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  • Achieving a Global Community, Realistically
  • Nikolas K. Gvosdev (bio)

We seem to be living in the waning days of the Westphalian international system, defined as a series of autonomous, territorial-defined nation-states, each enjoying the prerogative of defining what constitutes "the good society" — in favor of an emerging "global community" defined by common standards and institutions.

For some, this means that the "traditional understanding of sovereignty introduced by the Treaty of Westphalia will be modified if not replaced outright. This imperative will gain strength as the developed countries of the Core not only continue to voluntarily transfer some of their sovereign prerogatives to transnational authorities but increasingly become less willing to recognize the full sovereignty of the failed and failing states in the Periphery."1 And there is a growing movement that believes that liberal democratic states, especially the United States, should take this opportunity to extend their vision of "the good society" across their borders to other parts of the world. Adrian Karatnycky of Freedom House has argued, "The present moment of hegemony offers an opportunity for democracies to move toward greater cohesion in expanding and deepening the democratic project … in support of political rights and civil liberties."2

But others are concerned that the neo-Wilsonian project, whether conducted unilaterally by the United States or carried out by a revived Euro-Atlantic condominium (as Radek Sikorski famously put it, "We can be Europe and America, but we are also the Western civilization, with NATO as our invincible arm"3 ), is bound to falter. Traditional foreign policy realists like Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson caution that "in the liberal tradition, the rights of nations — above all the right to determine their own domestic institutions — were just as essential as the rights of individuals" and question the premise that global security is enhanced by the "aggressive promotion of free institutions."4

The communitarian perspective on foreign affairs is therefore quite interesting as, just as in domestic policy, it posits a "third way" between the traditional understanding of the international order as a "society of states" and newer visions of a global cosmopolis with a hegemonic power in place as the arbiter or where nations somehow voluntarily accept the primacy of international law and institutions over domestic legislation and national governments. It recognizes, as do the neoconservatives and the progressive internationalists, that the Westphalian system is eroding away, and understands the need for global norms. However, communitarians agree with realists that no global structure can endure unless it is based on a convergence of interests; in other words, the constituents of any international order must buy into the evolving new global architecture because it addresses their interests.

And it is this point that makes the communitarian perspective in foreign policy as articulated by Amitai Etzioni (most notably in his latest book, From Empire to Community) different from the neo-Wilsonian vision and more akin to the policy realism that earlier thinkers like Hans Morgenthau taught — the understanding of community as being grounded in the interests of its members. In other words, the global community emerges from the free association of its constituents. This is in marked contrast to both the neo-conservative and neo-liberal approaches, both of which acknowledge that, to form a global community, there is to be a certain degree of forced imposition. The neo-liberal approach is to create community by fiat, to assume that treaties and transnational institutions create a rule-based international order that contains national power, and reflect a pre-existing consensus among states as to how the "international community" is to be governed. The neo-conservative approach takes as its starting point the unprecedented power wielded by the United States that has created a unipolar world in the aftermath of the Cold War. Whether alone or in conjunction with other Western allies, the United States, rather than an international organization, should take the lead in establishing and enforcing global norms of behavior – norms that generally reflect a liberal-democratic perspective (as interpreted by Americans).

Etzioni's communitarian perspective also differs from the prevailing neo-Wilsonian view that community develops out of a sense of shared values rather than shared interests. The democracy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-9731
Print ISSN
1089-0017
Pages
pp. 10-14
Launched on MUSE
2006-06-12
Open Access
No
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