New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Long reads
5 November 2001

The fight for a cosmopolitan future

What defined the nation state, according to Max Weber, was its power to declare war and peace. But w

By Ulrich Beck

People have often asked: “What could unite the world?” And the answer sometimes given is: “an attack from Mars”. In a sense, that was just what happened on 11 September: an attack from our inner Mars. It worked as predicted. For a few weeks at least, the warring camps and nations of the world united against the common foe of global terrorism.

The priorities of US foreign policy have changed with breathtaking speed. The preoccupation with a national missile defence shield has receded. US security, it is now understood, lies not in going it alone down the high road of technology, but in the high politics of a global alliance. Old rivalries with Moscow and Beijing have been forgotten as the US realises that its campaign in Afghanistan to “defend” its domestic security demands co-operation with Russia. Equally, the US understands that it needs Arab and Muslim help and, therefore, a real ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.

In an age when trust and faith in God, class, nation and government have largely disappeared, humanity’s common fear has proved the last resource for making new bonds, melting the iron verities of national and international politics. The perceived risk of global terrorism has produced a quasi-revolutionary situation. It could mean the end of unilateralism and isolationism in US foreign policy, and a unifying foreign policy mission that tames national and regional conflicts and rivalries. But equally, it could mean a “crusade” that produces new squads of terrorists in its wake; and it could mean the loss of important freedoms, the return of protectionism and nationalism, and the demonisation of the culturally Other.

The terrorist attack on globalisation has had exactly the opposite effect to the one it intended. It has pushed us into a new phase of globalisation – the globalisation of politics, the moulding of states into transnational co-operative networks. Once more, the rule has been confirmed that resistance to globalisation only accelerates it. Anti-globalisation activists operate on the basis of global rights, global markets, global mobility and global networks. They both think and act in global terms, and use them to awaken global awareness and a global public. The terrorists of 11 September seem to have chosen a target precisely because it would look striking on the covers of news magazines.

Yet in the aftermath of the terrorist attack, the state is back, and for the oldest Hobbesian reason – the provision of security. Around the world we will see governments become more powerful, more intrusive and more active – not only in anti-terrorist alliances but also in relation to the challenges of globalisation, its impacts and risks. This will not please civil libertarians and human rights activists, but it will not matter. Because at the same time, the two most dominant ideas about the state – the idea of the national state and the idea of the neoliberal state – have both lost their reality, their necessity. Neoliberalism and the free market were supposed to hold the keys to the future. Over the past two decades, they have grown into a hegemonic force. But suddenly, in this time of dramatic global conflict, neoliberalism’s fundamental postulate, that state and politics should be replaced by the market, seems absurdly unconvincing. When asked whether the $40bn that the US government requested from Congress for the war against terrorism did not contradict the neoliberal creed to which the Bush administration subscribes, its spokesman replied laconically: “National security comes first.”

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But national security is no longer national security. This is the second big lesson of the terrorist attack. Alliances are nothing new, but the decisive difference about this global alliance is that its purpose is to preserve internal security, not external. All the distinctions that make up our standard picture of the modern state – the borders that divide domestic from international, the police from the military, crime from war and war from peace – have been overthrown. It was precisely those distinctions that defined the nation state. Without them, the nation state is a zombie. It still looks alive, but it’s dead.

Foreign and domestic policy, national security and international co-operation are all now interlocked. The only way to deal with global terror is also the only way to deal with global warming, immigration, poison in the food chain and organised crime. In all these cases, national security is transnational co-operation. Paradoxically, states, in order to pursue their national interests, have to denationalise and transnationalise themselves. They have to broker away parts of their sovereignty in order to control their national destiny. Since 11 September, “terrorist sleepers” have been identified in Hamburg, Germany, and many other places. Therefore German domestic policy is now an important part of US domestic and foreign policy. So are the domestic, foreign, security and defence policies of France, Pakistan, Great Britain, Russia and so on.

Is Germany at war? Max Weber maintained that the power to declare war or peace was one of the essential features of a state. If it doesn’t have a monopoly over war and peace, it isn’t a state. I am a resident of Munich. Who represented the people of Munich in the decision on war and peace? The city council? The Bavarian state government? The German parliament? The federal chancellor? The European Parliament? The European Commission? The Nato high command? President Bush? The UN Security Council? The rules may seem clear, but the reality increasingly is not. The power to decide between war and peace is no longer a matter for an individual state acting autonomously. Sovereignty and the state, an indissoluble unity in Weber’s eyes, have grown apart.

The global terrorist threat is leading not to a renaissance of nation states, but to the accelerated development of what I call transnational co-operation states. The national point of view is an obstacle to the reinvention of politics in the age of globalisation. This has been dramatically spelled out in the case of domestic security. Every day reveals some new way in which the borders that once defined the nation state are simultaneously vanishing and being transnationally renegotiated, refixed. But this discovery can equally be applied to the problem of global poverty or human rights or the injured human dignity of the post-colonial world.

There are at least two different types of transnational co-operation state: the surveillance state and the cosmopolitan state. Surveillance states threaten to use the new power of co-operation to build themselves into fortress states, in which security and military concerns will loom large, and freedom and democracy will shrink. Already we hear about how western societies have become so used to peace and well-being that they lack the necessary vigour to distinguish friends from enemies, and about how some of our precious rights will have to be sacrificed for the sake of security. This attempt to construct a western citadel against the threat of the Other has already sprung up in every country and will only increase in the years to come. It is the sort of thing out of which a democratic authoritarianism might eventually arise, a system in which maintaining flexibility towards the world market would be premised on increasing domestic rigidity. Globalisation’s winners would get neoliberalism, and globalisation’s losers would get the back of the hand: a heightened fear of foreigners, born of a fear of terrorism, and spiked with the poison of racism.

What are we fighting for when we fight against global terrorism? My answer is that we should fight for the right to be cosmopolitan, which is fundamentally based on the recognition of the otherness of others. What we need is a system of states that make it possible to take that responsibility rather than closing it off.

National states present a threat to the inner complexity, the multiple loyalties, the social flows and fluids that the age of globalisation has caused to slosh across their borders. And conversely, the national states can’t help but see such blurring of borders as a threat to their existence. Cosmopolitan states, by contrast, emphasise the necessity of solidarity with foreigners both inside and outside the national borders.

They do this by connecting self-determination with responsibility for (national and non-national) Others. It is not a matter of limiting or negating self-determination. On the contrary, it is a matter of freeing self-determination from its Cyclopean national vision and connecting it to the world’s concerns. Cosmopolitan states struggle not only against terror, but against the causes of terror. They seek to regain and renew the power of politics to shape and persuade, and they do this by seeking the solution of global problems that are even now burning humanity’s fingertips but which cannot be solved by individual nations on their own.

In the 17th century, the Peace of Westphalia ended what we call the Thirty Years War in Europe by separating church and state. The solution to the wars, including civil wars, that have now plagued humanity for nearly a century may be something similar: the separation of state and nation. Just as the areligious state finally made possible the peaceful coexistence of multiple religions, so the cosmopolitan state could allow the coexistence of multiple national identities.

We should seize this opportunity to reconceive the European political project as an experiment in the building of cosmopolitan states – and a cosmopolitan Europe, whose political force would emerge directly out of the worldwide struggle against terrorism, but also out of the affirmation and taming of European national complexity. We should try to build a Europe that preserves the continent’s niches and characters, but removes from them all the things that make them threatening to others. That is truly something worth fighting for.

Ulrich Beck is professor of sociology at the University of Munich and the London School of Economics. His books include Risk Society (1992) and What is Globalization? (1999)

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy