Changing the Political Climate: A Transitional Imperative

5 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The text below was originally published in Great Transition Initiative

 an online journal of the Tellus Institue, Boston, MA; the best link is: 


My hope is to encourage discussion of these ideas. Four comments were also

published in Great Transition Project.]






                        After the final no there comes a yes

                        And on that yes the future of the world depends.


Wallace Stevens, “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard,”

                        Selected Poems (New York: Vintage, ed. H. Stevens, 1972)190


Points of Departure


            The most daunting challenging of adapting to the realities of the anthropocene era is achieving a soft transition from state-centric world order to a geo-centric reconfiguring of political community to enable the emergence of effective and humane global governance. The dominant existing framework for transnational and global political action is mainly still entrapped in old habits of thought and action tied to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state and myopic time horizons that are too short to shape adequate responses to the deepest challenges to the human future.


Empowering these actors to be more humanly and globally oriented and farsighted in their pursuits would generate hopes for a brighter future.[1] Such empowerment depends on a reorientation of individual identities on a sufficiently widespread basis as to create a new type of citizen, called here ‘a citizen pilgrim’ whose principal affinities are with the species and its natural surroundings rather than to any specific state, ethnicity, nationality, civilization, and religion. The hopes and expectations of citizen pilgrims rests on the quest for a sustainable and spiritually fulfilling future for all, and in sustainable harmony with nature. In this respect, humanity is confronting by a combination of unprecedented opportunity and danger: the practical and urgent imperative of fundamental change to meet existing threats and challenges and the prospect of catastrophic harm if an adaptive transition of sufficient magnitude does not occur in a timely fashion.


The outlook of the great transition involves two possible successful paths to the future: (1) the reorientation of the policies and practices of governance at all levels, and particularly those of sovereign states and their interaction;[2] or (2) a revolutionary change in the state system

This inquiry presupposes that a ‘great transition’ is necessary, possible, and desirable, but that at present, paradoxically, does not seem feasible. Proposing with all seriousness what is possible, yet not widely seen as feasible, is one way of ‘thinking outside the box.’ More responsively to a concern with world order there is contemplated two transitional paths to the future: (1) a revolutionary change in the political consciousness that shapes and statecraft that facilitates the pursuit of human and global interests. It is also possible that (1) and (2) could up being blended in various waysT. (1) is actor oriented, achieving transition without changing the structure of world order, whereas (2) is system or structure oriented, insisting that needed behavioral changes will not happen without altering the institutional and ideational context within which policies and practices are currently shaped.


Citizens and States


            The originality of our age is best interpreted by contrasting the identities associated with being a citizen of a sovereign state and successfully addressing the main challenges confronting humanity as a whole. The horizons of citizenship for most persons on the planet generally coincide with [1]the territorial boundaries of the state and are reflections of the related sovereignty-oriented ideology of nationalism. Security for societies and individuals is mainly understood to be the responsibility of the governing authorities of states. Efforts to entrust international institutions with some of this responsibility has not been successful, especially for problems of global scope in the context of war/peace issues and managing the world economy.[3]


            There is an historical transition underway that can be expressed as movement from structures and ideologies that serve the part to those that serve the whole. The political actors representing various parts include

persons, corporations, NGOs, international institutions, religious organization, and states. The whole whether conceived to be humanity conceived of as a species or the global being thought about as to what will sustain life on earth in benevolent ways.[4] Their outlook tends to be dominated by a fragmentary consciousness that seeks answers to various questions about ‘what is good for the part,’ and at best, assumes this will be of benefit to the whole. Such actors do not generally waste their time on questions about ‘what is good for the whole,’ which are most often dismissed as being meaninglessly abstract or piously sentimental. It should be stressed that such trends toward a global polity do not at all ensure a positive outcome from the perspectives taken here; it is helpful to realize that various forms of oppressive centralized governance are also seeking historical relevance.[5]


            What is more most people do not want or expect the perspective of the whole to be the basis of policy and action by decision-makers that represent the state, but are insistent that those who decide do their best to protect and promote what will most help the part whether it be country, corporation, religion, or group interests. Citizenship is conferred by the state, which in return expects and demands loyalty, and even a readiness to sacrifice lives for the sake of the nation-state, and certainly the obligation to pay taxes and uphold laws. Citizenship is very much bound up with ideas of a social contract between state and citizen, that is, an exchange of benefits and duties.


            Yet we are increasingly aware that the wellbeing of the part cannot be preserved under contemporary conditions without taking proper account of the wellbeing of the whole. The citizen of a democratic state is a composite of juridical and psychological forms. The state confers citizenship through its laws, enabling participation in elections, acquiring a passport, offering some protection abroad; citizenship in this conventional sense is a status that varies from state to state in its particulars. There is also legally grounded expectations of loyalty, the radical deviation from which can be the occasion for accusations of the capital crime of ‘treason.’ At the same time, the citizen of a constitutional democracy enjoys the right to dissent and oppose within the framework of the law and through competitive elections, and as such the identity of a ‘citizen’ contrast with that of a ‘subject’ of an absolute monarchy where obedience is the major political norm.[6] A constitutional state struggles to maintain this delicate balance between the rights and duties of a citizen, especially in times of internal stress.[7]


