Global Governance "As It Was, Is and Ought to Be" A Critical Reflection.

Author:Gill, Stephen
Position:The Global Forum

1 Introduction

In this essay, I reflect on the past, present, and potential future of our global condition by addressing the nature of global governance, its historical practices and principles, the interests it has served, and who/what it has included/excluded or marginalized in those developments. I initially explore ontological, conceptual, and normative issues, and how these have been historically connected to the dynamics of world orders, patterns of global governance, and global capitalism. I follow with a reflection on hegemony and supremacy in historical world orders from the eleventh century up to World War II.

This historical excursus is justified as a means to critically appraise dominant principles of global governance today, and to highlight key questions concerning the future; namely, whether they are consistent with or in contradiction to the material and human interests and indeed the very survival of humankind and the integrity of the planet, its biosphere, and its life-forms.

Put differently, my aim in this essay is to pose acute questions concerning the nature of our global condition in the early twenty-first century, in the context of a "great acceleration" in the nature and scale of capitalist production and consumption patterns (and the means of transportation, communication, and destruction), especially since 1945.

Indeed, my premise in this essay is that the world has reached a situation of organic crisis (1)--namely, a situation of multiple intersecting structural crises in the global economy, in politics, in society, in culture and ethics as well as a crisis for the biosphere and, with that, the (social) reproduction of life-forms on the planet. This situation is therefore dramatized by the threats of climate change, intensification of pollution, global inequalities, food crises, and a variety of political challenges to the existing order. These include those from new forces on the left and, particularly, from authoritarian neoliberals and neonationalists associated with the reactionary right. In this context, we also need to ask, Is capitalism the problem or the solution for global governance?

These are not necessarily the arguments or discussions found in conventional accounts of global governance or international affairs. Nonetheless, it needs to be emphasized that this essay is not intended to be a polemic against contemporary perspectives on global governance nor any of the Panglossian optimists who seek to claim that we live in an era where "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds". (2) Quite the opposite: the key issue raised here involves the contradictory dynamics of a massive ontological shift in the conditions of existence that poses fundamental governance questions concerning the ethical, political, ecological, and social sustainability of our current civilizational and economic paradigms and broader development patterns.

Nonetheless, it is far beyond the scope of this short essay to adequately address the issues concerning our collective future. However, I conclude the essay with some brief suggestions for an agenda for action to help better address global governance. I suggest that one avenue for consideration is to develop an integrated planetary perspective that combines ethics, political economy, and ecology. I do so in a concluding section on one of our (many) key global challenges: the question of climate change.

2 Some Initial Conceptual, Ontological, and Normative Issues

First, it should be underlined that the conceptualization of governance in this essay does not mean "governance without government." Governance involves public and private mechanisms, and governments pass laws and implement them.

Governance involves ideas that justify or legitimate political power and influence, institutions through which influence is stabilized and reproduced, and patterns of incentives and sanctions to ensure compliance with rules, regulations, standards and procedures.

Governance thus entails both public and private forms of power, institutions of state and civil society, and it operates either within particular localities, or across national boundaries in regional or global frameworks. (3) This observation illuminates the ontological question, what is global governance as it currently exists?

The ontology of global governance today refers principally to the dominant projects and frameworks of governance and rule associated with the postCold War capitalist world order and its main juridical, regulatory, and political mechanisms. They seek to stabilize, modify, extend, and legitimate ruling institutions, the distribution of power, and as such reinforce the global capitalist status quo. Global governance therefore involves devising durable methods, mechanisms, and institutions--including the use of organized violence--to help sustain an unequal international order premised principally on the primacy of capital, the world market, and U.S. geopolitical power as the key governing forces of world politics.

These frameworks of governance--in the context of crises of capitalism, social reproduction, and ecological sustainability--are often articulated by leading organic intellectuals acting individually or collectively to provide normative and theoretical justification. (4) Governance frameworks are often associated with the interests and dominance of large transnational corporations and the superwealthy drawn from the most powerful states. These frameworks are the products of public and private forces; for example, as reflected at the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum that in many respects could be regarded as the new "international" of global capitalism. To a certain extent they involve the wider incorporation or co-optation of some allied and other interests, particularly as the poles of global capital accumulation are being extended socially and geographically after the collapse of the former East Bloc.

The political projects associated with these frameworks are partly synonymous with what the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) refer to in more normative terms as good governance, and the entrenching of global best practices via concepts of limited government, minimal or self-regulation of business and finance, and pro-market reforms, partly locked in by the juridical, legal, and regulatory frameworks of what I call the new constitutionalism of disciplinary neoliberalism. (5) The latter serve to restrict access, debate, and discussion to limited frameworks, institutions, and practices that support liberal capitalist governance as articulated by neoliberal thinkers such as James M. Buchanan (6) and Friedrich A. von Hayek. (7) Such legal-normative frameworks are ultimately backed by systematic use of organized violence in the form of military power and related geopolitical practices, often justified or camouflaged by the expediency of forms of international law applied in arbitrary and unequal ways.

Judged on its recent record, one might conclude that global governance as it really is, with its intensifying class, race, caste and gendered inequalities, has neither stabilized nor legitimated the existing world order. Many policies being carried out may be undermining the well-being, health, and human security of a majority of people. These morbid symptoms are reflected on a planet characterized by increasing food and energy crises, crises of social reproduction and accumulation, intensified exploitation of human beings and nature, dispossession of livelihoods and of the social, knowledge, and geographical commons. Other morbid symptoms include dumping of waste and widespread pollution that damage health and the environment and contribute to general ecological depletion.

These developments combine in a situation of global organic crisis involving intersecting multidimensional structural crises that will, in my opinion, serve to constitute the problematic of global--and perhaps planetary--governance for the future.

Thus, prevailing normative perspectives on global governance--associated with the hegemony or supremacy of capital under the U.S.-led alliances in postwar development--involve dialectical relations with a range of progressive and reactionary counterforces and movements that have been emerging in recent decades throughout the world. This includes the U.S. itself, where there is growing support for democratic socialism (reflected in the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders), and for reactionary nationalist plutocratic neoliberalism (reflected in the election of Donald Trump).

3 Inclusion/Exclusion, Hegemony, and Supremacy: A Conceptual Reflection

So what is inclusion/exclusion in global governance? I approach this question from a critical perspective.

From an epistemological and strategic viewpoint, critical perspectives seek to demystify questions of power and interrogate the relationship between rulers and the ruled, asking whether the ethical and practical aim of politics is to sustain, transform, or replace the status quo, and if so for what purposes. Critical perspectives place questions of ethics, justice and legitimacy, as well as of solidarity, inequality and sustainability at the center of their analysis. Critical perspectives ask questions such as, global governance of what, for whose benefit, why, and whither?

To use the well-known epistemological distinction of Robert Cox, (8) perspectives are critical that identify contradictions and potential transformations and that propose forms of praxis to help constitute a different kind of global governance and world order. They are counterpoised to problem-solving and technocratic theories that seek to sustain and extend the existing order and to govern and regulate it accordingly. Of course, a critical theory can also seek to solve key issues and problems involving technical and scientific questions such as ecological degradation, species extinction, and the...

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