global trends, values, and ethics

Chapter 3

Global Political Orders

In “Governing the Globe,” Michael Walzer imagines possible worlds along an axis of increasing unity of global governance. Each political arrangement shapes a variation of our values. On one end of the spectrum there is international anarchy: although national governments may rule, governance on coordination, cooperation, and decision making does not exist at a supranational level. This world is the most divided. At the other most united extreme, one world government influences—if not determines—the lives of all people. With the boundaries of possible arrangements delimited, Walzer then offers seven political arrangements in order of increasing centralization: international anarchy, weak states and institutions, international civil society network, decentered world, federation of nation-states, global hegemonic empire, and unified global state. Centralization refers to the lack of division in global political order:

The centralization of the global state [the most united state on the continuum], by contrast, is unqualified. Following Thomas Hobbes’s argument in Leviathan, I want to say that such a state could be a monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy; its unity is not affected by its political character. By contrast, unity is certainly affected by any racial, religious, or ethnic divisions, whether these are hierarchical in nature, as in the imperial case, establishing significant inequalities among the groups, or merely functional or regional. Any political realization of difference moves us [leftward] on the continuum as I am imagining it.[14]


This regime is radically decentered, and a greater sovereign or law does not bind sovereign states. There are no organizations or long-lasting alliances around transnational issues. Cooperation happens only if there are coincident interests between states. Sovereignty is the best at protecting individual liberty (at least on the international level if not at the domestic) and at preserving distinct historical cultures–national, ethnic, and religious. However, anarchy is a situation of war or the specter thereof. There are no international mechanisms to guard against inequality.


This is the least ideal world in the sense that it is the most similar to the actual world that we live in today. There is some modification of state sovereignty, and there are more global organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, and NATO, but they are still weak in the sense that they draw their powers from states. Pluralism faces challenges here since weak states cannot protect their peoples. There are weak protections for individual rights, and inequality has the potential to be high. The frequency of conflict is less in this arrangement due to better organization and cooperation, but the threat of war remains.


A plurality of international associations proliferates across state borders. This is a world composed of activists, and the role of states is limited. These transnational networks can accomplish much, but they do not have the resources, might, and organization equal to states. International civil society associations will tend to react to crises, rather than prevent them. They lack the ability to plan, anticipate, and prevent. These organizational limitations have significant consequences on the composition of values. Understanding among peoples mitigates much conflict. While pluralism beyond borders thrives in this situation, civil society networks do not have the ability to broker peace in countries torn by civil war. Nor do they have the means to redistribute resources significantly. Individuals are freer to communicate, associate, and bond with people from other countries; they are no longer bound to geographical constraints. However, some actors’ liberties will be more pronounced than others. For example, multinational corporations with professional paid employees can overwhelm other global actors. This will present challenges to regulation and distribution.


The anarchy of states is mitigated by alternative centers of power such as international civil society, international organizations, and regional unions. These centers contain dense webs of transnational social ties. International organizations are strengthened on top of the institutional structures that exist today. The UN has stronger enforcement capacities and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund regulate the flow of capital and international investment. Regional organizations will play a larger role.[15] This regime provides the greatest chance for peace, justice, cultural difference, and individual liberty. It presents the least risk of tyranny from other individuals, states, and organizations. This situation can be characterized as having the greatest political possibility in contrast to the guaranteed political success of a unified global state (defined below) or the uncertainty of international anarchy. However, liberty will be variegated by civil society, state, and region: individuals in different settings will have different protections and entitlements. This multiplicity of actors will also raise questions for the prospects of peace for the worst off. It will be difficult to determine who will be responsible to ensure basic human rights for those people in power centers indifferent to liberty, justice, peace, and pluralism. Although the UN will have more force for humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping, there will be greater chances for failure since accountability and responsibility will be difficult to achieve among diffuse power centers. Thus, there is a danger that great powers may assume a genocidal indifference toward some in order to achieve a larger peace. Additional disadvantages include slow decisions, no perpetual peace, and no single identity.


Like the decentered world there are multiple power sources and international organizations, however, a federation of nation-states is oligarchic, and the greatest powers act as the central mediators. States must chose to give up sovereignty in return for a contract with a constitutional division of power. The political characters of state regimes are similar. An oligarchic order allows for better material equality. Since states agree to an order, they will be less likely to go to war with one another. Thus the likelihood for peace is greater in this situation than any other discussed so far. A constitution will also ensure that signatory states will enjoy some security over their cultures. However, these benefits come at a great cost: this order is most likely to be forced rather than chosen and will hence be undemocratic. Finally, individual liberty would suffer greatly.


A global empire regime would have one dominant power ruling over all others. Autonomy for other states would be granted, rather than achieved. There would be some room for cultural independence, but only according to the toleration of the hegemon. Empire might lead to one of the most stable regimes, thus a global peace could easily follow because the hegemon would determine it. However, the hegemon would only guarantee peace for some cultural groups. These groups, though, would be considered subjects rather than political participants. Individuals and groups within states would receive no guarantees. There would be no necessary aim at distributive justice, and empire would display the most extreme form of inequality.


In this regime, sovereign states no longer exist, and global governance is completely centralized. All people are equal citizens of a world that recognizes no boundaries. The strength of this order leads to the maximization of absolute peace and egalitarian distributive justice. There is no cultural divergence and whatever individual differences exist, they are ignored. This is a situation of perfect cultural convergence. Notions of individual liberty and cultural diversity will be challenged, since no individuals as we understand them today will exist because convergence eliminates all personal and cultural differences.


These summaries are not meant to be exhaustive descriptions. Rather, they will provide the basis for how to make sense of the many possible worlds and values that will be further developed in the following chapters.

[14] Walzer, “Governing the Globe,” p. 44. Unlike in Walzer’s original piece, here, I illustrate increasing centralization from left to right on the continuum.

[15] For an illustration of such a decentered world characterized by regionalism, see Andrew Hurrell, “One World? Many Worlds? The Place of Regions in the Study of International Society,” International Affairs 83, No. 1 (January 2007): 127–146.

Copyright © 2014 by Thong Nguyen

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Of All Possible Future Worlds: Global Trends, Values, and Ethics by Thong Nguyen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.