            The crime of treason, giving tangible aid and comfort to an enemy state, highlights the interface between conscience and loyalty in the conventional life of a modern citizen. The second face of citizenship is psycho-political, the sense of loyalty as an existential reality, not a juridical category. When Palestinian citizens of Israel oppose the policies of their government toward the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, they are reflecting a state of mind. Many minorities feel alienated from the state of which they are citizens to varying degrees, and are in effect, ‘captive nations’ resident in states that do not command their loyalty. Treason and espionage pose these issues vividly. When Edward Snowden violated American security regulations by releasing many documents of the National Security Agency and disclosed its surveillance operations he claimed to be acting on the basis of conscience but in a manner that the official leaders of the state viewed as dangerous to the general wellbeing of society. In a globalizing world, in which ethnicities and religions are mixed and interactive, the tensions between the juridical and existential demands of citizenship are intensifying. A poignant example is the plight of Mordecai Vanunu, a worker in the Israeli nuclear facility who many years ago confirmed the reality of Israel’s suspected arsenal of nuclear weaponry, and has been since treated both as an enemy of the state and a hero of humanity, serving 18 years in prison, and even after being released, placed under house arrest in Israel.


            What is new is that these struggles between dissent and loyalty is that the issues have now an agenda and context that is beyond the borders of the state. Some political innovations have acknowledged this, especially the idea of European citizenship being superimposed on the citizenship conferred by sovereign governments. So far there is little evidence that those living in Europe are more likely to be loyal to their regional than to the traditional state affiliations, but at least this idea of European citizenship illustrates the layering of citizenship, enabling a person to be a legal and psychological participant in polities bigger (and smaller) than the territorial state that alone qualifies for membership in the United Nations and most international institutions. The layering of regional identities seems beneficial from the perspective of encouraging the development of the European Union as an instrument of cooperation and participation more effective than principally relying on inter-governmental patterns, but it does not meet the most urgent challenges of a planet in crisis.


Why Global Citizenship is not Enough


Some years ago I was chatting with a stranger on a long international flight. He was a businessman who traveled the world to find markets for his products. His home was in Copenhagen. He spoke very positively about the European Union as overcoming boundaries and national antagonisms. I asked him at that point in our conversation, “Does that make you feel like a European citizen?” His response, “Oh no, I am a world citizen.” I asked him what he meant by that and his reply was revealing: “Wherever I travel in the world I stay in the same kind of hotel. It makes no difference where I am, everywhere I go in the world seems the same to me.”


Such an apolitical conception of world citizenship is a direct consequence of economic globalization and franchise capitalism. It is true that if you choose Westin or Interncontinental hotels in the main world cities you can travel the globe without ever leaving home, but this is a rather sterile view of what are the hopes and fears associated with the transition from a world of bounded nation-states absorbed by territorial concerns to a new world without boundaries. It surely leads to a weakening of the bonds of traditional citizenship without generating any new and broader sense of solidarity and community.


At the other extreme, is the more familiar image of world citizen as the idealist who experiences and celebrates the oneness of the planet and of humanity, overriding fragmented identities associated with the privileging of particular nations, ethnicities, religions, and civilizations. As with the businessman’s image of being a world citizen the idealist also is embracing an apolitical conception of citizenship in which sentiments are affirmed as the basis of identity and the hard political work of transformation is evaded. For such a world citizen all that needs to be created is presupposed. The struggles of transition, as if by magic wand, are waved out of existence.


These conceptions of what it is to be a ‘world citizen’ possess an underdeveloped view as to the nature and value of citizenship. To be a proper citizen implies being an active participant in a democratic political community, extending loyalty, exhibiting approval and disapproval, voting, paying taxes, resonating to cultural expressions of unity by way of song, dance, and poetry, and having certain entitlements relating to reasonable expectations of human security. There is no possibility of having any of these attributes of citizenship fulfilled on a global scale given the way the world is currently governed. Prematurely proclaiming oneself a world citizen if other than as an expression of aspiration, is an empty gesture that misleads more than it instructs.


To think of oneself as a European citizen is somewhat more meaningful, although still, on balance, more confusing than clarifying. To be sure Europe has virtually abolished internal borders, war between European states verges on the unthinkable, the Euro acts a common currency for the entire continent, European institutions have broad authority to override national policies and laws under many circumstances, Europe has a regional framework setting forth binding human rights standards and a tribunal to resolve conflicts as to their interpretation, and finally, Europe has a parliament of its own that is now elected by direct votes of people. Yet Europe, too, has failed to establish a political community that elicits widespread loyalty or exhibits much unity under stress, except in relation to an external enemy. Most Europeans remain overwhelming nationalistic in their loyalties, and seek their national government to do what is best for their country, and not give any priority to European interests should they clash with national interests. European citizenship, as conferred by the Maastricht Treaty is at this point more a still unfulfilled promise than a meaningful status in either a juridical or an existential sense.


The reality of citizenship is best displayed during periods of crisis, and the European recession of recent years has made people far more aware of the fragility of the regional experiment as it bears on the future of Europe. As the Mediterranean members of the EU succumbed to the economic crisis, the northern European states, especially Germany, began to exhibit discomfort and express condescension. Laments in Berlin were bemoaning why hard-working and prudent Germans should be helping lazy, indulgent Greeks live a decadent life beyond their means. In their turn offended Greeks ask, why should Greeks forfeit their autonomy and mortgage their future to an anal retentive German fiscal policy that has learned none of the lessons of economic recovery from the experience of the Great Depression in the 1930s.


