Review of Richard Falk and James Rosenau, 1996

Martin Shaw

Richard Falk On Humane Governance: Towards a New Global Politics

Cambridge: Polity, 1995, xvi + 288 pp

James N Rosenau and Mary Durfee, Thinking Theory Thoroughly: Coherent Approaches to an Incoherent World

Oxford: Westview, 1995, xiv + 218 pp

from Millennium 1996

Each of these books is a cooperative effort, rather unusual in form, primarily authored by a major critical theorist of global politics. On Humane Governance is the report of the Global Civilization programme of the World Order Models Project, an international enquiry originating in the Gorbachev era. Its ideas are the product of a committee but have been fashioned into a coherent statement by Falk. Thinking Theory Thoroughly is a textbook, cowritten with a teacher and a class of first-year undergraduates at the University of Dayton, based on Rosenau’s Turbulence in World Politics which was published in 1990 at the beginning of the new era.

Both works express, therefore, ideas originating in the late 1980s but refashioned in the mid-1990s. Thinking Theory is a refreshingly direct text, with excellent summaries and comparisons of realism and Rosenau’s own ‘postinternationalism’ or ‘turbulence’ paradigm, tested against the politics of the Antarctic, the condition of the United Nations and crises such as Cuba (1961) and Tiananmen Square. It offers undergraduates good advice on how to approach theory, but most teachers will find it limited because it fails to go beyond ‘turbulence’ as an alternative to realism.

The presentation of Rosenau’s case in simple textbook form makes it clear how much Turbulence was a transitional work, exciting in its time but less adequate even half a decade later when the contours of the new era are becoming clearer. As presented here, postinternationalism is more suggestive of an alternative than anything like a formed position. The notion of a ‘bifurcation of world politics into state- and multi-centric worlds’ seems to allow realism too much continuing purchase, and hardly delineates the interpenetration of state, corporate and civil-society politics in an emerging global society. On this evidence, Rosenau’s position is weak on the globalist concepts which are emerging as the most powerful alternative to traditional state-centric international theory.

If we are looking not just for a critique but for a conceptual and normative alternative, Falk has more to offer. On Humane Governance is informed by one of the most fully formed and morally powerful globalist conceptions available today. For Falk state-centric has given way to capital-driven geopolitics, still ‘from above’, and ‘the probable world of the early twenty-first century will be a variant of geogovernance that is appropriately regarded as “inhumane governance”‘. This report is an analysis of the many forms this is taking and an argument for an alternative ‘humane governance’, primarily but not exclusively or romantically ‘from below’. This will involve the ‘dramatic growth’ of transnational democracy and global civil society.

Falk’s strength is his conceptual and political clarity, which mostly shines through although the book is over-burdened with secondary issues and examples which, presumably, his committee left the author obliged to mention. There are few better expositions of the case that globalization and geogovernance, as such, are neither good or bad and what matters is the forms which these take. The report makes a sustained attack on the dominant military, political, social and economic forms of the new market-based global order, arguing correctly that a great opportunity to move in radically better directions was missed at the beginning of the current decade. Despite this setback, Falk formulates a ‘politics of bounded conviction’ which argues the possibility of a different kind of world future.

As a statement of optimism informed by a sharp recognition of realities it can hardly be bettered. I have however three sorts of reservations, all partly related to the book’s ‘report’ format. One is that in trying to cover everything it sometimes appears superficial and schematic. The second is that it uses language like ‘global apartheid’ and ‘North and South’ which oversimplify realities which Falk recognises to be complex. The third and most serious is that some of the key theoretical ideas are not fully worked out. The most important of these is the relation between state and governance at the world level. Similarly to Rosenau, Falk sees the state and states-system as being ‘gradually displaced’ by non-state forms of governance. He fails to recognise clearly the globalization of state power which represents the pooling as well as the subversion of sovereignty. We have not merely new forms of authority, as suggested by the ‘governance’ concept, but new forms of state in the political-military sense. Like the realists whom they criticise, both of these writers implicitly accept the equation of state with a system of nation-states. They don’t ask whether in a developing global society (the significance of which is demonstrated empirically rather than explored theoretically) new state forms may be coming into existence.

Falk therefore overstates the extent to which the new ‘governance’ is market- rather than state-centred. Humane governance will have to tame the emerging global state – the Western state backed by the legitimation framework of the UN – and recognising this theoretically would sharpen still further the case Falk presents. Nevertheless, On Humane Governance is an extraordinarily wide-ranging and systematic review of current dilemmas and the best current statement of radical globalism, which everyone should read.

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