David Held and Pietro Maffettone collect essays exploring the global dimensions -- and arguing for the necessarily global character -- of contemporary political theorizing...In addition to the familiar topics of human rights and global distributive justice, it includes contributions on the legitimacy of international law and transnational political institutions; on just war theory; and on a cluster of issues including territoriality, the global economy, and humans' relations to the natural environment and to future generations.
This integrated approach is welcome, and the book as a whole is a valuable resource for readers seeking to acquaint themselves with the state of the art in global political theory. The editors' introduction makes two agenda-setting points. First, they claim, political theory has reached a "cosmopolitan plateau," where acceptance of the equal moral status of all individuals (regardless of birthplace or location) defines the boundaries of reasonable disagreement in normative theorizing. Of course, different authors draw significantly different conclusions from the assumption of equal moral status; many theorists accept it without understanding themselves to be thereby committed to radically revisionist conclusions about global distributive justice or about the entitlements of states to control their own borders.--Emma Saunders-Hastings @NDPR Reviewing David Held and Pietro Maffettone (eds.), Global Political Theory, Polity, 2016.
When I started reading the review of Global Political Theory, I naively assumed that it would be an eclectic -- in the traditional sense of choosing the best from different stuff -- book trying to canvass what different intellectual traditions, necessarily partially interpreted and constituted, from different parts of the globe can contribute to political theory today. As the reviewer and the introduction of the volume make clear that's not what the volume is about. Global political theory (hereafter GPT) develops the implications of a certain class of moral egalitarianisms to ethical issues that have a global reach. It does so, as the editors of the volume under review note in their introduction (pp. 8-9), by quoting and accepting Thomas Pogge's (1992) framework of cosmopolitanism, which entails that (i) individuals are the units of ultimate moral concern (individualism); (ii) it applies to all humans (universality); (iii) such moral concern (ought) to have moral force for everyone (generality).
As an illuminating aside (in order to bring out the intellectual parochialism of GPT), something weird happens in the quote from Pogge's widely reprinted and influential 1992 essay, which self-consciously was written to fill the moral gap made available by "a new world order." The essay's general ambition is to make "moral progress" possible and it hopes that with the "gradual institutional reform" it proposes, "borders could be redrawn to accord more easily with the aspirations of" -- peculiarly enough not individuals, but -- "peoples and communities." (48) In Pogge's essay the second feature, universality, is contrasted with moral concern for a "subset" of humans, for example, "men, aristocrats, Aryans, whites, or Muslims." This happens to be one of two mentions of Muslims in the book (or, as it happens, Pogge's essay). (In the volume, the other is a reference to Muslim Brotherhood.) While it is no doubt true that Muslims have done immoral things to non-Muslims (as well as, countless Muslims) in the name of Islam, Islam is a religion that is especially hospitable to a variety of cosmopolitanism;* and it is no surprise that in it, self-consciously cosmopolitan perspectives have been embraced. One could argue, as William Gallois does, that this legacy is the source of continued revival of cosmopolitanism in later European thought and (perhaps more speculatively) one reason why asylum seekers are welcomed with comparative generosity in some Muslim majority states.
In his 1992 paper, Pogge contrasts his concrete inspiration with the ways "politicians are speaking of a new world order." In historical context this is a nod to President Bush's first Gulf war to restore the border between Iraq and Kuwait and restore a (protected) sovereignty to Kuwait sanctioned by international law and global institutions. In that context, a new world order referred to American supremacy within the constraints of, and channeled by, international law and institutions. The complex entanglement of contemporary ethics with American hegemony (in the way Mill's or Green's thought was intertwined with imperial power) demands to be better understood and, I would argue, questioned (recall Khan on Singer). Be that as it may, Pogge's willingness to revisit borders is prescient, although as we've learned since, the actual process of redrawing of borders tends to be (a few notable exceptions granted) violent.
That there are many who wish to turn political theory (and international law) into a branch of a certain flavor of ethics is familiar enough. As it happens, this past year I have conducted three job searches in political theory (including comparative), and so have seen about (by a conservative estimate) 300 job dossiers of candidates with PhDs fairly recently minted in North America and Western Europe. The vast majority of these projects buy into some version of such moral egalitarianism and a good many apply it in the manner of GPT.
What I had not truly grasped before is that within GPT deviation from such cosmopolitan egalitarianism marks one as unreasonable (in the way predicted by Carl Schmitt). Again, I had naively assumed that being reasonable would consist in something like the disposition of treating disagreement even conflict with others by way of discussion in which reasons are (sincerely) offered, analyzed, and jointly evaluated. But in GPT to be reasonable means that one cannot enter the conversation unless one accepts certain moral commitments (in professional terms, a certain "consensus"). In their introduction, Held and Maffetono do not explain where such views about the boundary of legitimacy originate and who polices the boundary of who is let into the conversation (presumably that dirty job is farmed out to anonymous referees who -- like the marines -- do their work outside the scope of publicity).
One thing one learns from Thomas Kuhn (or George Stigler) is that where we find a professional consensus absent science, there are other forces that produce uniformity. In fact, Kuhn teaches that if one wants the appearance of intellectual progress one does well to create such uniformity of background commitments. The previous paragraph suggests, then, that the avalanche of work on GPT is the collective considered wisdom of our young scholars that the primary road to professional advancement and (for the more idealistic among them) improvement of humanity requires one to work within some version of GPT.
We know from history that intellectual mono-culture are great at problem-solving (and this can generate great creativity), but otherwise not very robust. They are incapable of adapting to changing circumstances and unable to confront, truly, the most urgent questions in which one must come to terms with arguments of the deviants from orthodoxy. (For this would require it to be self-critical about its own commitments.)+ So, a moment of reckoning is due. If history were ironic, then the professional triumph of GPT is also the moment it becomes obsolete.** After all, the political and democratic resurgence of views that reject versions of GPT's normative cosmopolitanism is the striking feature of our time. So, it is tempting to preach the end of liberal cosmopolitanism and become a prophet for a new order.
But history is probably not ironic. So, while some of us, outside the professional boundaries, search for alternative political theories, GPT may well continue to thrive even if the political conditions that gave rise to it, and that allow it to shape the political order, have long passed. After all, some of the greatest philosophical scholastics lived in the twentieth century and have enriched our intellectual universe.