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Martin LeFevre: Goliath vs. Global Governance

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Goliath vs. Global Governance

A book currently being touted in the major media in the United States is “The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the 21st Century.” In it Michael Mandelbaum says, “The American performance [at world government] is better than the alternative, which is that no one will do it.” That prevailing view among American elites epitomizes an obstinate hubris here, and a deep failure of imagination abroad.

Full of contradictions, wrong-headedness, and denial, Mandelbaum’s views are so extreme that they don’t deserve airtime. Yet this leading academic at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies is being widely featured; and that represents a challenge to the world far beyond the complicity of the American media with the Bush Administration’s belligerent foreign policies.

Speaking out of one side of his mouth, Mandelbaum says, “The United States doesn’t threaten other countries…and helps keep order in the world.” Speaking out of the other side of his mouth (or some other orifice), he goes beyond even the doctrine of preemptive war that was the justification for invading Iraq. “The most plausible case for war is not because of something the other country is about to do, but because of something you think it might do in the future.” He calls it “preventive war.” Sure, that’s the way a world government should act.

Such ravings would not be worthy of serious consideration except for three things: they reflect the thinking of the Bush Administration and many policy makers in America; there is not a sufficient countervailing movement in the United States to stop them; and the need for genuine global governance grows more urgent every month.

With Europe acting as America’s front man in its long run-up to war with Iran, the necessity for authentic leadership in the global society has never been more apparent and imperative. But from where will leadership come? The collapse of the international order is happening before our eyes; if the present trend continues, the international system, including the UN, can’t be salvaged.

Nations act in their own self-interest, not in the interests of humankind as a whole. Very powerful nations will therefore inevitably try to impose their will, according to their imperial interests, on the world. That produces enormous discord and “blowback,” as it is with the United States.

National self-interest cannot be the basis for cooperation in the global society anymore than individual self-interest can be the basis for harmony in the family. If self-interest is the unchallengeable principle of political organization, and the immutable premise of human nature, then the country with the most power will always rule, and greed will always produce extreme disparity between rich and poor. However, the increasing interconnectedness and instability of the world’s economic, social, and political spheres rule out the historical pattern in the present world, much less the future.

What about the United Nations? As sixty years of experience with that ideal shows, getting even a few dozen, much less nearly 200 nations to work together is as futile as herding cats. No group of nations, operating from their separate self-interests, can act in the interests of humankind.

Besides, the UN has a fatal philosophical flaw. When UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Jan Egeland was asked by a BBC reporter, “aren’t you disappointed it’s taken the UN this long to come up with a proper, beefed-up, well resourced force in Darfur?” he stumbled and stuttered with the tired and trite UN excuse: “I’m surprised and disappointed that The World has not been able to do more” [emphasis his].

That’s a clever rhetorical device intended to use the truth to cover a profound failing and institutional weakness. The perennial excuse from the UN is that it is only as good and effective an institution as its members, especially Security Council members, allow it to be. The UN itself has no authority or autonomy to act, so the argument goes, and therefore criticism of the UN is really criticism of the nation-states that determine its policies and actions. That’s a classic vicious circle.

A redefined triad of global governance, with the tangible emergence of a new, third component, is indispensable. Such a triad would involve: autonomous nation-states no longer assuming supreme authority; autonomous international institutions with limited powers; and a Global Polity of world citizens with great moral suasion and overseeing capacity but no power. For many symbolic reasons, a Global Polity should be built in the evolutionary birthplace of humankind—Africa.

At the deepest level, a Global Polity in Africa will manifest and amplify a revolution in human consciousness, marking the shift away from identification with particular groups, and coercive power, as the primary bases of political organization. On a practical political level, a Global Polity will provide the new philosophical foundation and leadership that the UN and international community urgently need for global governance.


- 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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