Politik und Gesellschaft Online
International Politics and Society 2/2001

Amitai Etzioni

On Ending Nationalism*


Nationalism must be ended. It is a creed that has come to burden the expansion of globalism (as evident for instance in the demonstrations against WTO); hobbles the growth of the European Community (as seen in the votes against the Euro in Denmark); stands in the way of resolving violent conflicts (for instance, over the fate of Jerusalem); complicates the resolution of differences within existing nation-states (for example, in Corsica); and turns refugees and immigrants into a threat to the receiving countries. Its ill effects are evident from Kosovo to East Timor, from Chechnya, to Cyprus, to Bolivia.

These are, of course, enormously distinct phenomena, involving very distinguishable issues. Other factors--economic for instance--also play a significant role in their dynamics. My only thesis is that nationalism importantly hinders progress toward solutions in all of these international and domestic situations as it does in many other ones.

Nationalism is a creed that extols the nation, and regards it as an ultimate value. It deeply affects citizens' sense of self, psychological well-being, and identity; it makes them treat their nation-state as their primary community. The "ism" comes to indicate that reference here is not to moderate commitments to one's nation as one source of affiliation and loyalty but to a highly intensive and nearly exclusive investment of one's collective identity in the national state. (In this sense nationalism differs from reasonable national commitments the way moralism differs from morality.) When in full bloom, people view the state as semi-sacred or even as directly in the service of their God. As it is written in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

People imbued with nationalism believe that their independence, ability to control their fate as a collective, and cultural distinctiveness and self-determination are all dependent on their nation. (To save breath, such commitments will be referred to from here on as defining involvements.) Often at least some sense of superiority over other nations is involved as well as at least some measure of xenophobia. Nationalism tends to be most in evidence when a nation is at war.

While nationalism is often most intense in totalitarian and authoritarian societies, some elements of it, at least in a dormant form, can also be found among the citizens of free democratic countries. The nation, a seemingly remote and abstract social entity, is one for which these citizens--many otherwise quite moderate and self-restrained--are willing to sacrifice their lives and kill others, not merely to defend the nation's existence and integrity but also to redeem its honor. Attacks by foreigners, even on minor and remote outposts, are framed as profound personal insults, followed by popular calls for revenge.

Major reactions to the increasingly distorting effects of nationalism include: the suggestion that the nation-state itself is obsolete, to depict the very concept of national sovereignty as old fashioned,[1] to strongly champion the free flow of trade and capital (and to somewhat lesser extent that of people) across national borders, and to support the development of numerous supranational bodies.[2] These include the European Commission and Parliament, the international criminal court, committees set up by NAFTA and the WTO among others, and the view that the UN Declaration of Human Rights justifies the intervention of foreign powers in the internal affairs of nations that violate these rights. Further expanding the sovereignty of these supranational bodies is viewed as one major antidote to nationalism. Others have called for the absorption of national states in regional bodies, for instance in a United States of Europe. On the domestic front, nations are chided for clinging to nationalistic, old homogenous cultures and identities, and are urged to embrace diversity and multiculturalism.


Ending Nationalism, Not the Nation State

The argument advanced here presumes that it is neither necessary nor prudent to attempt to end nationalism by head-on attacks on the legitimacy of the nation-state or by favoring its demise.[3] The vision of replacing the nation-state by regional governments and ultimately by a world government (as UN enthusiasts dream), or envisioning a state that acts as a mere framework for the interactions of groups of people of different cultures but commands no loyalty and involvement of its own, is normatively dubious and unnecessarily threatening. Nationalism can be and is best ended by a much more moderate approach.

To highlight the line between nationalism and moderate, reasoned national involvement it might be useful to provide an example of a nation-state that is fully intact but harbors little nationalism. Germany, which used to be an extremely nationalistic country, stood out during the last two decades of the 20th century as a country in which national involvement of most of its citizens was moderate. Indeed, one of its core shared values in this period was a rejection of nationalism.[4] One can also find low-key national involvement in Canada, Costa Rica, and the Netherlands among other nations.

