Redefining Power in the Global Age: Eight Theses

Redefining Power in the Global Age: Eight Theses

How should such concepts as power, dominance, and authority be redefined from a cosmopolitan perspective? I have eight theses.

1. The world economy stands in relation to the state as a kind of meta-power; it can change the national and international rules. The economy has broken out of the cage of territorially and nationally organized power conflict and has acquired new power moves in digital space. It’s like playing chess and changing the rules of the game along the way. The pawn—the economy—suddenly becomes the knight (given new possibilities of mobility by information technology) and can thus checkmate the king—the state. But perhaps the state can also jump and checkmate the knight-economy in new ways.

From what do capital strategies draw their new meta-power? The basic principle was summed up in the headline of an east European newspaper on the occasion of the visit of the German chancellor: “We Forgive the Crusaders and Await the Investors.” It is the precise opposite of the classic theory of power: the threat is no longer of an invasion but of the non-invasion (or withdrawal) of investors. There is only one thing worse than being overrun by big multinationals: not being overrun by multinationals.

This kind of authority is not tied to the execution of orders but to the possibility of going somewhere else—to other countries—to make better investments. It introduces the threat of not doing something; that is, of not investing in this country. The new global economic power of big business is, in this sense, not founded on violence as the ultimate rationale, and this makes it much more mobile; power is not tied to any specific location, and consequently, it can be disposed globally.

While the power of states (according to the national rationale) grows through territorial conquest, the power of the players in the global economy grows precisely to the extent that they become extraterritorial factors. The power of the state is thus not undermined or broken by another state’s power, by military threat or conquest, but rather deterritorially, exterritorially—by way of transnational trade and activity in digital space. This deterritorial conception reverses the logic of the traditional understanding of power, violence, and authority.

Not imperialism but non-imperialism, not invasion but the retreat of investors is what constitutes the nucleus of global economic power. The deterritorialized power of business need neither be politically obtained nor legitimated. Its implementation avoids the institutions of developed democracy such as parliaments and courts. This nonviolent, invisible, intentional threat of withdrawal or inaction is neither conditional upon consent nor even capable of achieving it. This meta-power is neither illegal nor legitimate; it is translegal, but it changes the rules of the national and international systems.

The analogy between t...