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The Sympathetic Skeptic: Luis Cabrera’s Interview with Richard Falk on behalf of the World Government Research Network

12 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The following interview was conducted by Professor Luis Cabrera, a political theorist on the faculty of Griffith University in Brisbane Australia. Cabrera has written notable books on themes of world government and global integration. He is also the co-founder and co-director of the Global Government Research Network. The original posting of the interview can be found at <wgresearch.org/seven-questions-for-richard-falk/?tve=true>

 

[I would describe myself as a strong skeptic, and place less emphasis on the sympathetic aspects of my views about finding institutional mechanisms protective of global and human interests. I do believe that a stronger and more independent UN is part of the answer as are special governmental and quasi-governmental arrangements to deal with specific subject-matter of global scope. At the same time, advocacy of world government irresponsibly overlooks the danger of sanctioning a move to global tyranny and to a frozen economic order that would almost certainly need to deal with disparities in material circumstances by coercive means. I do recommend checking out the website recently put together by Luis Cabrera and James Thompson, and can be found via Google at ‘World Government Research Network’ where high quality articles and world government related news can be found.]

 

 

[The following biosketch preceded the interview: Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and associated with the program on Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 2002. He has been a prominent and prolific voice in scholarship on international law and world order since the late 1950s, and more recently has championed the promotion of ‘humane global governance’ as an alternative to top-down economic globalization. Falk was centrally involved in the World Order Models Project in 1960s-1980s. WOMP was a research-focused outgrowth of the world government movements of the 1940s and 1950s, and its head, Prof. Saul Mendlovitz of Rutgers, was an unabashed advocate of binding world government. Falk was more skeptical, famously arguing that most world government proposals are guilty of ‘premature specificity.’ The World Government Research Network interviewed Prof. Falk on his long career and current views on global integration in August 2015.]

 

1) You were the North American director for the World Order Models Project (WOMP), which was aimed in part at developing an inclusive international academic dialogue on global integration. What were the major challenges to developing a genuinely global dialogue, and how successful do you think the project was in meeting them?

 

I think the main participants in WOMP were very disposed to a global dialogue, although sharp differences in outlook were present from its inception. There was an initial split between those of us from the North who focused on war prevention given the anxieties generated by the U.S./Soviet geopolitical rivalry and those in the South who were concerned with development, overcoming European colonial legacies, and steering clear as possible of the Cold War. A secondary split was between Saul Mendlovitz, the overall director and fund raiser who made the project possible, who strongly believed in the near term inevitability and desirability of world government in some form and the rest of us who believed that the preconditions for democratic world government did not exist, were not on the horizon, and in any event were fearful of international integrations of political authority and power beyond the level of regionalism. WOMP was successful so long as it agreed to disagree, which it did during its initial decade or so of existence. There were stimulating meetings in various parts of the world, and a series of interesting books describing our ‘preferred world for the 1990s.’ Mendlovitz edited a volume of essays that gave an overview of the project by giving the authors an opportunity to put forth their distinct visions of a feasible, necessary, and desirable future for world order. Of the principal authors my book A Study of Future Worlds came by far closest to endorsing a global integrationist vision by its stress on the necessity of ‘a central guidance system’ to deal with the problems of the world in the 1970s, but still tried to keep my distance from the Western tradition since the end of World War I of pushing world government schemes.

 

The second phase of WOMP sought to fashion a consensus view of the future of world order. Its shared framework was based on the acceptance of world order values (peace, human right rights, economic wellbeing & justice, and environmental protection) rather than on trends toward global integration. There was little attention given to the emergence of ‘globalization’ and its economistic orientation via neoliberalism or the optic provided by ‘the Washington consensus.’ This second phase of WOMP coincided with the end of the Cold War. The differences in regional priorities persisted, and the projected ended in a mood of frustration, especially on the part of Mendlovitz who until the very end believed that the secret to a peaceful future was challenging the war system and establishing a robust form of global constitutionalism. The rest of the WOMP participants were either not interested in this form of advocacy or suspected it as a kind of Western geopolitical Trojan Horse that contained a blueprint for global domination that was to be disguised in public discourse as a plan for world government.

 

2) Overall, what do you see as the most significant contribution of WOMP? What are the lessons that current scholars should take from the WOMP experience, including in such coalitional efforts such as the World Government Research Network?

