American World Order
Interview with Farhang Rajaee
May 17, 2003
A conference on systems of world order was held in Washington
at an historic time -- when Iraq has been invaded by US and British
forces and foreign policies are taking shape in the White House
or across the bridge, at the Pentagon.
The March event at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced
International Studies (SAIS) brought together academics as well
as current members of the Bush defense team, who spoke on the existing
and future world order.
Paul Wolfotvitz, the former dean of the school, and present
U.S. deputy secretary of defense, was supposed to speak. However,
the more pressing business of war prohibited him from attending
the one-day conference.
Instead, his assistant for international security, Peter Rodman,
spoke on why the Iraq war was a constructive step towards a more
peaceful Middle East and a better life for the Iraqi people. That
of course is yet to be seen.
Dr. Farhang Rajaee also spoke
at the conference. Rajaee is the author of several books including
Mar'ekeye Jahaanbini-haa (Battle of World Views), and more
on Trial. Rajaee taught at Tehran University in the late
1980's and was a fellow at Oxford in 1991. He is currently an associate
professor of political science at Carleton University, in Ottawa,
Here is an interview with Dr. Rajaee.
Q: Can you tell us about this conference?
A: The question at the heart of this conference is that what kind
of world order do we have, or should we have or could we have in
the post Cold War era. Dr. William Zartman, who is the director
of conflict management at SAIS began by saying that in the present
condition of the world, it seems sovereignty which used to be a
wall of security, of absolute authority of the state, has been broken.
Now we are faced with an era in which sovereignty is understood
as responsibility and it's assumed that states are not just free
to do whatever they want but are responsible towards their citizens.
That is why in the more contemporary context in the past few years,
intervention has become one of the jargons of international relations
and international law. In what condition is it justifiable to interfere
in the domestic affairs of another country? In a way, he was trying
to cast the present invasion of Iraq by the US as a justified intervention,
I guess, under the rubric of sovereignty as responsilbity.
Three broad themes came out of the conference. The first was put
forward by American scholars who argued that the world is in fact
a new order and we already know what it is- American supremacy.
And America is responsible to keep order in the world and, of course,
with it comes negative connotations such as invasion and interference.
Although some scholars put it in the language of an empire and right
now, the US is the Emperor and sometimes the emperor behaves a certain
way that is not tasteful. But that is a fact.
And of course here the question is, in this world of supremacy,
should America behave as an Empire or should it behave as hegemon.
And there was this very interesting historian from Illinois, Pofessor
Schroeder, who made a very important distinction between empire
and hegemon. The former is interested only in power, only interested
in establishing its own dominance. Hegemon is a position of dominance
where the dominant power behaves like a manager. Of course he was
very critical and in his opinion, unfortunately America instead
of acting like a hegemon, is acting like an empire.
The second broad theme, which specifically was argued by Jervis
who said that the world is a polyarchical place with multiple centers
and therefore we have to learn to manage the world. He did not come
up and say specifically but a professor Schmidt who came from Germany
took the European position saying that in this multiple actors and
multi polarworld we should concentrate more on the international
law, international regime and so forth and so on.
That was a quick summary of those two trends. You could argue that
they were saying that what has happened in the world is that the
power configuration has been altered in favor of the United States.
To me that is not adequate. In my opinion, the world has changed
very drastically. The world has gone thru transformation. This transformation
comes under the rubric of globalization.
I argued that globalization has marked a new beginning in human
history if you like. The world we live in today is not just a world
in which there are multiple centers of political power, such as
the polyarchic trend. I said, plurality cuts across all spheres
of human activity. You have multiplicity of political centers because
politics is no longer the Westphalian international system, a world
where the state is supreme and the state can do whatever it wants.
Since that has changed, because that world has came to an end, now
you have multiplicity of actors: the state, civil societies, global
companies, global transnational movements, social movements and
so on and so forth.
In the realm of economy, there is multiplicity of centers, no longer
this rigid distinction between center and peripheries. Now there
is the notion of production sharing where the whole world is consumer
and producer at the same time. An example is Java technology. Java
development cennters are not located in one particular geographical
location. If it's daylight in the US, Java is worked on in Seattle.
At night in the US, that work is transferred and continued in Belarus,
or China or elsewhere.
Also, in the realm of culture there is the notion of plurality.
