Oddly, Trump is illuminating an answer to these questions. Here is where he may be, without realizing it, laying the foundation for a global politics of the kind that is integral to a sturdy system of global governance—a global politics that could keep people like him from winning elections in the future. Even before becoming president, Trump was bonding with like-minded political actors abroad: saying nice things about pro-Brexit politicians, lauding their desire to reclaim British autonomy by escaping the European Union. So far this emerging international league of nationalists is mainly if Bannon will pardon the expression an elite phenomenon.
But more grassroots bonding is likely. This kind of interconnection is a logical extension of the technological change that has helped fragment America, Britain, and France. As broadcasting has been supplanted by narrowcasting and, with the rise of social media, by ultranarrowcasting, people within nations have been segregated more finely by their interests, including political interests. And some of these channels will, in fusion with elite networks of the kind Bannon is building, form an international interest group united by, well, opposition to internationalism.
This may conjure up scary images: hordes of torch-bearing populists organizing globally, doing their best to sabotage international cooperation. As time passes, these populists may realize that one thing an international league of malcontents can do, given the existence of international bodies whose policies they dislike, is lobby those bodies to change their policies. Donald Trump is not a one-off. Obviously, this has an implausible ring to it. Future edifices of international governance that draw support from people who are now fire-breathing enemies of international governance?
Yet there are reasons to think this is not so far-fetched. When Nafta was being negotiated in the s, American labor unions, worried about losing jobs to Mexico, lobbied for provisions that would raise Mexican wages—whether by strengthening labor unions in Mexico or by raising wages there more directly. And Nafta did include provisions that in theory could do that, but they were oblique and ineffectual, partly because businesspeople on both sides of the border opposed stronger ones.
The idea is that Mexican factories can either raise wages or watch jobs migrate north. As for the irony that a Mexican president supported by workers would favor a policy designed to price some of them out of the market: Sacrificing a few jobs for higher wages is a common position of pro-labor politicians, as when Democrats in the US back a minimum wage hike that may dampen hiring.
This one provision may seem like a small thing, and it is. But it represents something big: Bodies of global governance, like bodies of national governance, can in principle serve various constituencies. They can lean right or lean left. It could set baseline environmental or even workplace safety standards for factories in member nations, which not only would make for a cleaner environment and safer jobs but also would raise production costs in low-wage countries, making globalization less threatening to workers in affluent countries.
So what are the chances that Trump shares this vision, that he sees a provision he put in Nafta 2. Roughly zero. Trump supported the provision not to realize a grand dream but to please a pivotal part of his base—blue-collar workers whose alienation from the Democratic Party helped swing Rust Belt votes his way in Indeed, the political pull of this policy was so strong that Trump, in pursuing it, was willing to antagonize the Republican establishment whose bidding he has generally done, except when it clashes with strong sentiments in his base as on immigration.
The unions also dig it. Yes, the unions do dig it. Any politician who wants to attract the kinds of voters unions represent would be well advised to take this insight seriously. Of course, nudging global governance to the left will still strike conservative elites—the National Review writers of the world—as unacceptably radical. Even centrists and neoliberals may ask questions like: Will this erode prosperity? Is this a slippery slope toward a global minimum wage or some other form of burdensome regulation? These are fair questions, but they should be seen against the backdrop of this harsh reality: Donald Trump is not a one-off.
To put a finer point on it: Trump represents a political reaction, visible now in many countries, both against the jarring effects of globalization and against inchoate bodies of global governance. Given that globalization is driven by inexorable technological change, and that global governance is needed to keep an interconnected planet from self-destructing, having a powerful political movement that sees these two things as mortal enemies is dangerous. If heading off that danger requires change that sounds radical, maybe radical change is in order.
People horrified by Trump have been known to wonder: When will the people who put him in power come to their senses? When will voters see through his xenophobic fearmongering and dishonesty? In the end, a bigger question may be whether the elites who make up the American establishment can see the light—whether they can reconcile themselves to forms of global governance many of them now find unacceptable.
That's only the half of it. If global governance is going to work, not only will it have to change in form; its rules will have to be widely acknowledged and heeded. International law—the amorphous body of treaties and other agreements that has been honored as much in the breach as in the observance, and which typically lacks a mechanism of firm enforcement—will have to carry more weight than it has carried. This means the American establishment, including lots of elites who oppose Trump, will have to start evincing such respect.
