Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Metaphors We Die By

My colleague Mick Costigan and I have just published a short rejoinder to Michael Lind's thought-provoking essay, "Against Cosmopolitanism." Ulrich Beck also has a comment. The whole discussion is here.

In contrast to Lind, who argues that the nation-state has never been a stronger and more effective force, and is destined to become even more powerful, we argue that:
Nation-states are being undermined simultaneously (1) from below, by transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), and (2) from above, by transnational financiers who have innovated means to capture or to evade national regulatory apparatuses. Unlike the cosmopolitans, these actors do not have as a goal the usurping of the nation-state either individually or as some form of conspiratorial group. Rather, degrading the capacity and legitimacy of their "host" nation-states is simply an emergent, unintended, and indeed unwanted byproduct of their activities.
The effects of these non-state actors on different kinds of countries varies quite dramatically, in ways that might best be understood by way of a metaphor. In our view, the old nation-states are the geopolitical equivalents of blocks of ice, upon which the rise of tech- and globalization-empowered non-state actors act like a rising heat. The size of the ice-block (e.g. the size and institutional capacity of the state at T=1970) determines both the rate effects of the heat on the ice and the downstream effects of the melt.

A state like, for example, Zaire was the equivalent of a wee ice-cube: the heat of globalization very quickly melted it away altogether, with catastrophic local consequences but limited external effects. By contrast, a country like the US is more like the Greenland ice sheet: it will take a very long time to melt completely, but as it does, the deluge will be devastating far beyond its own perimeter.

No comments: