Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism

Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism

Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism

Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism

Synopsis

Rethinking World Politics is a major intervention into a central debate in international relations: how has globalization transformed world politics? Most work on world politics still presumes the following: in domestic affairs, individual states function as essentially unified entities, and in international affairs, stable nation-states interact with each other. In this scholarship, the state lies at the center; it is what politics is all about. However, Philip Cerny contends that recent experience suggests another process at work: "transnational neopluralism." In the old version of pluralist theory, the state is less a cohesive and unified entity than a varyingly stable amalgam of competing and cross-cutting interest groups that surround and populate it. Cerny explains that contemporary world politics is subject to similar pressures from a wide variety of sub- and supra-national actors, many of which are organized transnationally rather than nationally. In recent years, the ability of transnational governance bodies, NGOs, and transnational firms to shape world politics has steadily grown. Importantly, the rapidly growing transnational linkages among groups and the emergence of increasingly influential, even powerful, cross-border interest and value groups is new. These processes are not replacing nation-states, but they are forging new transnational webs of power. States, he argues, are themselves increasingly trapped in these webs. After mapping out the dynamics behind contemporary world politics, Cerny closes by prognosticating where this might all lead. Sweeping in its scope, Rethinking World Politics is a landmark work of international relations theory that upends much of our received wisdom about how world politics works and offers us new ways to think about the forces shaping the contemporary world.

Excerpt

The theme of this book is that the fundamental underpinnings of world politics are being transformed in a globalizing world. Most work on world politics has either explicitly or implicitly taken for granted that there are two distinct yet coexisting political processes and sets of institutions at work simultaneously in the modern world—domestic politics and international relations (Hollis and Smith 1990). The first takes place within established nation-states, and the second takes place as nation-states as political units (or “unit actors”: Waltz 1979) interact with each other. The state, as a set of political institutions, apparatuses, and processes, plays a unique role in linking and cutting across both levels. Therefore, the state—embodied in the “modern nation-state”—is seen to be what world politics is still all about.

However, since the early twentieth century, another paradigm has been at work in the study of politics, although mainly limited to the domestic field. That paradigm is pluralism. At the time of writing this book, we are celebrating—or not celebrating, as cultural memory is limited on this score—the publication of the first, seminal work in this area, The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures, by Arthur F. Bentley (Bentley 1908). Pluralism as a paradigm itself has a checkered history, challenged by Marxist class analysis, theories of elitism and corporatism, and the revival of sociological theories of the state in the tradition of Max Weber. For our purposes, the key development in the evolution of pluralism as a concept is the version called neopluralism (Lindblom 1977; McFarland 2004), which acknowledges the shortcomings in early versions of pluralist theory and proposes a more realistic version of the approach.

In neopluralism, the outcomes of various political processes are not determined in the last analysis by the a priori existence of cohesive, vertically unified nation-states as such. Rather, they involve a range of individual and collective (group) actors below, outside, surrounding, and populating . . .

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