In contrast during the same experience of sharp recession in the United States, the debate centered on such issues as banks being too big to fail or why Wall Street rather than Main Street should receive bailout billions, rather than on the recklessness of Alabama as compared to say Connecticut. The point being, that in the United States, despite its deep federal structure, there is an overriding sense of community at the national level. American citizenship is meaningful in ways that European citizenship falls short, and world citizenship can hardly even perceive the problem.[8]


In other words, some of the political preconditions for European citizenship are present but the most vital are still absent, while the political preconditions for world citizenship are almost totally missing.

There are some good reasons to be confused about this latter reality. After all the United Nations was established to prevent war among nations, and we indulge language games that allow us to talk about ‘the world community’ as if there was one. A closer look at the way the world works makes us realize that the United Nations, despite the rhetorical pretensions of its Charter, is much more an instrument of statecraft than an alternative to it. We also need to be aware that almost all governments continue to be led by political realists who view their role as serving short-term national interests and are privately dismissive of any encroachment on these priorities that derive from notions of ‘world community,’ even if based on international law and morality.


            Within this framing of global policy, the UN, international law, even international criminal law, and moralizing rhetoric, are all instrumentally and selectively useful in the pursuit of foreign policy goals. The selective application of supposedly global norms makes transparent the state-centric underpinning of world order. For instance, the double standards associated with the implementation of international criminal law suggests that up to now there is accountability for the weak and vulnerable, impunity for the strong, a pattern described as ‘victors’ justice’ after World War II. There has been established in the interim an International Criminal Court (ICC), although the most dangerous political actors forego the option to join. The ICC pursues wrongdoers in Sudan and Libya, while turning a blind eye toward the United States, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom, and their closest allies. There are two clarifications of citizenship present: first, there is no global reach for the implementation of global norms relating to fundamental issues of human security, and therefore no bonds of community binding the person to the world by way of citizenship; second, the directives of the UN and international law are manipulated by major states to serve their national interests, sometimes implemented and sometimes blocked, which represents the working of a geopolitical regime of power rather than a global rule of law regime that would above all treat equals equally. Without a trusted system of laws no sustainable community can be brought into being, and hence no genuine bonds of citizenship can be established.


            Such a critique expresses the dilemmas of citizenship in this time of great transition. The most fundamental missing element in this premature projection of world citizenship is time. It is possible to wish for, and even affirm, human solidarity, and to highlight the commonalities of the human species under conditions of heightened interaction and interdependence. Yet such feelings by themselves are incapable of creating the basis for acting collectively in response to urgent challenges of global scope. Such behavior requires the emergence on the grassroots and elite levels of a widespread recognition that the only viable governance process for the planet is one that greatly enhances capabilities to serve human and global interests. The transition is about moving from the here of egoistic state-centrism to the there of humane geo-centrism, which implies a journey and a struggle against social forces that are threatened by or opposed to such a transformation of ‘the real.’ In this undertaking, the citizen pilgrim combines the identity of a participant in a community and the acknowledgement that the desired community does not presently exist, that its essential nature is to bond with a community that is in the midst of a birth process.[9]


Material Conditions of Urgency


            Throughout human experience there was a strong case for adopting the identity of ‘citizen pilgrim,’ and many spiritually motivated individuals did so in their own ways. What is historically unique about the present time is that the challenge of transformation is rooted in fundamental material conditions relating to human activities, which are the outcome of technological innovations and earlier progress that now is threatening apocalyptic blowback. In other words, it has always been true from an ethical perspective that there better ways for people to live together on the planet, especially under conditions of mutual respect and without collective violence. At times, the failure to adapt to challenges either from natural causes or resulting from conflict led to the collapse of communities or even entire civilizations, but never before has the species as such been confronted by challenges of global scale.[10] There have always been risks of planetary events such as collisions with giant meteors or an unexpected shift in the orbit of the sun that are beyond human agency, and could at some point doom the species. My focus is upon the accumulation of dangerous material conditions that have been generated by human agency, and could be addressed in a manner that is beneficial for the survival, wellbeing, and happiness of the species.


            The two sets of circumstances that are the most dramatic examples of such realities are associated with the dangers of nuclear war and climate change. The nature of these two sources of extreme danger are quite different, although both reflect the technological evolution of human society that is associated with modernity, and an outcome of scientific discovery and the human search for wealth and dominion. Along the lines of the argument presented here neither of these dangers can be sufficiently reduced without significant progress with respect to the transition from state-centric to geo-centric world order. At the level of ideology and ideas that requires a ‘new realism’ informing those with governing authority. Above all, this new realism involves a readiness to uphold commitments to serve human and global interests as necessary, even if requires subordinating or defining currently incompatible national and an array of private sector interests.


            The further assertion being made is that ‘new realism’ can only be brought into being by drastic shifts in political consciousness that informs citizenship in such a manner that the wellbeing of the species and a collaborative relationship restored between human activities and the surrounding environment. Such a relationship existed to an impressive degree in many pre-modern societies where there existed a sense of mutual dependence in relations between human activities and natural surroundings, and often as well a sensitivity to seven generations past and future that is absent from the modernist sensibility that has tended to take nature for granted, there to be exploited or tamed. Nature being mainly valued either for its resources, as a sink for the free discharge of wastes, and as a retreat from the rigors of ‘civilization.’[11] With scarcities, pollution, and climate change there is emerging a realization that without a comprehensive post-modern equilibrium between human activity and the natural surroundings the future prospects of the species are rather grim.[12] The phantasies of modernity persist in the form of utopian geo-engineering schemes that represent efforts by the old realism to find technological solutions for the problems generated by technology, which is itself is raising serious concern and posing severe additional risks of its own.[13]


            The imperatives of transition to a safer, more sustainable world are resisted by the embedded assumptions of the old realism to the effect that military capabilities and war making remain the keys to security, that GNP growth is the indispensable foundation of political stability and economic contentment, that technology and market will find solutions for any challenges that arise before serious threats materialize, and that the correct role of governments of sovereign states is to manage this set of relationships on behalf of national political communities variously situated. As argued here, such an orientation is not so much wrong, as it is anachronistic, and in need of fundamental adjustment. Further that such adjustment is much more likely to take place in a non-traumatic modes, if the expectations of many citizens are altered according to the precepts of citizen pilgrims who subscribe to various interpretations of what being called here the new realism.


