Martin Shaw, Theory of the Global State: Globality as Unfinished Revolution Cambridge University Press 2000 Draft
Globality: historical change in our time
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is a sense of living in a period of great change, which goes far beyond the coincidence of the new millennium. As ever in the modern world, there is a sense of traditional cultures and institutions under challenge from remorseless technological change and commercial expansion. At the same time, there is a profound sense of a significant historical movement: that the processes of change in our time are different from those that, in earlier periods, have made modernity.
There is deep uncertainty, however, about the definition of change. It is not clear what kind of transition this is, what sort of world it is producing, or whether it is desirable. Although there is a widespread sense of transformation, the problem of understanding is exacerbated by the difficulty of applying previous concepts of change to the new situation. As in all big transitions, the nature of change is a part of the novelty of the change itself. To illustrate this point: I shall explain later why the concept of revolution is appropriate to the current transformation. But this is not just another revolution in the sense which revolutions have been understood in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the present transition, the nature and meaning of revolution is also changing.
The aim of this book is therefore no less than an answer to the question of defining the change that is taking place. In the first chapter I give a general outline of the historical and conceptual problems. In the following chapters, I first indicate the comprehensive nature of the theoretical challenge posed by the transition from a national-and-international to a global world. Second, I develop a historical account of the current transition, outlining the interactions between structural transformations of state power and popular movements. Third, I discuss the developing state structure of globality, together with the problems of its coherence, which are of profound importance to the future of human society. Finally, I address the politics of unfinished global revolution.
This book proposes, therefore, that we should understand our historical transformation through three major concepts: globality, the global revolution and the global state. In this chapter I attempt to explain the need for these concepts, by examining existing models of contemporary change. First, I discuss three narratives of transition that have been bequeathed to us from late twentieth-century debate: postmodernity, the end of the Cold War, and globalization. By locating these three narratives historically, I attempt to show the limitations of their understandings of the transition. Second, I examine the concepts of change that are involved in these narratives: transformation, transition and process. I advance my concept of global revolution as a more inclusive concept that embraces all three aspects. Third, I discuss the meaning of globality itself.
Three narratives of transition
As the sense of transformation grew at the end of the twentieth century, three kinds of narrative achieved wide currency. The accounts overlapped, but they have been only partially related to each other. Although versions of the narratives coexist in contemporary literature, they appear to have arisen to prominence in a particular sequence. Each has come to dominate both public and academic debate in a given phase of the late twentieth-century historical transition. Understanding the sequence of the three narratives helps us towards a deeper understanding of the character of the transition itself, of which each is only a partial reflection.
The first idea was that of postmodernity. Its core was the denial of the certainties of the modern world. From a postmodern point of view, the only certain thing was that the old forms should no longer be considered fixed reference points. In postmodern accounts, the flux was the thing. However the process of change could not be encapsulated in a single concept, leading to a new consensus. Postmodernism challenged all traditional models of understanding, denying itself the status of a new 'meta-narrative' of change. Zygmunt Bauman, its foremost sociological exponent, articulated the intimate links of postmodernity to modernity by proposing that '(t)he postmodern condition can be … described, on the one hand, as modernity emancipated from false consciousness'. However he is less convincing when he argues that it can be described 'on the other, as a new type … a self-reproducing, pragmatically self-sustainable and logically self-contained social condition defined by distinctive features of its own.' For many, the idea that there is a definite postmodern 'social condition' is a contradiction in terms.
These built-in tensions of postmodernity means that its theorists oscillate between the denial of certain meaning, an echo of earlier 'nihilist' philosophies, and the assertion of new meaning, which reconnects to the emancipatory tradition of modernity. Thus Bauman denies that it is a simple negation of modernity: 'A theory of postmodernity … cannot be a modified theory of modernity, a theory of modernity with a set of negative markers.' However he confirms its negativity with the striking claim that 'The theory of postmodernity must be free of the metaphor of progress that informed all competing theories of modem society.'
