Time for World Leaders to Think Beyond Borders
From supercasinos to the school curriculum, the central motif of Prime Minister Brown's first fortnight has been change, change, change. But for a progressive left-of-centre party at the dawn of the 21st century the most important change concerns the very mode of thinking: we have to free ourselves from the straitjacket of the nation-based approach. Like other progressive parties, what New Labour needs is a transnational, social and ecological agenda. The world faces a host of problems - from climate change, global economic interdependence and migratory movements through to issues of regional and global peacekeeping - and nation-based thinking has lost its political capacity to deal with any of them. Ironically enough, almost every issue that has fuelled nationalism in Europe - the transfer of jobs to other countries, refugee flows, wars, terrorism - is an international issue.
Economic globalisation, climate change and the terrorist threat are reinforcing fears and inequalities the world over. People everywhere cry out for reassurance and a change in course. John Kenneth Galbraith was right when he wrote: "All the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership." Meeting the needs of the anxious people waking up in a new world - in the world risk society - is the great political challenge of our time. This is plain enough when it comes to the incalculable, unpredictable character of terrorism. But it is also true for the losers of globalisation and the costs of climate change.
From the massive wave of renationalisation taking place in Russia to the success of the populists in Latin America and eastern Europe, untrammelled capitalism is generating fears and reactions the likes of which we have not seen since the fall of the Berlin wall. Resistance is growing as the middle sections of global society begin to realise that they gain no share in the benefits generated by the current period of economic growth - indeed, that their slice of the cake may even be getting smaller. Ordinary middle-class workers - whether they live in Manchester, the American midwest, the deindustrialised Ruhr area of Germany, Latin America or eastern Europe - find themselves left out. The phenomenon is similar wherever you look: the rates of growth of average family incomes are far lower than productivity growth rates, and have been so for years. Economic globalisation is giving rise to new forms of inequality which, increasingly, will have to be tackled transnationally.
The emerging ecological revolution (and counter-revolution) also gives rise to new fears and social inequalities. How can the cost of combating climate change be distributed equitably in the face of cultural differences and social inequalities? There is a need for a new Nicholas Stern, capable of spelling out the key issue of justice for a new New Labour in both national and global terms and with equal concern for both economy and ecology.
Like the Titanic, the climate catastrophe knows no democracy. The majority of the victims are trapped in the cheap lower decks, from which there is no escape. Those who are driving climate change are simultaneously attacking the poorest of the poor and threatening their own means of survival. Those who seek to protect their citizens and properties in Britain, the US and Japan from the flooding that will occur when rivers burst their banks and sea levels rise are falling prey to the illusion that the social and political consequences of climate change can be addressed by a solo effort. This is merely another way of dodging the key issue of global justice.
And those who argue that "climate protection doesn't hurt" (to use the words of the German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel), that we can get climate change under control by using fuel-efficient engines and building clean power stations, are kidding themselves. Climate change is not solely a matter of hurricanes, droughts, floods, refugee movements, impending wars or unprecedented market failure. Suddenly, and for the first time in history, every population, culture, ethnic group, religion and region in the world faces a future that threatens one and all. In other words, if we want to survive, we have to include those who have been excluded. The politics of climate change is necessarily inclusive and global - it is cosmopolitics.
The fact that the Earth's atmosphere is warming up is seen today as the biggest and most formidable economic and political challenge the world has ever faced. There is good reason for this, as it is not merely a matter of reducing emissions; it is a matter of sharing the economic growth so closely associated with carbon dioxide emissions between countries and their populations. The crucial question then is this: will the rich reduce their emissions so that the poor have enough room for growth?
Climate change forces us to realise that the only way of setting up effective checks is through fairness and equality: only by taking account of others in our own decision-making can we ultimately protect ourselves effectively from the consequences of global warming.
When taken seriously and thought through to its logical conclusions, climate change demands a political paradigm shift. Only a broad-based coalition that includes "old Europeans", eco-conscious Americans, underdeveloped countries, developing countries and civil society movements can succeed. It is not a matter of undermining, let alone abolishing nation-states. Rather, it is a matter of restoring to them the capacity to act effectively - together and in collaboration with one another.
Gordon Brown needs to change the course of New Labour and replace the national agenda with a new cosmopolitan realism in order to tackle the challenges of terrorism, globalisation and climate change. To meet these goals, of course, he needs a strong European Union with the UK playing a major role in it. He also needs a strong alliance with civil society movements. Only then will he be able to get the new "global generations" on his side, those who have created networks across all manner of boundaries for the purpose of overcoming not capitalism as a system but neoliberalism. The left I see in my mind's eye does not want its good old postwar agendas of nationalisation back. Nor is it neoliberal, and it is certainly not hunkered down in some xenophobic fortress. Rather, it is cosmopolitan. Its vision of a cosmopolitan future combines the concern for national and global justice with an interest in the survival of each individual. In other words, the idea of having roots and wings at the same time could replace the worn out ideas of communism, socialism, neoliberalism and old Labour. And this cosmopolitan left might make the improbable possible - namely the survival of humanity beyond the 21st century without lapsing back into barbarism.
If it used to be the case that power could be won only by giving up utopia, now the opposite is true: only by developing a new vision of a cosmopolitan future can New Labour be renewed and power retained.
· Ulrich Beck is professor of sociology at Munich's Ludwig-Maximilian University and the London School of Economics, and author of Power in the Global Age (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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