[OPE-L] Review of Prem Shankar Jha Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos and War.

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Wed Oct 25 2006 - 09:52:45 EDT

Vol:23 Iss:21 URL: http://www.flonnet.com/fl2321/stories/20061103000407400.htm


Future shock

A grim prognosis on the world's march towards globalisation.

ONE of the keenly contested issues about the complex phenomenon
designated by the popular expression `globalisation' is the
relationship between its economic aspect, which is rapidly spreading
to all parts of the globe, and its political and legal aspects, which
are fairly tightly circumscribed by territorially bounded
According to one view, since a legal, if not political, basis is
required for any serious economic activity, the `state' in some form
will survive, or will get re-established. The opposite position is
that globalisation will rout the extant nation-state and the
international order based on nation-states, and as there is nothing
in sight to take their place, chaos and war is the most likely
scenario to emerge.
Prem Shankar Jha, one of our leading journalists, takes the latter
position. Eric Hobsbawm in his Foreword describes the work as a
"strikingly intelligent, lucid and troubled book". Jha's arguments
are set against the widely propagated view that the end of the Cold
War and the beginning of globalisation mark "the end of history" and
a "going back to the future" of global prosperity and peace.
An enthusiastic advocate of globalisation, for instance, has claimed
that because of its ever widening connectivity of individuals and
nations and its spreading of capitalist values, it "both increases
the incentives for not making war, and it increases the costs of
going to war in more ways than in any previous era in modern history"
(Thomas Friedman in his The Lexus and the Olive Tree, 1999).
No, says Jha. What is likely to happen is just the opposite. Jha's
work is a critique of capitalist globalisation in terms of what he
sets out as the innate logic of capitalism itself as seen from its
What are usually perceived and celebrated as the economic aspects of
capitalism, its aggressive growth and opening up of new
opportunities, have always been set in larger societal, political and
institutional `containers'. And it is in the very nature of
capitalism to break out of its container from time to time.
In the early stages of capitalism, back in the 13th century in Italy,
its container was the city-state. Not that it was confined to the
city-state: it could not be because trade and finance between and
across city-states were its early manifestations. But the scale of
capitalist production then was small enough to be confined to the
container of the city-state.
When production became the central and essential feature of
capitalism, it broke its original container, with all the social and
political disruptions that it involved, but entered a new container,
a small nation-state, England. Capitalism's propensity to reach out
continued, partly into other nation-states in Europe and in other
parts of the world and partly into a large nation-state, the United
States, which soon became capitalism's `home state'. By the beginning
of the 20th century, some sort of inter-national order had also
emerged, under the domination of the U.S.
Today, what has so far been the national-international container of
capitalism is being broken down and capitalism is aiming to convert
the globe itself into its new container. "This," says Jha, "is the
process that the world refers to as globalisation." Jha continues:
"What the world is going through is not without precedent. Growing
disorder, eruptions of violence and decades of insecurity have
accompanied each rebirth of capitalism in the past. Not just
individuals, but entire classes of people that enjoyed an assured
status, some degree of affluence and, above all, security, have been
robbed of all three and found themselves scrabbling frantically to
retain their place in society. At the same time, ethnic, occupational
and social groups ... who were treated with condescension or reviled
under the older dispensation, have suddenly shot up in status. Such
dramatic changes are bound to be resisted and have often led to
rebellion and bloodshed" (pages 17-18).
This link that Jha tries to establish between globalisation and
social disruption at different levels in many parts of the world is
worth pursuing. The global spread of capitalist production, the
global distribution of ownership of capital, the global flow of
capitalist finance and the global sway of capitalist corporations,
all made possible by changes in technology, have substantially eroded
the power and authority of nation-states and even the international
order that nation-states had built up. The loss of power of
nation-states has also led to the authority of states being
challenged by groups of people from within. No one is really in
control anywhere, and violence is both a symptom and a product of
that loss of control.
Actually, even the U.S., which pretends to be the one and only
superpower, has also experienced this loss of power and control. From
the 1940s until about the turn of the 21st century, the U.S. had the
standing as a power to be reckoned with. Its hegemony was accepted -
possibly with resentment or reservation. But in the name of the `war
on terror', the U.S. has made it known to the whole world that it no
longer recognises the territorial sovereignty of nation-states. For,
the `war on terrorism' that President George W. Bush declared
immediately after 9/11 was not against territorially defined states
or societies but against groups or even individuals who were
perceived to be a threat to the interest of the U.S., no matter what
the citizenships of the persons concerned were or in which territory
they happened to be. Wars from now on will be "police actions" by the
world's self-proclaimed super-cop. It is now clear that the writ of
the U.S. has ceased to run; it will have to be imposed by force. In
this commitment of the world's still most powerful nation to `war' on
individuals anywhere in the world, Jha sees the "growing
obsolescence" of the nation-state and the chaos that is bound to
follow. This is a powerful statement, but the manner in which Jha
goes into even the minutest details (based largely on newspaper
accounts) of the U.S.' involvements in Serbia and Iraq detracts from
Jha's pessimism is strengthened by the recognition that the power
that is emerging from the systemic collapse of the weakening
international order based on nation-states is the set of
transnational corporations (TNCs). TNCs are powerful, to be sure, but
they are only the instruments of capitalism. They lack, and cannot
come to have, the larger societal nuances and attributes to emerge as
the new `container' of the emerging phase of capitalism.
Jha's work can be viewed as the antithesis of the rosy picture that
apologists of contemporary neoliberal globalisation have been
presenting. But at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium, is
humanity turning "towards darkness" as the title of Jha's concluding
chapter suggests? Jha, it would appear, has succumbed to the common
error of thinking of the future as a mere extrapolation of the past
and the present. True, one cannot predict the future. And yet, if one
just looks around, one can see other kinds of possibilities. What if
the countries now underwriting the huge payments deficits of the U.S.
decide not to do so? What if the political balance shifts with, let
us say, the major countries of Asia making a united stand against the
U.S.? What if some military debacle of the U.S. leads to popular
uprisings within the U.S. itself? What if the losers all over the
world of the present form of globalisation unite to block its onward
Yes, Prem Shankar Jha, nature has unexpected ways of bringing order
out of chaos, and so there may be light beyond the present darkness.

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