2016 and the collapse of global politics

By Aian Macpherson

In 1998 Nicholas Boyle wrote about our urgent need to imagine and construct a global politics capable of countering the destructive forces of a global market. It is clear that there was greatness in this observation given the events of the last few years. The rise of the far right, popular nationalism, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have all been laid at the door of ‘globalisation’ and the failure of democratic systems to give voice to the person on the street. There is a crisis of democracy but I am told that ‘the people have spoken’. Worse still, for a person to campaign on an issue is now touted as anti-democratic. But who are ‘the people’?

A slight majority of those who vote – or due to the voting system used even a minority of voters, all with mixed motives. Is that really the people? It seems more like a broken people today. Some are disillusioned Labour or Democrat voters who believe their party deserted them and their local community years ago. Some voters – informed by Fox news, The Sun, the Daily Mail, verifiably fake news stories online and other biased and unreliable outlets of information – vote with the influence of men like Rupert Murdoch behind them. Super rich white men telling the comparative poor how they should vote. Whose interest is at heart: the rich owners, the businesses, or the reader’s?

Then others are written off because of their rhetoric as extremists, racists, nationalists, and misogynists. But even this group, these ‘ignorant people’ despised by the readers of the Guardian, is eclectic. I know them: a mother who sees no chance for her children to get work, a father who saw his family miss out on a house because the council housed an immigrant family, and wishful people who just want the good old days back with less cars on the road, and more local shops and industry, all simplistically blame the immigrant, Europe, the Mexican, or the Muslim, for their ills. Then in with these anxious, if ill-informed, folk, are the real people of violence and hate, and we lump them all together.

The people it seems are anxious about jobs and safety and housing and the future. Anxious people look for things to blame, and quick fixes. Meanwhile global business marches on.

Big business lobbies openly and discreetly, and threatens to just go somewhere else if you tax too much. They are not all evil; they have a legal duty to make money for the shareholder. They are there to make money, and if that means paying staff as little as possible, passing costs on to manufacturers, legally or even illegally avoiding tax, banking off shore, moving from one country to another, what of it? It is just ‘good business’ as Jonas Chuzzlewit would say. Reputation matters, but if the consumer is looking somewhere else when your suppliers factory kills 200 workers, what of it?

As for national governments their hands are more tied than we think. There are MP’s who are better than we suppose the breed to be. However the most caring Government needs money to build hospitals, or schools. If they raise minimum pay too high, tax too high, close the loop holes too much, criminalise and investigate the accounts of the owners of banks or multinationals then they will lose the business, the revenue and the jobs. Unemployment benefit cost goes up, health care cost increases, and income goes down. And all this assumes that the politicians are not ever brought, befriended, funded, lobbied or influenced by the rich and are never one of the rich themselves.

To top it all ‘The people’ have had enough of bureaucracy, the EU, free trade deals, foreigners and globalisation. We want Nissan to build cars here, but not the Japanese. We want our steel industry back so start a trade war with China. We want Indian investment but no Indians to get visas. We want doctors and nurses but no immigration, and Universities but no overseas students to fund them. So, America elect a rich businessman to make America great again with a protectionist trade policy, and we vote to leave the EU. Government is set against government, international cooperation is set back and global business is secure. If one county collapses the rich can move; it is the privilege of the rich to weather the storm or sail on.

What we need is not a retreat into nationalism but a renewed common mind. Solidarity with the whole of humanity past, present and future: a global commitment to one another as creatures of infinite value and worth. Alongside this we need global politics to regulate global business: politics with the power to curb corruption, tax avoidance, slavery, people trafficking, global warming and issues of workers’ rights. We do not need a global government, but we do need global governmental cooperation.

Is this just a new kind of ‘the people’? A submission of the particular to the general notion of humanity? No. It is on the large-scale that we need to work out our interdependence. “The ‘universal’ is not the antithesis of the ‘particular’, but its form and context.”[1] As Rowan Williams suggested in the New Statesman (22nd Nov), we need local communal government, but that does not preclude wider cooperation. The local community is the symbol and outworking of the universal community.

Here we may find inspiration if not the exact model for our political future in episcopal churches. The congregation is the church in that time and place, but each church community is linked to their local bishop. Through the bishop we are in communion with all other bishops and through them with all other congregations. We are both one church and many churches. What the world needs, it seems, is to recover its community and its communities. A Global imagination and a local form.

[1] Nicholas Lash, conversations in context, in ‘Theology for Pilgrims’, p160.

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