Dante Alighieri

Formal Global Interdependence – The Historical (and Western) Case for Global Governance

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Statue of Dante in the Piazza di Santa Croce i...
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12 December 2011

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While calls for global governance gathered momentum throughout the 20th Century, its origins are steeped in history. Today, the ISN looks to the past to develop an argument for formal global interdependence.

By Peter Faber for the ISN

Global interdependence is a phrase we’ve all been overexposed to. But as the introduction to this week’s topic reminds us, it can mean different things to different people. To many it means developing a malleable and incorruptible form of cosmopolitan citizenship, while to others it means marching inexorably towards some form of formalized global governance. This latter march, although the European Union pilot project might suggest otherwise, is not a recently developed concept. Some argue it originates with Herodotus, but its modern roots actually lie in the shape-shifting church politics of the European Middle Ages.

Constantinianism’ – The term was a pejorative anti-papal one in the late Middle Ages, but it signaled the first steps away from the Christian universalism (the Christianopolis) of earlier church fathers. As an initial half-step towards the idea of extended secular communities, Constantinianism embodied growing papal claims to secular authority and, more generally, all forms of Church involvement in the secular government of the world. Dante Alighieri further aided in the blurring of Christian and secular constructions of community in his De Monarchia. As the title suggests, it was a pro-imperial text, but its concept of society and of sovereignty transcended other religiously-tainted political visions of the time. Yes, it endorsed the need for ‘big man’ leadership in politics, but it also advocated an extended society of civil peace, order and justice where everyone should be free to seek their individual and common good. That quest would be possible, or so Dante argued, because centralized rule would not be imposed by force, but by bringing out the best in others.

So what did the above ideological ‘tilts’ bequeath subsequent advocates of far-reaching, comprehensive governance? First, the growing secularization of human problems, but not at the expense of destroying the idea of human-wide community. Second, the influential De Monarchia established what is now a wide-spread belief – i.e., that the political answers to human problems are often structural ones. In Dante’s case, the required structural reform was the installation of a universal secular monarch. Only through his presence was the perfection of the earthly city possible. Third, Dante and several other fellow travelers helped bring peace down to Earth. In their view, peace wasn’t an expression or consequence of divine agency; it actually was the consequence of human arrangements. Marsilius of Padua then added one final piece to the then-cutting edge belief that peace, justice and harmony were most possible when connected to potentially large and secular political structures. In Defensor Pacis, he elaborated further on the nature of peace. His peace, however, was an instrumental and civil one; it wasn’t defined by end states. It depended, in other words, on governmental parts that functioned smoothly and interacted properly. Read the rest of this entry »