Party Politics: Meaninglessness in a globalised world

By John Bunzl, Simpol founder

With politicians of all parties bemoaning the public’s deepening disinterest in party politics and trying to devise ever more elaborate wheezes to entice them back to the ballot box, almost no one seems to have noticed that globalisation itself is quietly setting the narrow parameters within which national political discourse has become confined.

Today, financial markets represent a largely borderless world with trillions of dollars able to move from one end of the global to another in a matter of seconds. Likewise, it’s relatively easy for major corporations to switch or outsource their production to wherever in the world offers the lowest costs and the highest profits.

The ability of capital to move freely and globally by and large has the effect of forcing all governments to enact only those policies designed to enhance (or defend) their nation’s ability to attract capital, investment and jobs. For without them, their economy will go into decline. It follows, then, that whichever party we elect has no choice but to follow substantially the same market- and business-friendly policy agenda; that is, what might be called the “national competitiveness” agenda – the modern-day version of pursuing the national interest.

That’s why, in whatever country we may live, we find left-of-center parties adopting policies traditionally espoused by right-of-center parties. It’s why New Labour’s Tony Blair was often said to be the best Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher. Or, as the former Conservative prime minister, John Major, himself once put it, “I went swimming leaving my clothes on the bank and when I came back Tony Blair was wearing them” (The Week, 29 October, 1999).

Hence globalisation, for all its good and bad points, has also resulted in all political factions, once they come to power, having no choice but to pursue substantially the same policies. Party politics, consequently, has become substantially devoid of meaning. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that lower voter turnouts, and the general pervading cynicism about politics, are the inevitable outcome. These effects are the ingredients of what the famous philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, calls a “legitimation crisis”; a breakdown in the adequacy of the existing worldview and its governance systems to command allegiance amongst the population as a whole.

Globalisation, in other words, has rendered much of what citizenship means meaningless. And so, for anyone to try to address politics only at a national level is, in this day and age, to miss the “bleeding rhino head in the room”; that thinking about politics and governance now needs to move decisively up to the global level. Our thinking about politics needs to move, in other words, from nation-centric to world-centric.

The ossification and emptiness of today’s political discourse is one symptom, in effect, of the present global crisis brought on by globalisation; a crisis which, in a broader view of things, is telling us that the present most senior organs of governance in the world – nation-sates – are now no longer capable of governing adequately; that they are reaching the end of their evolutionary lives and now need to be “transcended and included” by a still-higher level of governance. As philosopher, Ken Wilber, concurs, “The modern nation-state, founded upon initial rationality, has run into its own internal contradictions or limitations, and can only be released by a vision-logic/planetary transformation” (Sex Ecology Spirituality, p. 192).

And as to how citizens may discover a completely new way to engage with politics which is truly transnational (i.e. world-centric) and which transcends the old party-political divides, there is now a solution available; a solution called the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) http://www.simpol.org. As Wilber points out, “The central idea of Simpol is very powerful; that is, the notion of how to link votes in one country with votes in another – how to link political action in one country with action in another. International competition is built-in to the nation-state system at its current level of development, and so the issue is not environmental concerns, but how to get humans to agree on environmental concerns. This is really fascinating and very hopeful. In my opinion this is the crucial issue for the 21st century”.

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2 thoughts on “Party Politics: Meaninglessness in a globalised world

  1. John,
    You espoused a really interesting insight when you wrote:

    “Globalisation, in other words, has rendered much of what citizenship means meaningless.”

    A big part of what citizenship is equated with in modern parlance is patriotism, and patriotism is often equated with the support of ones government at all times. This is really unfortunate as a more hopeful definition of patriotism would equal it with standing up for the principles your country ‘claims’ it supports. In the U.S. for example, this would include freedom of expression, equal opportunities to access wealth, protection of human rights, a fairly and democratically elected representative government.

    However, while such aspects of citizenship remain, they remain superficially in the face of the the need to develop policies to attract capital and jobs without regard to the values of citizens. Thus, conservative political parties which claim to espouse these very idea are ultimately closer ideologically to the policy needs than they left-wing counterparts in a world where cooperation is minimal. As such, there is nearly no room to maneuver when it comes to the end goals of economic policy…sure the means may differ based on political ideology, but the end result is the same, make the country as attractive to investment as possible. This has knock-on effects on social policy, foreign policy and environmental policy and binds them within certain parameters.

    Instead of causing a reduction in national democratic sovereignty therefore, a lack of simultaneous policy organization between would logically increase it and allowing citizens to see their values manifest in the form of global policy coordination.

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