Towards a world citizenship: a new thought for a new world order

Article published on March 29, 2002
community published
Article published on March 29, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

We can identify a new way of thinking about today's problems not only in the Middle East but everywhere in the world. By employing these thought processes in our everyday lives we can set an important precedent for a new kind of world order

This article is in part intended as a response to 'A new Troika for peace' written by Simon Loubris, also published on this site. The ideas contained in that article were thought-provoking and useful.

My aim here is not simply to criticise: this is not a helpful approach. Rather, the aim is to explore and extend the idea of using Europe as some kind of model for peace.. The conclusion is therefore a more contemporary one. Through exploring some of the problems in the above mentioned article we can identify a new way of thinking about today's problems not only in the Middle East but everywhere in the world. By employing these thought processes in our everyday lives we can set an important precedent for a new kind of world order.

I do not feel at ease with the current world order. I do not feel that democracy is working at any level in my life - not at university, in my national government, at the European or world level. And I suspect that many others feel as I do. A feeling of helplessness has been growing in the wake of the New York tragedy; we have been unable to influence or direct our governments in their responses to the situation. Yet this is only another symptom of a serious disease - not only have we been unable to influence our democratic leaders through democratic means on this issue, but on a myriad of others. In Britain this has been the case for innumerable movements from anti-capitalism to anti-fox hunting. Democracy has been taken away from the everyday and invested in the occasional act of voting. At any other time it is frowned on, seen to be inappropriate or extreme.

Of course the degree to which this is true is variable depending on, among many other factors, national contexts. Yet apathy and the sentiment that the world system is simply too big and complicated, too autonomous to change, are real. The question here is do we really feel that our societies are perfect enough to export to other corners of the world? I personally do not have that degree of faith in the western model. However, this is what appears to be suggested by the troika of Marshall, Truman and Schuman as a solution to the Middle East situation. Surely recreating and extending a world order that is the root of all our problems, one that seems to rely on exploitation whilst forgetting the importance of democracy cannot be the only answer?

My second problem with this proposed solution is one of context. This may be a simplistic argument, but can anyone realistically expect a solution intended for western Europe, 50 years ago, in the context of the burgeoning Cold war, to work in the Middle East? The differences in culture, in situation, in just about everything are different. The most important difference is history. Western Europe's relationship with the United States was a completely different one to that between the US and the Middle East. Although not a bed of roses, relations had not been between an interventionist hegemonic US and an exploited and under-developed Europe. Yet we still resented Marshall Aid greatly, and felt imposed upon. For the Middle East this feeling will be a hundredfold. The west have intervened in this region as in others time and time again with little success and apparent belligerence, and we had no right to do it. We must stop believing that we are somehow expected and qualified to impose solutions that do little to involve the people of these countries.

So much for the criticism. Not very useful for actually saying anything: from the picture I have painted it seems that we should simply sit back and watch innocent people die in the Middle East without lifting a finger to help them, which is of course unforgivable and more worthy of blame than any misguided attempt to find a solution. However, as already stated the imposition of a solution on an unwilling people is not an option in the Middle East, just as it is not an option in the national context. Although in Britain this seems to happen often, for example with the imposition of unwanted privatisations, particularly in the transport sector. The solution of the education funding problem with the imposition of fees on millions of students who cannot afford to pay them. The imposition of a war that many do not agree with. The examples in this country are too numerous, as I am sure they are in many other countries. Perhaps a better way to a new world order would be to start at home, by rethinking the way that we approach these problems.

The first idea would be to stop thinking in terms of uniformity and to start acknowledging the very real differences between east and west, north and south, whether this be in our own town or on a global scale. Smoothing out differences does not eradicate them, it tends simply to exclude voices. It becomes more convenient to stop listening. I am not doubting the noble intention between these kinds of efforts, simply observing that they haven't worked, and that a new perspective should at least be tried out. Maybe consensus is a far off goal and we should try first to accommodate dissensus, to take heart in variety and difference instead of fearing it. This kind of thinking could be applied at all levels, from the local protest group to the international movement; from local to international institutions. In the Middle East situation it could be applied through a redistribution of power within and to the UN. Power would be transferred back to the General Assembly with this kind of logic, and away from the limited arena of the Security Council. Power would be invested there where all voices are heard equally and all points of view considered, therefore avoiding any impression that the west is imposing a solution. I admit that envisaging what kind of solution to the Middle East problem would result is near impossible, but the point is that it would not be a western invention doomed to failure.

Another problem is that fact that we think out these problems in terms of nation-states, again an approach that has not been fruitful so far. Terrorism, like so many other problems in this age of globalisation, cannot be contained in the neat borders of one State. It is a fluid, dispersed, transnational problem and should be thought of as such. Putting faith in the leaders of nation-states to solve this problem has led to war and bloodshed and certainly to more anti-americanism. The best way to tackle these problems must be more inventive, at least attempting to mirror the shape of the threat itself. Again the answer must be more than co-operation between nation-states, but a real transfer of power to a new level where nationalism and boring economic concerns can be escaped.

However, to come back to the question in hand, how can these new ways of thinking be used here in Europe to positively contribute to the construction of a new, and I stress the 'new', world order? I would suggest that Europe, in solving its own problems and differences, could set an important precedent by example. A new European citizenship that celebrates the differences of its peoples and unifies them not as nation-states but as free-thinking individuals. This could be achieved, paradoxically, in much the same way as nation-states were formed, that is through the exploitation of social movements. I am thinking of the kind of movements that bind us beyond our national boundaries, recent examples being the women's movement, the environmental movement, the anti-globalisation movement and the anti-war movement. These kinds of organisations have the potential to reclaim the public sphere from the nation-state's institutions, to bring democracy back to the everyday, to reinstate active participation as 'normal'. If this could be achieved it could well prove to be a basis for a new world order. A foundation would be laid on the road towards some form of world citizenship, of global participation.

In short, only when we have solved our own problems can we even begin to pretend to be qualified to solve those of others. Although the method of achieving this has only been touched on here it is important to state that we need to rethink our ideas and to open the debate. As Foucault once said, 'nous sommes bien moins grecs que nous ne le pensons' (we are far less Greek than we think!). The first step in constructing a new world order should be to construct a new democracy at home.