(Fifteen minutes read.)
After decades of globalisation, our political systems are becoming obsolete.
Half a century has been spent building the global systems on which we all now depend.
The question is- are they here to stay or do we need a new world system in order for it to serve the human community.
If so it must be subordinated to an equally spectacular political infrastructure, which we have not even begun to conceive.
Without political innovation, global capital and technology will rule us without any kind of democratic consultation, as naturally and indubitably as the rising oceans because any alternative to the nation-state system is a utopian impossibility.
This is the main reason we will not be able to tackle Climate change.
We have to move away from the Nation by Nation Paris Climate Promises Agreement with its new rules to a Collective World undertaking not a state by state input as there is no ecosystem immune to another.
When we discuss “politics”, we refer to what goes on inside sovereign states; everything else is “foreign affairs” or “international relations” – even in this era of global financial and technological integration we are unable to act like one.
Exhaustion, hopelessness, the dwindling effectiveness of old ways: these are the themes of politics all across the world.
In each country, the tendency is to blame “our” history, “our” populists, “our” media, “our” institutions, “our” lousy politicians.
This is understandable since the organs of modern political consciousness – public education and mass media – emerged in the 19th century from a globe-conquering ideology of unique national destinies.
However, it is becoming clearer every day – the real delusion is the belief that things can carry on as they are.
Distracted by wars, the magnification of presidential powers and the corresponding abandonment of civil rights and the rule of law.
We may all use Google and Facebook, but political life, curiously, is made of separate stuff and keeps the antique faith of borders.
All countries are today embedded in the same system, which subjects them all to the same pressures: and it is these that are squeezing and warping national political life everywhere.
The current appeal of machismo as political style, the wall-building and xenophobia, the mythology and race theory, the fantastical promises of national restoration – these are not cures, but symptoms of what is slowly revealing itself to all: Nation states everywhere are in an advanced state of political and moral decay from which they cannot individually extricate themselves.
National political authority is in decline, and, since we do not know any other sort, it feels like the end of the world.
Why is this happening?
In brief, 20th-century political structures are drowning in a 21st-century ocean of deregulated finance, autonomous technology, religious militancy and great-power rivalry.
Meanwhile, the suppressed consequences of 20th-century recklessness in the once-colonised world are erupting, cracking nations into fragments and forcing populations into post-national solidarities: roving tribal militias, ethnic and religious sub-states and super-states.
Finally, the old superpowers’ demolition of old ideas of international society – ideas of the “society of nations” that were essential to the way the new world order was envisioned after 1918 – has turned the nation-state system into a lawless gangland; and this is now producing a nihilistic backlash from the ones who have been most terrorised and despoiled.
For increasing numbers of people, our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future. This is particularly the case as they watch financial elites – and their wealth – increasingly escaping national allegiances altogether.
Today’s failure of national political authority, after all, derives in large part from the loss of control over money flows. At the most obvious level, money is being transferred out of national space altogether, into a booming “offshore” zone. These fleeing trillions undermine national communities in real and symbolic ways. They are a cause of national decay, but they are also a result: for nation states have lost their moral aura, which is one of the reasons tax evasion has become an accepted fundament of 21st-century commerce.
The unwillingness even to acknowledge this crisis, meanwhile, is appropriately captured by the contempt for refugees that now drives so much of politics in the rich world.
In my view, it is unjust to preserve the freedom to move capital out of a place and simultaneously forbid people from following.
The ensuing vacuum can suck in firepower from all over the world, destroying conditions for life and spewing shell-shocked refugees in every direction. Nothing advertises the crisis of our nation-state system so well, in fact, as its 65 million refugees – a “new normal” far greater than the “old emergency” (in 1945) of 40 million.
After so many decades of globalisation, economics and information have successfully grown beyond the authority of national governments.
Today, the distribution of planetary wealth and resources is largely uncontested by any political mechanism – thanks to fourth Industrial technological revolution platforms with their algorithms, profit for profit sake is alive and growing while the inequality gap grows and grows.
Since 1989, barely 5% of the world’s wars have taken place between states:
National breakdown, not foreign invasion, has caused the vast majority of the 9 million war deaths in that time. Climate change will enhance those 9 million deaths and perversely might save the planet.
Even if we wanted to restore what we once had, that moment is gone.
We need to find new conceptions of citizenship. Citizenship is itself the primordial kind of injustice in the world.
It functions as an extreme form of inherited property and, like other systems in which inherited privilege is overwhelmingly determinant, it arouses little allegiance in those who inherit nothing.
97% of citizenship is inherited, which means that the essential horizons of life on this planet are already determined at birth.
National governments themselves need to be subjected to a superior tier of authority: Oppressed national minorities must be given a legal mechanism to appeal over the heads of their own governments.
Nations must be nested in a stack of other stable, democratic structures – some smaller, some larger than they – so that turmoil at the national level does not lead to total breakdown.
The EU is the major experiment in this direction, and it is significant that the continent that invented the nation-state was also the first to move beyond it.
The EU has failed in many of its functions, principally because it has not established a truly democratic ethos. But the free movement has hugely democratised economic opportunity within the EU.
If we as the custodians of the world are to address any of the major problems – Fresh Air, Freshwater, Clean Energy, Soil erosion, to name but a few and are unable to act as one we must put financial rewards in the path of those who do so.
Without this, our political infrastructure will continue to become more and more superfluous to actual material life.
In the process, we must also think more seriously about global redistribution: not aid, which is exceptional, but the systematic transfer of wealth from rich to poor for the improved security of all, as happens in national societies.
We’re all responsible for the state of the world.
Creating this sense of ownership, connection, empathy and compassion should not be left to chance, but should be bred into all of us through the education system and how we raise our children.
In a landmark climate report last year, the United Nations last year called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” It warned the world has only 12 years to avert a climate disaster.
“The enormity of the problem has only just dawned on quite a lot of people … Unless we sort ourselves out in the next decade or so we are dooming our children and our grandchildren to an appalling future.” David Attenborough.
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