 

I think the idea of bringing together prominent scholars in their respective regions who shared normative preferences for a humane world order was an extraordinarily prescient initiative, but it may have been prematurely enacted. I believe there is more awareness in this period of the early 21st century of the need for the collaborative design of alternative futures in an historical context of intensifying global integration and a growing awareness of the fragility of political arrangements in a state-centric structure of world order that can neither protect the global/human interest in relation to climate change and nuclear weaponry nor can provide national or human security for peoples living within the boundaries set by the nation-state.

 

Online collaboration provides exciting opportunities for collaboration without any dependence on major funding, although it gives up the benefit of face-to-face contact that deepens social networking. The WOMP experience may be helpful in identifying the limits of such collaboration as well as the importance of setting a research agenda that gives space and relevance to a variety of viewpoints. The dialogic experience works best when there is a shared normative ground that is at the same time comfortable with the reality and legitimacy of divergent views, with participants refraining from any compulsion to overcome disagreements and divergent priorities.

 

3) You have long been associated with world order studies and world federalism, but you have also been consistently skeptical of advocating a binding world government in the relatively near term. What would you say to the many researchers who in recent years have helped revive academic dialogue around world government, in many cases advocating it?

 

I am not sufficiently familiar with the recent trends in world government advocacy by scholars to have any strong opinion about its usefulness either pedagogically or as the basis for engaged citizenship. I continue to find absent the political preconditions for any kind of constitutional consolidation of authority at the global level as distinct from considerable latent potential for regional and sub-regional integrative developments. I also see some societal benefits accruing from reversing trends toward global integration, and have an interest in what I have enigmatically called ‘anarchism without anarchism’ and might seem to be at odds with my earlier support for global reform to achieve central guidance capabilities.

 

My scepticism about world government is grounded on three types of objection: first, creating a global polity without a prior global community is almost certainly a formula for either collapse or tyranny; secondly, the unevenness of material circumstances and cultural outlook would make the control of the political center almost certain to depend on iron fist structures of domination and exploitation; thirdly, the almost total absence of political will among either contemporary elites or publics to create a world government, or even to posit world government as a desirable goal; nationalism remains a strong ideological reinforcement for the maintenance of a state-centric world order.

 

What I do agree about is the vital importance of finding procedures and mechanism that will promote the global and human interest. The UN was conceived to fill this gap, but its statist structures has made it mainly a venue where competing conceptions of national interests seek to find compromises. Such a framework has not been able to address problems of global scope such as nuclear weaponry, climate change, and the regulation of the world economy. Is it possible to imagine the effective promotion of the global/human interest without the existence of world government, whether in federalist or unitary form? I regard this as the primary survival question facing the human species that pertains to the role and nature of global governance. Without a capability to serve the global/human interest, I lack the imagination to grasp how a catastrophic future for generations to come can be avoided.

 

 

4) You have championed global civil society, or ‘globalization from below’ as a means of promoting more humane global governance and ultimately preparing the way for shared rule well beyond the state. Are you encouraged by developments in global civil society in the 55-plus years of your academic career, discouraged, or do you see the record as more mixed?

 

I remain uncertain how to respond. My mood varies with sudden changes in the global atmosphere. I felt encouraged, even excited, by the unfolding of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement in 2011, but feel more discouraged by the success of subsequent counterrevolutionary forces that have proved so robust in the Middle East and by the inability of the Occupy Movement to sustain its initial impulse to challenge contemporary distortions and injustices attributable to neoliberal capitalist logic and behavior. I continue to believe that hope for the future rests upon challenges from below, a normative insurgency that posits an eco-humanist imaginary with sufficient persuasiveness to mobilize widespread support around the world, including among disaffected segments of economic and political elites that recognize the need for a paradigm shift away from growth-oriented compulsions, as well as a radical turn against the war system as the means to achieve security and stability.

 

 

5) You also have championed, with Andrew Strauss, the development of an initially consultative global parliament. Later versions of the argument advocate the signing of a treaty among existing democratic states to get the ball rolling. Does that still appear to you to be a more promising route than, for example, the one advocated by the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly?

