crisis which further affects both individuals and groups. Broadly speaking, beyond the lack of executive means (compared to states) civil society seems to suffer from two crucial features. On the one hand, it often underestimates the role of institutions in political and social life, relying excessively on the power of persuasion to bring about crucial changes. On the other hand, transnational discussions of structure are much rarer than within civil society organisations. This maintains an anachronic myopia within current unruled globalisation.

Civil society is, unquestionably, essential to democracy. However, due to the outdated narratives that often drive its actions and claims, civil society is not always the driver of the supposedly good governance of globalisation - not to mention the well-known ambiguous effects of the activities of multinational organizations. The eagerness of civil society to act despite its disorientation brings more incoherence to an already dysfunctional picture.

Globalisation is thus an encompassing and deeply-rooted phenomenon made dysfunctional by outdated rules, beliefs and political practices. Now, what could be the bottom-up (demos) and top-down (nomos) approach, that would pave the way to a more functional and widely beneficial globalisation?

In varietate concordia: an enlarged patriotism to address globalisation’s externalities

Considering that a state without democratic legitimacy is unlikely to last, and that no democracy stands without a state, it is necessary to focus on two elements that, combined, seem to offer a balanced and pragmatic answer: a democratic one and an institutional one. Indeed, they take into account the Zeitgeist - or the social, political and cultural contingencies which constitute our present world.

Firstly, bottom-up efforts, symbolized by openness and instruction, are required to constitute glocal peoples: ie., considering both local and global perspectives. That is to say, to be cautious of the three pitfalls that currently characterise globalisation: nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and individualism. They correspond to one of the compartments that Claudio Magris calls the matryoshka (Russian doll) of identity in the current era. Their exclusivity makes them both inefficient and pernicious for the tangible government of globalisation and obstruct its democraticisation. What should come out of this “reformulated identity” is a measured sense of belonging. A broader patriotism that, instead of sticking to one single compartment, encompasses the whole Russian doll. Bringing people together, so as to overcome individualism; being aware of exclusive collective identities, so as to overcome nationalism; remembering the local origin of individuals, so as not to be abstractly scornful as the cosmopolitan Diogenes was in Athens. In other words, stemming from Deleuze’s structural thought (the world, the country, the family, the individual) - without privileging the deductive (leftwing) or the inductive (rightwing) approach - one should adopt a third way: thinking about the more relevant scale when it is necessary and never forget the other ones. This scheme of thought would eventually enlighten our understanding of global issues, thus acknowledging the necessity of an increasingly democratic multi-level government.

Secondly, and as history has taught us, peoples’ goodwill, even in the face of human frailty, is not enough. The second factor relies on existing institutions as a means of impetus to provide a fair distribution of public goods.

Opportunely, the institutional innovation represented by federalism provides interesting solutions and could overcome the intergovernmental method’s intrinsic difficulties. Indeed, at the core of this multi-level arrangement stands the ideas of solidarity and subsidiarity. Federalism aims at broadening the current national solidarity so as to create a global solidarity, albeit only partially canceling the plurality of national patriotism worldwide. In federalism, the central government and regional governments are, each in its own sphere, both coordinated and independent. It can be expressed by means of a constitution that distributes power on more than two levels of government. Multi-level institutions mirror the matryoshka identity and institutionalise solidarity.

Furthermore, subsidiarity enables us to efficiently tackle globalisation’s externalities. It is a sharp tool to find the most appropriate government level to deal with a specific political issue. Consequently, public goods such as peace, political and economic stability, coherent climate actions, public health, education and so on would be provided worldwide, contributing to uprooting the growing hate, greed, and diffidence in this globalised world.

This article was written as part of research activities within the framework of the CESI Internship Research Project, http://www.centroeinstein.eu/.

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