It should be further noted, very much in line with the thesis that the desired development is not ending involvement in the nation-state but merely ending an immoderate, nationalistic one, that in some states, commitments to the nation are too weak. Such countries already experienced or stand the danger of being torn apart by secessions or civil wars, when member communities that command strong involvements, such as ethnic and tribal ones, are not bound together by an over-arching national commitment. Such countries include Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, and Somalia. In short, national involvement is what social scientists call a variable, that can be both too high and too low.


The Role of the Public

The approach outlined below draws on one additional sociological observation and normative position: it presumes that ending nationalism and overcoming the various challenges it engendered, cannot and should not be carried out via secret or closed negotiations among national representatives (the way the Oslo agreement was reached or even the Maestricht treaty was hammered out) or by arrangements worked out by international lawyers and select civil servants of supranational bodies (such as the EU commission or WTO committees). Nor can the needed changes be successfully introduced if defining down national involvements is presented as merely relevant to technical or economic matters (e.g. the way Blair has framed the adoption of the euro by the UK). While it is true that foreign policy can often be advanced a great deal with little public involvement, ending nationalism is an important and powerful exception. Because of the strong and widely held support for nationalistic defining involvements, any efforts to redirect and attenuate them must be similarly popular. The public will have to be engaged because the change entails modifying, and hence a profound sense of what millions of people consider right, believe in, and identify with. One of the reasons Yasser Arafat had great difficulties in completing the 2000 Camp David negotiations was that they entailed making concessions his people were not prepared to accept. The same may have been true for Ehud Barak. One key reason WTO expansion was followed by street demonstrations was that important and politically active segments of the public were not convinced of the legitimacy of the WTO’s authority over member nations. One major reason opposition to the euro succeeded in Denmark - and threatened the participation of other countries - is that large segments of the public realized that much more than a monetary issue was at stake, and they had not been won over to the large-scale reduction of national autonomy was likely to follow.


A Communitarian Approach

The main approach outlined here favors shifting much of the defining involvements of citizens in those countries that are inflicted with nationalism from the nation-state to the body society, specifically to communities (not to be confused with local governments), the community of these communities, and to a "thick" civic fabric. It entails developing and championing public policies, institutions, symbols, and belief systems that help people realize that they can maintain their sense of self, identity, social and cultural distinctiveness, as well as a good part of their control over their individual and collective fate--all through involvement in a variety of communities.[5] Millions already draw on such commitments, and these commitments can be extended and expanded to a point that will significantly reduce the involvement in the nation-state and thus enhance the ability of treating the various problems that must be faced - without abolishing the nation-state or eradicating commitments to it. To put it in different terms: reference is to shifting a good part of the legitimacy now associated with particular states to societies and their component units. This approach is not without risks of its own, explored after the approach itself is spelled out.


Limited Historical Precedents

Those who wonder if the suggested shift of defining involvements to some other body than the nation can be achieved, may wish to note that such a condition was crudely approximated before the onset of nationalism. After all, both the mere existence of the nation-state and its elevation to a semi-sacred status by nationalism are of a rather recent vintage.[6] Neither existed before the 18th century and, for a good part of the 19th century the nation-state was the project of narrow elites and later small classes.[7]

In earlier generations, people’s involvements were largely focused on their extended family, clan, and village. This is still the cases in some of the less developed countries, among the less educated, especially if they are not exposed to mass media. Further, for those in power and the educated, the defining involvements were often divided between religious and secular bodies, and not all contrated in one centrally controlled territorial entity. The line, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s", captures this point. People did not see themselves mainly as members of this or that territorial group (say, a given fiefdom) but also as members of a church, and their secular involvements were also split between their local commitments and those to other social groups. For instance, many Russian aristocrats identified with and shared a culture with their French counterparts more than with the Russian peasantry. The well-known conflicts between the Catholic Church and the British monarchy - and those loyal to each - further illustrate strong involvement in a religious and non-statist, social corpus.

