Tag Archives: Global Solidarity


14 Aug

[Prefatory Note: The post below is my stimulus essay for a Forum sponsored by Great Transition Initiative, a project of the Tellus Institute, dedicated to the exploration of humane and ecologically resonant adjustments to the challenges and threats posed by the onset of the Anthropocentric Age. The text of the full Forum can be found by clicking this link– https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/can-human-solidarity-globalize It contains many wise and illuminating responses to my reflections, including by leading thinkers of our time. The Forum closes with my effort to respond to the responses, but due to space limitations, in a very truncated manner. Also, the Forum format conveys some information about the underlying philosophy that guides this ambitious undertaking.]

Global Solidarity: Toward a Politics of Impossibility 

A Captive Imagination

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly subsides, it is not clear what lessons will be drawn by political leaders and publics around the world. Entrenched power, wealth, and conventional wisdom have demonstrated the overwhelming resilience of the global order even while the virus continues to ravage many national societies. Despite some notable exceptions revealing extremes of solidarity or discrimination, efficient competence or irresponsible partisanship, this reversion to the status quo occurred at all levels of social organization from the village to the world, especially the sovereign state.

For the most part, rich and powerful governments used their leverage to corner the vaccine market, allowing a draconian market-driven logic to drive distribution that privileged intellectual property rights and technical knowhow, leading to grotesque disparities in vaccine access between the peoples of the North and those of the South. It has become a truism to observe that no country will be safe from the virus, or its variants, until the entire world is vaccinated. Never had the self-interest of the species so vividly and concretely coincided with an ethos of global solidarity. And yet such an ethos did not materialize. We must search for explanations and correctives.

A people-first approach to the global health emergency would have transcended statist and profit-making domains at all phases of COVID prevention and treatment, and situated them within a global commons framework. Such an approach might have dramatically heightened prospects for the social transformation at the heart of the Great Transition and would at least have restored some confidence that the human species, at least in an emergency, is capable of meeting the challenges of the Anthropocene. As the pandemic instead revealed the resounding strength of statist structures and private sector interests, it seems necessary to acknowledge this tragic interlude as but one more lost opportunity for the human species to awaken from its prolonged slumber before it is too late. 

To some extent, the failure has been masked by the newfound generosity of some countries as the sense of a world health emergency receded and virus supplies exceeded national demands in some countries. In a spirit of philanthropy rather than solidarity, shipments of the virus to countries in need were made, recipients often selected on the basis of pragmatic diplomatic advantage. Perhaps charity towards those less fortunate can be considered a weak form of solidarity, even if filtered by political leaders motivated by selfish national interests.

More than ever, we must face the question: can the peoples of Earth, doomed to share a ravaged planet, learn to live together in ways that encourage our species to flourish in an emergent future? The concept of a Great Transition invites us to reimagine such a future by exploring what might be possible, which requires an initial willingness of the imagination to let go of the trappings of the present without engaging in wishful thinking. Such a balancing act is not as straightforward as it sounds. What was science fiction a generation ago is increasingly entering the realm of the possible, and even the feasible in the near future. It is an opportune time to explore the seedlings of possibility sprouting around us, inscribing a more hopeful mapping of the human future in the prevailing collective consciousness.

On What is Possible

Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’ I dream of things that never were

and ask ‘why not?’” —  George Bernard Shaw

We must start by rejecting conventional foreclosures of the imagination. We cannot accept that politics is “the art of the possible” if the “possible” remains circumscribed by the play of current forces of stasis, confining the idea of change to policy shifts at the margin or—at the most ambitious—elite-driven national revolutions. The structures of state and market remain essentially untouched and continue to run the show. As long as these constraints are not removed, the Great Transition will be stymied. The first challenge is to find effective ways to subvert and transform these primordial structures. Meeting this challenge starts with liberating the mind from ingrained conventions that solidify the ideological biases of modernity.

