Tell Fox News that Gordon Brown Has Joined the Global Conspiracy


anti-united-nations The prime minister of Britain says a lot of good things about global coordination to overcome shared, global problems in his recent op-ed. But I am pretty stunned at his concluding remark that we should ‘create the first truly global society.’

The idea of course has a lot to recommend it. The global scale of some problems (global warming, terrorism, drugs) suggests we need globally-scaled solutions, and a global society, or ideally a world government (WG), would be able to coordinate that a lot more easily than the messy, choppy circus of multilateral meetings that passes as ‘global governance’ today. When I teach International Organization, I spend a week or two on the counterfactual of WG. We talk about what the benefits might be, why it has not happened, what its prospects are, how it might be organized, etc. (If you are curious about some detailed ideas, try here.) The economies of scale and efficiency benefits of WG are basically the same as those of any integration scheme – NAFTA, the EU, ASEAN, etc. And there is a great logic question in why human political organization has risen to the level of the sovereign state, but no further. In other words, we progressed from families to tribes to city-states to nation-states, and some of our nation-states are continental-sized. But we have not moved to WG. Why not?

The best answer I can think of is nationalism. And this is why Brown’s remark shocked me so much. The big reason we don’t have a ‘global society,’ much less WG, is because no one wants it. People remained deeply psychologically wedded to their nation, even if those nations are recent, artificial, rickety, etc. Look at how much the Iraqis want the US to leave even though the Iraqi ‘nation’ feels like a myth. Or consider how hard European integration has been. Yes, there are organizational problems with the EU that hamper more integration. The EU is a bureaucratic morass that only specialized academics fully grasp, but this is a second-order reason. The EU would work better if the EU’s citizens really wanted it to, if they really felt like ‘Europeans,’ not Irish, French, Poles, etc. Then they would vote to give it real constitutional and organizational clarity. But the Eurobarometer evidence does not suggest that Europeans are shifting their cultural-national allegiance and identification from their national community to the European one.

If the postmodern, ‘we’don’t-have-militaries-anymore’ Euros can’t forge a continental identity, then how can the rest of us possibly build a ‘global society’? And certainly, the US, the audience of the Brown op-ed, is dead-set against this. The American Right thinks state health care is the beginning of socialist tyranny, and before 9/11 John Bolton called global governance the greatest threat to the United States. The American Right is deeply committed to American exceptionalism. Serious talk of a ‘global society,’ much less a WG, would provoke a huge backlash. To the US right, Kyoto was a major breach of US sovereignty, and even NAFTA may be a bridge too far. I can only imagine American conservatives flipping out on reading that line by Brown. Can you picture the Fox News hysteria if an American official actually concurred with the leader of our most important ally? Glenn Beck would be in tears again, and there’d be rioting in the streets…

15 thoughts on “Tell Fox News that Gordon Brown Has Joined the Global Conspiracy

  1. Bob:

    People remained deeply psychologically wedded to their nation, even if those nations are recent, artificial, rickety, etc.

    I found this comment quite interesting and was wondering if this has been historically true as well (going back to/before Westphalia etc.).

    • I would say it does not preadate Westphalia, but the real expert here is Benedict Anderson: http://www.amazon.com/Imagined-Communities-Reflections-Origin-Nationalism/dp/1844670864/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1254121071&sr=8-1. I found Anderson’s argument that nationalism is frequently created by state elites to be very persuasive. Koreans talk about the Korean nation going back 3-5000 years, but it is hard to imagine any kind of meaningful common social threads existing for such a long time. But modern Koreans have manufactured that story through museums (http://www.museum.go.kr/EngMain.do), film (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanbando), and nationalist historiography. And now they believe it; the story has become reality.

      The result however can be genuine historical consciousness because people, over time, perceive their nation to be one. Consider the Palestinians. 70 years ago, there was no Palestinian nation. They were Arabs living in Palestine. Today, after decades of singular historical experiences, they now think of themselves as one, and so they have become one. Israelis don’t seem to want to recognize that. If they are just Arabs, they can live in other Arab lands (the standard settler argument). But the point is that the Palestinians do now have a national consciousness, and the Israelis can’t just ignore that anymore.

  2. Dr. Bob:

    You wrote, ” our most important ally”. I thought that the US under President Obama was moving away from these old alliagances? All allies are now equal, right? Also, a WG would be official re-colonization. It would be White down governance. I just can’t see France or the US applying Zimbabwe’s input. Can you imagine trying to fit Robert Mugabe’s, Ali Ben Bongo’s, Obiang’s, Gambia’s Jammeh or Senegal’s Wade’s style governance into the WG? Or them letting the West tell, them that they must not only have free and fair elections, but honor them?

  3. Dr. Bob:

    You wrote, ” our most important ally”. I thought that the US under President Obama was moving away from these old alliagances? All allies are now equal, right? Also, a WG would be official re-colonization. It would be White down governance. I just can’t see France or the US applying Zimbabwe’s input. Can you imagine trying to fit Robert Mugabe’s, Ali Ben Bongo’s, Obiang’s, Gambia’s Jammeh or Senegal’s Wade’s style governance into the WG? Or them letting the West tell them that they must not only have free and fair elections, but honor the result?

  4. Also, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, etc. are all acts. WWF stuff. They are making money hand over fist while the rest of us are working comme des chiens.

  5. Al Roker Martyrs Brigade:

    As far as a global society, I don’t think that this was the jest of Dr. Bob’s argument He was relating more to IR theory. Anyway, to entertain the Global Society, I myself am very global. I was born in Africa and attended some of the best international schools in Europe from the age of four/five up to high school. I have lived on three different continents and speak several languages. I have traveled to about twenty different countries to include Iceland. I think that I have a highly advanced view of what a global society means to me. In fact, I will be attending an international school get together in December.

    As far as allies being equal I remember the British Embassy being quite embarrassed when the bust of Winston Churchill was boxed up and shipped out of the White House, tp the UK Embassy earlier this year. In addition a Washington DC newspaper (not the Times) reported this:

    “There’s nothing special about Britain,” a top Obama administration official snappishly told London’s “The Daily Telegraph” last month, during the near-disastrous visit of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

    Gordon Brown even commented that in the end the US will realize that she has no better ally than Britain.

    Who knows what is going on. I certainly don’t, maybe you do.

    More important, lets not make this blog a referendum on President Obama, for or against. It seems now that whenever someone has an opinion of President Obama (or his policies), whether for or against, emotions go into overdrive.

    Back to IR theory, Dr. Bob, many years ago I wrote a paper in your class that argued that Doha had the potenetial of rendering wars of national liberation moot since these movements were mostly agarian (you gave me an A). In the context of WG, what say you?

  6. I think WG is not global society. The former would require the latter. My point was that that American right is deeply committed to the notion of US distinctiveness. Any talk of a ‘global society,’ in which presumably Americans should demonstrate a good sense of global citizenship or responsibility would be anathema to US conservatives. That is the kind of stuff that encourages ‘black helicopter’ thinking.

    America’s most important allies are, in order: 1. Canada, 2. Great Britain, 3. Israel, 4. Japan, 5. Mexico, 6. Germany, 7. Turkey & South Korea. For more, see: https://asiansecurityblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/the-obama-administrations-policy-toward-the-korean-peninsula/. I think it makes sense to speak of the continuing US-GB ‘special relationship.’

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