The second idea was that of a post-Cold War world. This reflected the apparently dramatic significance of changes in international politics. At the centre of post-Cold War narratives was the idea that winding down political and military conflict between blocs would involve fundamental transformations of political – and hence perhaps social and cultural – relations in general. One strand of Post-Cold War thought advanced shallow claims for the victory of a particular version of the modernity which postmodern theorists questioned. According to Francis Fukuyama, the 'Worldwide Liberal Revolution' left 'only one competitor standing in the ring as an ideology of potentially universal validity: liberal democracy, the doctrine of individual freedom and popular sovereignty.' Liberalism was defined 'simply' (Fukuyama acknowledged) as 'a rule of law that recognizes certain individual rights or freedoms from government control', democracy by 'a strictly formal definition' stressing procedurality. However most post-Cold War accounts were more open-ended. Thus the international relationist, James N. Rosenau, argued that the new stage was one of 'post-international' politics, characterized by a fundamental 'turbulence' as a variety of new actors entered the arena. As with postmodern accounts, the indeterminacy of change was important to such articulations of the 'post-Cold War' idea. The literature expressed, but did not generally resolve, this tension between the realization of modernist goals such as democracy, and the novelty (sometimes even taking 'regressive' forms) of the politics of the new era.
The third idea was, of course, that of globalization. This emphasized technical, economic and cultural transformations that were 'undermining' the significance of boundaries between nation-states. This narrative was often presented as a new certainty. It reflected, its proponents suggested, powerful, indeed unstoppable social forces, which were weakening traditional forms. Globalization appears more determinate than the other two accounts. Where their names imply no more than going beyond existing forms – whether of modernity in general or of the Cold War in particular – globalization suggests a positive content, a quality of the 'global' which social relations are acquiring. However, the one thing that few globalization theorists define is the meaning of the global. The idea of globalization appears as a step towards determinacy, but at its heart is still a basic uncertainty about the meaning of change.
The difference between 'postmodern' and 'global' concepts is therefore often less than might appear. Many 'global' theorists embrace the indeterminacy of postmodernity; conversely, postmodernists, when pressed to give a name to the 'new' condition, cite globality. Thus Jacques Derrida agreed, in response to questioning, that the political phenomena to which he refers are what are conventionally called 'globalization'. He explained that he didn't use the name 'globalization', 'Because today it's a confused concept and it's the screen for a number of non-concepts and sometimes of political tricks and political strategies. Of course something like globalization is happening - not only today of course, it started a long time ago - but today there is an acceleration of this mondialization, but as you know, using this word, this key word, allows a number of political appropriations - in the name of the free market for instance. People try to have us swallow the idea that globalization means the free market, or that the concentration of tele-technological communications beyond the States are what makes globalization possible, and should be supported or simply accepted. So I have, and I'm not the only one, many, many, reservations about the use one makes of this word: but I agree … this is, if not the ground (because I don't think it is a ground), but this is the space in which these problems take their shape. I agree … but I wouldn't simply rely upon the word 'globalization' in order to name this phenomenon.'
Postmodernity and globalization both began to emerge as serious concepts of change in the 1970s. This was the decade of détente, the period in which Cold War rivalries appeared to have relaxed, yet the crisis of the post-war boom produced great global economic instability, and there was a widespread sense of the dissolution of traditional cultural and social relations. The idea of the post-Cold War became a part of discussion later, when at the beginning of the 1980s the final phase of the Cold War heightened the sense of needing to move beyond its dangerous and constricting environment.
In the 1970s, however, although there was a widespread sense of crisis and dissolution after the relative stability of earlier post-war decades, there was not yet a strong feeling of transition. Indeed the Second Cold War of the early 1980s reinforced awareness of a definite world structure, after the loosening of the previous decade. It was only when this faded, in the middle of the 1980s, that the sense of transition came into its own. It is from this point onwards that we can trace the definite influence of narratives of change.
First, postmodernism came to dominate a wide area of cultural and social debate in the mid- to late 1980s. Postmodern ideas were influential first in aesthetic discourses, from literature to architecture, but later came to affect social and political debates. Second, post-Cold War discourse gained credence in the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, as perestroika was followed by the East European revolutions, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Gulf and Yugoslav wars. Third, globalization became dominant in the mid- and late 1990s, as the realities of increasingly global markets and communications seemed to (at least partially) eclipse the significance of the residual divisions between states.
