"And now?," Der Spiegel asked last month. Not only what does the future hold for the disintegrating Euro, but what does it hold for the EU, and the idea of Europe in general?
It is the patriotism of global citizens who are concerned about human rights…where citizens feel a sense of patriotism based on their shared political values rather than a shared ethnic identity or language. Such a pan-national patriotism is also based on an international consensus that has produced new institutions like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which stands guard over the ethical values of a postnational society.
This, from the last of a three-part series on EU reconfiguration in Der Spiegel is, admittedly, not the pithiest of quotes, and it presumably worked better in the original German. But it reveals the transformative times in which we live with respect to the practice of citizenship in a global age. Few corners of the globe have not been significantly impacted by debates about democracy in this year of perpetual crisis. Some places, such as China and, especially, Russia, have clung strongly to older models of modern authoritarianism and international diplomacy driven by a philosophy of inviolable sovereignty tempered only by narrow definitions of national geostrategic interest. Other places, such as Myanmar (Burma), appear to be softening their old authoritarian ways. Of course, no part of the world has experienced more convulsive political change than northern Africa and southwestern Asia, where a continuing “Arab Spring” proceeds toward democracy in ways that none of us can fully anticipate. Meanwhile, in the United States—long the modern world’s standard bearer for democracy—government has become mired in partisan paralysis, sending countless citizens into the streets in order to voice frustrations from the political left, right, and center.
It is in Europe, though, that I think our evolving ideas of global citizenship and democracy will primarily take form. The United States ceased to be a political experiment many generations ago, and for both better and worse, we are not likely to see USA 2.0 any time soom. Europe, however, remains a lively experimental concept, and the European Union never has made it past its own beta testing. Will the Euro crisis be the trigger that forces bold action, so that 2012 becomes the year in which EU 1.0 is finally rolled out? Probably not, but if a new Europe really is formed, its shape will go a long way toward clarifying what global citizenship in the 21st century will look like. In addition to the "pan-national" or "postnational" values-based patriotism described in the quote above, the same Der Spiegel article suggests that 21st-century democratic citizenship will require a new practice of democratic discourse that is both participatory and led by “fascinating leaders” who have interesting stories to tell. In other words, boredom and complexity are two of the stiffest obstacles we face in trying to create a more democratic global society.
This is our challenge. Particularly in the field of education (including our colleagues in journalism), we have to find ways to make stories about complicated issues, such as climate change and sovereign-debt crises, interesting. And we have to develop global citizens who take interest in complicated stories. Otherwise, we face an endless future of simplistic narratives that yield only the disastrous inaction of cynicism or the even more disastrous action of fascism.
The summer of 2011 has certainly tried the faith of committed optimists such as myself. After an inspiring start to the calendar year, with the blossoming of democracy in the so-called Arab Spring and cautious indications that the world economy was regaining in footing, things have taken a decided turn for the worse. The democratic revolutions in the Arab world have stalled in a tragic, if not entirely unexpected, bloody quagmire, and the global economy hasn’t just stalled; it appears to be imploding in a fantastic mess of market fears and political ineffectiveness. Add riots on the streets of London, famine in East Africa, continuing nuclear catastrophe in Japan, a Euro zone on the brink of collapse, and crisis in any number of other forms just about anywhere one looks, and it’s safe to say we live in challenging times.
Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Professor of International Political Economy at Switzerland’s International Institute for Management Development, reminds us this week that 70 years ago, in another time of intense global crisis, one of the 20th century’s most significant global documents was crafted: the Atlantic Charter. Initially an agreement between the heads of just two national states—the UK and the USA—it became one of the founding documents of NATO and a statement of principles that would come to be embodied in a wide variety of post-war global institutions, most notably the UN.
Professor Lehmann urges us to remember the Atlantic Charter and to envision a more global, 21st-century replacement. For all of our current crises, he argues, perhaps none is more concerning than the crisis of confidence in the post-war global project envisioned by world leaders during the 1940s.
There is a depressing feeling, especially among the youth of the world — such a high proportion of whom are unemployed — that things may be getting worse and the future looking bleaker.
The world has made no real progress with respect to the three most vital priorities on the global policy agenda: nuclear non-proliferation, trade and climate change. While globalization in the last two decades has brought down multiple barriers and opened the world to an unprecedented degree, it has not brought about a spirit of collaboration among states.
It is that last point—the eroding “spirit of collaboration among states” (and, I would add, among competing political parties within states)—that most worries Professor Lehmann and leads him to call for a new “post-Atlantic Global Charter”. If nothing else, please take some time to read the original Atlantic Charter, as well as the other comparable documents I’ve linked below. Together they lay out principles that are no less inspiring and relevant today than they were when originally written—in part because we have, at times, strayed rather far from these values. Indeed, it seems that now, more than ever, is a time when the U.S. and the rest of the world need to make a (re)new(ed) pledge of global cooperation, as well as the political leadership to realize that vision. As President Roosevelt himself said, just one year after the Atlantic Charter’s signing, “We reaffirm our principles. They will bring us to a happier world.”
Some more inspiration: