Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Ulrich Beck's Vision of New World Order is Whistling in the Wind

Ulrich Beck 's name is well known as a profound thinker on social theory but I thought his article yesterday was, despite its elegant style, fundamentally a bit lightweight. He argues that the pressing problems facing the world are not soluble via 'nation state' politics. Instead he cites the success of the EU as a template for the future. He sees the EU as based upon the values of the Nuremburg trails which 'went far beyond the sovereignty of the nation state', 'broke with the previous nation state logic of international law' and formed a 'community of nations'.

He excoriates the traditional ethnocentric nationalistic approach which has caused so much suffering and invokes the spirit of the EU as the basis of a new world:

The answer to global problems that are gathering ominously all around and that refuse to yield to nation-state solutions is for politics to take a quantum leap from the nation-state system to the 'cosmopolitan state'[ie E.U.] system. More than anywhere else in the world, Europe shows that this step is possible. Europe teaches the modern world that the political evolution of states and state systems is by no means at an end.

Oh wouldn't it be nice. Unfortunately visions of a new world order are not at all new and have been proffered in the past by a pantheon of well meaning intellectuals, from Bertrand Russell and Leonard Woolf to modern day advocates of world government like George Monbiot. But the League of Nations and the UN proved ineffective as embryos for any kind world authority simply because different states, with different cultures and perceptions of the world, refused to sacrifice their sovereignty for anything wider.

Beck is right that the EU, based upon mutual economic interest, has proved a huge success in that it has negated any future outbreaks of the wars which devastated the world during the last century and created a 'community' of some 500 million people with millions more knocking on the door. But the basic unit of world politics, despite globalization, is still the nation state and it is the incompatibilities between them- not to mention within them- that makes the idea of any new logic in international relations merely more of the wishful thinking which characterised so much of the interwar period and proved impossible to realise.

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