Sunday, April 18, 2004


In last month's edition of Harper's magazine, John Ralston Saul wrote an essay entitled "The Collapes of Globalism (and the Rebirth of Nationalism)." The full text is not available from Harper's but for some reason it is from The Australian Financial Review.

Saul makes several points in this essay but I think the principal one is this: He argues that for the last thirty years national governments have continually ceded the power necessary for exercising political will to the ideology of Globalization. Saul writes,

Government after government, as if in a fit of moralism, legislated away its right to take on debt or collect new taxes, even though both of these were fundamental governmental powers.

He continues by noting,

From the early 1970s to late in the century, multiple binding international economic treaties were put in place, while almost no counter-balancing binding treaties were negotiated for work conditions, taxation, the environment, or legal obligations. For 250 years the painful job of building the modern nation-state had depended on a continual rebalancing of binding rules for both the public good and self-interest. Now this balance was tipped violently one way by simply shifting much of our economic power out into the global marketplace.

Saul sees this trend changing however. Increasingly he sees nations taking back the levers of control over thieir nations economies and foriegn policies. He points to specific examples in Brazil, Malaysia and the United States. Saul sees September 11, 2001 as a particular turning point saying,

Then came the explosions of 2001 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. In the following days, the world economy began plummeting to a depression. Corporate leaders hunkered down to their businesses, forgot about world leadership, and, with a classic desire to reduce risk, slashed their investment programs, thus accelerating society's economic plunge.

As for the political leaders, ministers of finance, chairs of reserve and national banks - the constituted elites of the nation-states - they rolled into action. They traveled and talked, printed money, and spent vast amounts of it. And they managed to stabilize the situation. In other words, there was a brutal highly public, and existential reversal of roles. The governments of the nation-states took back their full power both to act and to lead.

I think this trend is continuing. The strongest example must be that of the United States taking on billions of dollars in debt to finance a largely unilateral war for its own self-interest and what it believes to be the public good.

In another example POGGE points to American judges and legislators who are taking increased note of the Chapter 11 provision of the NAFTA. POGGE links to a New York Times article that quotes John D. Echeverria, a law professor at Georgetown University saying, "This is the biggest threat to United States judicial independence that no one has heard of and even fewer people understand."

I don't think this means that global markets are going to come crashing down. I do think however there is a growing willingness for nations to assert all of the powers available to them in order to act in thier own interest and for the good of thier own publics. It seems as well that the United States is leading in this regard.

Saul's most prescient statement in the whole essay is quite brief. He asserts, "Democracy exists only inside countries. Weaken the nation-state and you weaken democracy."

Are the democratic nations of the world going to incresingly excercise their powers as nations in order to preserve sovereignty, security and democracy? And does this mean the collapse of Globalism?

Posted by Matthew @ 11:42 p.m.