The sequence of influence of these three grand ideas of the late-twentieth-century changes is suggestive of the relations between them. Postmodernism, the least determinate of the three narratives – the one which emphasized uncertainty, relativism and fragmentation even to the point of celebrating them – came to the fore in advance of political change. As often in periods of transition, the strongest early intimations of change appear in culture – before politics or economics – but these are also the least clear indicators of the eventual shape of the new order.
Post-Cold War discourse, which was more determinate in centering the transition in key political and military changes, dominated during and immediately after the major political upheavals. It reflected the moment in which the ‘new world order’ of President Bush appeared to promise the ‘end of history’ which Fukuyama rashly proclaimed. During this period there was a general optimism, even if many commentators were not so certain that the content of a post-Cold War world could be encapsulated in the comfortable verities of traditional liberalism.
Globalization, in turn, became dominant once the political transition ceased to impress, and the most pervasive forms of change appeared to be located in the expansion of market relations, ubiquitous commodification and the communications revolution that mediated them. The global remained largely undefined, however, because the content of globalization seemed little more than a speeding-up of the marketization of the previous, neo-liberal decade. The global meant principally, it seemed, the negation of the national boundaries which had defined the old order; it did not have a core meaning of its own.
We can understand these three accounts of change, therefore, as partial narratives of the same large set of events and processes, the same world-historical transition. Each overlaps with the others, while emphasizing aspects which the others tend to downplay. All of them are suggestive but none is adequate as an overall account of the change that has marked the end of the twentieth century. What they suggest are the needs, first, for an integrated historical account which links the postmodern, post-Cold War and global moments, and second, a more careful investigation of the only positive meaning which the transition has thrown up, the idea of the global.
The debates of the late twentieth century have left considerable uncertainty about the ways in which contemporary change should be conceptualized. Uncertainty exists not only about the direction and meaning of change, but also about how change itself should be represented. This is a fundamental issue: the means and forms through which change occurs are important as both determinants and indicators of the content of change.
The three narratives suggest different understandings of this issue. For postmodern theorists, change is above all transformation. The very forms of cultural, social and political life are altering in a plurality of directions that were not, and could not have been, previously conceived. The whole point of the postmodern conceptualization is the denial of a unified process, let alone a single transition. Postmodern accounts suggest the diffuse, fragmentary dissolution of previously fixed relations, institutions and traditions.
For post-Cold War theorists, at the heart of contemporary change there is a very definite transition – or a set of transitions – from Cold War to post-Cold War, from history to post-history, from nation-state to newly legitimate international institutions. Despite the commendable reluctance of some early post-Cold War thinkers to foreclose the nature of change, the idea of transition has become entrenched, particularly in debate in and about the post-Communist, market societies in the former Soviet bloc.
For globalization theorists, contemporary change often has the relentless aspect of a single process – or a closely related set of processes – through which the market system colonizes new social space. Globalization renders territorial boundaries irrelevant – or in the more cautious versions which have become increasingly prominent, less significant. It also nullifies the cultural, political and technical boundaries that defined distinct worlds, isolated some social relations from world markets, and inhibited communications.
The three accounts of change correspond to the social arenas that they specify as core. In postmodern narratives, cultural change tends to be central to political and social change, and cultural change appears naturally as relatively diffuse transformation. For post-Cold War narratives, political and military changes are central to wider social and economic changes, and these changes appear more as defined transition. For globalization narratives, technical and economic changes are central to cultural and political changes, and these changes appear as process.
Each of these images corresponds to important aspects of change at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Each, by emphasizing certain major areas and qualities of change, makes a contribution to our understanding. But each, by de-emphasizing other major areas and qualities, places obstacles in the way of our understanding the change of our times in its entirety. We need a new concept of change that suggests its broad, inclusive but uneven character. I propose that the concept of global revolution can be developed to encompass all these demands on our understanding.
