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The International Order is History - What's Next?

Meditations (Politics) - From Martin LeFevre in California

The International Order is History - What's Next?

As the international world order, based on the nation-state, continues its slow-motion collapse, much more than another historical transition to another world order is at stake. The ancient organizing principle of coercive power, and even archaic human consciousness itself (arising from particular identities), are also at issue.

Despite the enormous reach and influence of American power, which essentially formed and continues to be the fulcrum of the international system, the American Empire is an eggshell about to crack and crumble. When it goes, it will take international institutions with it, unless a new and true order takes root before the collapse occurs.

Part of the fragility of the international world order stems from the fact that it serves the interests of so few, both inside and outside America. But the main reason the American Empire will be so short-lived is that the character and strength of the American people, the core traits and drive that once made America a great nation, no longer exist. A dead people cannot sustain an empire.

Professor Emeritus of International Law Richard Falk has proposed a "citizen elected global parliament modeled on the European Parliament." I was pleased to hear of this parallel vision, having written and spoken since the first Gulf War about the increasing urgency of creating a third component in world politics (a non-power-holding Global Polity of Peoples, which would hold international institutions and state governments accountable to the common human good).

However, since the European Parliament is proving to be unwieldy and bureaucratic, Falk's model is not a viable one. More importantly, he undercuts his own proposal by two contradictions.

Falk rightly says that "states and not citizens are the constituents of global [i.e. international] institutions," and yet he falls back on nation-states to provide authority and legality for a global parliament of peoples. On the one hand, he says there is "no international authority outside the state to whom citizens directly owe political loyalty or legal obligations," but then he turns around and says that a global parliament would initially be based on and sanctioned by "20 or 30 geographically and economically diverse countries."

The logic is inescapable: to supersede the nation-state, and infuse international institutions with authority and impetus, a genuinely global body must be created, with a philosophical and legal basis that lies outside the nation-state as well as international institutions. Global civil society now potentially provides such a starting point.

Falk fails to make the crucial distinction between the international and global dimensions. A "supervening international authority" would be a redundancy of the United Nations. It is impractical, unnecessary, and beside the point. The adventitious and unlooked-for development that is required is not inter-national at all; it is truly global.

Presuming the UN can survive the onslaught by the Bush Administration, which intends to make it a servant of American power, it could and should grow into the "international authority outside the state." International institutions must survive; the international order is history.

But for the UN to have any chance of deep reform, a genuinely global body, operating in a space outside international institutions (and thereby conferring legitimacy and maintaining accountability for them), must be envisioned and built.

Unless the age-old problem of power is effectively addressed however, these points of logic and legality will remain moot. Bush's derisive dismissal of international law reverberates chillingly around the world ("international law-heh-I'll have to find a lawyer"). That scoff not only embodied the core attitude of the Bush clique, it showed just how "irrelevant" the Bushites believe international law and institutions are in the face of American military might. It also pointed to the abyss into which they are leading the world.

Many factors, foremost being the self-made ecological crisis confronting humankind, foretell not only a quick end to Bush's anachronistic, nationalistic policies, but also an end to the international order. Indeed, the implacable pressures facing our species necessitate ending politics based on coercive power, as well as consciousness based on identification with particular groups.

For a democratic global body of any kind to emerge, a revolution in human consciousness must occur, probably simultaneously. This exigency goes far beyond Falk's "countermovement that articulates an alternative approach to global security," though any viable vision for the human future must indeed "capture the popular imagination."

A revolution in consciousness will have countless manifestations, but politically it will mean that the primeval tribal character of humans, which is as old as culture and humankind themselves, will no longer hold sway. Identification with particular groups will cease being the basis of human security (and insecurity). Nationalism, religious zealotry, and ethnic pride will begin to fall away, since human survival depends on it.

An effective, though non-power-holding Global Polity of Peoples, located in East Africa, the evolutionary birthplace of humankind, and philosophically and physically drawn from global civil society, will mark a momentous shift not only in the world order, but also in human psychology and spirituality.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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