 

Yes, I still believe that a global parliament that represents people directly is more promising than the creation of a parliamentary assembly that is likely to reproduce most tendencies already present in the UN. I think there is a better chance of a peoples assembly creating a different kind of global agenda with different priorities if it is established as the outcome of a populist movement. To be worthwhile a global parliament must be responsive to global interests and to the grievances of the most marginalized and vulnerable peoples in the world, and should be proposed with these goals uppermost. Of course, as a political institution a global parliament will evolve in ways that reflect changes in the political climate, but it should be insulated to the extent possible against manipulation by money and by national governments, especially by those governments harboring hegemonic ambitions.

 

6) You are often quoted (from a 1975 piece) as saying that global government proposals and proponents engage in ‘premature specificity.’ How long until the time is right, if ever?

 

What I meant by the phrase is that without a political climate receptive to global government proposals, the blueprinting of institutions is an exercise of limited value, and tends toward an apolitical approach to global change. The Clark/Sohn plan for limited world government through the radical reform of the UN Charter is a clear illustration of what I have in mind. It lacks any conception of a political scenario that has the slightest chance of moving from the current state of affairs to the ideal future that they set forth as a solution for the world order challenges of the Cold War Era. There is a chicken and egg problem admittedly present: the demonstration of offer practical designs for how a world government would work is intended to overcome criticisms that argue that world government is not capable of preserving societal freedoms and could not restrain the abuse of power by those in control of such strengthened institutions. It has been my experience that those who set forth their plans for world government are usually ultra-rationalists who believe that change follows from having the best ideas, winning after dinner arguments. I disagree with such viewpoints, and regard change as following from the interplay and eruption of social forces. What seems useful at this time is for scholars acting in transnational collaboration to construct a series of political scenarios that envision benevolent forms of global transformation, including tentative ideas about institutional design. I would think this would be an excellent undertaking for the World Government Research Network just launched.

 

 

7) You have been actively engaged in social and political affairs for many decades. What advice might you have for upcoming generations of academics, in particular those working in areas of international politics and law, who might also want to engage, and do so effectively?

 

Political participation is a very personal matter, and depends on how a person views the world, as well as on conceptions of the proper interaction of the life of a professional academic and that of a citizen concerned with public policy. I have taken the view, which is controversial within American universities that engaged citizenship can usefully include advocacy work, which can also make contributions to education in a free society. The first challenge is to develop the skills appropriate for critical and independent thinking. The second challenge is the importance of endowing conscience with sufficient authority as to validate the role of citizen/scholars in talking truth to power and entering the arenas of debate and action to promote preferred policy outcomes.

 

I felt that forthrightness in the classroom combined with receptivity and openness to opposing viewpoints gave added vitality to the academic experience, and connect the pursuit of knowledge with a commitment to societal reform in positive ways.

It is important to be sensitive to the political atmosphere as it bears on particular issues. In my own experience there is no doubt that I have paid a price for articulating controversial beliefs on current policy issues and implementing such analyses with shows of solidarity with groups and peoples seeking liberation from oppressive circumstances. Challenging the established order is much more likely to produce pushback, even in the form of discriminatory actions and defamatory attacks, on some issues than others. For instance, on questions of world order, although many disagreements exist that reflect divergent worldviews and ethical standpoints, there is rarely the kind of effort to discredit opponents as is encountered when the focus is on contemporary issues of political and social conflict, especially if it touches on matters of military intervention, religious and ethnic identity or counters the work of strongly entrenched domestic lobbies.

 

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Remembering Yoshikazu Sakamoto (1927-2014)

30 Nov

(Prefatory Note: This post is dedicated to my remembrance of Yoshi Sakamoto who died recently. Yoshi was a deeply valued friend and an important public intellectual in Japan who exerted a strong influence on the post-war generation. His political orientation, rejecting extremes of right and left, while questioning the militarist premises of the Cold War and Japan’s willingness to become America’s Asian poodle, gave him a distinctive political profile. I am sharing these words of appreciation, and hope that anyone from Japan who comes across this text will contact me, especially if they have a way of putting me in touch with either Yoshi’s family or Japanese media. I would like to believe that ‘an American appreciation’ of Professor Sakamoto would be of interest to those who knew and admired him.)

 

 

Remembering Yoshikazu Sakamoto (1927-2014)

 

I first met Yoshi in the mid-1960s when he came to visit me at Princeton, expressing his concern about the Vietnam War and knowing of my anti-war activism. We bonded quickly and marched in a peaceful demonstration in New York City a few days later, and somehow managed to keep in fairly consistent contact until Yoshi’s death on October 2nd.