In this limited sense, the pre-nationalistic world provides a precedent for the post-nationalistic one. The precedent is, of course, limited, because defining involvements in earlier ages were largely a matter for a thin layer of the educated and active, and not for the much larger numbers of other people.


 Crisscrossing and Thick Communities

Most discussions on ending nationalism focus on international developments, such as the increasing role of international NGOs,[8] international law and courts and regulatory bodies, and the UN and other international organizations. These are often valuable but may not develop much further unless accompanied by domestic developments because the main roots of nationalism are domestic. Hence, the discussion here focuses on the needed intra-national changes, especially that of involving definitions. My thesis is that only as such involvements are shifted away from the nation-state not merely to supranational bodies but also to sub-national ones the difficulties posed by nationalism and efforts by nation-states to monopolize sovereignty might be significantly rearranged. To reiterate, reference is to a partial shift, resulting in split involvements between the state and various social bodies, rather than expunging all national involvements.

For enhanced involvement in communities to help end nationalism the social bonds and loyalties entailed must crisscross rather than parallel and thus enforce the nationalistic ones. That means that membership in these groups cannot be coextensive with citizenship (which would make the nation into the relevant community) and the groups' loyalty itself cannot be centered around extolling the nation. Thus when Hitler championed Germany as one “Volksgemeinschaft” he was promoting a community that was coextensive with the nation, precisely in order to absorb the communal defining involvement into the nation, as a way to further fuel nationalism.

Aside from crisscrossing memberships and loyalties, communities must also be "thick". Their scope of activities must be extensive enough to provide significant involvement of the kind, studies show, not found in thin groups such as chess clubs, bird-watching societies, and bowling leagues.[9] Increasing people's involvement in religious or secular communities or voluntary associations (communitarian bodies for short) all can serve to dampen nationalism but only when they meet the said conditions. Indeed, when these groups are coextensive with the nation or involvement in them entails extolling the nation, they can act to further strengthen nationalism.

Religious communities

All major religions can provide for the needed involvements when they satisfy the said prerequisites: crisscross and are thick. Thus, the Catholic Church provides many millions with a source of involvement and community in the American society and other societies with Protestant majorities and a secular state, in numerous Asian and African societies, in former communist countries, and in countries in which Catholics are the majority but the national government is largely secular (e.g. Italy). The same holds for Protestant groups in China and Russia.

Similarly, Islam has provided for defining involvement in communities in nations in which the government has been largely secular (e.g. Turkey) or the established religion has been a different one (e.g. in the UK or in Israel). Judaism arguably provides the strongest example of a people able to maintain their culture and identity separate from a nation-state over long periods of time (some 2000 years).

Religious involvements are more effective as antidotes to nationalism when they entail more than mere attendance, when for instance children attend religious schools, members socialize mainly with other members, act as members of voluntary associations that involve other church members (e.g. Catholic teacher associations), and otherwise share social bonds. Also religious groups may provide their own dispute resolution institutions such as Qadis and rabbinical courts. All these religious bodies show that it is possible in principle to nurture a sense of self, identity, and independence not associated with the state or any other specific territory. Note also that members of religious communities are often dispersed among members of other communities.

True, like all cures, shifting defining involvement can be excessive. Hence, such shifting is not suitable for societies in which national involvement is low to begin with. And this is the reason I stated from the onset that nationalism should be ended by a partial rather than holistic shift of involvement from the nation to member communities.

An indication of the strength of the separate loyalty involvement religious groups provide, and its dampening effect on nationalism, can be seen in that secular totalitarian regimes (such as the USSR and Nazi Germany) made strenuous efforts to suppress religious groups. Further indication of this strength can be gleaned from the fact that when Catholics or Jews ran for public office in the United States their national loyalty was sometimes questioned.

