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Simon Bromley


Forecast: global gales ahead.’ Thus were BBC Radio 4 listeners warned
by Paul Kennedy of coming storms in the world economy. Their size
and vigour, he predicted, would endanger the prosperity, the social
contracts, and possibly even the political democracy of the advanced capitalist
world. And Kennedy is not alone in arguing that an increasing pace of integration
in the world economy is radically altering the global landscape, threatening the
very survival of the nation-state. To be sure, not all the prophets of globalization
are as gloomy. Indeed, many contend that the new ‘borderless world’ will bring
unrivalled prosperity, making real material advancement a genuinely universal
condition as political obstacles to market miracles diminish. But whether reckoned
in apocalyptic or benign register, it is widely accepted across the political spectrum
that globalization is proceeding apace and producing profound changes in the
nature and principles of the international system.

Whither the world economy?

There are in fact so many different characterizations of ‘globalization’, so many
conflicting discourses of change, that the central message is difficult to define.

Nevertheless, several common themes may be identified. In the first place, it is
claimed that, although there have been periods of great openness in the international system in the past, present trends represent, if not a quantitative, then a
qualitative departure. Obsessed by the speed of contemporary electronic transactions, by the anonymity of flows across virtual spaces, and generally fixing on
the spatio-temporal forms of interconnections rather than their social and economic
content, globalists tend towards a unilateral and ahistorical appreciation of the
present. Second, the scale, scope and rate of increase of global interconnectedness
are generally judged to be not only unprecedented but also irreversible. Globalists
are much given to linear extrapolations from partial and poorly understood
evidence, and hence to assertions that nationally based understandings of
economics and politics are redundant. All too often these supposed new insights,
sage-like obiter dicta on the limits of ‘conventional’ wisdom, evince an
embarrassing economic illiteracy – recently dissected with great verve in Paul
Krugman’s Pop Internationalism (1996). Finally, and most importantly, it is
asserted that the combination of novel forms of connectedness with the extent,
speed and irreversibility of these changes is inducing a decline of the nation-state,
an erosion of sovereignty, as political and social forces operate more and more at
regional, transnational and supranational levels. While the Right celebrates the
limits given by the global market on collective action through the state, the Left
typically argues the need for transnational political strategies to combat the global
power of capitalism.

One way of interrogating the claims of the globalists is to subject them to
historical and empirical scrutiny. Is it the case that a truly global economy is


Radical Philosophy 80 (Nov/Oec


emerging, one which has globalized in its basic dynamics, is dominated by uncontrollable market forces, and populated by truly transnational corporations as its
major actors? Certainly capitalism has become more global in the postwar period.

But what exactly does this mean and how does it compare with other periods of
capitalist development? Andrew Glyn and Bob Sutcliffe (Socialist Register 1992)
have pointed out that ‘globalization’ can mean two different things. In the first
instance, it can refer to the geographical diffusion of capitalist market relations, as
well as their expansion into new realms of social reproduction. In this sense,
capitalism has clearly become more global: the spread of capitalism to the South
and the East; the commercialization of much of world agriculture; the large-scale
entry of women into wage-labour; and the commodification of increasing areas of
social life – all of these mean that, both absolutely and relative to the population,
more people than at any time in world history secure their livelihoods by participation in wage-labour, under broadly market-based, capitalist relations.

Yet these are not the primary concerns of the globalists. Globalization can also
refer to increasing international economic interdependence and growing openness a growing density of connection within the capitalist world. It is in this manner that
the globalists argue that the world economy is more ‘global’, more interdependent,
and more open in terms of macroeconomic connections, through the integration of
patterns of production and consumption arising from an increasingly ramified
international division of labour and the mingling of national markets for goods and
services, for capital, currencies and labour, and by the transnational organization of
production within firms. Here the picture is altogether more ambiguous. Detailed
reviews of the comparative and historical evidence by Glyn and Sutcliffe, and by
Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson (Globalisation in Question, 1996), suggest that
while the world economy is considerably more integrated and open than it was
after the Second World War, it is no more integrated – and by some measures less
so – than before the First. In short, it is only by comparison with the extreme
nationalization of economic activity occasioned by the interwar slump and the
policies of total war that the present state of
affairs appears exceptional. There is, then, very
little evidence that we are yet witnessing the
emergence of a truly global, as distinct from a
highly interdependent, international economy,
in which levels and sensitivities of connection
are returning to those characteristic of the
1890s, albeit on a much wider geographical
and social scale (though one still confined to
the OECD bloc at most).

If the economic case for globalization is at
best ambiguous, the political aspects of the
debate demonstrate even deeper levels of
confusion. The contention that the power of
the nation-state is being undermined – that
sovereignty is being eroded from above and
below – forms the basis of the political case
for globalization. This is a somewhat strange
claim, given that each phase of expansion of
the world economy since the late nineteenth
century has been followed by a major geopolitical convulsion that has resulted in an
expansion of the nation-state system – the age
of empire and the First World War, the
interwar years and the Second World War, the


long boom and the end of the Cold War. The apparent paradox of an expansion of
sovereign polities on the one hand, and regular announcements of the supersession
of the nation-state on the other, rests on a recurrent confusion about the very
character of sovereignty in the modern nation-state.