The concept of revolution is now loosely, and sometimes trivially, employed to suggest radical or fundamental change in any field. My proposal should not be seen as trying to legislate its broader usage, but as a serious attempt to encapsulate the breadth and depth of contemporary social change. The global revolution differs in important respects from national and international revolutions, as I shall explain later in this book. But my use of the term suggests that contemporary change can be understood through an expansion of this classic historical social and political concept.
In particular, I use the term revolution in order to suggest that the political-military transitions of the current period have a particular significance for the development of cultural, economic and technical processes and transformations. The rupture in recent world politics has a meaning for the broad, general processes of global change that has hardly been grasped. The global revolution involves a transformation of social relations in general, but at its heart are key upheavals in relations of political and military power. As in classic revolutions, it is the connections between wider social and more narrowly political processes that give the changes of our times their distinctive revolutionary character.
So far, I have used domain terms like economic, social, cultural, political and military as if their meanings were clear and self-evident. I am aware that they are not: these meanings change, and changes in them are important to the character of the global revolution. In my argument, the global revolution is not constituted by changes in given political or state spheres that alternately reflect and influence given spheres of economic and cultural life. As Michael Mann has written, in important transitions, the very meaning of terms like ‘society’ undergoes transformation. In this book I want to explain how both changing meanings of, and relations between, culture, economy, society and state are involved in the fundamental changes of our time.
The meaning of global
If we are to understand the global revolution, we must first extricate the idea of the global from simple concepts of the process of globalization. As I have already suggested, the latter term logically implies an understanding of the former: globalization must be the way in which things are made global. Yet it is evident, as I have noted, that the meaning of the global is often uncertain in the literature. I will go further: where it is specified, it is often simple and impoverished. In order to define ‘global’, I will first examine what seem to be the common ways in which this term is used. I will then discuss how we might expand our understanding. In this way, the definition of the global will lead us to the concept of globality, the first main concept of this book.
We can identify three accounts of the meaning of global that are implicated in recent debates about globalization. In much social-scientific as well as everyday usage, global is used interchangeably with world and international simply to indicate areas of social life beyond the national level. This weak, vague usage clearly reflects thought which has hardly begun to grapple with the distinctiveness of global relations. In this way of thinking, the difference between global and international cannot really be indicated, and a 'global world' is a tautology. The use of the word global rather than the other terms is little more than homage to intellectual fashion.
Beyond this confusion, the first substantive meaning is connected to the literal meaning of the word, belonging to the globe. Here global means connected with the natural habitat of humankind, our global planet, Earth. The understanding of the world as round is a fundamental tenet of distinctively modern thought. In recent decades, however, images of the world from outer space have enabled us to visualize the planet’s global aspect very concretely. This understanding has been powerfully reinforced by many new insights into relationships between human social activity and the natural environment as a whole. Thus the new environmental literature is paradigmatic of global social science, in its disregard for – or relegation to secondary status of – national boundaries.
Even more widespread, and more directly connected to the technological, economic and communications mainstreams of globalization debate, is a concept of the global as the quality involved in the worldwide stretching of social relations. In this concept, global social relations are relations that spread easily across the world, again increasingly disregarding national boundaries. Whereas the environmental concept of the global stresses the connection between human activity and nature, this concept is defined by transformations of human relations themselves, in which the changing relation to the natural environment is only one part.
According to Giddens, for example, the transformation of time-space relations means that social linkages are not merely spread over long distances but also intensified – leading to instantaneous worldwide connections. For him, ‘globalization can ... be defined as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.’ For many, what is also involved is the spread of a supraterritorial dimension of social relations.
Both the environmental and the time-spatial concepts of the global give it a content beyond the confused equation with world or international. The environmental concept indicates that an important dimension of common global consciousness is our recognition of the physical habitat that we share. However, in some versions of it, a primacy of nature is proposed: human activity is seen as a problem for the planet. This interpretation of the global can lead, then, to the subordination of human society to the physical environment.
Compared to this, the spatial, or time-space, concept is more sophisticated. Nature, in Giddens’ account for example, is no longer raw and unmediated, but socially transformed. Our altered relations with this socialized nature are part of the general transformation of our social relations. However accounts which emphasize spatial stretching have still too little to say about the content of global relations. Global relations are essentially more instant, long-distance, versions of pre-global relations, with the new dimensions which speed and density bring to inter-connection. In so far as changed qualities of relations are recognized, they are seen as consequences of these essentially technical changes in the mechanisms of social life.