If we carefully consider our own lives, we are likely to appreciate how many epochal public happenings had been previously deemed “impossible,” or only seemed possible after the fact. A potent illustration of the tyranny of a status quo bias is Winston Churchill’s derisive attitude toward Gandhi during the early stages of the rise of Indian nationalism. Dismissive of any threat to Indian colonial rule, Churchill described Gandhi as a “malignant subversive fanatic” and “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace.” The great British war leader displayed his attachment to a Western understanding of power that had little insight into historical circumstances vulnerable to anti-colonial nationalism.  

Similar patterns of the seemingly impossible happening are evident in contemporary history, such as the peaceful ending of the Cold War followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union; the American defeat in the Vietnam War despite overwhelming military superiority; China’s half-century rise from mass impoverishment and backwardness to prime geopolitical challenger, including threatening Western mastery of innovative technology such as AI, G5 connectivity, robotics, and genetic engineering; and the abandonment of apartheid by South Africa in the face of nonviolent resistance from within and anti-apartheid solidarity from without. 

What these examples demonstrate is that our understanding of the scope of the possible has been artificially circumscribed in ways that protect the interests of various elites in the maintenance of the status quo, making it seem reckless and futile to mount structural challenges however justified they may be morally or bio-politically. Such foreclosures of imagined futures have been key to the protection of institutions like slavery, discrimination, and warfare but often remain limited in scope to specific locales or policy areas. The uniqueness of the Anthropocene is to restrict the possible to unsustainable and dysfunctional structures and modes of behavior, while bringing to a head the question of finding more viable ways of organizing life on the planet and living together in a manner that protects future generations. 

Such foreclosures of the imagination inflict damage both by shortening our temporal vision and by constraining our understanding of useful knowledge. Despite what science and rationality tell us about the future, our leaders—and, indeed, most of us—give scant practical attention to what is needed to preserve and improve the life prospects for future generations. Given the scope and depth of the challenges, responsible anthropocentrism in the twenty-first century should incorporate a sense of urgency to temporal axes of concern. We now need a “politics of the impossible,” a necessary utopianism that stands as an avowal of the attainability of the Great Transition. We must begin by interrogating the semantics of the possible as a cultural, political, economic, and ideological construct binding humanity to a system that is increasingly bio-politically self-destructive for the species and its natural habitat.

Closely connected to this foreclosure of our temporal vision has been a scientifically conditioned epistemology asserting the limits of useful knowledge. Within the most influential epistemic communities, an Enlightenment ideology prevails that sets boundaries limiting productive intellectual inquiry. The positive legacies of the Enlightenment in grounding knowledge on scientifically verified evidence rather than cultural superstitions and religiously guided prejudice and dogma are real and important, but there have been costs as well. Notably, a bias against subjectivity discourages normative inquiry and advocacy, which is dismissed as “non-scientific.” The noted Confucian scholar Tu Wei-Ming has powerfully criticized the impact of what he calls “instrumental rationalism” on the capacity of Western civilization to embrace the value of empathy, which he views as integral to human dignity and humane governance. 

We need a moral epistemology to achieve responsible anthropocentrism, exploring right and wrong, and distinguishing between desirable and diminished futures, not as matters of opinion, but as the underpinnings of “normative knowledge.” Universities, split into specialized disciplines and privileging work within the Enlightenment paradigm, are largely oblivious to the need for a holistic understanding of the complexities and solidarities with which we must grapple in order for humanity to extricate itself from present structures that divide and fragment the human experience, strangling possibilities.

It may be helpful to distinguish “the feasible,” “the necessary,” and “the desirable” to further illuminate “the pursuit of the impossible.” In short, “the feasible” from the perspective of the status quo seems incapable, under the best of circumstances, of achieving “the necessary” and “the desirable.” We will need to pursue “the desirable” to mobilize the capabilities needed to engage effectively in realizing “the necessary.”  