The state remains the same
The dominant powers of the modern world economy, the states which did most to
shape its patterns of development, were liberal states. Liberal, constitutional states
embody a particular notion of sovereignty, based not on a justification or a
realization of the power of the political community, but on the constitutional, lawbased legitimation of ultimate political power. Thus the doctrine and practice of
liberal sovereignty are primarily concerned with the location and nature of rule. It
is not centrally a claim about the capacities of either the political community or
state institutions. Of course, liberal sovereignty does presuppose some powers on
behalf of the nation-state – namely those essential to the maintenance of this form
of rule. It entails that the legitimate locus of ultimate rule-making and enforcement
is the nation-state; that the state can extract sufficient resources to carry out its
essential functions; and that the state can maintain a sufficient monopoly of
coercion to enforce its rule.

By its very nature liberal sovereignty is especially permeable to cross-border
exchanges. Precisely because it is primarily concerned with abstract questions of
the rule of law, and the provision of unified legal, monetary and administrative
arrangements, the consolidation of the liberal state was coincident with the
development of an inter-national economy. In order to secure their sovereignty, as
well as to promote their economic expansion, from the outset liberal-capitalist
states evolved networks of bilateral arrangements for the mutual support of national
jurisdiction and specific multinational organizations for the co-ordination of state
functions. (It was the retreat into protectionist and nationalist solutions in the
interwar slump, and the advance of state control during the Second World War,
that interrupted this process.)
Thus liberal sovereignty is not to be confused with the unlimited power of the
political community, or with national autonomy vis-a-vis the world market and
other states. (Indeed, liberal sovereignty has been in permanent tension with the
popular – democratic – claims for such power and autonomy.) And once we see
that the capacities which matter to the state are those sovereign prerogatives that
effect rule over a liberal capitalist society, then we can also question the supposition that the power of the state has been eroded by the development of an
international market. It is only by confusing the legal idiom of sovereignty with the
power and autonomy of the political community that the globalists can identify the
shift to the ‘market’ as a diminution of the ‘state’. On the contrary, liberalcapitalist states, and the social forces supporting them, are strengthened by a
transition to market regulation.

Not only has the nation-state form expanded with the development of the
international economy, but the number as well as the dominance of liberal powers
has steadily grown. The expansion of liberal states in the world economy, their
participation in international organizations, and the development of international
law are not threats to sovereignty, but rather the forms of its consolidation on an
increasingly global basis. It is an exercise, not a supersession, of sovereignty to
subscribe to such limits as may arise from the interaction of a multiplicity of
sovereign authorities. Participation in international and transnational organizations
to conduct these activities is not an instance of surrendering national competencies
to trans- or supranational bodies. Rather it is a process of creating powers at an
inter- or trans-state level, capabilities exceeding those that might be held in
aggregate by states acting alone, in which each state then shares. (As Alan Milward


has so persuasively argued, even the formation and development of the European
Community was fundamentally aimed at The European Rescue of the Nation-State,
In general, we do not see processes and institutions of global centralization, but
movement in an altogether different direction: states are using their sovereignty to
redefine their rights and duties in the international system (F.H. Hinsley,
Sovereignty, 1986). In the postwar period, and especially since the stagflation of the
1970s perhaps, the direction and content of this redefinition of sovereign rights and
duties has, as many of the advocates of globalization have implicitly recognized,
been towards more liberal, market-based forms of regulation. But in principle this is
no different from the formulation of international rights and duties in the second
half of the nineteenth century, when the modern inter-national, not global, economy
was born. As in the 1890s, so a century later, sovereignty and the rule of law
remain central to the regulation of commercial society (based on markets and
private property) in an increasingly internationalized world economy. The proliferation of sites and fora of decision-making, and the shift of power to the market, do
not undermine the sovereignty of the nation-state. For only states can legitimize and
authorize such delegations; the role of the state as originator and agent of
international law is expanding with such grants; and the state is the sole political
form capable of creating, observing and enforcing such law.

All too often a very basic point is overlooked in discussion of proliferating sites
of decision-making and authority, in the fanciful assertion of a new medievalism:

in the modern international economy there is a sharp structural constraint upon the
degree to which contract enforcement, self-regulation and the like may be delegated
upwards and downwards, from public to private. The constraint arises from the fact
that efficient market regulation presupposes a mechanism of rule-making and,
critically, enforcement with sufficient legitimacy to ensure that neither the costs of
transactions, nor the requisite levels of coercion to enforce them, are too high. To
date, by far the most successful means to this end has been the rule of the. liberal
sovereign state, and neither the major powers of the G7 nor the dominant actors in
international markets have shown the slightest sign of wanting to alter this arrangement. (The alternative is a new medievalism: the mafia-style enforcement of
contracts found in Y eltsin’ s Russia.) Thus there is no necessary contradiction
between growing worldwide economic integration and the sovereignty of the
nation-state. Indeed, one might even reverse the conventional wisdom and say that
it is only the global spread of sovereignty in the more or less liberal form of the
constitutional law-based state that has enabled the consolidation of an international
economy to the extent that it exists. Whether liberal sovereignty affords sufficient
latitude for popular-democratic control over the market is, of course, another

The Body Matters conference continues to offer an open forum for the exchange
and consideration of conceptions, experiences and uses of the body as seen in a
diversity of practices and disciplines.

Papers are sought on all aspects of the body from all areas, be they theoretical,
practical, artistic or political.

Deadline for abstract submission: January 31 1997
Conference dates: 4-5 July 1997
Enquiries, Abstracts and Papers to: Body Matters 11,
Philosophy Department, University of Hull, Hull, UK HU6 7RX
Phone: 01482 465995,
e-mail:, Fax: 01482466122
Contacts: Stephen Burwood, Lawrence Nixon


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