No longer is modernity the only view put forward. Now you have the
plurality of thought as well. In the language of postmodern sensibility,
you have narratives. It used to be that the only narrative is modernity.
Now you have multiplicity of narratives.
If you want to put it in a negative language, we are living in
post sovereign, post Cold War, post modern world. Positively, we
live in a world of one civilization with many cultures. A civilization
of technology, industry, and information revolution.
I argued that there is a universal revolution in consumption. Everybody
wants to consume. And by the way, this consumption, does not just
limit itself to the material world such as cars and telephones.
It also manifests itself in the demand for human rights, freedom,
People of Iran, people of Kuwait, people of Iraq and China, they
want democracy too -- and self-respect. Therefore, demand for self-respect
has become a universal phenomenon. In that sense, we are all part
of one civilization, which not only produces material welfare, but
also puts forward or argues for non-material welfare such as freedom,
democracy and human rights.
On the other hand, as a result of this post modernism, lots of
people may say, "Hey, I want to be modern but I don't have
to be Western. I don't want to be like you. I want to be like myself.
I am different from you in terms of culture, civilization, mannerism,
eating habits, clothing, customs, and social and family relationships."
So there is a paradox here. We are all living in one civilization
but we have our own multiciplity of cultural expressions. How can
we preserve order in this new condition? What kind of order can
we have in such a condition?
As you can see, my point differs from others who say there is only
a political change; the political change is that the US has become
superior. Now what kind of world order should we have? My argument
is basically that since it is a universal civilization, everybody
is responsible. You all should make it better for others as well
Now, what role should the United States play? Obviously because
the US is more
powerful, it has a bigger responsibility. That was the whole point.
Now how do we manage this? How do we operationalize this world order?
I put forward, the argument that Karl Polanyi made, in his great
book in 1944 called the The
Polanyi argued that it used to be that the economy was at the service
of politics and since politics was interested in security and welfare,
the economy served politics, both of which provided security and
welfare. What happened was, according to Polanyi, the economy became
the master and politicians or politics became the slave. Therefore
we had this society interested only in making money, making wealth
and so on, while welfare goes down the drain.
Polanyi argued for a double movement in which the market is important
but that society is also important. So a self regulating market
is fine but attention should be paid to the protection of society.
He argued that the double movement is part of being human and maybe
one should take advantage of that and call for a double movement
in the globalized world order in which security -- making the world
safe from the atrocities of tyrants, whether regional ones such
as Saddam Hussein or global ones such as superpowers that behave
like global tyrants.
Nobody argues that you should not punish a tyrant. However, one
should not just emphasize security but also pay attention to justice
as well. Because order without justice degenerates into tyranny
and despotism. The argument can be on the other side as well: emphasizing
justice alone would cause chaos and extreme individualism. Therefore
justice and order should be together.
A just order seems to be a more fascinating concept. In this globalized
world, just order is the name of the game. How do we achieve it?
I introduced two concepts. One is recognition that there is no longer
an "other". There is no "other" in the globalized
world, so we have to learn to manage diversity. Is it possible?
Yes. There is the example of Canada where multi-culturalism is the
official policy of managing diversity.
The second concept I introduced was reviving diplomacy in the globalized
context. We used to understand diplomacy as the conduct of statesmen.
However, diplomacy should now be broadly defined.
I compared modern diplomacy with gardening. The gardener has no
patience for weeds and pests and gets rid of them, and destroys
the order in the garden. But at the same time, he is very gentle
with the flowers and plants . By putting together notions of gardening
and managing diversity we maybe able to somehow have a just order.
Q: Those who argue against globalization, and in recent
years we have seen many large demonstrations against this concept
outside IMF and World Bank meetings, say that our world is moving
towards two poles, those who are running the show like the US and
other western powers, and the underdeveloped countries and the poor
which are on the opposite pole. What is your view on this argument?
A: This is a very important question that has been raised and
requires observation. My response is that these friends who see
themselves as protectors of society and demonstrate, should do a
little homework. They should distinguish between globalism and globalization.
It's almost like distinguishing between modernity and modernism
or Islam and Islamism. All kinds of isms are dangerous.
What they are really arguing against is globalism. IMF is not an
agent of globalization, the World Bank is not an agent of globalization.
The WTO (World Trade Organization) is not an agent of globalization.
