The political aspects of globalisation (a crisis in politics and democracy)

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Václav Mezřický

Globalisation of the world politics

As recently as the Cold War era, theories on world politics were based on the belief that they equated international relations. The concept viewed national states as points of global political power and authority. Understanding states and relations between states was considered to be necessary and sufficient precondition for understanding and explanation of world politics.

The events of 11 September 2001 were a symptom of a more profound transformation of the world politics determined by globalisation. The differences are symbolised by the semantic shift of the word ‘nation’ to the concept of ‘ation’ – an onomatopoeic symbol confronted with the meaning of ‘nation’ (Michie, 2003). While the ‘international’ perspective was based on the national states playing the prime role, the extra-national concept of ‘ation’ presents no hypothesis as to the prime players or dominant features of world politics. That enables us to consider world politics in a more complex manner. States, no doubt, remain the key players.

Thus, affairs within regional global politics have by far exceeded the framework of traditionally perceived geo-politics. Drug traffic, capital flows, acid rain, climate change, acts of paedophilia, illegal immigrants, and terrorism know no borders; the politics of effective solving and handling of these problems need not respect them either. International co-operation and co-ordination of national politics has become a necessary prerequisite for tackling the consequences of the world’s globalisation.

Fundamental changes are evident in the global military order. Few states now consider unilateralism and neutrality a credible defence strategy. Global and regional security institutions have risen in importance despite the seeming loss of role that they used to play during the Cold War (NATO above all). Most states now opt for multilateral arrangements and institutions in efforts to improve their security in case of danger. In addition, there is the paradox and novelty of the globalisation of organised violence (terrorism), consisting in the fact that national security demands this sole form of protection. This is the first time in history that national security, previously always the core of statehood, can only be safeguarded effectively if national states unite and integrate their resources, technologies, intelligence, powers and authorities.

The range of strategic choices for politics that would be available to individual governments, as well as the effectiveness of many instruments of traditional politics, are therefore shrinking. First of all, this tendency is manifested by the reduced importance of many border checks, both formal and informal, which had traditionally been used to restrict transactions of goods and services, technologies, ideas, and cultural exchange.

Changed role of the national state

States suffer from a further reduction in power because the expansion of trans-national powers reduces the control that the individual governments can exert on the activities of their respective nationals and others. The increased mobility of capital, for instance, caused by the merging of the world’s financial markets, has changed the power equilibrium between markets and states, applying a strong pressure to the states to do market-friendly politics, including low budgetary deficits and expenditures primarily into social services, internationally competitive rates of direct taxation, etc.

The controversy over the disappearing power position of the state within present-day world politics is therefore dominated by the view that the state does remain an important player, but that its authority as a phenomenon is more diffuse. The concept of ‘ation’ implies that authority is no longer the state’s monopoly. World politics can no longer be viewed as a world of states; it has instead become a vibrant mosaic of incessantly alternating authoritative players, which includes the state but is no longer reduced to it. The political system has thus become turbulent.

The current discourse should help clarify the future perspective role of the state. It is evident that problems caused by globalisation, such as the environmental degradation, financial crises and instabilities, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, have resulted in increased contact among states. The power and authority of the state remains sovereign in many areas, and international relations tend to dominate such areas. Some theoreticians conclude that in such a situation, the importance of terrorism and its organisations, despite the risk that terrorists may use weapons of mass destruction, is marginal.

The state, however, is not a static being. It is generally agreed to be undergoing massive change, no longer being the uniform organisation of the past. It is believed that the state organisation is disintegrating and disaggregating into its functional segments (institutions). These segments, such as ministries, inspection and regulation institutions, the executive, and the legislative institutions, network with their institutionally consonant counterparts abroad. Networks of relations are thus created that represent a new, trans-national or trans-governmental order (Woodward in: Michie, 2003). This development is most obvious in the sphere of global financial relations (financial governance).

Finally, as said above, international non-governmental organisations have become involved in international politics. A second group of non-governmental character is the academia, an independent and influential segment in international politics, on numerous occasions substituting governmental authority (e.g. economists such as Samuelson and Friedman, and political theoreticians such as Huntington and Fukuyama, among others).

Overviews of NGOs’ activities make it obvious that there are few aspects of global politics that these NGOs have not penetrated. At present, they operate in the areas of internet and communications systems, insurance, and pharmaceutical and chemical safety standards. They have replaced governmental institutions mainly where the former are incapable of effective action or unwilling to act. In spite of this, areas where private non-governmental authorities would be dominant are still exceptional. What is important however, is that the state, businesses and non-governmental organisations work together to solve many of the weighty problems. Conversely, it is sometimes the case that the state ignores and fails to respect the NGO viewpoint (such as when prompted to give more effective aid to developing countries, protect the environment or implement sustainable development strategies more effectively).

This scope of influence on international politics, admittedly, differs from that wielded by MNCs. According to certain theoreticians, corporate representatives establish such international regimes that introduce order to the massive flux of transactions going over national borders. It is even said that governmental regulatory measures are affected by the self-regulating practices of business players more than vice versa. Business players, that is, chiefly syndicates of the most influential corporations, participate in international political negotiations regularly, often with a critical influence on the decisions made.

Inter-governmental organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) or World Trade Organisation (WTO), however, wield a similar influence; they can further multiply their influence by establishing alliances, financing research, commissioning expert technical statements, affecting public opinion, etc. That enables them to act, to a certain extent, independently from the governments they are to represent.

A non-hierarchical order occurs in this type of circumstances, which has not yet been secured with democratic legitimacy. The phenomenon of split sovereignty arises (Beck, 2002). Current literature then infers that globalisation affects both preservation of continuity and change. In spheres such as military power, the state continues to validate its authority. On the other hand, state authority fails and disappears face to face with such tasks as influencing economic processes or environmental protection, where authority is taken up by non-governmental organisations.

Case studies


There are numerous studies on the erosion of the national state, but due to the dynamics of the global change it is not easy to describe the factual state of the trend. This corresponds to the image of ‘fluid modernity’. The starting point, however, must be the historic understanding of the nature and function of the national state and political system as developed during the modern period, that is, the last two centuries at the longest. Only against this background is it possible to describe the processes represented by globalisation, and the participation of new political players who both affect and determine national politics, and factually restrict the sovereignty of the traditionally conceived national state. Multinational corporations are an entirely new player, alongside non-governmental organisations. International inter-governmental organisations play an outstanding role particularly in developing countries, often imposing conditions and development paths on their economies with negative consequences for their development. The reactions of developing countries are varied and demonstrate thus various options for facing the negative impacts of the operations of inter-governmental organisations. An international political system is thus created, but it lacks the rules of its own self-control of the kind that the previous international system consisting of sovereign states had available. The organising principle of the European Union has often been an inspiration to regional organisations (South America, the African Union).

  • Václav Mezřický.The political aspects of globalisation (a crisis in politics and democracy)In: Dlouhá, J., Dlouhý, J., Mezřický, V. (eds.) (2006) Globalizace a globální problémy. Sborník textů k celouniverzitnímu kurzu 2005 – 2007. Univerzita Karlova v Praze, COŽP. ISBN 80-87076-01-X.
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Bibliography in Czech

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