Political solutions: Global Government and Global Governance

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 Jiří Pehe

„Governance“ versus „government“

Most current thought on global management and administration is based on the term ‘governance’, which can be seen as a process of wise management, administration and governing combined, as opposed to the term ‘government’.

While ‘government’ stands predominantly for vertical power structures, the term ‘governance’, including the global level, implicitly includes the idea of wise management by means of horizontal relations and networks. Numerous theories have sprung up in present-day political science relating especially to the term of global governance.

Evolution of theories on global governance

Barša and Soukup point out that the debate on globalisation has so far undergone two stages. In its first stage, in the 1970s and 1980s, the debate focused on political economics – the dichotomy of the state versus the market. Above all, it was the multinational corporations which were understood as the main challenge to the power of the state.

The debate entered its second stage in the mid 1990s. Globalisation was no longer thought of as the result of spontaneous market expansion, and the political dimension was emphasised. The discourse abandoned the arguments ‘pro’ and ‘against’ the existence of globalisation seen in economic terms, and focused on globalisation as a social process. The discourse on globalisation thus opened up to other players besides multinational corporations. That is why at present, the discussion is about multinational pressure networks, multinational – and potentially global – social movements, internationally operative foundations and humanitarian organisations, churches, political parties, unions, and media.

In this context, talks have also begun concerning whether a sort of new model of multinational or global management is emerging within these global networks, characterised by a turn away from vertical, hierarchic structures in favour of polycentric governance, which rests upon networks and various players at different levels, none of whom is the dominant one.

The left-wing and the right-wing perspectives

Barša and Soukup point out that the concepts of global governance (management) suffer from multiple meanings. According to left-wing and liberal advocates, they include the promise of increased control capacity over global economics and global political processes as well as the possibility to improve democratic participation in decision-making processes at the international and global levels.

The right-wing interpretation, on the other hand, lends the concept of global governance a narrowly managerial function – instead of transparency and participation in international institutions it highlights only their improved efficiency.

Polycentric governance

A shift away from territorial organisation of power

As a consequence of the above described global political changes, certain supranational administrative institutions, such as the EU, have developed new forms of governance that could, according to certain political theoreticians, be the model for the entire global community. According to Jeremy Rifkin, we should speak of ‘polycentric’ governance rather than conventional government, which is connected to territorially organised power. Polycentric governance reflects the importance those activities beyond direct governmental actions. Rifkin cites the view of social theoretician Paul Hirst and political scientist Graham Thompson that polycentric governance is more comprehensive and sophisticated as various public, private and non-governmental institutions and activities contribute in the direction and process of governance without dominating one another.

The post-modern situation – fluid modernity

Polycentric governance is characterised by continuous dialogue and negotiation among all players in the many different networks. Political leaders can only succeed in such a system if they act as competent negotiators, not only military-like commanders. A vertical system of power based on orders is replaced with co-ordination. According to Rifkin, governance through networks is additionally the consequence of modern technologies and the internal organisation of multinational corporations, which also work with increasing frequency on the horizontal network principle.

Clear connections with post-modern societal theories can be seen at the general level, as presented e.g. by Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Zygmunt Baumann. They speak of post-traditional society, society of risk and uncertainty, or of fluid modernity, where the process of growing reflexivity (continual questioning of what is achieved) forces traditional vertical relations and established certainties to collapse in favour of horizontal networks and individual relationships which have to be continuously re-validated in a sort of permanent dialogue.

The partnership and dialogue principle

One of the key terms in the new global governance system is partnership, supposedly the reverse of the conventional system of relations rooted in power hierarchies. Partnership presumes co-operation within horizontal networks rather than vertical dominance. An anthology published by the Alfred Herrhausen Society in Germany brings together several dozen papers by top-ranking authors. Their names will be sufficient: Fareed Zakaria, Benjamin Barber, Michael Ignatieff, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Kagan, Mary Robinson.'

They largely concur in that a new global order will be based on a multi-layered co-operation of various structures in which national state governments will be but one of many. Mutual trust throughout the global community cannot only be built upon treaties and other acts of national states that retain their full sovereignty. Equally important will be a horizontal network of elements of governmental authorities of the national states, as described e.g. by Slaughter, as well as transnational civil society and various supranational communication channels. Rules for international coexistence are thus created in an ongoing dialogue at many different levels and have to be re-validated continuously. To use one of Anthony Giddens’ terms, we foresee a kind of ‘dialogical democracy’, spilling from the level of national democracies over into international relations.

Global governance

Above all, global governance is thus a political co-ordination process rather than a hierarchic system of institutions. This co-ordination takes place at many different levels simultaneously. Within the process, tasks such as implementing supranational rules and managing problems beyond national borders are shared between national state governments and inter-governmental and non-governmental (private as well as public) institutions. The objective of the process is to realise shared goals at global level, while the definition of such goals is part of a permanent dialogue in which all the above players are involved.

Three points of view on global governance

Four levels of governing