Governing the Globe: What Is the Best We Can Do?

Governing the Globe: What Is the Best We Can Do?

Imagine the possible political arrangements of international society as if they were laid out along a continuum marked off according to the degree of centralization. Obviously, there are alternative markings; the recognition and enforcement of human rights could also be measured along a continuum, as could democratization, welfare provision, pluralism, and so on. But focusing on centralization is the quickest way to reach the key political and moral questions, above all the classical question: what is the best or the best possible regime? What constitutional goals should we set ourselves in an age of globalization?

My plan is to present seven possible regimes or constitutions or political arrangements. I will do this discursively, without providing a list in advance, but I do want to list the criteria against which the seven arrangements have to be evaluated: these are their capacity to promote peace, distributive justice, cultural pluralism, and individual freedom. Within the scope of this essay, I will have to deal summarily with some of the arrangements and some of the criteria. Because the criteria turn out to be inconsistent with—or at least in tension with—one another, my argument will be complicated, but it could be, and no doubt should be, much more so.

It’s best to begin with the two ends of the continuum, so that its dimensions are immediately visible. On one side, let’s say the left side (though I will raise some doubts about that designation later on), there is a unified global state, something like Immanuel Kant’s “world republic,” with a single set of citizens, identical with the set of adult human beings, all of them possessed of the same rights and obligations. This is the form that maximum centralization would take: each individual, every person in the world, would be connected directly to the center. A global empire, in which one nation ruled over all the others, would also operate from a single center, but insofar as its rulers differentiated between the dominant nation and all the others, and perhaps among the others too, this would represent a qualification on its centralized character. The centralization of the global state, by contrast, is unqualified. Following Thomas Hobbes’s argument in Leviathan, I want to say that such a state could be a monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy; its unity is not affected by its political character. By contrast, unity is certainly affected by any racial, religious, or ethnic divisions, whether these are hierarchical in nature, as in the imperial case, establishing significant inequalities among the groups, or merely functional or regional. Any political realization of difference moves us rightward on the continuum as I am imagining it.

At the far right is the regime or the absence-of-regime that political theorists call “international anarchy.” This phrase describes what is in fact a highly organized world, but one that is radically decentered...

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