The global site

The global revolution and the twenty-first century: from international relations to global politics

Martin Shaw

From Stephen Chan and Jarrod Wiener, eds., International History and the Twentieth Century, London: IB Taurus, 1999. Contents:

In this chapter I discuss globalisation as a profound transformation, the roots of which can be traced through modern world history. In contrast to much literature which sees its contemporary form as a product of market liberalisation, I argue that global change entered its critical phase as a result of the political-military changes of 1945-47, and that the end of the Cold War completed this. The twenty-first century, which in historical terms began therefore in 1989-91, is a period in which global relations are recognised as defining and the global revolution is beginning to be seen in its full significance.

The meaning of this for the social sciences is not limited to understanding the characteristics of globalisation as a discrete process or set of processes. Rather we are on the threshold of a conceptual revolution, in which the methodological nationalism of the domesticated traditional social sciences is being challenged in non-core disciplines and interdisciplinary fields. In order to accomplish the theoretical changes which are entailed, we need to reconfigure the meaning of key concepts such as society and culture in global terms.

The global revolution has particular implications for the field of international relations. My discussion argues that the need to rethink the concept of state, in terms similar to those in which I discuss society and culture, is central to reconstituting the subject as a constitutive discourse of a wider global social science.

The Global Revolution and the Twenty-First Century

In the ubiquitous debates about globalisation, the phenomenon has often been identified with late twentieth-century forms of political economy - notably market liberalisation - and the associated changes in political thought. Important as these forms have been, however they are hardly the essence of global transformation. Globalisation is not simply or mainly either an economic or a recent historical phenomenon, indeed not a single process at all, and requires a much deeper and broader understanding. Only when this is grasped can the significance of the global for the social sciences be understood.

Globalisation can be defined as a complex set of distinct but related processes - economic, cultural, social but also political and military - through which social relations have developed global reach and significane. In this sense globalisation includes the development of transnational relations of many kinds as well as specifically global forms. It can be linked, as Anthony Giddens among others has argued, to profound changes in the relations of time and space in the development of modernity. Globalisation has been developing for something like six centuries, in the processes through which the ‘multi-power actor civilization’ of the West, as Michael Mann calls it, originating in Europe, has come to dominate more or less the entire world.

Each century - or more precisely each historical period (obviously these do not coincide precisely with the chronology of centuries) - has made its own contribution to global transformation. From the European exploration of the ‘Indies’ and discovery of ‘America’, in the fifteenth century, through the heyday of the Spanish and Portuguese empires to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dominance of Britain and France, a Western-dominated world order came into existence. At the heart of this process of global change was the extraordinary dynamism of Western economic and cultural life, which by the end of the nineteenth century had produced the core of a modern industrial economy and society on a world scale.

Although some like Immanuel Wallerstein have seen in this development the progress of a capitalist world-system, global market relations have always developed within political frameworks. State forms have not merely expressed but have also shaped global markets. For centuries, the global order has been marked by great political divisions. First it was segmented by the evolving system of European empires. In this sense there was not one world order but several, each centred on a different European metropolis. Twice in the twentieth century, the rivalries of these European orders embroiled large parts of the world in total war. The outcome of the Second World War was the common decline - in some cases ruin - of the traditional empires, and their replacement by a new form of global political division. In the second half of the twentieth century, ideologically-polarised blocs replaced nationally-centred empires as the basis of two rival orders.

The Cold War system was the final form of politically divided globalisation. Despite its formally reciprocal bipolar character, this system was substantively unbalanced in a way which was quite critical to the emergence of the contemporary form of globalisation. The Soviet bloc centred on historically backward regions of the world economy; it failed to develop legitimate state or inter-state institutions; and it fragmented through both insurrections and interstate rivalries. The Western bloc, on the other hand, was centred on the most dynamic centres of the world economy; it possessed and developed legitimate state and inter-state institutions; and it maintained its cohesion, successfully containing both popular pressures and interstate rivalries.

The radical change was therefore that during the Cold War, a more or less united West dominated global economy, culture and politics. For the first time the greater part of the world’s space was incorporated within a single geopolitical sphere. Centred on the greatest single state, the United States, the post-1945 West also subsumed the historic European world empires. Most of the residue of bipolarity, the Third World, was clearly within Western-dominated world systems. Even in the Cold War epoch, it was generally thought appropriate to define Soviet-bloc states - and those Third-World states which attempted autonomous development - in terms of the degree of their integration into these world systems.

Three points about this transformation are important to emphasise. First, it was the state integration of the West (chiefly the transatlantic alliance of North America and Western Europe together with Japan) which created the conditions for a single global space. Second, state integration played an essential role in enabling the rapid growth of economic, cultural and political globalisation in this space throughout the late twentieth century. Third, the decisive turning-point in globalisation was therefore the mid-century military-political transition (1945-47). It was a contingent result of the Second World War and Cold War.

It is only in the light of this major transition that we can understand the significance for globalisation of the secondary transition of 1989-91. This change - the end of the ‘short twentieth century’ as Eric Hobsbawm has called it - was momentous because it completed and made manifest the full meaning of the earlier change. Once again a state-level transformation unlocked wider changes. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Cold War and the Soviet state itself removed the remaining major political division of the world.