You could be excused for thinking they already do. That is indeed an alarming prospect. But those predecessors broke the rules pretty routinely themselves, and they often did so with the support of the very elites who now wring their hands over the fate of the rules-based international order. This ongoing rule breakage has had disastrous consequences—including, quite possibly, the election of Donald Trump.
Yet the war got broad support in Congress and on op-ed pages. The war wound up amplifying a central talking point of jihadist recruiters—that America is at war with Islam. In fact, this alternative history lacks one distinct and large fear inducer: ISIS. Does that candidate Trump get elected? The rebels still lost the civil war, but not before they had used Libyan weapons to intensify it, creating more dead bodies and more refugees. And does the Trumpian right in Germany, France, and Italy have so much energy?
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Again, alternative histories are speculative. But the general principle makes sense: If your policies bring instability that in turn breeds fear and hatred, then candidates who thrive on those things are more likely to get elected. Yet many American politicians who sing those praises also championed the Iraq and Libya adventures. That those people include Hillary Clinton—the only alternative to Trump in the election—tells you how far the American political system is from taking global governance seriously.
On the one hand, we had a candidate who ostensibly supported the UN charter but casually disregarded it. On the other, we had Trump, who denounced various US military adventures but disdains the international law that stands in opposition to military adventurism. The same can be said of most voters who warmed to his anti-interventionism, certainly including the ones who worry about the New World Order just off the horizon. They might be surprised to hear that the late Kofi Annan, who as secretary general of the UN was compared to the Antichrist in apocalyptic warnings about that order, flatly declared the invasion of Iraq illegal.
Maybe if American politicians paid more attention to people like Annan—taking international law more seriously, and realizing its potential as a check on military adventurism—this would send the same message to Trump supporters that a reimagined WTO could send: The rules-based international order, the evolving infrastructure of global governance, can be their friend.
Selling the idea of—and the reality of—populist-friendly global governance is a project that will take decades. And success may hinge on such contingencies as whether some charismatic politician with populist street cred gets behind it. This reckoning was in the cards. The only way to stop the trend toward bigger and more elaborate games is to play them so badly that chaos ensues. Still, things could be worse. It could be that the conventional wisdom is right—that Trumpism is in no small part a reaction against global governance per se, and so stands in immovable opposition to it.
But the story turns out to be more complicated than that. And global governance can in principle be done well. We can take some heart in the history of our species. They built passably effective governments of growing scope and intricacy, and sometimes placed those governments in firmly peaceful relationship with one another, even cementing these bonds with institutions that transcend borders. The rudiments of global governance, however flawed, are an impressive legacy, testament to a long and arduous ascent punctuated by chaos and bloodshed from which hard lessons were learned.
It would be nice to have a president who could carry the torch forward, someone who sees the big picture and has both an accordingly big vision and the rare skills that would inspire commitment to it. But look at it this way: At least we have Trump! In his own way, he vividly and powerfully alerts us to our predicament. Trump channels the discontent generated by the basic drift of history—the drift toward global social organization—and by contingent facts of history, in particular by the failure of his predecessors to fully grapple with that drift.
He voices grievances about economics and foreign policy that are the residue of that failure. Further testament to failure lies in the ease with which he activates and exploits the most volatile human capacities: fear, resentment, hatred, bigotry, xenophobia. His basically zero-sum perspective shows us how not to conceive of a world that is rife with nonzero-sum games.
His belligerence and narcissism, even solipsism, show us how not to act if we want to play them well.
A visiting professor of science and religion at Union Theological Seminary, he publishes the Mindful Resistance Newsletter. This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now. Let us know what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor at mail wired. A guide to busting through confirmation bias, the cognitive fallacy that's destroying our discourse.
Backchannel is moving to Wired! OK, so globalism was never great in the first place. But the rise of rank nationalists could finally—perversely—spark an era of progress and cooperation for all humanity. Story TK. Related Stories. Nicholas Thompson. Jens Stoltenberg. Selling the idea of populist-friendly global governance is a project that will take decades. Related Video. A rising China is fuelling anxieties in declining America and Europe. The rational approach to a changing world would be for free and independent nations to work out collectively a new order appropriate for our era.
But perpetuating the current international legal arrangements risks hastening an exploding pressure cooker. When old powers rely on preserving the existing rules, it is just as dangerous, if not more so, for the world than the actions of others who evade or seek to rewrite those rules. This is why contemporary globalists are as much a threat to world peace as those they condemn as old-fashioned economic nationalists. When incumbents use their privileged positions to try to preserve the status quo at the expense of frustrating their challengers, this makes for a potentially explosive international environment.
