Stop Rejecting Sovereignty: Confronting the Anti-Globalization Movement

By Laxer, Gordon | Canadian Dimension, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview

Stop Rejecting Sovereignty: Confronting the Anti-Globalization Movement


Laxer, Gordon, Canadian Dimension


On September 20, 2002, President George W. Bush declared the U.S. an empire in everything but name. It was the radical antithesis of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Theory had finally caught up with the practice of American unilateralist acts of aggression and refusals to sign international agreements such like the land-mine treaty and the International Criminal Court, By boldly asserting its right to wage "pre-emptive war" against any country posing a potential risk, the U.S. National Security Strategy sweeps away pretences about upholding the principles of self-determination and other countries' declarations of independence.

Reasserting the U.S. Empire turns aside notions of a borderless world or corporate rule, with its assumptions of stateless corporations. The American Empire is spawning its antidote, as empires are wont to do, by reinvigorating contestations for sovereignty around the world. Canadian Dimension's call for a sovereignty movement in Canada is therefore very timely. We will have allies abroad. George W. Bush is our best organizer.

The Battle of Seattle protest era gave needed visibility to the strength of opposition to neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus. Wherever corporate and government leaders met they faced huge crowds of "anti-globalization" protestors. For the first time, the media and the public took resistance to globalism -- and even to capitalism -- seriously. Many of the young were radicalized, veterans of prior movements reinvigorated, and young and old alike electrified by the prospect of stopping top-down globalization and the commodification of everything.

Anti-Globalization Movement Off Course

Twenty-one months later the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington brought the Battle of Seattle protest era to a screeching halt. The era had reflected the anarchist assumptions of American activists, which spread into Canada and elsewhere. The mood implacably opposed government as the enemy, inexorably tied to corporations. Electoral politics was seen as either a waste of time or a fraud. Instead, the only politics that mattered was the ability to rally more and more committed activists to shut down summits. The implicit vision of democracy was activists replacing citizens. (Only progressive activists, of course. Civil disobedience or jail terms for activists directed against the Canadian Wheat Board's "monopoly," gun registration, or abortion clinics were not included in the street-politics slogan: "This is what democracy looks like." The anarchist mood opposed all forms of nationalism, failing to distinguish between imperial nationalisms and those of sovereignty-seeking dependencies.

As Murray Dobbin rightly noted in his article entitled, "It's All about Democracy -- Not Sovereignty," which appeared in the November/December, 2002 issue of Canadian Dimension, debates within the "anti globalization" movement after September 11 shifted to radical democracy, Porto Alegre-style. It's now about building positive alternatives -- "another world is possible." This turn is welcome, but it is crucial that some of us stress to the movement that popular democratic struggles can achieve little without sovereignty. And sovereignty is pointless unless it deepens democracy. The two go hand in hand.

Neoliberalism is about a full-scale assault on democracy, as Dobbin points out. Its architects of the 1970s, including those at the Trilateral Commission, targeted an "excess of democracy." But Dobbin fails to add that, at the same time, the Trilateral Commission also identified an equally dangerous target: nationalism. David Rockefeller, the banker and prime initiator of the Trilateral Commission, called for "a massive public relations campaign" to explain the necessity for the "withering of the nation-state."

This echoed a long-standing theme in U.S. strategic circles. At a Western Hemisphere conference in 1945, Chomsky notes, the U. …

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