This transition enabled the ex-Communist world to be incorporated more clearly and fully within Western-dominated world markets, systems and institutions. Even more important, it enabled a world which had been substantially unified since the mid-century transformation to recognise itself, at last, as one world. Hence perhaps - since the owl of Minerva flies at dusk - the upsurge of globalisation debates in the 1990s rather than in the previous decade when the ideology of market liberalisation was rampant.

In historical perspective, then, the (long) nineteenth century (1760-1914, according to Mann) saw the creation of the economic infrastructure of globalisation within politically divided forms. The (short) twentieth century (1914-89) was an era of inter-state struggle, with key mid-century changes - completed in the late-century upheavals - leading to political unification. By this token too, the twenty-first century has already begun in the messy transformations of the 1990s, and those who are waiting for New Year’s Eve 1999 have missed the bus.

It is appropriate that the new century also marks a new millenium, since at last - after half a millenium of global change - the global transformations of modern economics, politics and culture are manifest. The global revolution has been a long time in the making and its major transition occurred half a century ago, but it is clear why it is at the current juncture that its has become transparent. The end of the Cold War division into competing world orders marks a crucial substantive and symbolic transition to single world economic, cultural and political orders.

Global Theory in the Social Sciences

The new transparency of global relations in the 1990s has brought with it a conceptual crisis in the social sciences. The modern tradition of social theory and analysis has encapsulated the essentially political tension at the heart of globalisation. On the one hand, the master-theories of social science, developed from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, centred on concepts of universal and implicitly global significance - civil society, capitalism, industrialism, modernity. On the other hand, the twentieth-century institutionalisation of the social sciences in academic disciplines, research and teaching practice nationalised these concepts. Theory and analysis came to refer, implicitly if not explictly, to the national frameworks of state and society which dominated social relations in the mid-century heyday of the nation-state.

The core disciplines of the social sciences, whose intellectual traditions are reference points for each other and for other fields, have been domesticated - in the sense of being preoccupied not with Western and world civilisation as a whole but with the social forms of particular national societies. In sociology and political science, for example, the particular was often assumed to represented the general - for example British society, state and capitalism with all their idiosyncracies were held to typify society, state or capitalism as such. My colleague Jan Aart Scholte has called this tendency ‘methodological nationalism’.

Where the general pattern of social relations on a world scale came to be represented by more than a single case, it was not usually by the forms of global, transnational or even international relations but by the comparative method. Comparing the different particular social forms came to substitute for understanding the relations between them and the general structures within which these comparisons might be explained. National and comparative sociology and politics increasingly dominated these core disciplines in practice.

International relations conformed to this pattern as the exception to the rule. In the early post-war decades when realism was codified, the global could only be conceived in terms of the international. In a world of nation-states, it represented the relations between the units under this single, simple rubri. The inter-national, of course, meant inter-state, since states were assumed, by definition, to represent ‘their’ nations in an unproblematic, indeed symbiotic relationship. International relations, even more than the core social sciences, was a Cold War American product. It represented the bifurcation of superpowers and blocs rather than the burgeoning global relations which underlay them.

The division of labour between the domesticated disciplinary social sciences and international relations reflected the curious reality of the Cold War West. Although nation-states were casting off the military rivalries of centuries to create common institutions, national forms remained dominant. Western integration was first of all the cooperation of the national states and, reflecting them, national societies which had emerged from the era of total war. Commonality presented itself first as the alliance and similarity of distinct units. Only later would the Western world and its European sub-unit begin to see themselves as integrated wholes.

No wonder, then, that the comparative method became so influential in Western social science and that instead of global knowledge, international research generated comparative studies. The genre has gained new life with the increasing dependence of much European research on European Union funding, with its inbuilt balancing of national interests, and the incorporation of Central and East European nation-states within the Western social science orbit.

The possibility of genuinely global, or at least trans- rather than inter-national, knowledge reflects the partial overcoming not just of the Cold War but of the way in which integrationary tendencies were understood during it. The removal of the border of violence between two distinct world orders has accelerated the tendency to see all national borders as partial and relative.

The dissolution of the ideological world orders has released the power of identity - most obviously but not exclusively in ethnic and national forms. But it has simultaneously loosened still further the sense of discrete nation-state units which were the building blocks of the Cold War. For all the posturing of nationalists, the nation-state is indeed constantly relativised, as so much literature has stressed. The links between people can no longer be squeezed into the national-international straightjacket. This is as true of social relations ‘within’ states as it as of those ‘across’ their borders.

Instead social relations are increasingly grasped in all their genuine complexity, as interpersonal, familial, professional, local, regional, transnational, world-regional, global - as well as international. Most social relations still have some national-international aspect: for example, even my e-mail address ends in ‘uk’. But this signifier is of trivial importance since neither the content nor the mechanism of my communications depends on its national character. Although this is an extreme case, increasingly the international is a residual category of convenience in global relations.