The global quality of social relations, in both these accounts, is seen as the result of cumulative changes in peoples’ relations with each other and their physical environment. In essence, society has been globalized not because human beings thought or acted globally, but because in pursuit of other ends – profit, power, communication – worldwide connectedness has developed.
Of course, there is a large measure of truth in such an account. Whatever it is, the global aspect of social relations has not developed simply or mainly because most people had very clearly defined, specifically global aims and intentions. If it had, we would understand it much more easily and we would hardly need to argue so much about its meaning. So we must accept that the environmental and spatial accounts indicate important dimensions of the meaning of global. But have they grasped its core?
Held and McGrew provide a suggestive amplification of the spatial concept when they write: ‘Globalization refers to an historical process which transforms the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, generating transcontinental or inter-regional networks of interaction and the exercise of power.’ As my emphasis suggests, the novel aspect of their definition is not the specification of worldwide as ‘transcontinental or inter-regional’ – a formulation which amplifies the spatial conception into a specific hierarchy of nations, continents/regions and world – but the introduction of power into the definition. However, once again the content of the global transformation of power is not defined except in spatial terms.
Although the meaning of global is embedded in the largely spatial relations described by these partial concepts, in the more developed usages of the term it is also more than them. By global, we mean not just transformed conceptions of time and space but the new social meaning that this has involved. I propose that we understand this as the development of a common consciousness of human society on a world scale. We mean an increasing awareness of the totality of human social relations as the largest constitutive framework of all relations. We mean that society is increasingly constituted primarily by this inclusive human framework – rather than by distinct tribes, civilizations, nations or religious communities, although all of these remain in increasingly complex and overlapping ways within global society.
Social relations become global, therefore, when they are significantly and systematically informed by an awareness of the common framework of worldwide human society. Society becomes global when this becomes its dominant, constitutive framework. Awareness of a common framework in human society is not new, of course: this idea has been one of the driving forces of modernity. The distinction between global and pre-global is therefore that, with the development of global relations, the understanding of human relations in a common worldwide frame comes to predominate over other, more partial understandings.
It may be properly asked, of course, how far this in fact the case? How far has a global society actually come into existence? How far does the global definition of society prevail over other definitions? When and how did this happen? These are questions that I shall examine in more detail later in this book. If we accept that the global has a distinctive social meaning, however, beyond its environmental and time-spatial senses, we will look for its origins and manifestations in different places from those examined by both globalization and anti-globalization thought.
Fallacies of the globalization debate
Both globalization thinkers and their critics have tended to make two central mistakes indicated by our discussion so far. First, they have tended to see the global in terms of an essentially linear process, or linear processes, of globalization. Second, they have tended to fail to define the global, and hence have adopted (often implicitly) one of the restricted meanings that we have discussed. Because both proponents and critics have misunderstood the significance of the global, they have exchanged false antinomies, in an increasingly sterile disagreement.
Two further principal fallacies can be identified at the heart of this debate. The first concerns the relationships between technology, economy and culture on the one hand and politics on the other. According to some globalizers, some kinds of technology, market relations and standardized cultural forms have become so powerful that states – or even political actors generally – have been weakened and marginalized and borders have become, more or less, irrelevant. According to some anti-globalizers, if it can be shown that states remain influential and borders significant, then the globalization thesis has been brought seriously into question, if not refuted.
Both sides of the debate have made the mistaken assumption that economic and cultural change could transform politics in the sense of cause and effect. The elementary mistake here is the idea that in the modern world, there are highly autonomous spheres of economics, culture and politics. In reality, to the extent that we can identify these spheres they are mutually constituted to very large degrees. It is simply implausible that there could have been significant technical, commercial or cultural change without important political antecedents and concomitants, as well as effects.