In contrast, when membership in a religious community and a nation-state are coextensive and the values extolled by these communities are national ones, the opposite effect results: nationalism is intensified. This is evident in theocracies such as Afghanistan and Iran; in those religious Jewish groups that embrace the ideas of a Greater Israel as part of their core values; and in those situations where the Church supported nationalism (for instance, the generals in Argentina in order to eradicate the "cancer of communism").

"Charitable choice" in the US is a recent major example of how religious based involvement may be enhanced (at least in the American context), while the role of the state is curtailed. Charitable choice, enacted in the US in 1996 under the welfare reform act, encourages the state to provide funds for the provision of social services by religious groups rather than using the same funds for delivery of the these services by government agencies. (References are mainly to welfare and health services.)[10] While theoretically such provisions are not supposed to entail any religious proselytizing, even if this regulation is well maintained, the very fact that numerous people would regularly attend and participate in the social activities of religious groups is likely to enhance their involvement in these bodies.

Separation of church and state - which, all other things being equal, helped dampen involvement in the nation-state - is a rather American idea. However, such separation may be embraced by more societies as they become more diverse because their aging societies require large-scale immigration and these immigrants tend to be from different religious and cultural background. Thus, Germany is moving toward having Muslim as well as Jewish schools and is considering stopping the collection of dues via the state to pay for the clergy. In Israel there is a strong demand to turn what has been conceived as Jewish state into a secular one. Sweden is making considerable progress in this direction.[11] Other societies may have to separate church and state if the distinct social fabric of religious communities is to develop into one able to provide non-nationalist sources of involvements.

The Civil (Secular) Society

The other main basis for non-nationalistic involvement is the civil society, including voluntary associations and secular communities. It is telling that totalitarian states tend to ban voluntary associations and work to absorb the functions of the civil society into the state, to ensure that people's involvement is focused on the state. The opposite development occurs when there is a rich fabric of voluntary associations, which can provide a major source of non-statist involvements which in turn can moderate nationalism. Thus, the fewer individuals who see themselves merely or even primarily as "good" Singaporeans, Frenchmen, and so on, and the more who consider themselves as dedicated environmentalists, feminists, or members of professional communities, the less nationalistic they will tend to be.

In a secular version of the grand exception which parallels the religious one: nationalism is intensive rather than demoted when the core values of a given voluntary association are nationalistic, as in the case of many veteran organizations. The same holds for many secular right-wing groups.

I cannot stress enough that the thesis presented here about the transition away from a nationalistic state to a communitarian society is not retracing oft-made arguments in favor of a strong civil society, although there are some parallels. The standard arguments about the merit of civil society center around its primary aims of sustaining liberty, respect for individual rights, and for the democratic regime. The main thesis advanced here is that a civil society can also provide a major source for communitarian defining involvements and thus moderate nationalism. Moreover, while almost any civil society can advance liberty (indeed, some hold that a "thin" society can best so serve), only rather "thick" civil societies can provide for satisfactory opportunities for defining involvements. Thickness in this context entails providing a substantive (as distinct from merely procedural) and considerable set of values, as well as social bonds that encompass significant relations rather than trivial ones. Voting, for instance, is thin; serving in the Peace Corps is thick. Serving as an observer at a polling station is thin; serving as a deacon at one's church is thick.

The crucial significance of thickness for the purpose at hand leads to the important observation that from this viewpoint not all voluntary associations are created equal. The defining involvement these associations are able to provide range from socially and normatively trivial to rather powerful. Those voluntary associations that are often mentioned and studied and hence jump to mind - especially following the important work of Robert Putnam[12] - such as bowling leagues, provide a rather thin scope of social activities and values and hence rather meager involvement. With the exception of a few, such as activists or diehards, people do not define themselves as bowlers, bird watchers or derive their norms from such activities. Moreover, the much celebrated NGOs tend to provide involvement for their cadres but not for most of their members, who often feel rather detached if not excluded and alienated. Consider for instance the typical members of the league of women voters or the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).