Since social relations are now understood in a variety of spatial terms, some oppose regional or transnational to global change. Global categories have, however, emerged as the main forms of the new theoretical discourse of the social sciences. This is not accidental: the global is the largest and most inclusive framework of social relations. To talk of global transformations does not mean that all relations are of a specifically global kind. Rather global includes regional and transnational in a way which neither of the others can include the global. In the emerging twenty-first century, therefore, social theory is becoming conscious of a global revolution.

This revolution represents a deep crisis for the social sciences. It is constituting the most important transformations of the structures of social knowledge in recent times. At the centre of these transformations is the question of whether the core disciplinary subjects can escape from their methodological nationalism and reconstitute themselves in global terms. So far, the evidence is that the theoretically constitutive subjects of economics, sociology and politics have indeed been disabled by this tendency. Despite a few new shoots, the mainstreams have hardly been globalised.

Sociology, for example, was organised around concepts of industrial society - or in the Marxist version, capitalist society - which clearly held a potential for global understanding. But these were overwhelmingly operationalised as national categories and the comparative sociology of national societies substituted for global knowledge. The new Marxism failed partly because - with exceptions such as ‘world-systems’ theory which had their own characteristic weaknesses - it adapted itself to the national contexts of existing social science. Since the Marxist revival petered out, if anything there has been a further domestication of sociology, pragmatically integrating it in national and sub-national contexts while eschewing the understanding of politics, the international and the global. Although these bigger issues have been addressed by major thinkers, including Giddens and Mann, they have impinged only slowly on the institutionalised intellectual context of the discipline.

Political science is equally afflicted. In its case, the standard demarcation of national and international is especially disabling. Comparative politics suffers from much the same weaknesses as comparative sociology. If there is hope, it lies particularly in political theory and philosophy where, because of the normative agenda of globalisation, major issues arise. Nevertheless, as David Held stresses in his recent study of Democracy and Global Order what is at stake is nothing less than a fundamental recasting of political theory as it has developed within the liberal-democratic nation-state. It remains to be seen if political science can respond to such challenges. As to the third constitutive discipline, economics, it is symptomatic that the issue of the economic relations of globalisation is picked up more substantively in the burgeoning field of international political economy, within international relations rather than conventional economics.

This is an interesting case of a general trend, that global issues are often best addressed through interdisciplinary fields - such as environmental, development, communications and cultural studies - and in subjects which are less constitutive of the social sciences as a whole. Three subjects, anthropology, geography and international relations, have shown the greatest openness. All are fields in which historically the national-international nexus was not just a methodological bias, but explicitly constitutive. Their openness to globalisation debates reflects theoretical and ideological transformations, which began earlier in the post-war period, in which nationalist constructions of their objects were challenged and abandoned. In geography and international relations, at least - but not in anthropology - these changes also made disciplinary definitions become increasingly problematic.

The old colonial-inspired traditions of social anthropology distintegrated with the independence movements of the 1960s, which required new ways of conceiving global relations. The discipline’s bias towards the study of less formal social relations facilitated an interest in relations across rather than within state borders. In geography, similarly, the old geopolitical foundations long ago collapsed, although in this case the result has been the decline of a distinctive disciplinary sense, with research increasingly informed by economic and sociological thought. Its major concept, space, has been peculiarly problematised by globalisation, and it has accommodated broad social theorising of global issues. In international relations, the historic statist core eroded from the period of detente in the 1970s and imploded after 1989. This has opened up the subject (in some eyes at least) as an interdisciplinary field of global social science.

Contradictions of International Relations

International relations has had the unique advantage for global purposes that, while it assumed the national, it was at least constituted above the national level. The transformation is however problematic, because of a core contradiction between the international and the global. International relations is currently one of the most highly theoreticised of the social sciences, its intellectual ferment testifying to serious issues at stake.

The diversity of theories which results - a wide range of critical approaches jostling with the remnants of realism and neo-realism - can seem like a Tower of Babel to the uninitiated. The challenge is no less than whether international relations can be a discipline and an inter-disciplinary field at the same time. As the subject moves towards reconstituting itself as a field of global social science in general, in which economy, society and culture are as much its objects as the state-system, what happens to its claims to disciplinary status? It is not far-fetched to see this tension as a fundamental crisis. There seem to be two polar possibilities for its resolution:

1 The maintenance or restoration of traditional international relations, based on a modified state-centric approach which gives due recognition to the roles of economic, social and cultural realities and non-state actors in the interstate system.

2 The reconstitution of international relations as, essentially, a multi- or inter-disciplinary field of global social science, in which not only state-centric international politics but politics in general are relativised.

Neither is an adequate solution. A restoration would not do justice to the depth of the challenge from non-traditional international relations. A simple pluralisation of international relations as a field of de facto global social science would discard the inter-state problematic contributed by traditional international relations and abdicate the task of specifically theorising global politics. In practice international relations will undoubtedly include diverse discourses, some of them quasi-realist and others broadly political-economic and global-sociological. We need to ask, however, what should comprise the central, constitutive intellectual dynamic.

Instead of being constituted simply by either international politics or global society, international relations should be reconstituted as global politics, centred on the relationships between global politics and global society. The field should certainly take on a leading role in the development of global social science, but it should focus on the nature and role of politics in global society. This involves a dual problematic: the ways in which global politics helps to constitute and are transformed by global society.