If these propositions are accepted, it follows that both globalization and anti-globalization positions tend towards conceptual naïvety. It literally does not make sense to propose that economic or cultural globalization could by themselves undermine the nation-state, without specifically political transformations actively influencing the process. Powerful institutions like states do not keel over at the sight of a multinational corporation, a worldwide market or a new communications technology. The activities of corporations, the markets in which they and others operate, and the technologies which are developed, all pose challenges to state institutions. Conversely, of course, if we accept that there are important processes of technological, economic and cultural change, it is inconceivable that states would remain essentially unchanged, wielding power in virtually the same ways as before.
The second, related fallacy of the debate is the idea that global and national-international categories are inherently opposed. According to some globalizers, a global world is one in which the national organization of economies and cultures is rapidly diminished in significance. Internationally-structured relations have been replaced by more fluid, global relations. According to some anti-globalizers, if it can be shown that that national and international forms and relations remain of great significance, then globalization in any strong sense cannot be true.
Let us take as an example the argument about whether the world trade is more or less internationalized now than in previous periods. Globalizers argue that goods as well as money flow more across boundaries than in any previous period. Anti-globalizers claim that before 1914, there were levels of international integration and openness as high, or almost as high, as at the end of the twentieth century, so what is new?
Let us look at what is being measured here. First, the meaning of international trade (i.e. across state boundaries) might be expected to be somewhat different in today’s world of many, often small nation-states compared to the much small number of states, the most important of which were world empires, which existed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Second and more fundamentally, if global really means something different from international, how can globalization possibly be measured by the balance of national and international commerce?
In reality, what this example shows us is the poverty of the understanding of the global in most globalization debates. Globalizers and anti-globalizers alike assume that trade within a national economy is non-global, while that across national state boundaries is global. We can make no such assumptions, however. The evidence produced demonstrates little about the global or non-global content of either intra- or inter-national trade. Mostly what it shows is the unsurprising – and unenlightening – fact that trade is still measured in national and international terms.
Neither side of this argument grapples seriously with the ways in which, on the one hand, global change involves transformations of national and international relations, and on the other, changed national and international relations go to make up much of what constitutes the global. Just as the simple antinomy of economics-culture and politics is beside the point, so is that of national-international and global. Both are false oppositions in which neither side can win the argument, because neither has understood the nature of the changes in social relations in our time – or the meaning of globality.
Grasping the revolution
To describe the changes through which we are living as a global revolution involves a very different assessment of the starting point, character and direction of change from conventional accounts of globalization. It also involves a radically different concept of the relationships between economic and cultural change, on the one hand, and political and military change, on the other. Although the term revolution is increasingly used in a loose sense, to indicate any radical change, it has had more or less precise meanings in the social-scientific literature. The sense in which the term is used here takes these as a starting-point.
Three main theses have been widely agreed. First, social revolutions, in which there are far-reaching transformations of social relations, may be distinguished from political revolutions, in which states are transformed without correspondingly fundamental changes in society. Second, while political revolutions may not entail deep social upheavals, social revolutions necessarily involve political change. 'Virtually everyone who writes about social revolutions recognizes that they begin with overtly political causes … . And it is recognized that they culminate in the consolidation of new state organizations.' Or as Lenin wrote, 'The basic question of every revolution is that of state power.' Third, although revolutions are widely interpreted as products of international trends, the form of revolution has been national: they take place in geopolitical contexts that clearly define 'internal' and 'external'. The defining moments of revolutions are constitutive changes in national social and political structures.
The relationship between national and international aspects of revolutions is now better understood. Revolutions not only represent national manifestations of more general, loosely international, social contradictions, as Marxists believed. They are not merely parts of international waves, such as those of 1789-93, 1848, 1917-23, 1941-45 and 1989-91, which affect many national societies simultaneously. As political crises, revolutions are also rooted in international – especially interstate – relations, and they in turn necessarily have international effects. As Skocpol showed, the international context of revolution is not a contingent factor, but one in which revolutions are structurally implicated. Revolutions are closely linked to wars as both manifestations and causes of instability in interstate relations.
