In Transition Towards a New World Order? The Varieties of Transnational Activism and the Debate on Globalization

Raffaele Marchetti, Professor of International Relations, LUISS University, Italy

Raffaele Marchetti, Professor of International Relations, LUISS University, Italy, specially for

Politics is about competition of visions of public life and how they can be composed in order to organize societies in a peaceful way.

The once traditional life circumscribed within the boundaries of political communities has ceded the way to the highly complex world in which interdependence and transnational interactions are more and more significant.

As a consequence of this, the competition about visions of public life traditionally taking place within national communities has nowadays increasingly moved to the international and transnational level.

Central in this completion is the controversial phenomenon of globalization. So central that the traditional political notion of rightwing and leftwing makes little sense if it is not understood with reference to the globalization debate.

Alternative projects of global politics are developed and mooted publicly in recent decades as responses to tame or indeed reverse globalization.

A typical phenomenon of any transition process occurring at the international level is precisely the sense of instability generated by the emergence of un-institutionalised actors and new legitimacy claims (previously unheard) in the public domain.

Within this context of new political agency, an unprecedented global public domain consolidates in which old, state-centred visions of international affairs mix with new non-state-centred visions of global politics, producing a complex map of ideological positions.

The global public domain remains a central place where new dimensions and new applications of global legitimacy are developed and advanced in contrast to current interpretations.

It is to this global public discourse and to its components that we need to look in order to understand the future, long-term transformation of global politics.

In this arena of contestation over the legitimate global social purposes, a number of distinct political positions can be identified. In particular, four key interpretations of the notion of world polity can be acknowledged as delimiting the range of non-conventional ideal alternatives available to the global political debate:

1) the vision of world capitalism as associated to a global free market and private economic actors,

2) the project for the democratisation of international institutions as formulated in the cosmopolitan model with reference to individuals and supranational institutions,

3) the radical vision hold by vast part of the social movements in terms of alter-globalism and that of ethnic localism,

4) the discourse on the dialogue (or clash) of civilisations which refers to macro-regional actors often defined in religious terms.



The central point of normative reference in the debate on global politics is represented by the model of neo-liberal, which has been dominant in the public debate and in institutional policies in the last 30 years.

The ideal model of neo-liberalism is centered on the primacy of the economic bond. The model of neo-liberalism makes primary reference to private economic actors (entrepreneurs, firms, business networks, and consumers) as key agents in the political system.

Accordingly, political power is interpreted as being managed especially by entrepreneurs grouped in transnational ?lite networks (and secondarily by consumers). Powerful firms are seen as key players in a universal political system that is intended as homogeneous and minimal, as a sort of global invisible hand. Public institutions are seen as universal tools allowing for a fair political life, beyond the limitations of a state-based system.

Within the political and economic context of globalization, neo-liberalism offers the clearest project in support of a libertarian globalization.

Neo-liberalism is an ideal model of global politics based on a number of distinct principles, including globalism, technocracy, universalism,  individual freedom, and competition.

Globalism recognises the moral and political imperative of having a world-view that encompass the entire humanity towards forms of increasingly deeper integration within a single world system, beyond sub-optimal state jurisdictions. The principle of technocracy grants authority upon expertise and delegates a-political expert to manage in a functional way global interaction.

Sameness holds that ultimate features of human being are constant, thus universal values apply to each individual world-wide.

The value of freedom affirms the ultimate and non-negotiable value on personal autonomy intended as entrepreneurial capacity to individual success and economic development.

Competition draws a world in which free individuals are moved by the search for economic success, thus unintentionally pushed toward collective progress and technological innovation by the constant conflict over scarce resources.


The ideal model of cosmopolitanism is centred on the primacy of the political bond. While acknowledging the relevance of the other traditional bonds between human beings, cosmopolitanism recognises predominance of the political and civic aspect of human life.

The model makes primary reference to individuals as key actors in the political system. Accordingly, political power is interpreted as originated by citizens and managed in a global, multilayered way. Public institutions are foreseen as universal tools to allow for a fair political life, beyond the limitations of a state-based system.

Within the political and economic context of globalization characterized by a high degree of political exclusion, cosmopolitanism offers a reformist project based on social-democratic and liberal values, that aims to democratize the system of globalization without altering its fundamentals.

Cosmopolitanism is an ideal model of global politics based on a number of distinct principles including globalism, universalism, participation, and institutional proceduralism.

Globalism affirms the necessity of having an all-inclusive view that encompasses the entire humanity. In opposition to compartmentalized views of political communities, globalism holds that we are all part of a single socio-political system and as such our code of conduct should also be shaped according to a global principles, beyond partial and sub-optimal state jurisdictions.