            It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the obstacles that lie ahead, and currently seem to lock societies into a civilizational orientation that falls far short of the bio-political potential and survival needs of the human species. At present governments seem unable to address the practical challenges posed by such features of the contemporary world as nuclear weaponry, climate change, poverty, political violence, and human security. Existing governance structures and ideological worldviews of both officials and society seem stuck in past modes of problem-solving and are failing to meet expectations of the citizenry.[14] Such a failure is exhibited by such widespread collective behavior as despair, denial, and alienation.





Recreating Political Community


            The calling of the citizen pilgrim is not meant to be a lonely journey toward a better future. It is intended as a call for an engaged citizenry responsive to the need and desire for a reconstituted future as well as a repaired present. As earlier indicated the commitment to navigating the transition can be conceived of by way of infusing political leadership and the electorate with the values and perceptions of the new realism. Transition can be achieved through a shift in governance structures such that state-centric world order is superseded by a geo-centric world order. Such a reorientation implies stronger globally oriented institutionalization by way of United Nations reform. Alternatively, a geo-centric world order could emerge as the self-conscious result of establishing a new framework for cooperative action that is capable of providing the world with the level of centralized governance that is required, while exhibiting sensitivity to ideas of subsidiarity, decentralization, dispersal of authority, and even philosophical anarchism.[15]


            In this respect, the engaged citizen pilgrim is devoted to the here and now of political action (as well as pursuing a visionary future), whether by way of exhibiting empathy and solidarity with the sufferings of those most vulnerable or by working toward innovative steps serving human and global interests. Such steps should to the extent possible reflect the interpretations and understandings of the new realism. Illustrative projects include the establishment of a global peoples parliament with an assigned mission of articulating interests from the perspective of people rather than of governments.[16] Other familiar proposals along the same line are a global tax of some kind, levied on currency transactions or international flights or casino and lottery profits, which would loosen the geopolitical leash that now limits international institutions in their capacity to serve human and global interests. Along these lines also would be the establishment of an independent emergency force capable of quick reactions to natural disasters and humanitarian catastrophes without being subject to funding by states or the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. These initiatives are not new, but their active promotion alongside avowals of   citizen pilgrimages would manifest modes of participation in political life whose aim was to achieve humane global governance in accordance with the precepts of the new realist.[17]


            Such innovations are directed toward overcoming the design deficiencies of state-centric world order, given the current array of global challenges. Because of the still dominant influence of old realism such innovations are vulnerable to various degrees of what might be called geopolitical cooption. The United Nations itself is undoubtedly the best example of an institutional innovation with a geo-centric mandate that has gone awry almost from its inception. The UN that has been geopolitically coopted over the period of its existence in such fundamental respects as to make its defining role being that of stabilizing state-centric world order rather than of war prevention and facilitating transition to a geo-centric

future. This assessment is most evident in the double standards evident in the pattern of UN responses to emergency situations, for instance, in the diplomacy surrounding the application of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm or in relation to the management of nuclear weaponry as between the nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear states.


            Another revealing instance concerns the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 over the resistance of the largest and most dangerous states in the world. The fact that a tribunal could be established to assess the individual criminal responsibility of political and military leaders of sovereign states seemed like an important move toward creating a global rule of law in relation to war/peace and human rights issues,

and it was, although its performance has so far been disappointing. The work of the ICC has exhibited the same double standards that infuses the entire edifice of state-centric world order, resulting in a pattern of impunity for the West and accountability for leaders in the South. As such the ICC is ambivalent in its contributions to peace and justice, yet its own institutional destiny is being formed by the uncertain flow of events, and can yet become more attuned to human and global interests. It is that attunement that distinguishes the citizen pilgrim from what might be called ‘a liberal internationalist’ who favors stronger global governance capacity, but lives within a bubble of the old realism and its questionable reconciliation of global reform and geopolitics.


Citizen Pilgrims as Nonviolent Warriors of the Great Transition


            Prospects for the future depend on altering the outlook and performance of governments representing states, as well as the expectations of their citizenry. This is particularly true for constitutional democracies with strong private sector interest groups. Authoritarian states, especially with control over the economic infrastructure, do not require the consent of the governed to nearly the same extent, and can act or not more freely for better and worse to take account of rapidly changing perceptions. In constitutional democracies the relationship of leadership to the citizenry is very direct, although not necessarily reflecting the will of the people. Special interest lobbying, extensive secrecy and surveillance, and corporatized media all deflect government from a rational calculation of national interests, and tend to obstruct policy deference to long term considerations or to human and global interests. In relation to our two litmus issues it is clear that ‘the military-industrial-think tank complex’ has over the decades protected the nuclear weapons establishment from disarmament advocacy and that the fossil fuel campaign has lent a measure of credibility to climate skepticism despite its rejection by 97% of climate experts.


