After the Brexit vote and the election of Trump the future suddenly seems a lot less certain. While it is possible to interpret these votes as populist reactions against globalisation - a runaway world full of angry calls to take back control - it is less clear if global economic policies are actually directly to blame. However, the political shocks of 2016 have clearly shown that the narrative of political elites has been found wanting. The consensus has been broken and a new set of stories now circulate.
The established economic and political narrative that many global elites have taken for granted - of a liberal economic order, open borders, free flowing capital and trade - is now under attack as new voices declare leaders to be bankrupt of ideas, values and vision.
In every political cycle the incumbent gets trashed and blamed for past shortcomings, but 2016 was different. This wasn’t just the usual democratic discourse and transition. Significantly, there seems to be a solidifying consensus in US and Europe which chimes with the growing nationalism more commonly associated with Russia, China, or India. There is a danger of a wider fissure growing in world politics, where complexity is being smoothed over with comforting slogans.
No doubt the world is an increasingly complex place for nation-state economies to navigate. Globalisation is testing borders, as flows of capital, people, technology and ideas expose us to new worlds and create greater interdependency. The nation-state and its place in the order of things is being challenged and the dialogue between politicians and citizens is becoming increasingly shallow as a result. Bizarrely at a time when the rhetoric of challenging elites and privilege is on the rise, in the throes of this disorder a new anti-populist rhetoric is also growing, one which holds democracy in the dock for having led to outcomes disliked by technocrats and against the perceived national self-interest.
Such rhetoric only serves to highlight how much democratic values are at risk. We desperately need a new narrative which doesn’t pitch working government against democracy and government against the people.
As the polarisation between national interest and cosmopolitan outlook increases, we need new and better narratives which will shape a serious discussion on the very real demographic and economic challenges we face in the 21st century. As the old narratives crumble and new ones are tested, we are entering a new propaganda war, one in which the strongest story will win and shape outcomes in the real world. On one side of the propaganda war there is a narrative which is inward-looking, demonising, short-termist and self-aggrandising. Worryingly, no one is really articulating let alone championing the alternative at the moment. What’s needed is a clear political position which is open, international, future-facing, humanist, spirited and seeking, which values reason and experimentation and which prizes culture as the sum of all personal freedoms.
If, as some pundits would have it, Trump signifies the death knell of the American Century, then we need a new cosmopolitan political philosophy for the global century. It will be born in cities but it must also come to life in the nation-state. While it may seem that the standard political consensus has been shattered at the national level, there is a broad consensus which exists in cities. It does not belong to cities but it is nurtured in them. An ideal of cosmopolitanism and global citizenship and one which will be explored in more detail on this blog throughout this year, where I’ll be setting out a argument for cosmopolitanism that benefits citizens, and that’s good for business and governments.
In late 2016, Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May made her position clear when she said “if you believe you are a citizen of the world then you are a citizen of nowhere”. Her statement appalled many and was totally antithetical to a cosmopolitan outlook, but the British Humanist Association responded most succinctly with the words of four key cosmopolitan thinkers.
My subjective experience tells me that she and those who share her worldview are part of a dying demographic, and while people always attach importance to their place of origin, most people I meet, from Salford to Shenzhen, are happy to call themselves citizens of the world, and indeed share a common philosophy of cosmopolitanism.
Posted by David Adam on 10 Jan 2017
<< Back to Global Cities blog home