Although global politics is about more than state relations, critical to this whole enterprise is rethinking the concept of state. It is symptomatic of the failures of domesticated social science that there is no real debate about the contemporary meaning of the state in either sociology or political science. While international relations’ realist theoretical traditions provide no answers, critical international theory ought in principle to be able to do so. In reality, however, it has often involved a mistaken critique of ‘state-centrism’ which has failed to challenge realist theorising on the state.

The deficiency of realism is often seen as lying in an excessive concern with the state in general or its military-political aspect in particular. Critical theorists frequently see the state as bypassed by globalisation, and the task of a global approach as the unravelling of what Richard Falk calls a ‘post-statist world order’. This approach rests on two mistakes. The more obvious, which critics of extreme globalisation approaches have noted, is that the nation-state is far from irrelevant. The more fundamental, however, which these critics share with the extreme globalisers, is that the contemporary state is not simply national in form. The relative weakening of the nation-state heralds not a post-statist world, but one in which state forms undergo critical transformations.

Much anti-state-centric international theory has echoed this debate by diminishing the role of the state - or at least its military aspect - in its analyses. Thus international and global political economy has tended to see the state mainly in its economic role, neglecting the traditional military core of state power. Social movement approaches have contributed to a radical agenda for ‘global governance’ in which international institutions and civil society are seen as more important than states.

Such theoretical tendencies fall down on three counts. First, by arguing that a focus on military state power rather than the explanation of it is the problem, they concede too much to realism - failing to challenge it where it on its own ground. Second, they understate the state core of global governance - the extent to which even nation-states are important directly, as components of international (i.e. interstate) institutions and as foci of civil society activity. Finally, they too fail to tackle the fundamental question of theorising forms of state in an increasingly globalised era.

In the remaining sections of this paper, I provide the outlines of a framework for answering both the general problems of a global social science and the specific dilemmas of international relations. These are intimately linked: the general reconceptualisation of society and culture at a global level, which I begin to offer in the next section, is necessary in order to provide the foundations for a redefinition of the international relations project. Conversely, the resolution of the crisis in international relations, centred on the reconceptualisation of the state and interstate system, is necessary to complete the reconstruction of social theory in global terms.

Understanding Global Society

The problem for the new, globalised elements of the social sciences in general is that while they have incorporated global issues, global theory is still in the early stages of development. The problem is not just how to understand globalisation, as debates in most fields have suggested. The defining issue is how to understand society, culture and politics under the impact of the global revolution. As Mann notes, ‘In major transitions the fundamental interrelations, and very identities, of organizations such as "economies" or "states" become metamorphosed. Even the very definition of society" may change.’ What is at stake is no less than a reconstitution of the central concepts of social science in global terms.

This fundamental reconceptualisation remains to be realised. In this section, I advance the task by examining how two of the master-concepts of social theory, society and culture, should be redefined. Part of my purpose is to develop the arguments which are needed generally in globalising social science, as a basis for my later reconsideration of the concept of state. I take the concepts of society and culture together, therefore, not to conflate them or deny the need for specific consideration of each, but because they pose the same central issues in the global context.

Both society and culture are problematic concepts, with a double meaning embodying the same fundamental contradiction. On the one hand, each can be understood as process: society as social relations, culture as symbolic interaction. Social relations in general and symbolic relations in particular (I see culture as an aspect of social relations) are in this meaning dynamic and open-ended, involving constant transformation and change.

On the other hand, we have ideas of a society and a culture, or societies and cultures, which particularise the concepts and introduce the idea of the boundedness of social and cultural interaction. In some versions, society and culture are relatively static, closed systems - as in Talcott Parsons’ classic self-regulating ‘social system’ with its functionally interdependent sub-systems. This concept was criticised on many grounds, but it is worth noting its implicit nationalism, equating social system with national context (America).

Conceptual discussion of societies and cultures in this sense has fallen out of favour. Few have attempted post-functionalist definitions. This probably reflects greater interest in the open-endedness and dynamism of social relations - how boundaries are broken down in an era of rapid socio-cultural change and globalisation. Mann, for example, writes that ‘societies are constituted by multiple, overlapping networks of interaction’, but he does not deal with the problem of what defines when such sets of networks become societies.

If conceptual discussion has faltered, particularist concepts are still widely used. Domesticated sociology and politics routinely assume national societies and employ the comparative method. Anthropologists have not stopped talking about particular cultures. Cultural theorists even particularise cultures further as sub-cultures. International relations theorists are only just incorporating the idea that society and culture are important and they often fall for traditional conceptions. Thus when Ole Wver recently defined ‘societal security’, he identified society with national, ethnic and religious communities rather than with more open, plural or transnational relations.

We need to adjudicate the status of particularist concepts of society and culture. Neither has ever been fully defined by boundaries. The implicit openness of social and cultural relations means that boundaries were always there to be crossed, relative and subject to transformation. Even the most isolated tribal societies were defined by relations with other societies, which should not be seen as relations between social wholes but as more or less institutionalised interactions between people. In the world of nation-states, national societies and cultures have always been highly permeable. There have always been manifold relations across boundaries. At the peak of the nation-state system, most came to be seen as international, although many were transnational rather than international in a specific sense.