Much more consequential for the building up of non-nationalistic, communitarian involvements are thicker voluntary associations that have more of a normative content and/or are socially more encompassing. Among the first kind are ideological associations such as the Sierra Club. Among the second kind are those labor unions in which the members share a social life, hang around a hiring hall, frequent the same bars and so on. These associations almost communities make.

Communities (which are often excluded from discussion of civil society, among other reasons because they are in part ascribed, not voluntarily chosen or constructed; they are, for instance, excluded from Putnam's calculations) are multifaceted and hence socially thick. They tend to encompass numerous different activities of their members rather than merely one (e.g. the PTA’s focus on schooling of children). Indeed, communities often contain several voluntary associations. Numerous policies to strengthen communities that are advanced for other reasons can also help build up non-nationalistic involvements. In the US these include community policing, crime watch, mutual saving societies, self-help groups, block parties, safer public spaces, and much more.

More generally, the thicker the civil society (beyond the mere existence of a rich and varied body of thick voluntary associations and communities), the more opportunities there are for non-nationalistic involvements to evolve and to be nurtured. The more civil society is extolled in culture and mores, the stronger the social norms that limit conflict among citizens and among political parties and public leaders and the stronger opportunities and encouragements for community service in schools and otherwise.

Note that the thickness of the civil society that is relevant to the issue at hand is not measured by the extent of participation in politics or public affairs (e.g. the proportion of the public conversant with public affairs) but by the richness of informal social norms and controls, the trust people put into one another, the extent to which they are tolerant and civil to one another.

While one should readily acknowledge that if the various communitarian bodies make extolling the nation their core value, they will tend to reinforce nationalism, one should also note that these bodies provide a grand potential: communitarian bodies can - and often do - form bonds and build loyalties and social norms that cut across national borders and thus dampen nationalism. At the least, they are capable of so doing, which is not the case if the involvement is the nation itself. Among the thinner examples are public policy networks and groups of civil servants committed to the same cause e.g. the stewardship of the environment. Thicker examples include the feminist movement, anti-war movements, and Amnesty International.


The Community of Communities and its State

When the strengthening of communities is advocated - especially when reference is made not merely to their social fabric, but also to loyalties to them and to their particularistic values - a legitimate concern arises: that communities will engage in cultural wars with each other and that these may turn into civil wars.[13] Furthermore, there is a fear that a nation may lose its identity, shared culture and history, if ever more social diversity and multiculturalism is allowed. This fear is evoked by large scale immigrations, especially if the immigrant's cultural traditions are substantially different from those of the host country. Such fears are reinforced when communities seek exceptions from nationwide laws (e.g. to use narcotics during religious services) or practices in public schools (Muslim girls wearing scarves in French schools or not wearing swimsuits in Germany). To put it in more general terms, particularism, diversity, and multiculturalism, or more generally community separation, can undermine the integrity of the nation and lead to its destruction.[14]

It should, though, be noted that such developments mainly threaten a nation that has rather meager involvements in its state to begin with, rather than one that is infected with nationalism. For this reason, as already indicated, such shifting of involvement from the state to communities is not recommended under these circumstances.

In this matter, American society - which is often criticized by members of other societies as being violent, materialistic, and excessively individualistic (all criticism that contain some merit) - provides an important sociological design that allows for less national involvement but still provides for maintaining the integrity of the nation. The American society is basically organized as a community of communities in which the member communities are free to follow their own subcultures in numerous matters ranging from religious practices to second languages, from involvement in their countries of origin to tastes in music and cuisine. These particularistic involvements are not viewed as threatening the nation at large.

At the same time a set of values exists to which all are expected to adhere, shared values that serve as a sort of framework and glue that keep the rich and colorful mosaic from falling apart. These include commitment to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, the democratic form of government, command of the English language, mutual tolerance, and what Sandy Levinson called the constitutional faith.[15] Moreover, to sustain unity, the loyalty to the community of communities is expected to take precedence over that to member communities, if and when these two loyalties come into conflict.

