Even those who embrace ‘globalization’ are nervous of its contradictions and what exists to control them. Its critics have no doubts. They wish to counter both. Fredric Jameson looks forward to transnational solidarities of opposition, Daniele Archibugi to a transnational democracy.footnote1 Jameson is confessedly utopian, Archibugi more practical. He sees that a new politics will have to be constructed out of the old.

It may not matter that the problems he detects in the new ‘globalization’ are not new. None of those he mentions has been caused by that lifting of controls on currency and capital markets and of restrictions on international trade, of that ease of communication and explosion of information and disinformation, even of that dissolution of clear and separate local tastes, which most clearly mark the recent past. Some states, as he says, do face more demands than they once did. Some even face secession. Many create problems for which they are disinclined to take responsibility or even admit. Many have to take decisions, about terms of trade with other states, for instance, or drugs, or immigration, that they cannot act on alone. And there are certainly transnational interests that are ‘far from any popular mandate’. But people have been protesting against the powers of rule since rule began. The crystallisation, in Europe, in the seventeenth century, of the idea of state sovereignty, and its extension to the rest of the world, have served merely to give such protests a sharper shape. For five hundred years, Europe’s imperialisms created crises of subsistence, disease and toleration far worse than any in the past forty. Large famines are now rare; genocides are a shadow of those perpetrated in the past; the great migrations are over; and transnational powers responsible to no-one, from the Roman Church to finance capital, are not recent.

Yet there is a new enthusiasm for what liberals used to call ‘world government’. As before, it has followed war. It flared in Washington’s self-serving talk, in the early nineties, of a ‘New World Order’ and the ‘dividends’ of peace, and sputters on. The demand itself, however, is old. Archibugi mentions Kant’s Perpetual Peace. His assumptions are similar, his politics different. ‘Cosmopolitical democracy is based on the assumption that important objectives—control of the use of force, respect for human rights, self-determination—will be obtained only through the extension and development of democracy.’ He is unpersuasive, and in distinguished company. Kant is unpersuasive also.

Archibugi does not brush states aside. They are the ultimate powers, and can coerce. But Kant would not have been alone in 1795, and would not be alone now, in upbraiding him for suggesting that their authority has come to be ‘subject to the checks and balances of a wider political community’ of citizens. There is a difference between the ‘checks and balances’ of a constitutional kind and those which citizens can impose in their intermittent vote. Constitutionalists have not always been leery of state power. The illiberal, in France and Japan and elsewhere in the nineteenth century, in much of Latin America and Asia in the twentieth, and a few already in the twenty-first, have wanted to concentrate it. (‘The state will eventually collapse’, remarked one of the architects of the Meiji constitution in the 1880s, ‘if politics is entrusted to the reckless discussions of the people’.) The more liberal have wanted to disperse it, even if the constitutions by which they stand have often stood idle. Democrats, by contrast, as some of Kant’s republican contemporaries, like Madison, clearly saw, may not always speak of power, but are sure that they should have it all. The state should be the instrument of the people. Archibugi is a democrat, morally liberal, but not constitutionally so. To him, checks and balances lie in that ‘pressure of citizens’ which turns a ‘tool of dominion’ into ‘an instrument of service’.

One may disagree. The important point is that the politics of modern liberal democratic states, and of those states in which liberal democrats fight those of different persuasions, has been and remains a battle between those who have power, those who wish to limit that power, and those who want power for themselves. The important difference, Archibugi would insist, is between states in which the people, as the saying is, are ‘sovereign’, and those in which they are not. But it does not follow, as he suggests, that all that is good about modern states comes from the ‘wider political community’ of citizens, and that the best state is one in which this community rules. Kant’s own argument against democracy in 1795, it is true, owed more to fear and prejudice than to reason, and was transparently bad. (It is telling testimony to the power of piety over intelligence that so many have for so long thought Perpetual Peace an impressive work.) A democracy, Kant claimed, is necessarily despotic ‘because it establishes an executive power through which all the citizens may make decisions about (and indeed against) the single individual without his consent, so that decisions are made by all the people and yet not by all the people; and this means that the general will is in contradiction with itself, and thus also with freedom.’footnote2 He was convinced that there was a general will, but recoiled at the thought of an executive of the people deciding what this was. Most would now accept that no executive should have unrestrained power. Only those who are certain, as Kant was in theory, but not in fact, that ‘the people’ are fundamentally of one right mind could disagree.