This is the first essay in a two-part series by Phil Mullan exploring the political and economic creed of globalism. The second part, on the genesis and politics of neoliberalism, will be published next week.
We have entered another unstable era for the world order. Some anticipate a ‘Thucydides moment’, a reference to his history of the Peloponnesian War 2,500 years ago, in which he wrote: ‘What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.’ Today we could be on the same path as the old and new powers clash. A rising China is fuelling anxieties in declining America and Europe. Meanwhile, escalating strains within the ‘old’ Western world are also adding to the disruptive mix.
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. However, the dominant globalist perspective has instead been to insist on adherence to the existing ‘rules-based international order’ as established after the Second World War. 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. Ship of Fools: How a S... Check Amazon for Pricing.
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. This doesn’t only represent a loss of imagination – it also reveals an unfortunate loss of belief in the capacity of people, and their free democratic nations, to act responsibly. Having given up on political deliberation, rule-following has become a substitute for prudence and for new thinking.
This is far removed from Immanuel Kant’s outline of the path to world order in his influential essay on perpetual peace. 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.
Today’s globalists have lost faith in reason guiding people’s actions. Their disregard for democracy was revealed starkly in 2016, 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.