Delegated participation maintains that individuals have a political right to take part in public life in all spheres that affect them, they are thus entitled to transnational citizenship.

Sameness states that fundamental characteristics of human being do not vary according to country of birth, thus universal values apply to each individual world-wide.

Hierarchy argues that the system has to be ordered to accommodate pluralism in a fair way. The different levels of political authority need to be centrally coordinated in order to avoid safe heavens and dysfunctionalities. At the same time, maximum use of the principle of subsidiary needs to be made in order to guarantee diversity.

Finally, institutional fairness holds that the political life has to be shaped according to a formal rather than substantial principle of justice. Public decision on justice need to be elaborated in the appropriate institutional channels rather than through the direct appeal to substantive references, be they religious, traditional or ethnic.


The ideal model of localism is centred on the primacy of the social bond. While acknowledging the relevance of the other traditional bonds between human beings (i.e., political, economic, and cultural), localism recognises predominance of the social aspect of human life.

The model makes reference to grassroots organisations (e.g., civil society organizations, social movements, transnational social networks) as key actors in the political system. Accordingly, political power is interpreted as being managed through a rich network of local groups that preserves pluralism and heterogeneity.

Within the political and economic context of globalization, characterized by a high degree of political and economic exclusion, localism offers the clearest radical alternative to the current global transformations.

The model has two main variants which despite sharing a number of normative bases, diverge starkly in political terms. On the left side of the political spectrum is the civic variant of alterglobalism. On the right side is the tribal variant of ethnicism.

In sum, localism can be understood as a model structured around three paramount principles: place-basedness, autonomy, and diversity. To these, two further principles characterised the specific alterglobalist sub-perspective should be added: participation, and thick solidarity.

Place-basedness plays a central role. Contrary to the universalising perspective that regards the local as provincial and regressive, this principle maintains the importance of localism as an unavoidable and critical resource for social and political life.

Autonomy asserts the legitimacy of communal authority. In many instances, autonomy is interpreted as part of a long process of decolonisation which entails struggle against any form of domination, be it intimate, practical, or ideological.

Diversity constitutes the third crucial component of localism against the allegedly homogenising process of globalization that would create a single societal model in which individuals would be deprived of their cultural specificity and reduced to anonymous consumers.

To these three principles, the sub-model of alterglobalism adds participation and solidarity.

Direct participation as non-hierarchical and horizontal public engagement constitutes a major element of the model of alter-globalism.

Solidarity, finally, represent a further key principle for the model of alter-globalism that stresses the importance of transnational collaboration in overcoming local political difficulties. Unity within locally rooted diversity: this is the core of the model of alter-globalism.


While the civilizational paradigm slowly emerged as a significant model of global politics only in the last few decades, it nonetheless constitutes a further robust component in the discussion about globalization.

The civilizational model is centered on the primacy of the cultural and religious bond. While acknowledging the relevance of other traditional human bonds, such as economic and political bonds, the discourse on civilizations recognizes the cultural and religious aspect of human life as predominant. The model makes primary reference to civilizations and cultural ?lites as key actors in the political system.

Within the political and economic context of globalization, characterized by a high degree of political and economic exclusion, the perspective of civilizations offers grounds for a conservative rejection of current global transformations.

The model of the encounter of civilizations is inclined to conceive normatively the possibility of dialogue among different cultures, and also the possibility of political cooperation. Within this perspective, there are four key principles.

Culture-basedness holds that politics should be interpreted as deriving from specific cultural traditions which cannot be trans-bordered.

Elites guidance suggests that cultural and religious elites are particularly better equipped in understanding the complexity of socio-political context and in identify the right interpretation of traditional principles in any specific circumstance.

Diversity maintains that cultural frameworks are irreducible to one another, and thus rejects universalism in the name of a reaffirmed pluralism.

Respect entails equal treatment among different civilizations and refuses the normative hierarchies used by the ninetieth-century discourse on civilizations vs. barbarians.

Goodwill is seen as the crucial component for starting up a dialogue that leads to reciprocal understanding (based on the hermeneutic method) and a nearing of different civilizations.

Finally, non-violence prescribes peaceful ways of interacting.


In this period of global transition from a unipolar world the competition for world order is intense. States, especially great powers, are advancing their interest-based visions in order to secure the relative weight. Non-state actors are very active too. They formulate new visions, influence public debates, and ultimately try to shape the world to come.

There is no one dominant vision. Rather, we witness a stark competition among different worldviews. Ultimately this contributes to the richness of the (global) public debate and will eventually shape the world in which we and our future generations will live.


Marchetti, R. (2009). Mapping Alternative Models of Global Politics. International Studies Review, 11(1), 133-156.