Seeking neither assimilation (in which member communities would be stripped from their particularistic values and involving powers) nor separatism, the American society as a community of communities draws on a concept that is missing in many others: hyphenation. Much more is at stake here than referring to people on the basis of their ethnic origins, not simply as Polish or Irish or Mexican, but as Polish-Americans, Irish-Americans or Mexican-Americans. Hyphenation is an expression of the legitimization of their distinct subcultural status, of their non state driven particularism - but also of their being contained by a shared American creed and a set of related institutions. It speaks of pluralism within unity, not sheer pluralism as American diversity is often mistakenly depicted. This model allows for much more socially based defining involvements than one in which the only sanctioned sets of values and involvements are nationally shared ones.

All this is not to suggest that the state plays no role in a society that is based on the community of communities model. Ending nationalism does not entail shutting down the nation- state. The state helps to sustain the shared part, the frame, that keeps communities as members of one overarching community. For instance, the nation-state upholds rights defined in the Constitution that might clash with the particularistic values of some member communities, and helps ensure that differences among communities will not turn violent.

While all states can help to ensure that the increase in community involvement will not undermine the society of which they are members, some formats serve this purpose better than others. All other things being equal, as has been often noted, unitary states (France) are less accommodating than federations (Germany). Higher levels of devolution (and subsidiarity) tend to be more favorable to the community of communities than to lower levels. It should, though, be recognized that devolution does not automatically provide the preferred context. If devolution merely shifts functions and control from the national level to large subentities (e.g. of the size of Scotland), it is much more likely to feed separatist nationalism than if devolution reaches into much smaller local units. Nationalism is not needed for a nation to be able to modify the balance between the central government and local ones to work out modifications in the relationship that provide more autonomy to the member communities without breaking the frame. The US’s increased recognition of states’ rights in recent years and shifting funds and missions and controls from Washington to the states reflects such an accommodation. Even China’s incorporation of Hong Kong, under the "one nation, two systems" model has this format. In contrast, the clashes between Spain and the Basques, France and Corsica, Turkey and Iraq and the Kurds in their respective countries, Sri Lanka and the Tamil all reflect clashes of strong nationalism of both the country and those who seek full-fledged self-determination.

Most importantly for the purposes at hand, the model of a community of communities points to the possibility of adding supranational layers of loyalty and state power - without threatening particularistic involvements. One may come to think about regional communities, such as the EU as second order communities; as communities whose members are nations (which already contain communities).[16] Regional communities could apply the ideas behind the model of community of communities, of pluralism within unity, allowing for considerable continued national variations. The more this model is embraced and legitimated, the less resistance there will be to the development of supranational institutions and an additional layer of loyalty (as compared to the simple concept of community, which evokes an image of a much greater measure of blending). The model can serve to reassure people that if Germany, France or the UK were integrated into a United States of Europe, such action would not lead to loss of identity, culture, and state rights by these nations.

To put it differently, the community of communities provides a sociological model and lends legitimacy for divided and layered sovereignty. It indicates that sovereignty, as legal scholars and historians have long established, never an absolute concept, can be shared and redefined without loss of control and self-determination for those who agree to delegate some of their decision-making power and judiciary rights to a more encompassing level.[17]

A Cultural Exception

A policy issue that by itself is not of the highest importance illustrates the approach that combines building up additional layers of communities of communities (or, say, communities of the third order) while respecting the member communities’ particular values. The issue concerns cultural exceptions to various international agreements.[18] The question is whether cultural products (such as magazines and movies) should be treated in the same manner as other goods and services or accorded an exception for trade freed from national borders within whatever supra-community is being constructed. It is a complex subject, as some might wish to be extended such an approach to the Internet, where it might well be overridden by technological devices.