            Experience confirms that government policy will not shift against such

entrenched policy without a popular mobilization that alters the political climate sufficiently to allow change to happen. In the 1980s this happened in the United States and the United Kingdom in relation to apartheid South Africa. In this case, the ethical repudiation of official racism provided the basis for altering the political climate to such an extent that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, both conservative leaders who valued strategic and economic cooperation with South Africa, were led to endorse sanctions that were important contributions to the eventual success of the anti-apartheid campaign. Nuclear weaponry does pose an ethical challenge, but its main challenge is a prudential one of resting the security of major states and their friends on a conditional commitments to destroy tens of millions of innocent persons in a global setting where conflict and irrational behavior have been recurrent features. It would thus appear to be the case that both ethics and rationality favor phased and verified nuclear disarmament as had been legally stipulated by the nuclear weapons states in the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.[18]


            The global challenge of climate change is more complex, and in some ways exposes more directly the limits of globally oriented problem-solving in a state-centric framework. Unlike nuclear weaponry, there is strong inter-governmental support for the scientific consensus as to the need for mandatory regulations to reduce greenhouse gas (especially carbon) emissions so as to prevent further harmful global warming. For the past twenty years the UN has sponsored conferences that bring together annually most governments in the world to move toward implementing the scientific consensus, and yet little happens. Rationality gives way to special interests and short-term calculations of advantage are given precedence in the policy arenas of government, which means little is achieved. The state system seems stuck, and the old realism seems set to shape human destiny in adverse ways for the foreseeable future.


            In such settings the citizen pilgrim offers society a voice of sanity that speaks from the liberated isolation of the wilderness. It envisions a future responsive to the long-term survival of the human species, and maximizing its wellbeing and pursuit of global justice. Some citizen pilgrims may be seeking a drastic revision of the worldview of the national leadership cadres of society in the form of embraces of the new realism of human and global interests, pursued within an enlarged sphere of temporal accountability. Other citizen pilgrims may be thinking of a political community that is planetary in scope that organizes its activities to serve all peoples on the basis of individual and collective human dignity and envisions the replacement of a world of sovereign states with a democratically constituted geo-centric framework of governance—norms, institutions, procedures, and actors.


            The citizen pilgrim is not primarily motivated by averting danger and mitigating injustice on a global scale, although such concerns occupy the foreground of her political consciousness. The most basic drive is spiritual, to pursue the unattainable, to affirm the perfection of the human experience within the diverse settings present in the world. As Goethe said, “him who strives he we may save.” By striving, the sense of time comes alive in citizenship and political participation, as it must, if the Mount Everest challenges of the great transition are to be successfully traversed.




[1] I rely upon a distinction between ‘human’ and ‘global’ to underscore the interactive duality of human and earth interests, what is beneficial for the human species and what is beneficial for nature and the environment, implying a fundamental commitment to achieving their collaboration and reconciliation. In other words, the ideological posture recommended and adopted can be described as eco-humanism.

See Robert C. Johansen’s breakthrough contribution seeking to overcome the tetension destructive dualism between the national interest and the human

interest. See National and the Human Interest: An Analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980).

[2] Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York: Penguin, 2014). The authors persuasively demonstrate the resilience of the European state through time, responding non-incrementally, or by revolutionary leaps, to accumulated challenges

  1. For an intriguing interpretation of the evolution of the modern state and the state system since the mid-seventeenth century see John Micklethwait & Adrian Woolridge, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York:

Penguin Press, 2014). The book examines past reinventions of the state in the face of challengesthat have in the past threatened its viability as a source of human contentment. Their thesis is that such a challenge is currently present as evidenced by the widespread dissatisfaction with government in even prosperous and democratic countries. On this basis they draw this conclusion: “The main political challenge of the next decade will be fixing government.” (p.4) What the authors mean by this is mainly a scaling back of the governmental role and a scaling up of its efficient performance of core security and managerial roles. This is different than what is being argued here, which is enabling government to become responsive to global challenges.


[3] For one view of how the state is ‘disaggregating’ in ways that enable it to cope with the challenges of an increasingly interactive world, see Anne-Marie Slaughter, The New World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); there are also many instances of cooperation among states for the sake of mutual benefit, especially in relation to the management of the global commons.

[4] The writings of James Lovelock on the Gaia balances of the earth are relevant, as are the speculations that human activities are undermining the equilibrium that has for many centuries allowed plants and animals to live comfortably on the planet. It is the dawn of the age of the anthropocene that is threatening to disrupt this balance that has facilitated biological evolution since the first glimmers of habitation on planet earth. Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

[5] I would include here various anti-democratic forms of imperial and hegemonic governance. See, among others, Andrew Bacevich, American Empire: The Reality and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002; and especially Michael Mandelbaum’s Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-first century (New York: Public Affairs, 2005).

[6] For wide ranging defense of democracy along these lines see Daniele Archibugi’s important study, Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

[7] Such a struggle has been evident in the United States in the period since the 9/11 attacks. For a critical account of the mismanagement of the balance see David Cole & Jules Lobel, Less Secure, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New York: New Press, 2007).

[8] But see California chapter in Micklethlwait & Woolridge for an attempt to ‘federalize’ their critique of what has gone wrong with governance in the United States.

