Meditations: Both the UN and the US are Irrelevant
Both the UN and the US are Irrelevant
The devastation along the Gulf Coast foretells the collapse of the American empire, and verifies a vacuum of leadership in the global society. The US government was unable to manage an expected crisis within its own borders; how then can anyone expect that world leadership will come from ‘the sole remaining superpower?’
New Orleans has demonstrated how moral collapse inevitably manifests in massive societal and governmental breakdown. If 9/11 opened the first act in America’s demise, and New Orleans the second, one can only shudder at what the third will be. However, Katrina provided a glimpse not just into America’s present, but also, without radical changes at every level, humanity’s future.
Therefore the issue is not the breakdown in government in the United States, but the urgent necessity for effective governance at the global level. And in light of what that dyed-in-the-wool-diplomat Kofi Annan called “an opportunity for all humankind...to come together and take action on grave global threats that require bold global solutions,” the 2005 World Summit did not merely fall short. It ran aground.
Two things happen when a political order collapses —chaos ensues until a new order emerges; and power devolves to lower levels. The latter is a positive development, as national governments and regional institutions look to themselves to solve problems that beset them, rather than to superpowers and international institutions.
But the hope of many progressives that local and national governments can adequately meet the challenges confronting humanity without global institutions is a pipe dream. Chaos will increase until the global society has effective global governance.
More than anything, civil society suffers from a failure of imagination. By staking everything on reform of and leadership from the United Nations, global civil society has not prepared an alternative to the obvious political and historical exhaustion of the UN. The notion that the United Nations is the only game in town has, along with the present US government, run the UN into the ground.
At the core of the current predicament is the philosophical and conceptual framework that gave rise to the UN, which is based on sovereignty of nation-states. That has become a dangerous anachronism.
The nationalistic mindset is very hard to cast off. “My country” is the vestigial appendix of tribal identity, a nonexistent psychological stronghold protecting ‘us’ from ‘them.’ After New Orleans, where is the line where one can say, ‘these are Americans,’ and ‘these are Africans?’
A chaotic mix produced by technology, travel,
and the market has largely erased distinctions that arose
through centuries of geographic isolation.
Cultures, as distinct phenomena, no longer exist. Differences of language, tradition, and belief have ceased to differentiate; they just divide.
The idea of “unity in diversity” is fatally flawed because it presumes separateness as a first principle, when in fact wholeness is the first principle in nature, the universe, and heretofore, culture. Diversity and uniqueness flow from the essential wholeness of things, not the other way around. Therefore the motto should be inverted: diversity in unity.
Nation-states do not need to be replaced anymore than city-states once did. The difference now is that conquest by military or economic power is no longer an option. The huge military advantage that the USA has over other states is less and less relevant in a virtually stateless world.
The UN is rightly perceived as the handmaiden of the most powerful nation-states. That should not be surprising, since the UN is defined by the nation-state, and nation-states are defined by power. Obviously the nation-states with the most power determine the direction and policies, through the Security Council, of the UN. The bare-knuckled realpolitik presently being practiced by such nations as Japan, Germany, Brazil, and India as they jockey for seats on a possibly expanding Security Council, attest to the fact that everything has changed except the rules of the game.
The rule of power, forming the philosophical foundation of the United Nations, is itself passing onto the rubbish heap of history. The Bush Administration achieved its goal of UN irrelevance, but in doing so it made America itself irrelevant.
I don’t know whether the UN can recover from its moribund condition and grow, with limited powers, into an authentic institution of international law and enforcement. But at this point it doesn’t matter, since for any kind of rational and workable world order to emerge, three things are essential, which the UN can never provide.
The first is a philosophical and ethical foundation for a global society. The second is genuine leadership transcending national self-interest. The third is the creation of a non-power-holding, supervening body comprised of citizens of the world, not nation-states. If you believe these things are utopian ideals or distant dreams, get out of the way.
- 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.