For the purpose at hand it suffices to note that to the extent that some of these cultural products are of special import for sustaining the member communities’ involving powers, they should be exempt from some parts of free trade agreements (which of course would involve renegotiating them). The underlying reason is that defining involvements are nourished by cultural products. If these are undermined, nationalism is likely to grow more rampant. This will not necessarily occur if widgets, cranes, and ball bearings are imported. While any product from airlines to sports cars can be turned into a matter of national pride, cultural products are much more likely to carry a richer and more authentic symbolic content. Numerous images and word choices indicate the culture of origin, which can hardly be said about the pieces used to make a plane or car, whose origin is likely to be mixed and multinational to begin with and often not visible to begin with.

Providing cultural exceptions need not be all encompassing. For instance, they may tolerate subsidies for local film makers and the productions of plays of the kind banned for non-cultural products (as a way to support the local culture) but not encompass import controls on importing magazines and films (e.g. excluding other cultures).

Similarly, there seems to be no reason to oppose academies of languages trying to come up with national terms for new objects from computers to satellites, rather than relying on English words. Language is a major center of a culture and people are correctly concerned about protecting it from excessive absorption of foreign terms (although this has occurred throughout history). However, to the extent that these efforts attack the rapid development of English as a second language - a language that more and more people of the world use for instrumental purposes such as trade and coordination - they are not justified by the criteria applied here. English is on its way to become the language of the third-layer community, the lingua franca. To nurture one's national language should not be combined with attacks on English as long as a second (or third) language.

Once can combine protecting national culture with openness to the world. This is evident when one witnesses the significant cultural differences that exist between communities within the same nation - for instance, between Bavaria and Northern Germany, Sicily and Milan, Manhattan and Louisiana.


Must Supranational Bodies Be Democratic?

A major objection to shifting more involvement to communitarian bodies (whether domestic or cross-national) and to supranational bodies is that the latter are not democratically governed.[19] Indeed, we have known since Robert Michel’s “Political Parties” that these associations tend to become oligarchic, and that in effect they are governed by small elites, whether or not they have elections (as is evident in many labor unions). Discussions of the increased supranational role of NGOs has led some to fear the rise of a world government of a syndicalist or corporate nature, in which various interests gain ever more decision-making power. The same fear of lack of accountability to elected bodies has been raised against the NAFTA and WTO committees and the European Commission.

Several considerations come into play. Domestically, the shift of involvement from the state to communitarian bodies does not mean that citizens give up their rights to vote for local and national governments. These in turn set limits on the action of these social bodies, can serve to ensure that individual rights will not be violated, that the laws of the land will be abided by. Also, many of these bodies do adhere to democratic procedures and if these are not honored steps can be taken to ensure that they are, as was in the case of the Teamsters Union. And people who are disaffected by the way one voluntary association is conducted.

Internationally, at issue is the scope of the function and power of the new supranational bodies. NGOs, with very few exceptions, have rather limited scope and power. Hence the ways they are controlled matters relatively little. The same is true so far about the NAFTA and WTO committees. However, the European Commission has achieved reached a scope and power which ought to be, and is becoming, more accountable to the European Parliament. In short, there seems here to be no principled objection to the development of social involvements and supranational ones.

In Conclusion

Our generation is challenged by the fact that globalization so far has been largely economic and technological, and not social, political, and moral.[20] As a result, the ability of the people of the world to control their fate has been diminished. A national government may enact laws banning the distribution of designs to make bombs or of “Mein Kampf”, create legislation to protect children from pedophiles, or to safeguard the privacy of medical records but these will be of little viability in the age of the Internet. A bioethics commission may curb certain experiments conducted in one nation, however, in the absence of supranational bodies to agree and enforce such bans, these experiments may easily be conducted in some other country. Crime and pollution know no borders, and are increasingly internationalized.

