Towards a Global Polity

By Morten Ougaard; Richard Higgott | Go to book overview

8

The historical processes of establishing institutions of global governance and the nature of the global polity

Craig N. Murphy


Introduction

I am interested in what the history of international institutions since the Industrial Revolution can tell us about the current prospects for creating a more egalitarian - a more substantively democratic - global polity (see Murphy 1994, 1998). This chapter summarizes some of those lessons in the context of the programs of political action in response to globalization that have interested many of my students over the last few years.

The most comprehensive layer of the global polity can be identified along three dimensions: the policy realms it affects, its institutions, and its social nature, that is, the social forces that it privileges or curtails. To be concerned with substantive democracy is to be concerned with helping shape a global polity without privilege. While I would not claim that this is the aim of my students, I do argue that they are representative of many relatively privileged people throughout the world who recognize a set of moral dilemmas that the late Susan Strange argued we all face, given the nature of contemporary, unregulated globalization.

Sadly, I believe that none of the different strategies that my students, and others, are following is likely to solve that moral problem. The middle of the chapter outlines a relevant historical argument about economic globalization and its co-evolution with systems of regulation. I argue there have been a series of stepwise changes in the scale of industrial economies from the sub-national economies of the early Industrial Revolution to the 'global' Information Age economy. Each transition to a more encompassing industrial order has initially been marked by a period of relatively slow economic growth in which rapid marketization takes place, the state seems to retreat, and uncompromising versions of laissez-faire liberalism triumph. A second phase has always followed, marked by the increasing role of a more socially-oriented liberalism, the rise of which has been linked to the growing success of egalitarian social movements, movements whose aims are similar to some of the political aims of my students today. This second phase has also been associated with the consolidation of the whole range of governance institutions - from the inter-state level down to the shop floor.

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