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New Left Review 4, July-August 2000

When the nation-state loses many of its traditional powers, Daniele Archibugi argues, democracy requires a cosmopolitan political authority above it. But current ‘humanitarian’ interventions do not fulfil such higher norms—they betray them, as the self-arrogated prerogatives of the few.



If we pause to ask ourselves, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, which political institutions constitute the world’s major depositories of power, we would have to reply: states. It is the same answer that any seasoned observer would have given in 1815. In the course of the last two centuries, state structures have only increased in the scale and scope of their dominion—a fact strikingly illustrated by a glance at the political map. With the exception of Antarctica, the entire land-surface of the planet is now divided into the bright, bold blocks of colour that denote states’ territory. If the United States is green, Canada is red: while inside states’ borders, the colours are homogeneous. The cartographical convention testifies to a certain political reality: however mixed the human experience—social, religious, ethnic—within its borders, unitary state power predominates overall. It is states that have armed forces; control police; mint currency; permit or refuse entrance to their lands; states that recognize citizens’ rights and impose their duties. Since states began, there has also been a slow, complex interaction between those who held power and those who were subject to it. In part of the world—fortunately, a growing one—the arbitrary use of government force is now subject to the checks and balances of a wider political community. The state has evolved, under the pressure of citizens, to become not only a tool of dominion but also an instrument of service. Never in the history of the human race has there been such a successful structure, one which has, de facto, become of crucial importance to all the inhabitants of the planet. No single religion—not even all the religions put together—has ever held as much power as the world’s states possess today.

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Daniele Archibugi, ‘Cosmopolitical Democracy’, NLR 4: £3

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