In what sense, if any, can particularist concepts of society and culture be upheld? Clearly we could reject them altogether - arguing that there are only social and cultural relations and that to conceptualise them within particular societies and cultures is illusory and ideological, reifying boundaries. But this goes too far: social and cultural life has always been and still is informed by particularistic concepts. Boundaries, while relative, are real. Thus it makes partial sense to talk of, say, British, Kurdish or Zulu society and culture, as well as many other networks and sub-cultures at sub-national and transnational levels. All such differentiations are abstractions from the flux and openness of society and culture understood as process and relationship.

Compared to other forms of differentiation, we can define societies and cultures as those contexts which are inclusive and constitutive of social and cultural relations in general. The degree of inclusiveness or constitutiveness of a particular society or culture is subject to variation and transformation. Not all contemporary national societies or cultures are inclusive and constitutive to the same degree. The same national societies and cultures are more or less inclusive and constitutive in different historical periods.

Similarly, since the boundaries of societies and cultures are relative to society and culture in general, a range of particularistic concepts may coexist and overlap. It makes good analytical sense to talk simultaneously of Welsh, British, European and Western, and of Kurdish, Iraqi, Arab and Islamic, and of Zulu and South African societies and cultures. Such concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Following this general conceptual unpacking, global society and culture can be said to exist to the extent that global relations are inclusive and constitutive of social and cultural relations in general. Empirically, we could say that global society exists to the extent that global relations of production, trade, politics, military power, culture and communication have become inclusive and constitutive sets of relationships. Global culture exists to the extent that global cultural relations include and constitute cultural relations in general. The concepts of global society and culture, as of other societies and cultures, do not represent static systems or end-states. They are abstractions from the flux of social relations, they vary over time and they co-exist with more particularistic concepts.

While a society or culture is an inclusive set of relations, it does not consist merely of relations at its particular level. National societies and cultures partially include and constitute sub-national relations of many kinds. Global society and culture partially include and constitute relations at all other levels - world-regional, transnational, international, national, sub-national, etc. It makes most sense to emphasise that global society and culture are emergent realities. They are becoming more defining frameworks of social relations, while national frameworks - although still important - are becoming less defining.

The global is not only more inclusive of transnational relations in general - which in one sense is true by definition - but is also constitutive of them in a way which they are not of it. Increasingly transnational, regional - and international - relations are informed by a sense of the world as a social and cultural context, more than this global sense is informed by the international, regional or transnational.

The point of comparing global society and culture with other particular concepts is the distinctiveness and novelty of these forms. Although global society is still a bounded concept, it is not bounded in the same way, since it can be said to include society in the sense of social relations in general. It is a maximum concept, defined not like national or tribal societies in relation to other societies of the same kind, but in relation to more particular societies which it includes.

So far I have not distinguished society and culture. There are, however, ways of defining society which involve their relationships, making culture central. David Lockwood classically distinguished ‘system integration’, the factual integration of a society, and ‘social integration’, its normative integration. This argument implies that a society cannot be defined as a system, as Parsons believed, but that its degree of ‘systemness’ is an empirical question. Indeed as Giddens suggests, rather than seeing society as a system we should recognise a number of distinct ‘abstract systems’ with variable articulation which provide the infrastructure of social relations.

Lockwood also says that the factual or systematic interconnectedness of a society is not the same as its degree of normative interconnectedness, the degree to which it is integrated by common values. We cannot assume common values but need to investigate how far they exist. Applying this distinction, we might argue that there is an increasing degree of system(s) integration in global society, as measured by globalisation studies, but that value integration is highly problematic.

However, such a way of posing matters neglects the implicit interconnection between the spread of common systems and the development of common values and norms. Minimally, even the development of global markets involves a global market culture; globally organised production systems involve common cultures of production; and the growth of global communications involves common cultures of communication as well as common cultural content through a greater sharing of symbols and myths.

However these lowest-common-denominator dimensions of commonality need to be supplemented by a more distinctive normative consensus. Without looking for the ‘central value system’ beloved of Parsons, the development of global culture - and hence global society - are confirmed by the growth of common values. The extent to which Western values like human rights and democracy become globalised, and a genuine global politics develops around them, are of critical importance.

As I noted above, many have defined global politics in terms of plural forms of governance based at the international and civil society as well as state levels. International are however often interstate forms, and the politics of civil society cannot be defined without reference to state forms. This is as true of global as of national civil societies. Global politics does not develop merely through state institutions, but the forms of state are essential to any reconceptualisation of global society and politics.

Forms of State in a Global Era

Both globalisation debates in general and critical international relations in particular have failed to address the nature of the state in a global era. State discourse is the extreme case of methodological nationalism: it has remained trapped within a nation-centred understanding. Even Mann writes, ‘The state has become a nation-state’, but the concept of state is not identical with that of nation-state. We need to recognise multiple qualifications and transformations of the nation-state concept.

First, even the dominant form of state which was given from the long nineteenth century was actually the European world-empire, with a more-or-less nation-state core, rather than the nation-state as such. And it is even more accurate to describe this state-form as a plurality of imperial nation-states in the context of a wider state-system. These forms were the products, moreover, of the ‘multi-power-actor’ Western civilisation which developed over centuries and is the historic core of the emergent global society.

