The main part of this post was originally composed as a comment under Nob Akimoto’s above-referenced post in the League of Ordinary Gentlemen’s “Democracy Symposium.” (I’m going to post it here as written, but may be revising it in coming days or as the spirit moves me.)
Mr. Akimoto takes a broad historical perspective and asks whether globalization and specifically our contemporary “transnational elites” don’t pose a major threat to national-level “liberal democracy.” His “precis”:
Liberal democracy is a product of geographic nation-states. Globalization is creating a new transnational elite that takes us back to a pre-nation-state era of statecraft. Liberal democracy as it exists will not be viable if this trend continues.
After an historical survey on the rise of the nation-state, and, prior to some last observations on localism and also the example of the European Union, Akimoto in effect throws up his hands:
On some level, we have industries that are now moving at levels beyond the reach of government. They have grown sufficiently large or straddle sufficient national boundaries that they’re able to pick and choose regulations to follow, move capital as they see fit, and control a large enough portion of economic activity that they are close to sovereign actors in themselves….
What’s the answer here? I honestly don’t know.
I don’t presume to have the answer or answers, but how we pose and understand the actual questions will be critical.
Though globalization is a crucial fact, perhaps the defining fact of our age, ours is not the first globalism. There is even a hint of globalism in Old Testament prophecy (“and many nations shall join themselves to the Eternal in that day”), and it’s inherent in any thought of humanity as a species or species-being. Our globalism has a concrete form and history that differentiate it from prior orders of the Earth. Technological factors are critically important, but, as the post implicitly acknowledges when it compares the present-day transnational elite to the elites of prior eras, they are far from the only critical ones and must themselves be understood in context.
Getting to “the answer,” assuming there is one, requires understanding the question, which in turn requires understanding its premises. It will be necessary to deal with some approximations and generalizations, but under close attention to what is being scanted or skimmed over, since, unless it’s being scanted for good and well-understood reasons, it can easily and often does turn into an unexamined controlling assumption. For instance, are fixed capital and labor really totally monetizable and therefore completely fungible, or close enough to be treated that way for our analysis, or is it just an assumption of the market system that they must be treated that way, alongside a (destructive) tendency to convert them into “pure commodities” as much as actually possible? Are the transnational elite really as detached from pre-existing and determinative and broadly speaking geographical origins and divisions as they like to think or to seem, or is geography still destiny even and in fact especially for them? What, for instance, would happen to their presumptions regarding their own mobility and their access to their wealth under conditions of economic, political, or natural-ecological emergency, including war? Clearly, they have a major vote, or set of potentially conflicting votes, regarding all aspects of further developments, but they do not have the only votes. The same switches that turn on their computer systems and let them gaze at digital representations of their money can be turned off.
The highly, one might even say maximally, controversial Carl Schmitt tackled the larger questions from the vantage point of ca. 1950 in his book on The Nomos of the Earth (full title and link: The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of Jus Publicum Europaeum). Schmitt’s focus was mainly on the legal and legal-philosophical concepts that underpinned the prior Eurocentric globalism that divided the world up, essentially, into Europe and fair game.
As Schmitt explains, many of the Eurocentric order’s assumptions were borrowed from or had to re-configure the assumptions of the prior European order (Medieval Christendom) and of the one before that (the Roman Empire). Even today, we still deploy many concepts (“just war,” for example) developed in those much earlier contexts without recognizing the ways that new contexts transform and even invert their meaning and effect. The critical new facts of modernity for Schmitt were not just technological or political (or philosophical), but geographical in the strongest and more concrete sense of the term: The circumnavigation of the globe and, even more, the discovery of the New World. He observes that to comprehend the true significance of the latter we’d have to discover a new planet Earth next door.
Much more could be said about Schmitt’s understanding of the fall of the Eurocentric order and why it coincided with the completion of the settling of North America, and the ways in which it corresponds with alternative mainly economic or mainly philosophical orderings of historical events and contemporary national and international politics, but the most telling question he raised, telling because it’s the same one that contemporary history and economics are raising for us, is whether a new Nomos of the Earth is, can, or should be a single universalism, or whether an arrangement of what he called “Grossraueme” (lit. “large spaces”) and what we might call Spheres of Influence wouldn’t turn out to be preferable, possibly because more practical. It may be that the triumph of the transnational virtuosos and super-beneficiaries of Amero-centric universalism will be temporary, and leads inexorably to re-division, including sets of lesser re-divisions and re-distributions, not just conceptually and politically, reaching all the way down to the ground and further.