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The Commons and World Governance
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The commons can act as a central concept that could potentially change our social and political makeup while pushing us to develop new modes of global governance. This concept could enable us to open the pathway through which we will progress in making these ideas reality. A report by the Forum for a New World Governance.

Link to full report: The Commons and World Governance: Towards a Global Social Contract [pdf]

5th July 2012 - Published by Rio+20 Portal for the Peoples Summit

Introduction: The Global Interest

There is a great revolution—in fact, the first global revolution in history—deeply transforming the manner by which humankind has traditionally organized itself. Today the state is no longer equipped to ensure the sustainability of humankind, nor is it able to prevent itself, other states, and private actors from plundering our most precious treasure, our planet, irretrievably. The sudden powerlessness of the most powerful actor of the global stage has been caused by the onrush of globalization, which with breathtaking speed has overtaken the traditional actors of international politics and rewritten the rules of the game of economics. By doing so, it has also fostered the need to devise and uphold what can be described as the global interest, one that should inevitably take precedence over the outdated and ineffectual individual “national interests” that have for centuries determined the direction of international affairs.

This nascent global interest varies from national interests not only in its scope—it is not an aggregation of national interests—but also in its premises. National interests are inherently based on competition, both for resources and for power, in what amounts to a form of political Darwinism where the “fittest” dominate and take advantage of the weakest. In this scheme, “Others” are conceived only in terms of whether or not they constitute a hindrance to one’s national interests.

One of the most insightful discussions of this fundamental point was provided in the middle of the twentieth century by the German jurist Carl Schmitt, who posited that each society defines itself by its opposition to other societies. As such, politics in and of themselves are defined through the dichotomy friend/foe, with the state having historically embodied the most complete form of politics. According to Schmitt, however, the state is a transitory embodiment of politics and when it loses the monopoly of determining who is friend and who is foe, it perishes. Put differently, this means that the potential (and long-term) effects of globalization are to annihilate the very notion of friend/foe, and with it politics and, ultimately, the state itself. Nonetheless, historical processes are not linear and cannot be predetermined.

Schmitt’s intuition and doctrine appear all the more salient with the changes that have come about in recent years where the traditional notion of friend/foe has become increasingly complex as global interdependence has become more prevalent and, more importantly still, as global consciousness has arisen about the vulnerability of our planet and the need to address this existential threat in the only manner possible: collectively.

It is however necessary to avoid any kind of illusory vision of this global interdependence inasmuch as one of the characteristics of the historical period that began at the end of the twentieth century is the mutation of the traditional friend/foe dichotomy, whose very essence is changing. The new global awareness of our common human destiny does not only bring about new social, political, and cultural confrontations that keep the challenge alive of building a world in peace. In addition, ecological damages and risks are such that common human destiny is itself in danger.

It is through this sudden perception of our vulnerability and diversity that the concept of “common goods” and then simply “the commons” has arisen in recent years. Although compounded by the grinding effects of neoliberal policies and practices, “the commons” have increasingly been seen as a benchmark in terms of what politics are all about, with profound ramifications that go to the very root of political philosophy. In other words, this idea pushes us ever closer to asking ourselves, collectively, what kind of (global) society we want.


Table of Contents:

  • Introduction: The Global Interest
  • Surfing the Commons
  • A Revolution of Epic Proportions
  • The Poverty of Property
  • The Failure of Global Society
  • Toward a Global Social Contract
  • Enter the Commons
  • The Strategy Of Indirect Approach
  • What Next? Proposals to Move Forward
  • Avenues to Be Explored
Link to original source

Further resource:

Proposals for a New World Governance. [Working Paper for the International Workshop: Biocivilization for the Sustainability of Life and the Planet, in the run-up to the Rio+20 Conference Rio de Janeiro, 9 to 12 August 2011]