Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization
Paul Raskin’s Journey to Earthland offers a compelling read on the current state of the global system, and on possibilities for a truly significant transformation to a more sustainable and just order. Here, I will offer two comments: on the role of a world government in Raskin’s envisioned scheme, and on the role of global citizens.
Raskin provides some details about a world constitution he envisions as being enacted in the year 2048. It would be informed by a master principle of "constrained pluralism," composed of principles of irreducibility, heterogeneity, and subsidiarity. Raskin notes that his aim is not to offer a rigid blueprint for global citizenship, and this seems to extend to his treatment of the kinds of institutions that might embody the constitutional principles. The account leaves a good bit of institutional detail to be filled in. However, there has been a resurgence over the past two decades or so in rigorous thought on world government and global democratic forms which would provide rich resources for a dialogue on possible blueprints.
It began shortly after the fall of the USSR, a period which Raskin sees as significant for signalling some possibilities for change. Then, authors such as David Held and Daniele Archibugi began to argue that forces of globalization were effectively taking democratic decision-making authority from domestic polities, and that the way to restore it was to move toward binding global democracy. A number of subsequent accounts have given us a rich vein to mine for dialogue on global democratic forms. These include ones from such authors as Richard Falk, who proposes global parliamentary arrangements which could be feasible in the near term, but which are not envisioned as some form of binding world government.1 The civil society Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly has collected the endorsements of 1400 sitting and former parliamentarians globally for a UN second assembly of the kind for which academics have called. It would be consultative at first, with aims to enhance its actual powers over time, similar to the European Parliament.
Many other prominent scholars have in recent years argued that continuing and new global security threats should lead us to some limited form of world government, while others have argued that a nascent world government already is visible and will emerge from existing global institutions, or that economic integration trends or trends towards states demanding recognition from one another will impel the global system towards full, state-like political integration. This literature again would provide important resources to inform a dialogue around possible blueprints.
Finally, I would like to make a point about global citizenship, a concept central to Raskin’s analysis of how the transition to a decent planetary civilization might be spurred. This has been a focus of my own work over the past decade, and I would see the emphasis in Raskin’s account on mobilizing individual actors to act as members of a rights-respecting, democratic global community as crucial to any desirable transition. Raskin rightly notes global action by individuals joined internationally in the late 1990s and early 2000s targeting the World Trade Organization and like agents of the global economy. One of the things I have learned in my own studies is that many other types of actors are enacting very meaningful practices of global citizenship, including actors in the Global South. These include, I would argue, unauthorized migrants seeking entry to affluent countries. They can be seen as committing acts of conscientious evasion, in trying to claim a decent standard of living and related rights which are enumerated in global human rights treaties but which are all too often denied in the current system.
They also would include, perhaps more directly, excluded and oppressed domestic groups who have sought to use the UN human rights regime to pressure their own states for change. Notable such efforts include those by African American civil society groups and leaders in the 1940s and 50s (NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois, Paul Robeson), and ongoing efforts by Dalit (formerly "untouchables") groups in India to spur action on caste discrimination. Such efforts draw attention to possibilities for an alternate global structure, one where more strongly empowered regional and global institutions can play a more proactive role in reinforcing rights protections and democratic participation.
These comments are offered in service primarily of indicating future directions. Raskin’s work offers an important call to global action, and some highly salient and useful indications of the overall shape such action might take.
Endnotes1. Daniele Archibgui and David Held, Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss, A Global Parliament: Essays and Articles (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2011).
As a forum for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.