Rhetoric & Public Affairs 9.1 (2006) 153-172
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Norm Revolutions and World Order
M. Lane Bruner
From a neo-Kantian perspective, the term "world order" is an oxymoron. While states across the globe are becoming increasingly isomorphic in some ways, and the world may be increasingly "policed," no one in their right mind would want to declare that the world had order, at least if by order they meant lasting, universal, just, and prosperous peace. Perhaps we have had enough of Immanuel Kant's quixotic quest for perpetual peace, recognizing at long last that humans are hopelessly divided in a world forever filled with injustice, inequality, and justifiable hatreds.1 Perhaps political wisdom is nothing more than the frank recognition that, despite innumerable revolutions and endless attempts at government reform, our political world is condemned to be shot through with anarchy, shipwrecked as it ever must be on the limits of human reason.
We humans, as philosophers and historians are well aware, are simply awful at creating and maintaining the conditions for lasting peace and prosperity. Critical philosophers point out that every attempt at creating world order necessarily [End Page 153] creates world Others, as all impositions of order create the conditions of possibility for disorder.2 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, for example, discuss how the law always creates the outlaw, and the ever-present outlaw/ed constitutes a logically inescapable "nomadic war machine." Michel Foucault has effectively shown that notions of non-antagonistic forms of social power are philosophically misguided, and Guy Debord has gone so far as to declare that the state is nothing more than a legalized Mafia.3 Historians point out how the process of globalization during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Age of the Monarchs led to the slow establishment of such politically consequential fictions as "national identity" and "state sovereignty," creating ideational conditions hardly conducive to the establishment of global government. And political theorists have long struggled with the perennial problem of maintaining any state's health, recognizing that no form of government, be it an empire, a city state, a republic, or a confederation, appears to succeed for more than a handful of centuries.4 We "all too human" humans have yet to create interlocking forms of local, state, regional, and global governance with sufficient systems of checks and balances to prevent the corruption of state power or to disprove the ancient maxim that might makes right, or to create the conditions that would allow the authority of arguments to prevail over the arguments of authorities.
Yet, despite such depressing observations, those of us who persist in being concerned with the relationships among rhetoric, public affairs, and social justice cannot help but maintain the hope that, despite the avalanche of evidence against us, global political order is not only capable of improvement but is in fact improving before our very eyes. Despite the daily setbacks caused by human stupidity and cupidity, there is, at least if one looks carefully, substantial evidence to suggest as much. The scourge of slavery, for example, has all but been abolished worldwide, as have most overt forms of colonialism (though we are still plagued by neocolonialism, especially in the form of debt and trade relations). It appears that the era of nation-state wars in Europe is now over and that a new and promising form of regional constitutionalism is emerging in the European Union (although secessionist and "tribal" violence will certainly be with us for a long time to come). The newer norms of participatory democracy, human rights, and humanitarian intervention increasingly trump the older norms of state sovereignty and unilateralism, even as former authoritarian states struggle to develop...