here to return to
the full series!
Briefing Paper Series
Bernt Pölling-Vocke (email@example.com)
Master of International Relations
Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
|Do new social movements represent a threat to statism?|
they ought to, and according to followers of new social movements, for a
reason. The challenges of the modern age have arisen from the logic of
the nation state. As in a world of nation-states power is identified
with a state’s capacity to maneuver in a world of other, competing
states, the ensuing threats to humanity question the state’s
legitimacy. At least from the perspective of united humanity or those
suffering from representative governments working hand in hand with
economical elites. Many problems, such as the nuclear arms races, the
global economic race to the bottom, the abuse of human rights in the
name of national security, widespread ruthless behaviour towards
humankind’s environment driven by short-term interests and many more,
are consequences of the world’s make-up into artificial nation states.
Such a world often offers no identifiable, challengeable centre, as
globalization constantly weakens the nation-state and thus results in
even fuzzier targets and richer elites. Therefore, the nation-state
system centring on “exclusion and war” has to be abandoned from the
bottom-up, or bypassed during the formulation of a critique.
bottom-up social movements, the “new left”, prioritize the ethical
individual over the political collective. The individual dissident, a
figure arisen from state opposition in post-1968 Eastern Europe, is the
movement’s ideal. The dignity of the individual thrones above mass
politics, and the anti-political stance of those who “don’t want to
be politicians and don’t want to share power” formed the core idea
of the dissident movement, a movement of political refusal, not
political participation. The new social movement.
parliamentary democracies are unable to mount any fundamental opposition
to the “automatism of technological civilization and the
industrial-consumer society” and manipulate individuals in subtle ways,
the state as the site of power and control has to be condemned.
Democratic liberalism is thus not much more than imprisonment of the
individual, imprisoned in a state-made world of inclusion and exclusion
course, states would be threatened by movements proclaiming such
ideologies if those movements were strong enough to capture the masses.
A state would stop being a state if all individuals were to stop acting
their state-given roles from one minute to the next. If all New
Zealander’s would agree, New Zealand could cease to exist within
minutes, even though it would take a while to remove all signs of the
former imprisonment. All-Blacks flags just sold too well. The completely
fabricated state is nothing but an artificial construction, only
existing as long as people believe in it. However, people do. New
Zealand is actively trying to create a national identity and arguably
succeeding. A year ahead of the 2006 World Cup of Soccer, Germany is
gearing up for the largest love-fest of nationalism humanity knows,
besides the more universal Olympics, which largely lack the World
Cup’s enthusiasm. South Africa is treating its 2010 World Cup as the
official return to the world after two decades of harsh post-apartheid
transformation. London celebrated its 2012 Olympics for a day, before
continuing with a celebration of being British and the spirit of the
Blitz the day after. Secondary school-students from uncountable tribes
in Mzumbe, Tanzania, begin each morning with a united singing of the
national anthem, aimed at creating the much needed national pride.
Americans are more patriotic than ever. All this is wrong, new social
movements claim, but without question very strong.
are new social movements really a threat to statism and all connected
features of realism, thus mercantilism and nationalism?
All state-leaders are realists and economic nationalists, to
varying degrees, as few fit neatly into the corresponding boxes, but if
the collective population were part of a new social movement, a
state-leader would find himself with nothing to lead.
all individuals would self-empower themselves in their daily lives, the
prevailing image of power and revolution-opportunities would be
shattered to pieces, as each individual’s refusal to treat politics as
something “out there” would bring along the “grand revolution”
without a perceived grand revolution; a period of heroism, violence and
upheaval. Past social movements, such as Mahatma Ghandi’s civil
disobedience-movement in India, have proven that social bottom-up
movements can indeed threaten a state, or a colony in this case. New
social movements present a different threat towards the nation state.
They try to resist the incorporation into the statist framework and
reject any attempt to reconstitute traditional understandings of the
political make-up of the world, based on representational rights. The
movement is not about turning the current state into a different kind of
state or even global state. The movement is disillusioned with mass
politics per se, and just as the pre-modernistic demonstrators in 1999
Seattle aimed at the destruction of the corrupt and rotten system, the
new social movements want to do away with the artificial state-made
critics argue that governance without government, the high aim of the
One World / Many Worlds ideology, would be difficult to accomplish
without the enabling role of, paradoxically, the state, and
transnational problems would proof difficult to treat without even more
governing capacities, thus some kind of world government (Etzioni). It
is also argued that the global movement of movements is more imaginary
than real, as the claim towards its existence merely ought to overplay
the single movements’ neglectable domestic influence.
could be argued that the missing empowering key towards a world of
self-empowerment lies in the challenge of connection, as people would
not feel as powerless as they are made to feel by the manipulative
status quo. According to this logic, the potential for collective
self-empowerment exists, but is overshadowed by the fragmentation of
humanity. Universal connectivedness would turn the grand structures of a
world turning a blind eye towards poverty and famine, among other
pressing issues, less distant and immovable (Walker, 1988). Surprisingly,
the obstacle of connection is declining rapidly, with one billion people
using the internet in 2005 and a rapid, global increase projected for
the short-term future. Every movement thus has a theoretical opportunity
to be heard, read and seen by the masses and maintain its autonomy
outside the political process. Strangely, so far little danger for the
nation-state has arisen, and a majority of global users appears more
interested in self-inflicted cultural imperialism, as illegal downloads
of predominately western entertainment products has spun out of control.
there is no true “movement of movements” and if governance without
government, a world made up out of numerous informal, communal bodies,
all united in their dissidence to the state-made status quo, appears
unable to achieve anything without the helping hand of some kind of
state-structure, it appears safe to conclude that new social movements
are hardly a threat towards statism. Social movements are mapped better
than ever before, largely due to the rapid spread of modern technologies,
but the world is drifting clearly towards “Two Worlds” instead “
One World / Many Worlds”. Despite all this, social movements, whether
traditional or new movements, are not completely neglectable, as their
presence is occasionally influential in the sphere of mass politics. If
they were as much of a mass phenomena as terms such as the “movement
of movements” appear to indicate, statism would be at immediate risk.
So far the ongoing efforts of state-making and common
identity-construction by nation-states are successfully drowning out the
new left’s isolated radical cries for the universal recognition of
differences and autonomy in a state-less world.