If existing conditions continue, the bio-political destiny of the human species seems destined for dark times. In the past, before the Nuclear Age, we could ignore the future and address the material, security, and spiritual needs of bounded communities, and success or failure had no ramifications for larger systems. Now we must find ways to attend to the whole, or the parts will perish and likely destroy one another in the process. St. Francis found some fitting words for such an emancipatory path: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Traditional Worldviews

When seeking alternative worldviews not defined by states, empires, or markets, many have turned toward the pre-modern realities and cosmologies of native peoples. Recovering that pre-modern worldview might be instructive in certain respects, but it is not responsive to the practical contours of contemporary liberation. Retreat to the pre-modern past is not an option, except as a result of a planetary calamity.

Instead of the realities of localism and tribal community, our way forward needs to engage globalism and human community, and to affirm that such strivings fall within the realm of possibility. We must reimagine a sense of our place in the cosmos so that it becomes our standpoint: a patriotism for humanity in which the whole becomes greater than the part, and the part is no longer the dominant organizing principle of life on the planet. Understanding the interplay of parts and wholes is a helpful place to begin this transformative journey. Parts are not only enclaves of space on world maps, but the separate identities of race, gender, class, belief, and habitat. An ethos of human solidarity would not eliminate differences but would complement them with a sense of commonality while sustaining their separate and distinctive identities. Such an ethos would generate new modes of being for addressing the challenges of transition.

For this to happen, a sense of global solidarity must take over the commanding heights of the imagination rather than continue to inhabit echo chambers hidden in underground hiding places far from the domains of policy formation.

Global Solidarity Must Increase as the Great Transition Unfolds

Without global solidarity, the structural features of the status quo will remain too deeply entrenched to allow a more cooperative, peaceful, just, and ecologically mindful world to emerge. Such a benevolent future is blocked by the prevailing consciousness in government and corporate board rooms, a paralyzing blend of ignorance, denial, incrementalism, and most of all, an unconscious respect for and deference to fragmenting boundaries that make global solidarity seem “impossible” to achieve. Assuming the paralysis has been overcome by an enhanced conception of the possible, then what?

Global solidarity would benefit humanity functionally, ethically, ecologically, and spiritually. Its functional role is most immediately obvious from a problem-solving perspective. Whether we consider vaccine diplomacy, climate change, or nuclear weapons, it becomes clear that only on the basis of human solidarity will we treat vaccines in the midst of epidemics or pandemics as part of the global commons rather than as a source of national diplomacy, international property rights, and pharmaceutical profits. With climate change, whether we will manage a displacement of national and financial interests on the basis of general global wellbeing depends on achieving an unprecedented level of global solidarity. Similarly, with nuclear weapons, will we find the courage to live without such weaponry within a security framing that represents the well-being of people rather than the shortsighted hegemony of a few governments and their self-regarding societal elites?

Higher measures of global solidarity would enhance the quality and nature of global governance. Even if the defining unit of solidarity remained the sovereign state rather than the human being, a sense of global citizenship could underpin a much more robust United Nations whose membership sought shared goals proclaimed by its Charter rather than the competition that has been its dominant experience, especially on issues of peace and security. The world economy would become much less tied to militarized forms of security, freeing resources for peace building processes. From a broadening sense of global identity we could also expect a much more effective approach to biodiversity, preserving, for example, the rainforests and polar regions as indispensable aspects of our common heritage. And as heightened empathy would accompany global solidarity, there would be a greater tendency to take human suffering seriously, including poverty, displacement, and the victimization that follows from natural disasters and political strife.

Perhaps the greatest benefits of global solidarity would be felt ethically and spiritually. We can presume that the collective self of a world exhibiting high levels of global solidarity would shift loyalties and identities. The enmities of difference (race, nation, religion, gender, class) would lose their primacy, replaced by a different calibration of “otherness”—perhaps with the cosmos regarded as the great other of the earth. It seems reasonable to anticipate the emergence of a less metaphysical religious consciousness inspired by the greater harmonies on earth and a growing experience of cosmic awe as knowledge of this larger realm spreads and is reinforced by mind-broadening experience such as space tourism. 

Do We Have the Time? 

An ethos of global solidarity led an idealistic group of jurists in 1976 to draft the Declaration of the Rights of People to be implemented by a Permanent Peoples Tribunal, and many inquiries have been carried out since to hold states and their leaders symbolically accountable for violations of international law. People throughout the world have organized many civic initiatives organized by in defense of nature and of peace. 

