Global Governance: How a Global Society Could be Led

Timothy J. Sinclair’s Global Governance is part of a wider series by publisher Polity. Each book examines a concept in the social sciences: other titles include Freedom and Democracy. Fittingly enough, the series is called Key Concepts. I’m not inclined to bother with many of the other texts at this stage, although one exception might by Capitalism. In the introduction to this last book, its author Geoffrey Smith writes that his book considers thinkers like Smith, Marx and Keynes, and I like all those guys. Maybe might be an addendum to my Work and the Economy readings later…

Global Governance is a highly structured book. Sinclair has an introduction and a conclusion at either end and seven chapters in between. The first of these seven sets out the emergence of the concept and each of the next six examines an approach to or position on it. These are, in order, Institutionalism, Transnationalism, Cosmopolitanism, Hegemonism, Feminism and Rejectionism. It’s not easy to define these, necessarily, because each of these concepts has broader applications besides the context of international relations. Not only does Sinclair use them in a narrower context, but hegemonism and rejectionism are far less well-defined than the others. He uses these two more as an illustration of what various political positions think of global governance.

The six chapters that comprise the core of the book follow an identical series of sub-headings. Each starts with an introduction/definition of sorts, before running through the headings, as follows: Background, Purpose, Puzzles, Levels of analysis and actors, Assumptions, Ontology, Implications, Applications, Differences of emphasis within [Institutionalism, Transnationalism, Cosmopolitanism, etc.], Strengths, Weaknesses, Likely future development, Overall comments, Scenarios, Problems to consider and Further Reading. This last heading is where the book utilises its ‘secret weapon’ of sorts: Sinclair uses made-up profiles of two fictional middle-class families, one from Long Island, the other from Bangalore, to examine each approach. Each family adopts the position in question and reacts to the global governance question as it relates to the following issues: Global financial crisis, Climate change, Development, Security and Gender relations.

The hierarchy here sounds complicated when explained but I really think it acts as an aid to reading. Books with a steady stream of divisions are easier to read over the course of a week than long sections, as I’ve found in recent months. That the headings here are consistent across all six chapters undoubtedly gives most of the book a rhythm that systematises the information expressed.

This was also my first International Relations book. Most of the books I read in this series of globalisation books have been orientated towards sociology, with IR as an almost incidental factor within the fabric of the text. Following the title of the series, these Key Concepts books are introductory, so this was a good place to start.

I’m interested in how Sinclair has ordered his chapters. It makes sense that Sinclair starts with Institutionalism because “institutions… feature in all conceptions of global governance… [Institutionalism] is concerned with institutions and the people who staff them as the central feature of global governance” (31). This comes after chapter 2, Emergence, where Sinclair examines the move from international organisation towards the concept of global governance. Accordingly, he starts with what we commonly assume to be global governance: big organisations like the UN where states come together to discuss issues and then moves outwards. In this chapter, he focuses on the importance of technocracy within Institutionalism, i.e. governments/institutions act with consultation from experts in order to determine how best to solve problems.

Consequently, the approach involves high-level decision-making by highly educated officials, elected and unelected. This means that it views problems from the top down by default and precludes involvement from those most affected by its dictats. The word elite recurs throughout this chapter and under the Weaknesses heading, Sinclair writes that “it is an executive process, far removed from any real possibility of mass participation… patently not a popular phenomenon” (38). I think that this is a serious issue for the approach. I don’t like when decisions are made aloft, far from those who will be most exposed to their results. The less stake decision makers hold in the results, the greater the risk of more troublesome effects from decisions made.

Sinclair addresses this by presenting the second approach as a complement to the first. The next chapter is called Transnationalism, Sinclair’s “name for a way of understanding global governance that focuses not on international institutions or national states themselves, but on other agents and processes that complement Institutionalism” (57). So this chapter is adjacent to the previous one, almost its counterpart. Transnationalism “suggests that international relations is not simply a field of domination but that concerns and interests of large numbers of people can find a voice in global civil society, in NGOs and in global social movements” (58). These organisations, though no doubt bureaucratic in their own way, do expand the governmental process beyond traditional processes. Doubtless, there is great variety in NGOs, the definition itself being incredibly broad.

If the first chapters explain approaches that are largely accepted within the institutions of global governance as they currently exist, the last ones adopt critical positions. Hegemonism draws on Gramsci and the broader Marxist tradition to question the fairness of accepting a global governance where western powers are governors and the rest of the world is governed. Feminism, of course, questions a global governance built on a patriarchal framework.

Rejectionism rejects global governance outright, especially any sort of transnational or cosmopolitan version where the west or America doesn’t hold supreme power. This last chapter has a weird effect on the middle-class family profiles at the end. They support global governance throughout the book, albeit anxiously sometimes, and largely adhere to a left-leaning liberal line, but in the rejectionist chapter, the American family become cartoonish nationalist conservatives who favour isolationism and love Rush Limbaugh. The Further reading section suggests books by John Bolton (of all people) and John Mearsheimer. Bolton I find interesting because he’s spent so much of his career actually involved in internationalism, albeit as a conservative warhawk who believes in US supremacy. Still, he’s way more involved in international affairs than your typical conservative. This seeming contradiction is pretty clear from the name of the book Sinclair recommends: Surrender is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad. This is a comical title that sounds like a parody of neocon autobiography.

Mearsheimer interests me too, mainly because shortly after finishing Global Governance and first hearing about him, he came to prominence again with his views on Ukraine, mainly that the country should be maintained as a neutral power, a buffer between Western and Russian spheres of interest. The book that Sinclair recommends is called The Tragedy of Great Power Politics and purportedly “argues a case for US hegemony” (173). This strikes me as weird in light of his recent rhetoric on Ukraine, which seems non-interventionist in its outlook. He seems to want the US to just leave it alone and not challenge Russia. Of course, this would be nonsensical, since Putin seems to have made it clear that he will not be content with a neutral Ukraine. I’m not likely to find out any time soon, though, cause the lowest offer for the book that I can find is €25, with the next cheapest being over 200. The Bolton book is way more affordable, so that can go on the long list. Much as I dislike his perspective, I find Bolton a really interesting figure. Even so, I’m really not sure if I could take reading an entire IR book by a warhawk.

I think that the further reading sections here are the best I have seen since the last Ritzer book. There’s a healthy mix of academic work mixed with more general punditry, as the Bolton and Mearsheimer books demonstrate. It’ll take me years to finish the pillar books of my studies here, although in the later chapters the books get prohibitively expensive, so it’ll likely get cut short. When I do finish, though, this and the Ritzer book are likely to be near the top of my list of books whose bibliography I’ll be most interested in pursuing further.

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