 

It was through our participation in the World Order Models Project (WOMP) over a period of about twenty years that we came to know each other best, meeting in different parts of the world every few months, and discussing the weighty issues of the day from time to time. Yoshi was one of the most principled and serious persons I have ever known, subjecting himself (and others) to the highest standards of performance and character from which he never deviated. His work exhibited a perfectionist dedication to excellence that was very challenging to those of us who worked within the ambit of his influence. The majority of his publications were written in Japanese, meaning that the non-Japanese speaking world is so far deprived of much of his scholarship and is not aware of his sustained productivity over the years. His Japanese writings have been collected in six volumes published a few years ago.

 

The golden thread that was woven into the fabric of Yoshi’s life was his commitment to a peaceful world. He was highly critical of and affected by Japanese militarism of the 1930s and World War II that had shadowed his childhood, which he viewed as a betrayal of the Japanese people by the state, and its supportive established order. When I first knew Yoshi he was struggling hard to find firm ground in Japanese political culture for a peaceful future, and was a strong believer in the peace constitution imposed upon the country after World War II, especially Article 9. He was, in the same spirit, opposed to Japanese complicity with American militarism during the Cold War period, and opposed having permanent American military bases on Japanese territory, including Okinawa. Yoshi also favored what might be called peace diplomacy, especially in the Asian setting, working with progressive Japanese intellectuals to promote positive relations with both China and North Korea.

 

In the Japanese discourse Yoshi was often referred to as the leading ‘pacifist’ of ‘the post-war generation,’ and so he was, if pacifist is understood as essentially a synonym for ‘peace’ rather than as an affirmation of unconditional nonviolence in the Gandhi mode. Yoshi supported strongly efforts to achieve disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, encouraged adherence to international law and respect for the United Nations, and endorsed what I have called ‘nonviolent geopolitics,’ but he was also a believer in human rights and could support ‘humanitarian intervention’ under exceptional circumstances, such as to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing, and severe crimes against humanity. In this regard, Yoshi tempered his quest for peace with the realization that under some circumstances oppressive violence must be countered by the enforcement of international criminal law. He was sophisticated about the risks entailed, well aware of the capacity of hegemonic actors to manipulate the language of intervention to serve their strategic purposes by hypocritically invoking humanitarianism. Yoshi was critical of the way the superpowers behaved in the decades following the Second World War, and his sympathies clearly supported the struggles of Third World peoples to rid their countries of colonial rule in the spirit of self-determination. He favored reforms that would level the economic playing field, and facilitate the democratic development of the Third World. Apparently a legacy of Hans Morgenthau’s mentorship (as PhD advisor and friend), Yoshi tempered his ethical stance toward world politics with a keen awareness of the way sovereign states pursued their national interests as the expense of the public good.

 

I was struck also in the WOMP context by Yoshi’s emphasis on ‘identity’ as a crucial, often neglected, world order value. [See especially his seminal essay, “Toward Global Identity” in Saul H. Mendlovitz, ed., On the Creation of a Just World Order, 189-210 (1975). Yoshi affirmed that “[t]he need for a global coordinating body is unquestionable.” [193] And yet he was keenly aware that the need by itself was insufficient to what he called “the organizational lag.” From this vantage point, he tried to think through why such a dysfunctional lag persisted in the age of scientific rationality, and how it might be overcome. In seeking understanding, Yoshi emphasized two factors: attachment by individuals to the nation-state as the political actor commanding loyalty unto death for most of its citizens, and existing as the outer limit of political community; the consequent need to construct identities that transcend nationalist boundaries if there ever was to emerge the political will required to support a stronger globalist institutional capacity.

 

With intellectual rigor, and a passion for practical theorizing (and a dislike of wishful thinking), Yoshi offered some guidelines: he expected to witness the growing transnationalization of international life amid increasing interdependence that would over time weaken nationalist attachments, especially as he foresaw the weakening of the geopolitical rivalries that were at the core of the Cold War. He also affirmed the community-building potential of the United Nations, which he believed could be activated through the establishment of a UN Consultative Assembly “composed of representatives of the major political parties of each country.” [207] To ensure diversity and contestation, any party with 10% or more electoral support would be eligible to send delegates. The underlying idea was to create a feeling for global community that would produce a greater appreciation of the need for a stronger global institutional presence. The animating idea was well articulated: “The crucial point here is that the UN system should act as a nucleus of community-building by serving as a vehicle for the creation of small-scale but open communities throughout the world, worldwide adoption of nondiscriminatory practices by the UN and related agencies would serve as a model for national and private organizations.”