Recently, Bolivia and Ecuador enacted a text devoted to the Rights of Mother Nature. New Zealand passed a law recognizing that animals are sentient beings with a legal entitlement to decent treatment. A movement is underway to regard “wild rivers” as subjects of rights, prohibiting the construction of hydro-electric dams. Civil society groups in Europe and South America have formed the International Rights of Nature Tribunal to protect various natural habitats from predatory human behavior. 

Within the wider orbit of UN activities, many quiet undertakings involving health, children, food, cultural heritage, and environment proceed in an atmosphere of global solidarity interrupted by only occasional intrusions from the more conflictual arenas of the Security Council and General Assembly. There are no vetoes, and partisanship is kept at a minimum.

Gestating within the cultural bosom of world civilizations and world religions have been subversive ideas of global solidarity. Philosophic and religious affirmations of unity in ideas of “cosmopolitanism” have garnered increasing numbers of adherents. Growing attachments to nature proclaimed in many forms gives rise to loyalties that find no place on world maps or national boundaries. Fears of future catastrophe by way of nuclear war and ecosystem collapse expand awareness that present arrangements are not sustainable, thereby making many persons receptive to creating other more inclusive forms of organizing life on the planet.

Transition is not off in the distance or only in dreamscapes or science fiction imaginaries; it is happening around us if we only learn to open our eyes and hearts to the possibilities now emerging. 

Concluding Remark

We cannot know the future, but we can know that the great enhancement of global solidarity would underpin the future we need and desire. Although this enhancement may currently seem “impossible,” we know that the impossible can happen when the historical moment is conducive. This century of interdependent risks and hopes has germinated the possibility of human solidarity globalizing. We know what is to be done, the value of struggling on behalf of our beliefs, and the urgency of the quest. This is the time to dedicate our hopes and indeed our lives to making the Great Transition happen, which is coincident with learning to live in accord with the ethical and ecological precepts of responsible anthropocentrism

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

3 May

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

More than earlier crises of my lifetime, including the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminates as never before, how precarious and uncertain is the future wellbeing, and possibly survival, of the human species. The concreteness, immediacy, and haunting uncertainties of the pandemic is quite terrifying on its own, but its heuristic pedagogy seems applicable to a range of potentially catastrophic threats of global scope, most obviously climate change, biodiversity, nuclear weaponry. What we should now be able to realize even while asleep is that when the under-preparedness of governance and political leadership is based on ignoring a scientific consensus is combined with radical uncertainty and myopic nationalism the stage is set for planetary and species disaster, and not only personal grief and national emergency. These signature traits of the 21st century heighten our fears and feelings of utter helplessness that gives way to a dizzying disorientation of beliefs and expectations, a fertile breeding ground for political extremism, scapegoating, and the darkest flights of fancy.

As much as the horrifying spectacle of hospitals without beds for critically ill patients and too many dead bodies to find room in city morgues or funeral homes is this sense that the lethality of COVID-19 could have been significantly mitigated if political leaders of important countries had heeded two types of advance warnings from reliable sources. There was a foreboding prediction during the past five years by epidemiologists and other health experts that conditions existed around the world that made a viral pandemic a near certainty in coming years. It was just a matter of time. For governments of affluent countries to ignore such warnings from respected experts, and in a few cases even reduce the funding of their national health systems in recent years, as the U.S. and UK are reported to have done, should be regarded as a Crime Against Humanity, malign behavior worse than gross negligence or administrative incompetence.

In addition, there were a series of authoritative disclosures of the actual COVID-19 outbreak weeks before many governments undertook suitable preparations with regard to testing kits, masks, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Instead of rational and prudent preparations, the views of qualified experts either never reached the ears of leaders and their advisors or were thrown by leaders into the nearest waste basket as alarmist rubbish, at best distractions from the only real job of peacetime government—promoting markets and pro-rich growth. Politicians like Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, Johnson, and others did even worse, actively denying, denigrating, and dismissing concerns until the spread of the disease became undeniable with several national health systems in leading countries reacting in emergency modes on the brink of been overwhelmed. If prudent and rational, this grave peril would never have happened, especially in countries with adequate health infrastructures.