The gap between that which needs to be guided and those who seek to guide cannot be closed, as some hope, by restoring national controls. With few exceptions, in the longer run, in order for mankind to gain control, to direct these processes to its benefit and curb excesses or anti-human developments, it will require social, political, and moral institutions whose reach is as global as the challenges are. Nationalism stands in the way of the development of these institutions.

* The author is indebted to Jason Marsh for research assistance and to Shlomo Avineri, Henry Nau, Joel Rosenthal, and Simon Serfati for comments on a previous draft.


[1]. Jessica T. Mathews, Power Shift”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 1997: 50ff. See also Saskia Sassen, Losing Control: Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

[2] The term "supranational" is used here to refer to bodies that have the authority to directly act on corporations or individuals in participant nations without having to deal with their government. They differ from international bodies whose legitimacy is derived from the consent of the representative of the participating nations for each and every significant measure--the way, for instance, the United Nations works.


[3]. Cf. Anne-Marie Slaughter, “The Real New World Order”, Foreign Affairs (September/October 1997): 183ff.

[4]. For a discussion of Germanys attitudes toward nationalism in the post-war period, see Mary Fulbrook, German National Identity after the Holocaust (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999); Michael Mertes, Steven Muller, and Heinrich August Winkler, eds., In Search of Germany (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1996).

[5]. On the importance of identity for the reconstitution of the international order, see Alexander Wendt, Collective Identity Formation and the International State”, American Political Science Review 88, no. 2 (1994): 384-96. See also Anthony D. Smith, National Identity (Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 1991).

[6]. Charles Tilly, ed., The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975).

[7]. Cf. Anne-Marie Slaughter, ”The Real New World Order”.

[8]. Lester M. Salamon, Partners in Public Service: Government-Nonprofit Relations in the Modern Welfare State (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 243.

[9]. See Nina Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[10]. For more discussion see Amy Sherman, Should We Put Faith in Charitable Choice?”, The Responsive Community 10, no. 4 (2000): 22-30.

[11]. T.R. Reid, Church of Sweden Is Thriving on Its Own”,@ Washington Post, December 29, 2000, A24.

[12]. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000); see also Francis Fukuyama, The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999).

[13]. For a discussion of culture wars in America, see James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991).

[14]. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Disuniting of America (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1992).


[15]. See Sanford Levinson, Constitutional Faith (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

[16]. For discussion of the development of the European Union, see Simon Serfaty, Europe 2007: From Nation-States to Member States (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2000); William James Adams, ed., Singular Europe: Economy and Polity of the European Community after 1992 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992); Robert Keohane and Stanley Hoffman, eds., The New European Community: Decisionmaking and Institutional Change (Boulder, Colorado.: Westview Press, 1991); Alberta Sbragia, ed., Euro-Politics: Institutions and Policymaking in the New European Community (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1992); Dennis Swann, ed., The Single European Market and Beyond: A Study of the Wider Implications of the Single European Act (New York: Routledge, 1992).

[17]. For discussions of sovereignty and the contemporary world, see Stephen D. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999); David J. Elkins, Beyond Sovereignty: Territory and Political Economy in the Twenty-First Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995); Maryann K. Cusimano, ed., Beyond Sovereignty: Issues for a Global Agenda (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin=s, 2000); Gene M. Lyons and Michael Mastanduno, eds., Beyond Westphalia? State Sovereignty and International Intervention (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

[18]. See Harvey B. Feigenbaum, Global Culture vs. Protectionism: The French and Korean Cases in Comparative Perspective, prepared for the panel "Hollywood and the World: Site of Power, Sites of Resistance?" American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Atlanta, September 2-5, 1999.

[19]. See Mark Imber, “Geo-Governance Without Democracy?” Reforming the UN System, in Anthony McGrew, ed., The Transformation of Democracy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997).

[20]. For discussion on the changing political landscape of a globalized world, see James N. Rosenau and Ernst-Otto Czempiel, eds., Governance Without Government: Order and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | net edition malte.michel | 5/2001