Second, within the state-system there has been a fundamental ‘internationalisation’ of state organisation. Western states (through NATO, the EU and various economic organisations) and to a lesser extent nation-states in general (through the United Nations system), have engaged in a comprehensive pooling of state sovereignty since 1945. This has formed the basis for two very distinctive developments: first, the relatively unified Western state which developed during the Cold War, and second, the globalisation of state power and an emergent, if problematic global state.

Both these terms obviously need elaboration and justification.The global state in particular is an unfamiliar concept, although much of its difficulty is cultural: since political and international theory are centred on a concept of state as centralised nation-state, a global state can only be understood in terms of a ‘world government’ which obviously does not and is not likely to exist. I use the term in a rather different way.

In order to explain this, let us first define state. In particular, the continuing significance of military-political power as the primary criterion for the existence of a state needs to be explained. Most discussion of states has incorporated an implicit slippage from a military-centred definition towards a juridical or economic-management-based definition. Because of this slippage, many have concluded that the state is weakened by globalisation. I assume that the classic military-political definition is still relevant. Military relations still define the relations between distinct states and hence the perameters of the world system of power.

To pursue the issue of what is a state - and when is a state not a state - I turn to Max Weber: ‘A compulsory political organization with continuous operations will be called a "state" insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.’ This definition has been widely endorsed, but Mann proposes that it should be amended to four looser points:

‘1 The state is a differentiated set of institutions and personnel

2 embodying centrality, in the sense that political relations radiate to and from a centre, to cover a

3 territorially demarcated area over which it exercises

4 some degree of authoritative, binding rule making, backed up by some organized political force.’

This definition abandons the idea of a monopoly of legitimate force: there is merely ‘some degree of authoritative rule making’ and ‘some organised political force’. Although designed to explain nineteenth-century states, is particularly suited to the complex, overlapping forms of state power which exist in the late twentieth century in conditions of globalisation.

Before 1945, state leaders often acted as if Weber’s definition was true and they did in fact hold a monopoly of legitimate violence. In a world of nation-states, the demarcation of one state from another was the potential for violence between them. What then happens to states, and to our understanding of state, when this potential is removed, as it has since 1945 between Western states - and more problematically since 1989 between Western states and Russia?

The control of violence ceases to be divided vertically between nation-states and empires but is divided horizontally between different levels of power, each of which claims some legitimacy and thus fragments the nature of ‘state’. On the one hand, there is the internationalisation of legitimate force. On the other there are the processes of privatisation (or reprivatisation) of force, in which individuals, social groups and non-state actors are more widely using force and claiming legitimacy for their usage.

The internationalising processes are my concern here. In what senses can we refer to them under the rubric of ‘globalisation of state power’, let alone ‘global state’? First, while the transatlantic Western state of the Cold War period was a regional form of state power in Europe it was also an incipiently global form of state power, aspiring to regulate violence on a world scale. Second, the internationalisation of Western state power was partly constitutive, I argued above, of the single global space in which many globalising processes developed. Third, the Western bloc organised a series of economic institutions which became effectively forms of global regulation.

The Western state in the Cold War era was therefore a pre-global state. It could not recognise itself or be recognised as a global state because of the limit of Cold War competition with a major, even if weaker rival centre. Legitimate global institutions centred on the UN were largely neutralised by Cold War rivalry. The end of the Cold War, however, removed these constraints. The rival centre dissolved and its principal successor the Russian Federation became an ally, however reluctant at times.

In a series of major issues the Western nuclear powers and Security Council members, the USA, the UK and France, together with the wider Western bloc of NATO, the European Union, Japan and their various regional allies, were able to dominate the global agenda and mobilise the UN to legitimate their actions. Interestingly this happened despite the manifest reluctance of the main Western governments to pursue a global leadership role. At rare moments, such as the Gulf mobilisation, the Somalian and Haitian interventions and the Dayton settlement, they appear to have chosen leadership. The scarcity of these moments, compared to the occasions on which they have seemed to want to turn their backs, suggests however that they have had leadership thrust upon them.

It is the logic of the new global political-military situation, including the articulation of domestic politics with global issues, which has compelled the West and especially the USA to act as the centre of an emergent global state. The fact that this has happened despite the manifest reluctance and ideological unpreparedness of the leaders is testimony to the structural significance of these events in global society.

The global state is constituted, therefore, by the Western state together with the legitimation framework of the UN. It acts a global state due to the pressures and contradictions of global governance: not merely the threats to Western interests (as with Kuwaiti oil or the danger of a wider Balkan war), but also the imperatives of globally legitimate principles (human rights, democracy), the claims of insurgent and victimised groups (such as Kurds and the Bosnians), the contradictions of global media coverage and the demands of an emergent global civil society.

These pressures function to hold together, more or less, a West-centred global state, just as the pressures of world war and Cold War were the context of earlier stages in the development of a coherent Western state. The fact that contemporary pressures are more diffuse does not necessarily mean that they are ineffectual, although it does raise a question-mark over the long-term coherence of the process. While global crises push forward and make visible the process of global state formation, they also bare its weak coherence and contradictions, including the internal conflicts of the Western core.