[9] The idea of ‘citizen pilgrim’ is inspired by Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews in which he talks of the pilgrim as someone animated by faith in that which is not seen, and does not exist as yet, and yet embarks on a journey dedicated to a better future in which that vision will be realized, not as an earthly city but as a heavenly city.

[10] The issue of civilizational collapse, and its avoidance, have been influentially explored in Collapse; the question of the risks to the species arising from human activities is addressed in Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change (London: Pluto, 2004); see also Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt, 2014).

[11] See Richard Falk, This Endangered Planet: Prospects and Proposals for Human Survival (New York: Random House, 1972); on the orientation of indigenous peoples, thinking ahead and looking back seven generations, see Maivan Lam, At the Edge of the State: Indigenous Peoples and Self-Determination (Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2000)

[12] One of the most comprehensive appreciations of the approaching limits of modernity as a legacy of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution is found in James Lee Kunstler;

[13] Clive Hamilton critically explores this search for a technological escape via geo-engineering from the dilemmas posed by adherence ‘the iron law of growth’ (Paelke), population increase, and continuously rising living standards.

[14] Micklethwait & Woolridge, Note 1, are persuasive that national governments are generating widespread dissatisfaction among their citizens, although their focus is upon issues of efficiency and scale as the source of this public mood of alienation.

[15] Some suggestions along these lines are contained in Falk, “Anarchism without Anarchism,” Millennium

[16] See Richard Falk & Andrew Strauss, A Global Parliament: essays and articles (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2011).

[17] For elaboration see Falk, On Humane Global Governance (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1995).

[18] See for development of these themes Falk & David Krieger, The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012); but see Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Nuclear Ethics (New York: Free Press, 1986) for a contrary view.

24 Responses to “Changing the Political Climate: A Transitional Imperative”

  1. ray032 October 5, 2014 at 4:08 am #

    • Jane Cutting October 5, 2014 at 5:07 am #

      I see only the borders I / we create between each other and between ourselves and the natural world. Each of us can participate in the dismantling where ever we are geographically and spiritually.

      • Richard Falk October 5, 2014 at 8:06 am #

        Such a seminal language of empowerment. My gratitude for your insight.

  2. Björn Lindgren October 5, 2014 at 5:44 am #

    Dear Richard,

    Oh, I am really taken by this article and earlier articles (among them, “Anarchism without Anarchism”) on the same theme.

    One stunning effect of this and earlier texts is that they demand that I reconsider them again and again. And that I scrutinize my norms, values, goals, and perspectives, and to see them in a new light. More clearly and deeply.

    Having said this, additionally I dare to suggest a useful soundboard for your own surprising and stunning ideas and new discoveries:

    Alan Ritter’s “Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis,” Cambridge University Press,
    Cambridge 1980 & 2010.

    I thought I knew what Anarchism was. But after reading Ritter’s analysis – indeed, a heavy read – Anarchism landed in our time and reconnected with what M.K. Gandhi said, “I don’t have the time to convince people. I just lift up what they already think.”

    I would add, but what we not always are conscious of.

    Noam Chomsky have touched the same conclusion: Most people are Anarchists but do not yet know it.

    Again, many thanks for your inspiring thoughts and insights.

    Warm regards,

    Björn Lindgren

    • Richard Falk October 5, 2014 at 8:08 am #

      I am most grateful for such an encouraging response, and will obtain Ritter’s book as
      soon as I return to the U.S. at the end of October. I am in the midst of European travels,
      attending events and doing some speaking.

    • Laurie Knightly October 5, 2014 at 11:34 am #

      Bjorn – many cheers for Sweden’s recognition of Palestine as a state. It’s a sample of Richard’s ethical aspirations. Also your study references……..

      Richard – As to worldliness, I don’t find the term ‘citizen pilgrim’ resonates with me – but the words ‘geo-centric word order’ did create an inspiring reaction. The prime meaning for pilgrim is a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons. And the ones with a capital P have a questionable past. I see it more in terms of a World Justice Community. The word ‘justice’ is integral to the bonding. Anyway, I felt very stirred by this call to a new political climate.

      • Richard Falk October 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

        Thanks, Laurie. I understand your feelings about ‘citizen pilgrim.’ I was searching for a way to connect citizenship
        with a journey to a desired future, connecting political participation with time as well as space. I feel kinship with
        your comments and nuances of feeling.

  3. rehmat1 October 5, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    “The crime of treason, giving tangible aid and comfort to an enemy state, highlights the interface between conscience and loyalty in the conventional life of a modern citizen.”

    Dr. Falk, I bet you know the ones who tried to voice their view on the above statement were called “anti-Semite” by the Israel Lobby.

    Every survey ADL have taken for the last 40 years, it found out that majority of people around the world said that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the country they reside.

    In May 2014, Judge David Rozen of Tel Aviv District Court pronounced former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert a traitor and sentenced him to six years in jail and fined Olmert one million shekels ($289,500).

    “A public servant who takes bribes is akin to a traitor. The accused served as the prime minister of Israel. From this high and honorable post, he reached the position of having been convicted of the most despicable and grave crimes,” said Rozen.

  4. wingsprd October 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    This would-be ‘citizen pilgrim’ will have to, like Bjorn, read and re-read your wonderful lucid and hopeful ideas. Having just returned from a gruelling journey In another country, I look at my own country (Australia) in despair. Richard, you are admirable, just what the world needs.

  5. ray032 October 6, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    Marc Rosenblatt • 6 minutes ago
    Another left wing self hating Jew. Hey Falk, you can run but you can’t hide.