The most elementary lesson from the pandemic so far is that adoption of the Precautionary Principle should become mandatory for organs of government and political officials at every level of social organization from the municipality to the UN, and especially at the level of governments of sovereign states. The wellbeing, security, and defense of national populations is widely assumed to be the prime duty of political leaders in a still state-centric system of world order. Such vigilance by leaders should be treated as more important than living up to the oath of office, and the failure to do so regarded as a flagrant violation of public trust, warranting a punitive removal from office. Basically, the Precautionary Principle decrees that expert warnings about impending public dangers should shape governance policies, even when available evidence does not produce conclusive results as to the extent and imminence of the risk. The precautionary approach insists on paying the costs of anticipatory prudence as over against reliance on reactive crisis management, especially under circumstances that pose substantial risks of severe future harm. The Precautionary Principle, informally long practiced and advocated with respect to health, was first internationally articulated and proposed with respect to expert warning about potentially catastrophic future environmental damage if corrective steps are not taken.  The recent focus of precautionary thought and advocacy has been seeking that proper account be taken  of the dire warnings derived from global warning projections. An influential formulation of the Precautionary Principle is set forth in Principle 15 of the Final Declaration of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

The concreteness of COVID-19 disease, as immediate, life-threatening, personal, planetary, and undeniable contrasts with other threats that are presently less visible, often more distant, and not as vividly or convincingly intruding on the security of everyday life. Yet the pattern is the same: prudent anticipation is cheaper, safer, more effective, and humane than are reactive measures, especially in view of the disproportionate vulnerability of marginalized ethnic minorities, prisons and retirement homes, and impoverished communities and crowded urban settings. In this sense, a difficult part of the post-pandemic challenge is not only to renovate the health system so as to be adequately prepared, but to transfer this elementary knowledge about dealing with global health threats to other policy domains while acknowledging the diversity of risks and distinctive types of likely harm. An existing scientific consensus projects with reasonable assurance the high probability of increasingly more dangerous levels of future global warming and of diminishing biodiversity if the dissemination of greenhouse gasses is not drastically reduced. Society lacks comparable capabilities to make such high confidence predictions with respect to the advent of nuclear war or the danger of a large meteor striking the earth. In other words, fidelity to the Precautionary Principle depends on intelligent calibration to particularities of risk that pertain to each issue of concern, but with a similar resolve to apply prudently the anticipatory knowledge available.

In this fundamental sense, what is true for COVID-19 is also true for climate change and biodiversity, and likely even more so. Current levels of information suggest that even a dysfunctional delayed response will in due course contain the pandemic although with a needlessly large number of fatalities, as well as high degrees of economic and social dislocation. Yet despite the massive scale of disruption, a pandemic is expected to subside, although accompanied by some new risks of recurrence, permitting at least a prudently regulated return to normalcy. In contrast, once global warming crosses unknowable thresholds or biodiversity declines beyond a certain point, there may be no turning back, the ecological balance could become beyond the reach of alteration by human action or could only be achieved by very austere or expensive downward adjustments in standards of living and life style. This would incur much human suffering and political unrest along the way, especially if the adjustment process favors the rich and powerful, and victimizes the poor and vulnerable, which seems inevitable at this point given the way policy is formed and life circumstances structured.

The second obvious ‘teaching moment’ that has emerged during the health crisis is the globality of the challenge as contrasted with the statist fragmentation of the divisive response structures. Imposing geopolitically motivated sanctions on a state that weakens its societal capability to contain the spread and treatment of the virus virtually ensures that contagion will cross borders in greater numbers, and give rise to prolonging the pandemic and increasing the number of infections elsewhere, including quite possibly in the sanctioning countries. The sanctions currently weakening the coping capabilities of such countries such as Iran and Venezuela create a lose/lose series of antagonistic relationships between the targeted states and the rest of the world, and should be also considered as ‘geopolitical crimes’ or Crimes Against Humanity rather than as discretionary aspects of normal diplomacy. As well, maintaining such sanctions during the pandemic works against operationalizing the insight of global solidarity—‘we are all in this together’—rather than thinking of a riven world in neo-fascist terms of ‘friends and enemies.’

