The Ethical Globalized State

By admin ~ March 5th, 2012 @ 2:58 am

The process of preconceiving liberal democratic values and re-institutionalizing them for a global world calls for nothing less than a new enlightenment. Such a global enlightenment should aim to civilize the increasingly brutal world of global economics, just as the eighteenth century Enlightenment began the process of civilizing the absolutist post-Westphalia states.

It is within this context that it is argued that the decline of the state and the shifting basis of political legitimacy justify humanitarian ‘intervention’, particularly to prevent the oppression of those whose consent has not been sought by those in power. Indeed, as the walls around sovereign states break down, the term ‘intervention’ seems less and less appropriate and loses much of its normative stigma.

Western legal, constitutional and political theory have been built on the assumption that most polities are ‘strong states’; that is, states that largely pass the Austinian test of sovereignty according to which most legal and political issues arise, and can be resolved, within the state’? Such states emerged in Western Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia when the horrors of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) convinced many that the greatest danger in international affairs was intervention in other states.

The new states were initially highly authoritarian -an authoritarianism that was supposedly justified by the fear of internal chaos. Such states were civilized by the North Atlantic Enlightenment in the eighteenth century and by social democrats in the nineteenth century. Enlightenment liberals insisted that states had to justify themselves to their citizens by furthering citizens’ rights and by becoming accountable to the citizenry. Initially the mechanism for accountability was the right to revolution proposed by Locke and applied on this side of the Atlantic. Accountability mechanisms were refined through democratic legislatures and administrative law.

Social democrats sought to extend the range of rights the growing state secured for its citizens. Those who did not seek millenarian revolution seemed to adhere to an essentially Whig theory of history, of constant improvement towards a common endpoint in which the rights secured by liberal democratic societies were expanded and the number of such societies increased.

What all theories assumed was the existence of a strong state. The debates were about what values should be applied to its governance – liberty, equality, rights, citizenship, democracy, community, welfare and the rule of law.

A range of recent trends, which are popularly labeled ‘globalization’, have rocked the assumption that a world of strong sovereign states was the natural condition to which humankind was evolving. The 350 years since the Treaty of Westphalia can be seen in a fundamentally different light. Rather than a process in which distinct geographic areas were politically crystallized as states, this period could now be interpreted as a relatively brief interlude in the development of political communities and political institutions. Sovereign states are not the end point of constitutional development but a mere transitory phase.

The political and economic forces collectively called globalization have undermined the assumption of the strong state as the context for political debate about the balancing and realizing of liberal democratic values. Both detractors and supporters of globalization have queried the continuing relevance of state-based theory and values. These values were formed in and for strong states. Citizenship, democracy, welfare, and community have clear reference to sovereign states but lack apparent application in a larger, more diffuse global world. The institutions which promote sustain and realize those values, are very much state-based. The rights, duties and sense of belonging that go with citizenship are attached to state institutions. Democracy is realized through citizen participation in the legislatures of states and their federal elements and has less mileage if the real power and range of choice open to those legislatures is limited.

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