National Political Communities and International Institutions
Max Weber Programme Multidisciplinary Research Workshop, 11, 12 June 2018
Workshop organizers: Angelo Caglioti, León Castellanos-Jankiewicz, Madeleine Dungy
Workshop financial Sponsors: Max Weber Programme, Max Weber Occasional Lecture Series, EUI Department of History and Civilization, Pieter Judson
Western democracies are displaying an increasing ambivalence towards liberal internationalism, as seen in the rise of populist, nationalist, and ‘anti-globalist’ movements. An interdisciplinary workshop at the European University Institute (EUI) in June situated these reactions in different thematic and temporal contexts. Discussion focused on the dual nature of international institutions as both sources of political leverage and instability for modern states. International institutions emerged in the context of the long transition from a world of empires to a world of nation-states. During the course of the twentieth century, national communities have frequently used international organisations to assert their influence over foreign relations and the world economy. At the same time, a variety of actors have disrupted the locus of national political legitimacy by harnessing international structures to advance moral and legal claims. International institutions have also generated conflict by reinforcing asymmetries within and between different national communities, often as a legacy of imperial rule.
The recent wave of ‘anti-globalist’ and anti-European sentiment has highlighted these ambiguities and elicited nationalist reinterpretations of international standards and norms. Considering these changing perceptions in the political mainstream, the workshop sought to assess whether the staying power that sustained international institutions during the twentieth century will continue in the twenty-first. The wide-ranging discussions of nationalist and populist critiques of European and international institutions bridged the fields of political science, history, and law.
Samuel Moyn (Yale University) gave the keynote address, ‘National Welfare and International Human Rights’. He highlighted the absence of economic distribution from the human rights debate and, until recently, from the major movements that propelled human rights to the global scene from the 1970s onward. Drawing from his recent book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World, Moyn argued that the legal articulation of human rights shunned economic egalitarianism in favour of sufficiency and minimum guarantees. He proceeded to outline this diagnosis in three chronological steps. At first, nineteenth century rights-talk addressed freedom of contract and the protection of property regardless of equality of outcomes or sufficiency. After 1945, however, rights were replaced by social citizenship and the welfare state. Subsequently, this focus on national floors of sufficient provision enabled neoliberalism to disregard human rights from the articulation of a global political economy.
Moyn emphasised that rights have historically focussed on status—not economic—equality. In fact, he argued that the welfare state emerged as an alternative to rights, which were marginalised during the post-war years because of their role in protecting the individual entitlements of the rich.
The 1948 Universal Declaration’s compatibility with Empire and its concern over sufficient provision for minorities reinforces this point. These observations underpin what Moyn called the “ecological relationship” between human rights and neoliberalism: whereas human rights have fought for minimum floors of protection, neoliberalism has shattered the ceiling of wealth-creation. Ultimately, Moyn argues that we need “a better source of gravitation around which human rights can orbit.”
The first panel, moderated by Corinna Unger (EUI), examined the birth of international institutions as an arena of mediation between national goals, imperial rivalry, and universal moral values. Madeleine Dungy (EUI) considered an Austrian attempt to translate an imperial model of regional economic order into a new idiom of international law in the League of Nations. Angelo Caglioti (EUI) discussed the Italian Institute of Colonial Agriculture in the post-war period, especially focusing on the Italian trusteeship of Somaliland under the U.N., a case which highlights continuities of Italian colonialism before and after World War II, colonial managers’ transformation into experts of international development, and the relationship between Italian decolonisation and the rise of the U.N. Alanna O’Malley (University of Leiden) showed that during decolonisation, the UN supported a common socialisation of leaders from the Global South, leading to new norms and practices that challenged unequal relations with the North.
The second panel, moderated by Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol (University of Glasgow, EUI), analysed the uneven distribution of power within international institutions and within the broader collaborative networks that develop along their perimeter. Anna Isaeva (University of Florence) highlighted the complex role played by human rights law in the Soviet Union as both a tool of legitimation for the communist regime and a source of resistance against it. Christos Tsakas (EUI) contrasted the Greek and Norwegian interactions with the EEC, as each country sought to support an open, export-dependent maritime economy while preserving internal political cohesion.
The final panel, moderated by Samuel Moyn (Yale University), explored whether there is a connection between the retreat of democratic values in domestic politics and the much-vaunted decline of international law. León Castellanos-Jankiewicz (EUI) discussed the entwined history of national civil codes and human rights law, highlighting the vulnerable position of stateless persons who fall outside both frameworks. Mirjam Dageförde (EUI) showed that micro-measures of congruence indicating an individual’s representation in diverse institutional frameworks give us more accurate, granular insight into links between societal inequality and Euroscepticism. Clara Rauchegger (EUI) and Anna Wallerman (EUI) offered an overview of a future collaborative volume that will consider diverse challenges to EU law in different member states.
The workshop concluded with a closing roundtable discussion led by Samuel Moyn (Yale University), Alanna O’Malley (Leiden University), and Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol (University of Glasgow, EUI). Moyn urged workshop participants to think more critically about the process of inter-disciplinary dialogue and methodological exchange. He also underscored the specificity of our present crisis, demanding
why the “bridge is collapsing” today if nationalism and internationalism have always been interdependent.
O’Malley suggested that our focus on international institutions rather than global governance led us to underestimate the political contributions of NGOs and informal trans-border networks. She also noted the strong emphasis on state-based research in the presentations. Mourlon-Druol emphasised the importance of precisely differentiating supra-national from inter-governmental institutional components. He also questioned whether we had lost sight of sub-national communities in our presentations. Subsequent discussion among workshop participants focused on the practical and analytical challenges of communication across disciplinary boundaries. Distinctive problems related to scaling-up different kinds of policies from national to international institutions were also considered.
In sum, workshop participants were confronted with the difficulties of articulating a “politics of the international” that is devoid of imperial structures and biases. This challenge, it was noted, stems from the democratic disjuncture between national political communities and international governance, mismatches between decisions and their levels of negotiation, and asymmetries in the perception and eradication of imperial legacies.