The ‘global state’ can be defined as a state in line with Mann’s four criteria:

1 States, according to Mann, involve ‘differentiated sets of institutions and personnel’ - differentiated, I take him to mean, both internally and in relation to society. The important words here is actually ‘sets’. Mann makes it clear that states are not necesarily homogenised and closely integrated institutions, but consist of more or less discrete, often disjointed apparatuses. ‘Under the microscope, states "Balkanize"’, he argues, quoting Abrams’ formulation that ‘The state is the unified symbol of an actual disunity.’ Mann introduces, indeed, the idea that states are institutional ‘messes’ rather than the homogenous structures of ideal type.

Just as global society is highly distinctive in ‘including’ a large number of national societies, the global state is unusual in ‘including’ a large number of nation-states. Nevertheless, this is not entirely unprecedented. Multi-national states do not always take the relatively neat centralised forms of the UK or (in a different sense) the former Soviet Union. Mann himself analyses the highly complex (and from an ideal-typical point of view, idiosyncratic) forms of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The Western and global state is however an aggregation of institutions of an unprecedented kind and on an unprecedented scale. If one examines it in action, for example in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we see an amazing plethora of global, Western and national state institutions, political, military and welfare - complemented by an equally dazzling and complex array of civil society organisations. As this example underlines, the global state is truly the biggest ‘institutional mess’ of all.

2 The second big question is in what sense the global state meets Mann’s criterion of ‘embodying centrality, in the sense that political relations radiate to and from a centre’. To put the issue another way, we can ask when is an institutional mess so messy that it cannot be seen as a single set of institutions at all? In what sense do the UN, NATO, the USA and the various Western nation-states constitute a single set of institutions?

Clearly there is no straightforward constitutional order in the global state - but there is a constitutional order nevertheless. The main centre - Washington rather than New York - seems clear, and the fact that political relations radiate to and from it has now been confirmed in all serious global crises of the post-1989 period, from Kuwait to Dayton. The continuing centrality of the USA to war-management worldwide and to all major ‘peace processes’ from the Middle East and Yugoslavia to South Africa and even Northern Ireland underlines this point.

There are two apparent anomalies in this situation which lead probably to much of the theoretical confusion. First, the centre of the Western and emergent global state is constituted primarily by a nation-state, the USA. Second, political relations radiate to and from this centre through diverse sets of institutions. There is the UN itself, which confers global legitimacy on the US state (and in which it has a constitutional role as a permanent member of the Security Council, and a de facto role far beyond that). There is NATO, confirmed as the effective organisation of Western military power. There are numerous Western-led world economic organisations, from the exclusive G7 to the increasingly global WTO. Last but not least, there are bilateral relations between the American state and virtually all other nation-states.

Of course, other nation-states, especially the UK and France but in different ways Germany and Japan, Russia and China, as well as regional organisations, notably the EU, have very important roles in the developing global state. These roles are all contested, problematic and changing, and in the Russian and Chinese cases especially unstable, but they are nonetheless real.

3 Mann’s third criterion, that a state possesses a ‘territorially demarcated area’ over which it exercises some degree of authoritative, binding rule making, backed up by some organised political force, is also problematic but does not negate the concept of a global state. The territorially demarcated area of global power is, in principle, the world. The fact that other state organizations claim lesser territorial jurisdications, regional in the case of the EU, national in the case of nation-states, does not contradict this. The idea of overlapping territorial jurisdictions is not new, and it has a particular salience in today’s world. There is a systematic sharing of sovereignty which is relativising the previously unique sovereignty of the nation-state.

4. This leaves us with the existence of ‘some degree of authoritative, binding rule making’, backed up by ‘some organised political force’. The authoritative rule-making takes several forms. Institutional arrangements bind states together in the various inter-state organisations, regulating the internal structure of the global state and the roles of nation-states within it. The body of international law binds individuals and institutions in civil society as well as state institutions. Rule making is undoubtedly patchy and in some areas incoherent, but it proceeds apace. Mann’s ‘some degree’ seems apposite.

Rule-making in the global state clearly has the backing of ‘organised political force’: the armed forces of the USA, UK, France, in some circumstances Russia, and many other states are deployed in the names of NATO and the UN. International law is also acquiring a machinery of courts and police, even if it remains heavily dependent on nation-states, has selective application and limited real enforcement capacity.

The global state meets at least this definition of a state. However, although Mann’s definition clearly permits a conceptualisation of overlapping levels of state power, it says nothing specifically about the ways in which different ‘states’ in this sense will articulate. We need therefore to add a new criterion: that a state (particular) must be

5 to a significant degree inclusive and constitutive of other forms or levels of state power (i.e. of state power in general in a particular time and space).

This criterion is essential. Clearly nation-states, in the present period, are still generally inclusive and constitutive of sub-national forms, although less so than in the recent past. To a considerable extent they also constitute world-regional and global forms of state - as well as (by definition) the international. In contrast, local and regional forms within nation-states are generally only weakly constitutive, while the inclusiveness and constitutiveness of the various transnational forms of state is not easy to determine.