What has been less well understood is the nature of revolution as a process of state transformation beyond the national level. The international has not just been a context of revolution, but part of what revolutions have been about. The revolutionary waves of the last two centuries have been part of and have helped to define major upheavals in the interstate system. These transformations of interstate relations have, in turn, been part of key transformations of state-society relations. Thus the French revolution and the wars which it began were the defining events in the transition to the national-and-international world of the nineteenth century. The Russian revolution was part of the Great War upheaval of this order, accentuating its crisis. The Chinese revolution was part of the Second World War transition, which worldwide resulted in the bloc system of the Cold War. Likewise, I shall argue that the eastern and central European revolutions of recent years were manifestly defining events of the transition to the (emerging but still contested) global interstate world.
These successive transformations of state relations have been simultaneously changes in what would be distinguished conventionally as interstate and state-society relations. Looking at them from the perspective of the worldwide development of society, we can see them as a series of far-reaching revolutions in the totality of the relations between state institutions and the market economy on a world scale. In this sense, the international waves of national revolutions have been part of larger transformations in what I call the state relations and forms of the developing world capitalist society.
By state relations I mean the social relations of state power, through which society constitutes state institutions and state forms constitute the framework of society. State relations thus include both interstate and state-society relations. By state forms I mean the structures of state institutions themselves, and the relations between institutions within and across distinct states. State forms thus also include what are conventionally understood as distinctive kinds of institution, namely nation-states and international organization.
The contemporary transition from what Hobsbawm calls the ‘short twentieth century’ of 1914-89 to the ‘twenty-first century’ involves an explicit shift to a fundamentally different pattern of both relations and forms of state power. While the revolutions of the last two centuries signalled new phases of national-international relations and forms, the global revolution portends (if it has not yet achieved) a decisive movement beyond this structure of world politics. Confusingly, perhaps, modified national and international forms remain important in the emergent global world. But the fundamental state relations of the new era are no longer national and international in the historic sense. There is a unification of core world state institutions, so that the political structure of social relations on a world scale has fundamentally changed.
The concept of global revolution rather than globalization is likely to be controversial. The meaning given to it here may seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. The global revolution appears – in terms of the traditional distinction – a political rather than a social revolution. But this distinction needs to be qualified. The global revolution is not a social revolution in traditional terms – a transition from one historical system of social relations to another (like that from capitalism to socialism, for example). It nevertheless involves profound transformations of many aspects of social relations – and the ways in which they are structured politically. Some traditional Marxists have sensed this – in descriptions of a change ‘back’ to capitalist market relations in former Communist states as a ‘counter-revolution’. But this shift is inadequately characterized in these terms, and in any case is only one aspect of social change in the global revolution.
The idea of the global revolution rescues globality from the realm of unintended, mechanical change. It asserts the role of conscious human agency in global transformation. Globality is not the result of a global teleology or a global spirit. It is however the outcome of the conscious and intentional actions of many individual and collective human actors. The things we intend and desire come into existence, of course, often by means other than those we envisage. The effects of our actions are often unpredictable. Yet human consciousness has decisive roles in the cumulative processes of any large change. There is no single guiding force, such as a revolutionary party, but there are many actors whose conscious interactions shape the new era.
The global revolution is therefore a revolution in a new sense – not simply a political rather than a social revolution, or a national-and-international revolution, but a set of changes in which these terms are themselves recast. The global revolution involves new relations of politics, economics and society, as well as of the national and international aspects of all these relations. For these reasons, it also involves a radical redefinition of the idea of revolution.
Key problems in the theory of globality
Political and academic debates at the beginning of the twenty-first century have begun to move tentatively beyond the idea of a process of globalization. The idea that globalization involves more than the intensification of the ecologically global or spatially worldwide character of social relations is gaining currency. The global has begun to be seen as a new principle or structure of social relations, increasingly actual as well as potential.
In these circumstances the concept of globality has begun to emerge. In its simplest meaning, globality is the condition or state in which things are global. The idea of globality represents the global as something increasingly achieved, real and manifest. Globality represents not just certain trends within the modern world, but a new condition or age in which the latter is brought into question. Globality represents a sufficiently fundamental shift in the very principles on which modern social organization is built, for us to question the continuation of modernity.
