Saturday, June 18, 2005

Thomas Nagel on Jeremy Rabkin's defense of democratic sovereignty

I highly recommend this New Republic review by Thomas Nagel of Jeremy Rabkin's defence of sovereignty, here. (Photo of Rabkin.)

Jeremy Rabkin, political scientist at Cornell and someone I am pleased to count as a friend, has written a very strong, very powerful defense of the ideal of sovereignty and the nation state as the fundamentally legitimate power and political structure in the world, in his Law Without Nations: Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States (Princeton UP), and I recommend it equally highly. Nagel gives Rabkin an exceptionally clear and fair-minded assessment. Like Nagel, I have reservations about the harsh language and, indeed, contempt that Rabkin sometimes shows to those opposed to his views. Yet Rabkin is fundamentally right. And, with some tinkering about particular judgments, such as the International Criminal Court, Nagel acknowledges that the robust multilateralism of democratic sovereigns, rather than liberal internationalism seeking to move toward supranationalism and the demise of sovereignty, is the best way of reconciling the values of a global common market and democratic accountability, which, unlike the common market, faces sharp constraints on its ability to ramp upwards to ever larger territories and dissimilar populations. This is a remarkable admission for Nagel, who it seems to me has been viscerally in the camp of liberal internationalism for a long time.

Of course, there is a movement to retrench among liberal internationalists, recognizing genuine difficulties with the project in some cases, and wanting to have one's cake and eating it too, in others. I have discussed Anne-Marie Slaughter's A New World Order extensively on this blog - it seeks a practical reconciliation of the problems of global governance while acknowledging the undesirability of the world government project. I have problems with its solution - a love affair with the undemocratic, unaccountable methods of the EU. Nagel, with good reasons, put Slaughter's book on his books of the year list; I think he, too, tends to favor some way of reconciling his own substantive views of the reach of international law and regulation with at least the outward form of the sovereign democratic state. Although this review gives hints of that, it goes a long ways to acknowledging the demands of democratic accountability.

It seems to me that the no votes in France and Holland must be causing at least some of the more thoughtful liberal internationalists to ask themselves whether there isn't something to the problem of democratic accountability in the EU, after all, and whether it really is the model to seek to carry to the rest of the world. Or so I hope.

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