This unwise stance appears so popular among elites because it reflects their deep attachment to the status quo. Political elites no longer promote alternative visions for the future.
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Having given up on political deliberation, rule-following has become a substitute for prudence and for new thinking. Writing at the end of the 18th century, Kant explained that he rejected relying on international law, on the grounds that law was an apologia for power. Instead, he argued that the cause of world peace could only be based securely on freedom and reason. Kant was confident that humanity not only possessed reason but also that we would ultimately be guided by it.
Their disregard for democracy was revealed starkly in , when they openly showed their contempt for the British people who voted to leave the European Union and for the American people who elected Donald Trump. The globalist indifference to respecting democratic decision-making rests on their disavowal of the efficacy of human agency.
This also informs the fatalism behind the modern perspective on globalisation. It is said that we inhabit a world determined by global market forces over which we can have little influence. This is to see globalisation as an objective force that appears almost impervious to human will and action, and it informs the most critical and far-reaching of the globalist tenets: that national policymaking has become much less effective, verging on being redundant.
Instead, we are increasingly at the whim of impersonal, autonomous global forces. It apparently determines that democracy is unable to operate, thereby determining that people have no way of exercising control over globalisation. Take, for instance, this statement from Alan Greenspan, the then recently retired chairman of the US Federal Reserve, who was asked by a Swiss newspaper who the next president of the United States might be.
The world is governed by market forces. This sums up the most important political corollary of the belief in ascendant globalisation: that the theory and practice of national sovereignty and the nation state is undermined by a world in the process of rapid change. But without the nation state, we have no working vehicle for popular sovereignty. Globalisation is thought to determine that democracy is unable to operate, thereby determining that people have no way of exercising control over the unfolding of globalisation.
A globalist like Greenspan belittling democracy is not incidental. It is poignant that this historical period up to the present itself offers many illustrations that globalisation is not a natural process. Globalisation cannot legitimately be presented as a self-driven phenomenon divorced from politics. Globalisation, in short, refers to the belief that the world — economically, politically and ecologically — is shrinking fast in its social and physical dimensions. Who are they? But the globalists are much broader than Davos attendees.
Globalism, in turn, describes the dominant perspective of the postwar Western political and business establishment. We have already touched on its attachment to rules. Similarly, in his acclaimed review of the financial crisis, historian Adam Tooze wrote that the crisis had exposed globalisation as resting upon rules. Of course, devotion to rules does not mean globalist politicians always adhere to them. Globalist governments, especially in powerful countries, have been known to break them with relative equanimity when their national circumstances require it.
The US, for instance, regularly violated the rules that it claimed to uphold, as it conducted unauthorised military interventions and covert operations overseas. And the European Commission treats larger states that break its budget rules much more leniently than other smaller ones. While formally governing by rules has been the globalist norm since the Second World War, it did not start then. The interwar desire by Britain, France, Germany and other developed countries to return to the prewar gold standard expressed the desire by politicians to be able to follow rules.
By the end of , 35 currencies worldwide were either officially convertible into gold or had been stabilised for at least a year. A common adherence to the gold standard by developed countries created a de facto international rule. It is pertinent for an appreciation of the significance of rules today that the essence of the gold-standard rule was a domestic commitment mechanism.
Alignment limited discretionary state policies at home. In fact, the breakdown of the gold standard in has been partly attributed to the rise of democracy, because it was the newly enfranchised masses who suffered the most from the domestic austerity measures taken to maintain adherence to the rule.
In retrospect, it was easier to see that the overvalued return to the gold-standard rule caused much economic and social damage during the interwar period in Britain and elsewhere.
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And a stubborn adherence to following rules ultimately contributed to the tensions that resulted in the resumption of global conflict in Nevertheless, this lesson was not learned. In the aftermath of the Second World War bloodbath, efforts were redoubled to try to govern through an organised regime.
Now we turn to assess an increasingly forthright feature of the globalist school: its promotion of the rule of law. It is therefore important to assess the phrase within the context in which it is used. Historically, there is no doubt that the rule of law was a crucial element in the spread of liberty and freedom. This juridical view of freedom was well captured by the eminent interwar Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis. Officials as well as ordinary citizens should be subject to its dictates.
