Globalization and World Political Principle
Haiti. Wading through a flooded road after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 6, 2016 – the country’s largest disaster in years. Dieu Nalio Chery / Press Association. All rights reserved. It is literally impossible to eschew global political theory. Pick up your cell phone: where do the minerals that make up its circuitry come from? Will the proceeds from the sale of such minerals be used for the people of the country where the minerals were mined?
Take a look at every item of clothing in your closet. Where was it made? What were the working conditions of the people who did it like? Were these conditions the reason for the relocation of jobs to this country and the loss of income and employment in your country? Or the other way around? Turn on the news. Almost every month there is a new scandal involving companies evading or avoiding taxes. Lists of wealthy people hiding their wealth in fiscal “oases” are leaked almost as often.
Are these the inevitable effects of free capital mobility? If capital cannot be effectively taxed because of tax competition between different countries or the obligation to follow certain types of tax policies, isn’t labor paying the price?
We could go on. The point is simple: globalization has made our lives more connected than ever. Our daily life stands for uninterrupted chains of physical, economic, political and ultimately moral relationships with strangers in all parts of the world. It is imperative to hold back and reflect more analytically on these issues if we are able to understand and respond to them in an informed and reflective manner.
Moral questions and normative debates
The connections between globalization and global political theory are clearly mediated by cultural, political and intellectual currents that defy mechanical or formulaic reconstruction. To name a few: the end of the Cold War, the emergence of the human rights regime and the responsibility to protect the doctrine, the spread of democratic ideas, etc. Globalization has profoundly affected our political life, but it has also had a major impact on how we think about moral issues. There are at least four ways in which globalization has transformed normative debates.
Firstly, globalization has intensified global and regional exchange patterns (political, economic, cultural) and thus made us aware that our actions have implications that do not end at our own borders, but have wider and more far-reaching effects.
Second, globalization has accelerated the emergence of global collective problems of action. However, it has also added a new sense of urgency to building global collaboration to address these issues. It is recognized that failure to take action against financial market risks, terrorism in the Middle East or climate change, among many other global challenges, creates enormous instabilities and damages the fabric of our institutions in the long term.
We have recognized that our overlapping collective fates require collective solutions – locally, nationally, regionally and globally. And there is also a widespread belief that some of these challenges, if not addressed, could be apocalyptic in the decades to come.
Taken together, the first and second elements relate to the traditional Rawlsian notion that cooperative activities create benefits and burdens, and that these burdens and benefits need not be arbitrarily distributed if we are to avoid injustice and injustice. Similarly, from a largely democratic perspective, the first and second elements illustrate the wide range of issues in which power is exercised without clear accountability mechanisms and the associated potential for political and economic domination that irresponsible power inevitably generates.
Third, globalization has raised our awareness of distant suffering. This may seem trivial, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. From a purely causal point of view, awareness of a given situation is a necessary condition of our ability to do something about it. But there’s more to it than the latter idea suggests. Awareness of suffering, especially through the visual perception made possible by modern telecommunications technologies, can play an important role in the development of empathy and, to paraphrase Peter Singer, in expanding the “moral circle”. Empathy, as many authors of the history of philosophy argue, is not to be despised – it can motivate people to act and thus become the starting point for real political change.
Fourth, globalization has also made us aware that we can do something for the plight of those who live very far from us. How much we can do for “distant strangers” is of course controversial. Experience the endless debates about the effectiveness of humanitarian and development aid. Most would accept, however, that our role should not be limited to that of the audience and that passivity is unacceptable in the face of the suffering of distant others.
In other words, our ability to influence the life prospects of distant individuals (as limited as they may be realistic) shapes our reflections on the nature of our ethical universe, since it implies that our relationship with distant strangers can be a source of real normative obligations, i.e. Commitments that set out a set of policies and guidelines that we can realistically attempt to implement.
Much more can of course be said about the general links between globalization and normative political theory. One thing is overwhelmingly clear, however: Given the complexity of the problems we face and the heightened moral urgency that so many of them create, we simply cannot afford not to think about them. And this is exactly the task we set ourselves in Global Political Theory (just published). This book discusses the many ways in which global politics permeates our moral lives, sets out the core concepts we need to make sense of this world, and analyzes many of the key political and moral challenges we face in order to address them understand and tackle. It is a very useful starting point for dealing with another political world and the moral challenges that come with it.