    Ray Joseph Cormier Marc Rosenblatt • in a minute
    Temporal Zionists are blind to the highest ideals of Judaism, as Professor Falk tries to apply in his Life, Justice and Judgment, the very qualities that endeared Abraham to God.

    For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do JUSTICE and JUDGMENT; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him.

    Israel-Palestine conflict: A turn in western thinking?
    UN speeches avoided mentioning the most dramatic development: A new phase of the conflict.
    Last updated: 05 Oct 2014 08:42
    Richard Falk

    • rehmat1 October 6, 2014 at 6:32 am #

      In December 2013, in a 25-minute meeting at the Vatican, Pope Francis and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged gifts. Netanyahu presented Francis a Spanish translation of 1995 book, ‘The Origins of the Inquisition’, authored by his father Ben-Zion Netanyahu, a Zionist Jewish terrorist. Netanyahu signed the book: “To His Holiness Pope Francis, great guardian of our common heritage“.

      Pope Francis in return, presented Netanyahu with a carved panel of St. Paul, a Crypto Jew who destroyed Christianity by corrupting true message of Jesus. The actions of Francis, as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, were not much different than Netanyahu or his father. Francis helped Argentina militery rulers in torturing and murdering tens of thousands of Argentinean men, women and children.

      • Richard Falk October 6, 2014 at 9:24 am #

        I don’t agree with this harsh assessment of Pope Francis, neither now or during the ‘dirty war’ in Argentina where
        his role was not admirable, but also not complicit in the manner suggested by your comment.

    • Richard Falk October 6, 2014 at 9:26 am #

      Perhaps, it is my failure, but I cannot make sense of this comment..

      • ray032 October 6, 2014 at 10:51 am #

        My comment or rehmat’s? I could not make sense of his comment in reply to mine? Mine is straightforward, coming to your defence in your article in Al Jazeera.

      • Kata Fisher October 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

        Ramati lacks clarity of God’s Spirit, and this is why: he is under permissions of the Law.

        Moreover, no valid repentance toward the sin that is allowed and also condemned by the Law of God’s Spirit.

        It is by that, in fact, that he condemns teaching of Apostle Paul who was in God’s Spirit and Law of that.

        As a prophet of Quran, you cannot skip Old Testament and New Testament when comes to the message of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and/or message of God.

        Moreover, say that those who gave and wrote it have perverted the message? Whya and how is that?

        What’s new in the world? Mocking of the Gospel according to the Church-Charismatic by other/evil spirits? No new-thing to Church-Charismatic.

        Entire Gospel message is coded, and interpreted by Church-Charismatic under prophetic anointing and spiritual authority of that and / or “undefiled prophets,” only.

        Church-Charismatic received it and Church-Charismatic it passed on.

        Now days the dead-end Christianity is in the same messages / gospels (false Gospels/other gospels) of heretics who have “another spirit /s“ and / or female-defilement of the same kind that they always have had.

        Even at their best they are under heretical way of the Law of the work invalid and consequences of that – as their self-given license to commit the crimes eccalistical and /or natural — just as were heretical/defiled Jews in irrevocable sins and /or in unclean marriages prior to and during the time of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and after Apostolic times then also heretical Christians.

        By the time of John (last apostle who died) Christianity was in power of heretics like these that Paul has warned against to Titus, specifically:

        It was not Paul Apostle who perverted the Gospel and gave a false one, in fact.

        Paul gave reference to heretics of his days, “Cretans” who were empty talkers and deceivers.

        Cretans who were giving “false Gospels”–as perhaps even now that Cretans are doing what they always have had done? Look and see the Crete in the world?

        Those who are under the permissions of the Law and no Church-Charismatic – they are not Church-Charismatic, and they are in void-works of the Law and /or self-works of that and no Law of God as they are without Spirit of God.

        Paul’s writing is coded –even Apostle Peter could not quite get teaching of the Gospel, According to Paul. Peter, too, at times enjoyed hypocrisy and had to be corrected in his face by Paul. Paul did not enjoy hypocrisy. When he converted by Spirit – he was committed by Spirit to the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – but he experienced that Gospel over his sins. Perhaps, that is what remati needs and cant get by a prophesy? Who knows…

        But I know what I will be doing under spiritual authority of a Pope and teaching of Paul Apostle!

        This week we had a deacon who is responsible for charismatic renewal in diocese as an Evangelist assist Father Bill at mass and who was announced his seminar for Baptism in God’s Spirit in the parish — for next 3-4 weeks.

        We as Roman-Catholics are really blessed that our priests are charismatic, but when we have a priest who is charismatic and is an Evangelist – we are exceedingly blessed. When Church is Charismatic people, just do not have time for their generational-passed-down-heresies–like some.

        I decided that I will be at each of days set for the seminars because I will observe/study the effectiveness of the congregation in the parish.

        Ministry of the Evangelist in the Church is just crucial – irrevocable sins cannot be forgiven without one. If anyone argues against teaching of the Paul Apostle and validity of his writing – he is just a confused individual and /or a false-prophet.

        Apostolic writings are for the Church and ministry of the Church, so that outsiders to Faith of the Church / the Church-Charismatic (which is under the Teaching office of God’s Spirit trough His prophets) — in reality , as outsiders have no valid spiritual authority over the sacred texts of the Church-Charismatic as was given to the Church-Charismatic by the Apostles/Church Charismatic.

