top of page

2.6 The Westphalian Paradox; Global Governance and Sustainability
(Round Table)

View less

   In globalization, the identity of the nation state is undergoing profound transformations; the problems it faces transcend its capabilities; the supranational domains of interest and responsibilities increase all the time. The UN calls for a "stronger and more coherent UN system, a global central bank, a global investment trust, a global environmental agency."

   The so-called "Compliance", as a growing commitment of the private sector, today includes money laundering, financing of terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational bribery and non-compliance with environmental protection standards. In various ways, tacit and explicit, politicians and governments recognize major global challenges: international agreements, manifestos, instruments and declarations address the aforementioned threats and others, such as crimes against humanity and abuses of biotechnology. The term multilevel governance (local governments, states, nations, European Union) points to new organizational understandings.

   Today the average interval between shocks is shorter than the relaxation time to absorb them. Institutions were originally designed to accept a much longer interval between shocks. Today the environmental challenges are shaking us at an increasing rate.

   The old questions about "who is the public" and how to gather and interpret collective opinions pose new challenges. Top-down approaches through regulation appear to be ineffective, while the scientific community complains about the so-called "clumsy climate strategy" with its appeal to treat problems at the lowest possible level of decision-making, when the challenge is global

   The scientific community has resonated to climate change, but in spite of all “words, words, words” the whole society is not resonating. Maybe, for very good reasons, as demonstrated by the slow response of governments to people’s demands.  In particular, significant parts of the scientific subsystem and the green part of the political system wants “full steam ahead”, but there may be a lot of winners and losers, so any policy for aspects such as climate change must incorporate equality and proportionality. Resonating the whole society may release gigantic amounts of uncontrolled and unchecked variety There may therefore be very good cybernetic reasons for wishing great transitions to be spear-headed by only a few resonating subsystems. Still to accomplish the transition both the political subsystem and the civil society must be on board.

   We may refer to this as the Westphalian Paradox, where nation states, as established in 1648 as part of the Peace of Westphalia, trump the societal global level all the time, increasingly endangering the future of society.


Discussion points

bottom of page