In the beautiful words of the wonderful Persian mystic, Rumi, when
a thief comes with a light, he or she can be picky. To me, the IMF,
the WTO and the World Bank are thieves with a light. When they saw
globalization coming, they tried to manipulate this process.
Three points need attention. Globalization is challenging the centrality
of the state. And it is sending a clear message that you have to
pay attention to feminism, to social movements, to the poor, to
labor movement, to workers. They are actors too. The state is not
the only actor. In the realm of the economy, globalization says,
"Hey listen! Everybody can be a producer just come and play
the game." In the realm of culture it is challenging the dominant
view of the West. So while my heart is with them, I think they have
not quite grasped this distinction that I make between what is globalization
and what is globalism.
Now who became globalized? Immediately after the coming of age
of globalization, the transnational corporations adjusted themselves.
They are interested in generating profit and they immediately realized
the world is changing. But did the labor movement take the same
course? No. That is the interesting irony here.
The multi-national corporations that used to have their headquarters
in the north and their exploitative machinery in the south, immediately
globalized and now they work based on modules. So these corporations,
any of them, in any country in the south, have their own regional
board, they have their own players. We should globalize too. Those
who are engaged in justice, those who are against order alone, they
should do their homework as well and understand globalization.
I am glad you brought up the question of the forces that want to
challenge globalism. It was because of them that for example at
the Seattle meeting, many delegates from the South, from the poor
countries, stood up for justice. They said they got our energy and
confidence from the demonstrations outside.
Q: There was another speech, just before yours, by a Dr.
Kenneth Waltz, who said it is not globalization, it is the Americanization
of the world. How do you respond to that?
A: Of course in his view, it is Americanization. In the mid 50's
the rest of the world said we want modernization and many Americans
said this is not modernization, it is Westernization. You have to
become like the West. Obviously for those who advocate order alone,
and of course order in which US and the countries of the North will
be the sole masters, they want to convince you that it is Americanization.
And by the way, in their logic, you have two choices: either die
or join them.
My argument is that it is not that simple. Americans, within America
itself, are as much victims of globalism as in the South. For example
in the US, look at the disparity between the very rich as a result
of this information revolution, and those who are not as fortunate.
Even within the countries of the North itself, there is a North
and South distinction. So Kenneth Waltz argued that the game here
The most important game in the global scene is who holds this power?
And whoever has the most power, the game is his. Of course, the
logic behind that or the conclusion of that logic is that you have
two choices, either join us or be ready for death. I am arguing
that the world is not divided that simply. Otherwise it wouldn't
work the way it is.
Q: How do you see the future? The political atmosphere
that is shaping where many people the Middle East see themselves
on one side, and the US and Great Britain on the other side. Are
you optimistic about the future of the world?
A. This would depend on the outcome of the American invasion of
Iraq. Now of course not all but some people in the administration
genuinely believe that this will bring democratization and will
give a lesson to the more autocratic regimes in the region. It remains
to be seen. It may work that way. You never know.
Some others argue, in fact one historian in the conference argued,
that what Americans are doing is comparable to what the British
did in 1882 in Egypt when they crushed the rule of general Ahmad
Urabi in Egypt. And they were also there to rid Egyptians from this
fellow who was a tyrant. But the British remained there for a long
It depends on what happens after this war. However, regardless
of what the results will be, in the long run, I guess, I am hopeful.
I am a villager. I am always hopeful. As we say, in the middle of
winter spring is coming. I think in the long run, I am hopeful.
I think finally there would be a realization that we are all part
of the same world.
In fact I was hoping that the tragedy of September 11, which I
am sure everybody has condemned, would be a wake-up call particularly
for Americans to realize that they are citizens of the world. They
don't have their own fortress far away from the rest of the world.
They cannot expect to have safety without taking into consideration
the rest of the world. Now they are part of this globalized world.
People assumed the world is flat. Now it is proving that it is
a web, a worldwide web. And so I hope that since America has more
power and more resources, it also has more responsilbity and should
act accordingly and if it happens then we will have a just order.
But those who think they can create justice at any cost, I must
warn them, be careful, because, you can't do it alone. The magnificent
Hafez, the Iranian poet said, don't look for justice and humanity
in the earthly world, for that you must to have a different human
being and a different world.
And as I said before, we must create a world that has order but
it takes into account justice as well. In order to have a secure
world, the two go hand in hand.
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