 

It is worth observing that Yoshi, true to his training in international relations at the University of Chicago, insisted upon careful diagnosis of the existing situation, believing that the way forward in human affairs at this stage of history was to extend the domain of the feasible by stressing the social prerequisites of globally and ethically oriented political behavior. He was institutionally cautious, and decidedly anti-utopian, and as such avoided the terminology of ‘world government,’ being content with the far more modest attainment of ‘a global coordinating body.’ And when it came to advocating a UN Consultative Assembly he deliberately held back from proposing a ‘global parliament’ or even ‘a global peoples assembly,’ presumably to discipline his normative imagination by adhering to the optic of ‘politics as the art of the possible.’ I confess that as I have grown older I do my best to heed the counter-wisdom of ‘politics as the art of the impossible.’ This reflects my judgment that the domain of the feasible, even if extended to the maximum, cannot address such global challenges as climate change and nuclear weapons in a sufficiently timely fashion.

 

In the WOMP experience, this kind of disciplined imagination clashed with the more idealized ambitions and beliefs of Saul Mendlovitz, outspokenly convinced that world government in some form was not only desirable, but well on its way to realization. And yet both listened to one another, and the rest of us positioned ourselves in the debate, siding in one way or another with Yoshi on the bottom line issue of what to expect, as well as what kind of process we should be encouraging and what sort of goals we should affirm.

 

Beyond WOMP, Yoshi was extremely influential on the progressive, anti-totalitarian side of the Japanese political spectrum. He was a chief advisor to the governor of the Kanagawa prefecture within which the city of Yokohama was located, and helped organize annual conferences on the theme of ‘Yokohama and the World’ for several years in the 1980s. The intriguing sub-text, consistent with Yoshi’s call for the formation of new positive identities, was the premise that Tokyo and the national government were not necessarily speaking on behalf of the people of Yokohama (or for people in general), and that for this sub-state more cosmopolitan perspective to be properly shaped it was necessary to incorporate views from people outside of Japan. Yoshi was especially affirmed the need of First World leaders to listen sympathetically to authentic Third World voices. I took part in these stimulating sessions, which were highlighted by the governor’s eagerness to normalize relations between the peoples of Japan and China through the vehicle of Yokohama’s initiative. This wish for reconciliation cut against the grain of the Japanese government’s disinclination at that time to take any foreign policy initiative that might displease its masters in Washington.

 

Yoshi was a loyal and attentive friend, but he was also formal in the traditional Japanese manner. I am guessing that he wished that he had been culturally endowed with more lightness of being, and not quite as beholden to the strong constraints imposed of Japanese tradition. Observing Yoshi through the years, he functioned both as a sort of ‘conscience’ for WOMP and a deterrent to sloppy, sentimental thinking on the part of the rest of us. As such Yoshi could be a rather intimidating presence, although his humanistic sensibility would not have considered this a compliment. I for one feared displeasing or disappointing him, and felt that Yoshi regarded me as somewhat ‘flaky’ at times, despite sharing my political activist stances. As his devoted students confirmed over the years, Yoshi was a stern taskmaster, although the kindest and most loyal professor in their experience.

 

To remember Yoshikazu Sakamoto is to take note of a loss of someone that has made a lasting difference in my experience, and that of many others whose path he crossed. It was through Yoshi that I met with the venerable editor of Sekai and with Kenzaburo Oe, the winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature. Both of these extraordinary individuals regarded Yoshi as their political guru, which is hardly surprising given his capacity to combine knowledge and wisdom, and to be totally trustworthy, beyond reproach on matters of character large and small. Writing this essay has made me realize how much I miss Yoshi, and his grounded cosmopolitanism, and how much the world we live in could benefit from his humane vision of how we on this planet should live together and also from his insistence that we must not indulge our desires without knowing how to navigate the treacherous course that leads from the precarious and unjust present to a more sustainable and just future. Such a combination of qualities is not only greatly valued and desired, but it is extremely rare, especially as so graciously embodied as it was in the person of

Yoshikazu Sakamoto. RIP.