In this application, the rule of law provides a vital guard against the arbitrary exercise of power. In the past it has certainly helped to promote a healthy scepticism towards the rulers by those ruled. The idea of the rule of law originated in Ancient Athens. Nomos the primacy of law took over from physis nature as a better way of ordering society.
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Under Athenian democracy, every citizen, regardless of wealth and power, was equal under the law. Representing the poor of their time, Athenian sailors in the agora argued for the law to protect the masses against the whims of the wealthy and powerful. With the spread of mass suffrage in the 20th century, the idea of putting constraints on what the rulers could do has turned into putting constraints on what governments accountable to the people could do.
The concept of the rule of law was also adopted during the Roman Republic. In the early years of the republic, only the elite of Rome knew what the laws were, which obviously favored the aristocracy. In BC, after about 50 years of the republic, this particular flaw was rectified. Making the laws public gave parity to everyone, enabling the law to treat all people equally. Instead, political power could only be exercised according to procedures and constraints prescribed by publicly known laws.
This rule of law positively required all persons, including governmental officials, to obey the laws and to be held accountable through the courts if they did not. Moreover, the laws could be changed only through constitutional procedures and could not be nullified or overridden by individual fiat.
This approach still provides an important protection against oligarchy and despotism, and allows for the defence of minority rights. However, that liberal essence of the rule of law has been increasingly eroded over the past century, and especially since the s. No doubt many globalists will disagree with this view. However, it is probably less controversial when seen in the context of the colonies or neo-colonies.
John Sydenham Furnivall was a British colonial administrator in Burma for 30 years, until the early s, when he left to become a scholar critical of Western imperial policies. He argued the reverse: begin with autonomy, and social and economic development would follow. It needs to be assessed within its specific social and political circumstances. Consider one definition of liberalism suggested by the political scientist Francis Fukuyama.
This does not sound objectionable. Which is what happened with the spread of mass suffrage in the 20th century, when the idea of putting constraints and limits on what the rulers could do has turned into putting constraints and limits on what governments accountable to the people could do. The meaning of the rule of law has shifted, giving it precedence over rule by law — lawmaking that is politically accountable to ordinary people. He and his Democratic Party had been elected in with a mandate to implement measures to combat the effects of the Great Depression.
The Supreme Court felt compelled to back down and approve his earlier New Deal policies. The responsibility of governments to act on their electoral mandates is devalued by insisting on their overriding responsibility to the rule of law. Again, on the surface, this does not sound overtly undemocratic. The institutions of government should be bound by the rule of law. Governments should not be free to flout laws that apply to others. But another essential democratic principle is that governments should be accountable to their electorate.
The laws to be followed should be those that the people agree with. If enough do not vote for them or subsequently disagree with them, they can replace the government and change the laws at the next election. Moreover, this perspective on the rule of law, where government actions need to meet certain internationally set criteria, has already legitimated international intervention in the affairs of sovereign states. Many nations have been invaded because of claims they were in breach of the law, including in recent times Somalia, Serbia, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
The increasing use of the rule of law to validate the erosion of national sovereignty is part of the broader reimagining of the postwar international order, insofar as postwar international institutions are increasingly attributed authority over national governments. Their elevation above popular sovereignty endows them with a hallowed and almost enchanted power. Giving so much clout to international institutions turns a wish into a false reality. However, these institutions ultimately only express the forces and pressures of the nations that make them up.
In themselves, the institutions cannot do anything when powerful member states ignore them. The League of Nations was powerless to prevent these. Another international-relations expert, Stephen Walt from Harvard, not only declined to sign that New York Times statement, he also challenged its assumptions. He explained that these institutions were set up in a different era from the present. Walt cautioned that nostalgia for a past that never existed would not help to address contemporary issues.
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Walt showed this was never a fully global order. The US, he reminded his colleagues, has propped up plenty of authoritarian illiberal rulers throughout the Cold War and has continued to do so since. A more recent disdain for international rules came when the US led the invasion of Iraq in without UN approval.
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White House administrations have not hesitated to break the rules of the liberal order in order to follow their national interests. This is what happened when the US unilaterally dismantled the Bretton Woods currency exchange system in , because it could no longer follow the rules it had earlier approved. Domestic interests simply assumed greater importance for the US than continuing its core commitment to the international monetary system. Walt went on to point out that some of the institutions being defended today are actually a source of the trouble we face.