The Trump presidency, oblivious to the pragmatic argument of mutuality against maintaining sanctions during the COVID-19 pandemic is even more tone deaf when it comes to humanitarian normative arguments based on law and morality resting on the unacceptability and unlawfulness of international uses of force that have a primary impact on civilian populations. It is helpful to recall the notorious remark of Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, when asked by Leslie Stahl in the course of a ’60 Minutes’ interview whether an estimated 500,000 deaths of children attributed to the punitive sanctions imposed on Iraq after the First Gulf War five years earlier in 1991 were worth such a high human cost of innocent young live. Stahl’s question to Albright, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” And Albright’s memorable response: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.” Although Albright later expressed remorse about her own phraseology, suggesting that she should have put the blame on Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein for withholding food from civilians rather than admitting that the deaths resulted from the sanctions. Actually, her spontaneous response was more truthful than her later attempt to shift blame for their inhumane impacts. Why would sanctions be maintained if not felt to be worthwhile from a geopolitical perspective? Beyond this, evidence shows that the Iraqi government behaved responsibly, establishing a food rationing arrangement that made every effort to protect Iraqi civilians from starvation. Trump, and his lead foreign policy spokesperson, Mike Pompeo seem to go further than Albright’s insensitive remark, by intensifying sanctions during the pandemic, grotesquely seeking to exploit the added vulnerability of these targeted societies while meeting the demands of the health crisis.

Trump defies globality in a further scandalous manner by blaming China for the COVID-19 outbreak, again opting for antagonistic tensions rather than affirming human solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. Trump also chose the time of this pandemic to defame and defund the WHO because of its supposed complicity with China’s failure to disclose sooner the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. There is no reasonable evidence supporting such inflammatory charges against China or the WHO, and even if the allegations were to some extent accurate, it would not justify antagonizing China or weakening the WHO capabilities at a time when it is playing a crucial role in providing information and guidance to the many countries in the global South that do not have sufficient national health capabilities to depend on national or even regional capabilities. It should be beyond argument that a pandemic threat of this magnitude and lethality needs to be addressed by counseling maximum cooperation among states and through bolstering the resources and capabilities of global coordinating mechanisms. Instead of defaming and defunding the WHO at this time, the responsible approach would be to express gratitude for its existence by pledges of greater funding support. To repeat, such a litany that is true for COVID-19 is as true or truer for other serious present and impending problems of global scope and potentially severe magnitude. The so-called retreat from globalization that partly results from some negative structural consequences of neoliberalism, which has given rise to resurgent nationalisms, seems understandable with respect to the relation of states to the world economy. Nevertheless, it is a disaster if this enhanced statism is extended, as seems to be the case, to ecological and ethical contexts that give substance to nationalist standpoints. Interconnectedness and widely diverse material circumstances are manageable under contemporary conditions only if the behavior of sovereign states accord far greater weight than now to policy coordination and collaboration by way of internationalism, as well as exhibit concrete appreciation of the practical and principled benefits of honoring the imperatives of empathy, hospitality, and human solidarity.

Decades ago, the American poet, Robert Frost, put his prophetic gift to work on what has now become a planetary truism for those who ponder the future of the human experience. In a poem, ‘One Step Backward Taken’ these words of Frost shine:

“I felt my standpoint shaken

In the universal crisis.”

Although I was conscious of the degree to which modern history featured a series of surprises that eluded experts, I was nevertheless surprised by the ferocity and rapid planetization of the Coronavirus assault on human health, and lifechanging, and likely permanent, ramifications for economic and social normalcy. It was not only a revelation of the precariousness of our individual and collective existence, but a stark reminder of the relevance of a sphere of life not previously given the societal and global attention and resources that were warranted. One question that will not be answered for some years is whether the aftermath of the pandemic will generate ‘a new world order,’ and if so, will it be an improvement on what existed before COVID-19. From past experiences, there is little reason to be hopeful unless a revolutionary movement below unexpectedly, effectively, and creatively challenges the established order.

