Ireland has had a well documented, rather turbulent recent economic history. Following on from the bursting of the property bubble and the attendant banking collapse, an extraordinarily myopic political decision to nationalise the exposure of the banks led to a sovereign debt crisis, and, ultimately, a bailout from the troika of the IMF, ECB and European Commission. Apart from the loss of money, there was plenty dramatic wailing about the loss of National Sovereignty, and references to the War of Independence and the heroes of 1916 and ‘is this what they died for?’ rhetoric. There was even a nuance to the sovereignty question, in that the country had lost her economic sovereignty, whatever that meant.
Now, politics has always had an uneasy alliance with the propriety of language, bending it to its will as any situation may have seen fit. The distinction between economic sovereignty, and other sovereignty, one supposes, is that while we’re not necessarily allowed to award pay rises to civil servants, we are still permitted to invade England. At least we have that, I guess. Of course, the extent to which we are – truly – permitted to invade England is limited in exactly the same way as our freedom to spend money has been limited. It is not a flat prohibition on action through coercive or other power that has limited what Ireland as a State can do; it is the threat of exclusion from international systems upon which we have become irrevocably dependent that limits our action.
Charles Moore’s article in the Telegraph yesterday caused something of a stir. Equality, he said, was not really a good thing at all. What’s that you say? He must be an elitist! How uncool is that! Well, essentially he was arguing that in the context of women in the army, and in particular on the front line of the army, that it was one step too far. Women just are not as strong as men, and therefore shouldn’t be there. His argument weakened when he extended it into civil partnership, defining marriage in terms of the legal structures for its dissolution, which appears to me to be something of a non sequitur. In essence, Moore misses the point that ‘unconventional’ couples are not seeking access to the institution, but rather to its attendant rights; indeed, they are seeking to fundamentally alter the institution, and make it more inclusive, rather than simply more equal.
On the plane to New York I was reading an interesting article in the Economist on The Politics of The Internet, that asked the question whether Internet activism could develop into a ‘real political movement’. It was an interesting sentence construction, one that presupposed how politics should work, and that the real effect of significant change may not be within the system – in the form of a political party, one that spans borders – but with the system itself. For example, open source software should not succeed at all based on the market based assumptions of equity distribution. It succeeds in spite of the system, not because of it. At the same time, I’m reading Zizek’s First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, notwithstanding his pathological fear of footnotes.
I posted just yesterday about the Informal Economy described by Robert Neuwirth as System D, where it is projected that by 2020 two thirds of the world’s workers will operate. That’s an economy almost entirely independent of the state, and the nation state structure. It all harks back to the Industrial Revolution, which spawned Marxism and the labour movement, a movement that brought communism and great intellectual struggle. We have to believe that within those workers there will be able leaders; English as a language is increasingly unifying peoples. It could be an interesting century yet!
I mentioned in passing yesterday that ‘In Africa, many tribes operate … with their own systems of justice’, though I did not have a reference. This morning, my attention was brought to a recent UN Development Program (UNDP) report entitled Informal Justice Systems. In it, the report states that ‘…80% of disputes are resolved through informal justice systems in some countries’. The claim is based on research by Ewa Wojkowska . The combination of the Informal Economy and Informal Justice is of course mesmerising. If those two beasts can find some resonance with an Informal Security apparatus, then hey presto, you have a de facto State, but not one in the conventional family of nations, rather is it more like some globalised feudalism, a million miles from Manhattan.
In considering the concept of state legitimacy, we need to understand why is it so important? I’ve mentioned before that there are two kinds of legitimacy as I see it, an internal legitimacy and an external legitimacy. External legitimacy is that conferred upon a sovereign state by the international community, affording it standing in the community of nations, making it entitled to trade and interact in international affairs. Internal legitimacy is that internal relationship between the state and its people, wherein the state is recognised as representative, or authoritative in matters such as justice, taxation and (to a greater or lesser degree) morality.
In order to understand why legitimacy is important, we should consider what happens when it disappears. We need to consider this in respect of both internal and external legitimacy. External legitimacy is perhaps easier to consider, as there are so many well documented examples, and because the legitimating forces are clear and easily measurable; when the international community describes a country as a failed state, it is primarily in relation to its external legitimacy. Sanctions are usually the first indicator. The International Community decides, in its wisdom, that due to some breach in the rules – formal or otherwise – a State, and in particular its régime, needs to alter its behaviour in order to be considered persona grata. The State becomes isolated, trade opportunities become limited, and economic progress is retarded. This happened in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, Somalia – the list goes on.
Glenn Greenwald’s most excellent series on Security and Liberty in The Guardian addresses most recently the definition of terrorism, and in particular the case of a gangland shooting where a man called Morales shot and killed an innocent 10-year-old girl by mistake. The State of New York convicted him of being a terrorist, defined by state laws as acting with ‘intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.’ The interpretation of the court was that Morales actions were designed to coerce the entire Mexican-American community, and were therefore terrorist. On appeal, the court not only rejected the terrorism conviction, but also sent the entire case for retrial, as the standards by which terrorist trials were conducted were different to those of non-terrorist offences.
A draft declaration from talks in Marrakech on the situation in Syria from the Friends of Syria has recognisedthe opposition as ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian people’. Which is nice for them, I guess. Not so nice, one would presume, for the president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad and his friends. Syria has generally been on the wrong side of US foreign policy, and even when the US has needed its support, for example in the lead up to the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, the extent to which it was willing to court Syrian support was arms length and defensive. President Obama’s declaration of support for the opposition coalition yesterday was not unexpected, and is likely to hasten the demise of the ruling family in Syria, which has been in place for over forty years.
Wednesday’s Op-Ed by Jules Boykoff in the New York Times criticises the IOC for its elitism and arrogance. Sidestepping the conventional criticism of corruption, Boykoff attacks governance, the preponderance of royalty on the committee, and, essentially, its condescension. It is in effect a commercial construct that denies accountability (such as the ethics committee who report to the IOC executive, populated no doubt by – as Sir Humphrey would refer to them – sound men) and retains, as he concludes, “the arrogance and aloofness” that make it very ordinary indeed.
The role of the non-state actor can tell us much about the nature and power of the state. While in the first instance the role of the MNC is seen as relevant in development and labour standards, for example, there are deeper more fundamental aspects of the MNC that help us to understand legitimacy. Some countries that struggle for legitimacy – fledgling regimes, less democratic regimes, oppressive regimes – manage to sustain themselves in spite of a lack of popular support by enriching those who control the levers of power, such as the army generals, and the judiciary. The wealth that flows to those regimes comes from multiple sources, including the sale of natural resources, and sovereign debt markets, both of which are essentially controlled by MNCs.