        Whenever they attempt otherwise – they are in the same fate as Cretans were.

        Writings of Apostle Paul have spiritual authority over the Holy Quran and order by which it was given as a prophesy in age of the Church: it is undiscerned prophesy in Church age and it is a prophesy that is not written down by the prophet who gave that prophesy while under spiritual attack.

        With that, the secret authenticity of the text has to be evaluated before it can be accepted, and as Faith and applied in practice.

        Ramati can enjoy his religion-undiscerned and by that unrighteousness as well, as he has no clue about Faith and work of the Church-Charismatic, who Paul Apostle also was as he was established by God’s Spirit.

        We can say this: He [Ramathi) is not qualified to discern his Sacred text;and, then how then in the world is he qualified to judge a person that is appointed by Cardinals of the Church-Charismatic to be the Pope?

        The Pope can do whatever he wants, as he can be the Priest, the Prophet, and the King as well as unmerciful prophet; he can be that as well — by and trough the Leadership of the Cardinals/Archbishops (in corporate) who rule over good and the wicked, all together. I know that this is deeply disappointing. The Church is under Spirit of God, regardless if Pope is – or not because God can use Pope as a double-edged sword in the Church and the world, and as Just as God can use the Church as a double-edged sword.

        Ramathi is mocking Apostle Paul and his timeless Gospel message of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to the Church-Charismatic and the world who accepts Spirit of God and forgiveness of sins and spiritual blessings by God’s Spirit, alone.

        In addition to that, he is taking opportunity to use/mock Natanyahus Father’s work (who happened to write on generational sins of the of the Church/es — not Roman Catholic Church, the only one remaining in the world separated in all? No. ) Then, about Pope / Vatican gesture toward Netanyahu… The Gospel according to Apostle Paul who was as Apostle to Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, is in fact, the only valid order of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and still is to Jews who fell of from Faith among nations as well as non-Jewish people/tribes.

        The Word is going to cut trough realities of dead bone (death) and life that is –or is not within it.

        We will pray for ramati and celerity to his mind and spirit – as Jewish exile he must be spiritually poor one…as long as he is not revealed by the Rock and thrown into the sea–he will be all right! (that is way to adorable symbolism in Holy Quran — I must note).

        Oh..may only God have compassion on His lost ones..

  6. Beau Oolayforos October 6, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    As an alternative, and hopefully an antidote, to the “military-industrial-think-tank complex”, I feel bound to recommend the Los Alamos Study Group, founded by an old classmate of mine who was, needless to say, always way smarter.

  7. Gene Schulman October 7, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    As long as books are being recommended, may I suggest Naomi Klein’s new “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”? It is very relevant to the issues raised in this post.

    Thank you Richard. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Europe. Sorry we didn’t hook up this time.

    • Gene Schulman October 7, 2014 at 7:52 am #

      Forgot to log in for new comments 😉

  8. Laurie Knightly October 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    A strange series of events has transpired. I signed the Geo-Centric World Order Articles of Commitment. When I stepped out in the yard, my boundaries had disappeared and refugees from Laos were planting vegetables in what had once been my grounds. Soon afterward, the Distributive Justice Committee arrived and informed me that my living space allotment was one room and 3 purpose designed closet areas. This is reconfigured according to household numbers. As I am well into retirement age and have easy access to public transportation, my car was confiscated. They took no note of the fact that the car was 20 years old and that I had 63,000 miles on record. Because my height and weight were in balance and my health history shows no signs of addictions past or present, I was not put under food surveillance. My record, however, did reveal a proclivity for coffee house sitting and sipping. I received a citation for caffeine idolatry.

    In rebellion, I formed a counter group called Waste Not, Want Less. As a start we are proposing the total elimination of useless crops. This includes coffee, tea, sugar, spices. alcohol beverages of all types, sodas, most processed foods – the list is very long.

    Well, now the Jobs For All Group is picketing my house and pelting the building with garbage. I was even told that my organization is anti-Semitic and I am a self-hating Anglo.

    I shall await further guidelines for world citizenship. It appears that aspirations for equity will compromise me more that I thought. Compared to my neighbors, I live a prudent existence. Not so when considered in global terms.

    • Gene Schulman October 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

      Dear Laura, what a fascinating story. From where are you writing that you live such an austere life? And why? I feel ashamed on my mountaintop in free Switzerland.

      • Laurie Knightly October 7, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

        Hi Gene, I am in Portland, Or. I really like satire as a medium for the examination of serious subject matter – Jon Stewart being a first rate example. Richard’s latest essay caused me considerable personal reflection and I attempted to evaluate my living situation imagining a global testing norm. I was relieved, as well, that I had not reproduced beyond replacement level which is essential to a geo-centric commitment. I don’t want to drift from Richard’s focus here but if you want to discuss the importance of being atop a mountain, I have no objection to him sending you my email address. Laurie

  9. rehmat1 October 8, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    Interesting tit-for-tat between Netanyahu and the White House over new illegal Jewish settlements near Al-Aqsa Mosque.

  10. Henrik Pedersen November 9, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    Thanks for you, Richard, for providing and elaborating on the implications of the term ‘Citizen Pilgrim’. In a simple and imaginative way it somehow comprises elements which needs to come together for us to move forward individually and collectively. I find it useful also for people, who are not religious at all – or at least not in any confessional sense.


  1. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Changing the Political Climate: A Transitional Imperative - October 6, 2014

    […] Go to Original – […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: