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2.2 Institutions, nations and distributed organisation and control
(the Westphalian Paradox)

   Through the Westphalian treaty (1648) a legal agreement was set up in central Europe, with the purpose of recognizing nation-states’ power to define...

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   Through the Westphalian treaty (1648) a legal agreement was set up in central Europe, with the purpose of recognizing nation-states’ power to define their policies and make their own decisions, under the commitment that the sovereignty of a state would be respected by the others. World complexity in those days was orders of magnitude less than today.

   It can be argued that the Treaty of Westphalia had a powerful global influence on the creation of independent nation-states around the world. Variances between states were large and hardly they could be considered the same thing. The situation today is high interconnectivity in a situation of a deep and growing unequal distribution of wealth and income and limited organisational capabilities to maintain cohesive nation-states. We operate in an interconnected world that is not supported by requisite organisational structures. The current global economic model and political organizational structure is in the root of the existence of nations-states with weak identities and poor cohesion that are responsible  for the emergence of humanitarian and other crisis situations.

   In these times of globalization, it is required political responses that challenge unrestricted independence and support autonomous states within the weak umbrella of cohesive forces, such as the United Nations. Indeed the European Union has been an attempt in the direction of stronger cohesion  but, as made apparent by Brexit, not without significant problems. Other regional initiatives have had even less development. Nationalisms and populisms oppose effective autonomy, at the same time that crude neoliberalism, interested just in open markets, produce undesirable inequalities and poor structural consequences.

   Working out the nature of desirable cohesive forces, from the local to the global, is one of the purposes of this session. Today the challenge is considering the possibility of nation-states under the umbrella of shared values and ethical guidelines, such as those required by responses to climate change, limited natural resources, health services beyond power imbalances (e.g. as those triggered by the pandemic Corona Virus), and several other threats that need and claim for solutions beyond the nation-state borders and capabilities.  In any case, it is necessary to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the greater planetary interconnection.

   Today we need organisational systems that offer respect and compassion and promote cohesion. It requires politicians, institutions and organisations with systemic sensibility to recognise relevant organisational systems and cohesion mechanisms. Paradoxically, in the middle of this messy situation a sort of civic global ethics is advancing among people at the same time that nationalists discourses proliferate.

Discussion points

  • Narrow Westphalian perspectives in responding to the global demands of fragile ecologies and climate threats.

  • Problems of cohesion at different structural levels in national contexts, accounting for their distribution of resources and availability of capabilities, from the local to the national level.

  • From the unrestricted independence of countries in a global context to the structures supporting national autonomies and global policy processes.

  • Overcoming nationalisms and populists  ideological constraints in the quest for better societies.


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