Clearly global state institutions such as the UN have been inclusive but, to date, only weakly constitutive. On the other hand the Western state became highly constitutive of its component nation-states during the Cold War. The European state (European Union) has gradually strengthened both its inclusiveness and its constitutiveness of member nation-states - although this is very much a matter of contention - but its articulation with the transatlantic Western state is increasingly problematic.

Once we examine this criterion, the global state is evidently a problematic level of state power. It many ways its Western core remains stronger than the global form itself. It is evident however that the Western state is operating globally, in response to global imperatives and with global legitimation. It has begun to be constituted within broader global rather than narrowly Western perameters. The global level rather than the narrowly Western is becoming constitutive, too, of the component nation-states. Still, the global state, even more than global society or culture, is an emergent, contingent and problematic reality.

The key issue is the articulation of the global state and the regional and national states which it partly includes and constitutes. These relationships are plural and variable. The European state is a key component of the Western state in general as well as constituting a unique state form. It too meets all of Mann’s criteria, in some cases better than the global state, but with one key qualification. The forms of force available to it are very limited and its capacity for mobilising military power, or even political power to deal with military issues, is very weak.

To clarify the concept of global state, it is also essential to explicate its varied relations with nation-states. In the West, these vary from the USA and post-imperial Britain and France, which all retain a clear capacity for independent military action in some circumstances, to the Canadian, Benelux and Scandinavian states which have largely surrendered the capacity for independent initiative to NATO and the UN. Beyond the Western state lies a never-never land of minor nation-states, like the Eastern Europeans, smaller East Asian states and many Latin American and African states, most of which also have weak autonomous power and shelter under Western power but are only weakly integrated into it.

A general point in analysing the relations of nation-states to regional, Western and global state forms is that these are increasingly institutionalised. Mann labels the period after 1945 ‘the age of institutionalised nation-states’, partly because states were based on institutionalised compromises between classes, but also - and for our purposes more relevantly - because relations between states were highly institutionalised. The role of each nation-state corresponded to a complex set of understandings and systems of regulation within the West as a whole.

One reason for our difficulty in recognising global state developments is that they are manifested in complex, rapidly changing and often highly contrasting forms. Different theoretical approaches tend to latch on to different sides of these developments. For Marxists and ‘third worldists’, for example, the Gulf War represented a manifestation of imperialism, centred on strategic control of oil. In contrast, Western military action to protect Kurdish refugees, following the war, represented for many international relations analysts a new form of humanitarian intervention.

These and other paradigms compete to offer simple characterisations of global state power. In reality, however, global state power crystallises as both imperialist and humanitarian, and indeed in other forms. Mann’s argument that states involve ‘polymorphous crystallisation’, and that different crystallisations dominate different institutions, is relevant here. He gives as an example the American state, crystallising ‘as conservative-patriarchal one week when restricting abortion rights, as capitalist the next when regulating the savings and loans banking scandal, as a superpower the next when sending troops abroad for other than national economic interests. These varied crystallisations are rarely in harmony or in dialectical opposition to one another; usually they just differ. They mobilise differing, if overlapping and intersecting, power networks.’ We need to extend this analysis in understanding the emergent global state. Without understanding the diversity, we will lapse into one-sidedness or confusion and fail to grasp global political change.

Towards Global Ethics and Politics

Theorising the global state takes international relations beyond the international, but leaves it still focussed on the political. It is a decisive step because it finally transcends the ‘state-global divide’ which threatens to bifurcate the subject. It is also of fundamental importance to the social sciences as a whole, since the nation-state is the central obstacle to reconceptualising boundaries in social relations in general. The idea of national societies and cultures as more-or-less fixed units depends implicitly on the nation-state. Once we overcome the idea of the national as the inevitable form of the state, it can hardly be the necessary form of society or culture.

Global-level entities - society, culture and state - have been presented in this chapter as maximum forms. It has been pointed out that, as such, they have unique characteristics. They are inclusive of social, cultural and state relations in general, and blur the distinction between social relations and societies, or between society and a society. The development of global-level entities means that our perceptions of boundaries is transformed: they are now necessarily within society, and necessarily relativised.

This development has huge significance for ethical thought. Global theory recontextualises normative questions. In bounded forms of society, there is a contradiction between humanist universals, as theorised by liberal, democratic and socialist political theories for example, and the particularistic context of social relations. Global society and culture offer the possibility of resolving this contradiction, by grounding universals in social relations. Universals are not normative concepts imposed on particularistic realities, but concepts corresponding to global social realities. The sterile debate between cosmopolitan and communitarian ethics can be overcome.

The concept of global state is of huge significance for our understanding of global society and universal values. Global society is constituted by global social relations in general, and not simply at the state level. Nevertheless the possibility of globally legitimate authority - which in our times can only be located in state institutions - is essential to its realisation in stable and secure forms. The consolidation of the global state in forms which transcend its narrower Western origins and which command genuine world legitimacy is a uniquely important task.

In the twenty-first century, therefore, we need a global politics which aims to construct a new relationship between the emergent global society and culture and state institutions. The new global politics will be based, as many have argued, partly in the developing global civil society. But it will also be based partly in and have the aim of transforming state power as well as social relations.

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