The rhetoric of new world order was initially fashionable as a call for global reform at the dawn of the post-colonial age with its calls in the 1970s for ‘a new international economic order’ and ‘a new international information order,’ emanating from expectations that fairness was attainable if sufficient pressure from what was then known as ‘the Third World’ was mounted. These hopes were crushed by the political and economic forces aligned with capitalist geopolitics in the North dominating the existing world order at the time.

Almost twenty years later came George H. W. Bush’s mobilization of a response to Iraq’s conquest, occupation, and annexation of Kuwait in 1990 by suggesting that ‘a new world order’ was in the making by which he meant that the UN could function to prevent ‘aggression’ in the post-Cold War atmosphere as was originally intended when the UN was established in 1945. After Kuwaiti sovereignty was restored in the First Gulf War, the U.S. Government rushed to shrink expectations about a UN-centric world security system, fearing the responsibilities of being designated as the global peacekeeper. In the words of a leading Washington official at the time this idea of a new world order reliant on the UN ‘was put back on the shelf,’ that is, it was an idea that had served its purpose with respect to Kuwait but should not be counted upon to provide guidance for the future, especially tying American foreign policy and geopolitical discretion to a prior UN authorizations. In an unpublicized talk at Princeton James Baker, the influential U.S. Secretary of State at the time, gave a different spin. In essence Baker said, “Bush was wrong to associate the new world order with the centrality of the UN with regard to peace and security. He should have identified the new world order with the triumph of the American way of life in the Cold War, accompanied by glowing references to market economies and constitutionalism, which provided the contours of what became known during the 1990s as ‘the Washington consensus’ or ‘neoliberal globalization.’

We now can ask whether today’s politicians will think differently about the prospects for a new world order after the pandemic comes under control, and the crisis mood dissipates even if doesn’t fully disappear? It seems more likely that two clashing tendencies will dominate the pandemic aftermath. The first tendency will seek to restore the pre-pandemic dynamic of economic and political order, with modifications limited to augmenting the health sector, and taking advantage of the earlier dislocations to replace workers with machines. The second worrisome tendency is for political leaders to take advantage of the emergency prerogatives of government during the pandemic to institutionalize technologies of surveillance and control, while hardening their borders against immigrants and asylum seekers.

If actualized, neither of these two tendencies will give greater weight to global cooperation, human solidarity, UN authority, empathy, hospitality, and adherence to the Precautionary Principles in dealing with menacing threats clearly visible on the horizon of near future expectations. This further intensification of an already overly politically fragmented world order may be dramatic enough to lead critics to call attention to its defects by again applying the label of ‘new world order.’

If a benign new order built on the principles of stability and justice mentioned above, it will depend on pressures from a transnational movement rooted in civil society, and probably first arising in the Asian context, where several regional government displayed their superior problem-solving skills in the course of containing the COVID-19 challenge. Such a scenario could be endorsed, and even led, by China, the country more than any other with the stature and political imagination to take over global leadership from the United States, which has by its own will and dysfunctional behavior forfeited its prior role, at least temporarily. Of course, it is possible that a post-Trump America will heed Kissinger’s plea for a resumption of U.S. global leadership in ways that take inspiration from its successful restoration of a generally peaceful phase of world order after World War II. Or alternatively, possibly join with China in establishing a collaborative geopolitical framework to address more holistically and cooperatively the currently unsatisfactory responses to ecological, social, and economic global challenges. If this scenario emerges in either form, the label of new world order may yet come to be regarded as a sign of progress and hope, yet its realization will not happen without transnational activism of unprecedented depth and perseverance.

Only then can we recover a standpoint that upholds expectations for a humane and functional response to the universal crisis, which then would allow us to speak hopefully and responsibly about a new world order.