Modernity has been questioned before, of course – notably in the discourse of postmodernity. But as we have already seen, in emphasizing the disintegration of modernity, postmodern thought has eschewed the idea of any new synthesis, let alone end-point. Globality, in contrast, points to a kind of solution. Globality does not just dissolve, but supplants the classic modern framework. Mainstream critics of postmodern ideas, like Giddens, integrate their insights into a ‘late modern’ project of which globalization is a major aspect. Theorists of globality, like Albrow, see this concept as transcending both terms. Globality is not merely a late – or disintegrative – form of modernity, but a new structure of society and thought.
Globality is therefore a new structure and concept of social relations. Its novelty leads to three main problems that arise in establishing its meaning. First, there is the continuing relation between structure and process. If globality is both fundamental and novel in its significance, we cannot expect it to become established simply or overnight. The development of globality has been, and will be, a long, complex process. Globalization debates may have sometimes missed the point of globality, I have suggested, but their contests indicate the inconclusive character of global change to date. If we understand globality to involve a more thoroughgoing change, the processes of change are likely to be even more complex and of longer-lasting significance. Globality is hardly an end-point or a finished condition.
Second, if globality involves a rupture with modernity – a global revolution as I have called it – the relations between globality and modernity are nevertheless likely to remain constitutive for a lengthy period. A fundamental change is always not only long and complex, but also uneven and even apparently incoherent. Precisely if we wish to insist upon the discontinuity of contemporary developments, we need to account for manifold and deeply significant continuities. If globality is a break with modernity, it will nevertheless include – by transforming – many of the key forms of the modern world. To demonstrate the relation between continuity and discontinuity is a central task of global thought.
Third, if globality is a fundamentally new structure of relations, but enmeshed or embedded in so many old forms, it is essential to define precisely in what the structure of globality consists, and how it has come about. I defined the global as a common consciousness of human society on a world scale: an increasing awareness of the totality of human social relations as the largest constitutive framework of all relations. I argued that society is now constituted by this inclusive human framework, rather than by distinct tribes, civilizations, nations or religious communities – although all of these remain as parts of global society. But how, in what relations and forms, is this distinctive framework manifest? How has it come into existence? Has it come into being behind people’s backs – or can we trace its development in human activity?
Method, argument and structure
If we take the idea of globality seriously, these are the key questions for social and political theory today. In this book, I work out answers to them through a methodology that is at the same time critical, historical and empirical-analytical. These three dimensions of my method are represented in three main sections of the book. However, although one dimension is to the fore and constitutes the presentation in each of the sections, these are not three separate methods. The questions, arguments and conclusions of each section are informed by those of the others.
In Part One, I develop a critique of national-international thought. Like Karl Marx, I take the view that ideas can be grasped as their time in thought. Thus the critique of ideas is not abstract intellectual criticism, but an exploration of the links between thought and history, by which both are illuminated, and the possibility of change is explored. I investigate the dialectics of universal and particular in the social thought of the national-international era. I hope to demonstrate both that a great deal about this thought can be understood through these contradictions, and that from the latter we can begin to understand the transition to a global world.
In Part Two, I give an outline historical account of the global revolution. A major historical change cannot be understood merely by grasping the contradictions of thought discussed in the first part. We need a more concrete, explicitly historical synthesis, to propose a schema of the actions and events that have created globality. In this section I present, therefore, not a history in the full and detailed sense but an outline reinterpretation of what is known, which offers a coherent account and explanation of the emergence of a global structure in social relations.
In Part Three, I develop an analytical account of the developing structure of globality in state relations, together with its contradictions. I try to show the key characteristics of the new structure, the contradictions that arise from the ways in which old relations and forms remain and are changed within it, and the new contradictions of globality. I present the structure of globality as by no means completely formed – let alone stable, secure or safe for human beings who live in the globalizing world. In the sense that distinctively global state relations and forms have not yet been fully consolidated, in ways that correspond to the demands of global consciousness in society, I present global change as an unfinished revolution.
In the concluding chapter, I discuss the politics of the global transition, exploring further the idea of the unfinished global revolution. I argue that the problems of globalization and globality cannot be addressed through a re-assertion of pre-global ideas and programmes, but only through a new global politics.