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Building bridges: a reply to Anne-Marie Slaughter & Thomas N Hale

About the author
David Held is master of University College, Durham University, professor of politics and international relations there and general editor of Global Policy.

Anne-Marie Slaughter & Thomas Hale’s contribution to the openDemocracy debate on global governance – and to the book Debating Globalization (Polity, 2005) – decisively moves the argument forward and, in part, on to new terrain. At the heart of their contribution is the contention that if cosmopolitanism and nationalism are treated as mutually exclusive – with the implication being that one must choose one or the other – it will be at the expense of both.

Moreover, if the divisions are cast in this way, cosmopolitan forces will lose in the long term to their older and better-entrenched rival. Or, to put the point another way, if the worlds of Washington and cosmopolitanism are simply juxtaposed, and US- and Bush-bashing prevails among critics of US policy, then the critics’ position will be unnecessarily diminished and both sides will fail to see – even though it is admittedly hard to see – elements of common ground.

David Held is professor of political science at the London School of Economics. He is one of the most prolific and innovative thinkers in the study of globalisation. His books include Models of Democracy (Polity, third edition, 2006)

David Held’s analyses have appeared on openDemocracy since 2001:

“Violence and justice in a global age” (September 2001)

“New war, new justice” (September 2001) – with Mary Kaldor

“9/11: what should we do now?” (October 2001)

“Davos: a view from the summit” (February 2002)

“Globalisation: the argument of our time” (January 2002) – a major debate with Paul Hirst

“Return to the state of nature” (March 2003)

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At issue is not just rhetoric and style, but key questions of substance. Cosmopolitans must come to understand nationalism as a serious force in the United States and, of course, elsewhere. George W Bush was re-elected in 2004 in part, Slaughter & Hale argue, because he was seen as “more patriotic than his opponent,” and championed ideals – such as “freedom is on the march”’ – which resonated with his public. And for many Americans this was not “a cover for the cynical expansion of empire.”

The dichotomy between cosmopolitanism and nationalism must be deconstructed in order to enhance the debate and potential value of both. Clues as to how this can be done can be found in the language of people like Martin Luther King Jr, who combined appeals to Americans with religious and cosmopolitan values. The core of Slaughter & Hale’s arguments is a call for a set of “moral responsibilities” that could appeal to Bush voters and activists concerned with global issues.

They put the key point thus: “Both Christian morality and civic virtue enjoin citizens, especially the powerful, to uphold the rights and freedoms of others. They impose a duty to help the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged, and they insist on responsible stewardship of God’s creation. They require good people to have a decent respect and tolerance for the opinions of others. They teach that pride – jingoism included – is a sin, and that humility is a virtue.”

Slaughter & Hale believe that this shift in attitude and language will help carve out a promising approach to pressing issues such as human trafficking and poverty; and highlight new institutional mechanisms – such as the Canadian prime minister’s proposal for regular G20 meetings at the leaders’ level (L20) – for wider support. At issue is the search for institutional structures which might serve a cosmopolitan agenda while “recognising and embracing the power and perspective of different nation-states.”

There is much in this argument to admire. The concept of developing a language of moral responsibilities that might cut across the current dangerous divides is appealing, as is the argument about new state-based mechanisms as vehicles for cosmopolitan ideals. This is a promising set of ideas for coalition-building around an urgent global agenda.

But we must also recognise three limits to its scope and efficacy.

First, some issues like HIV/Aids are unlikely to yield a common approach because major differences prevail on contraception and reproductive health care for women.

Second, in pressing areas like security we have to contend with fundamental differences of approach – not just between what I call narrow and broad conceptions of security (critical though these are) but also towards international law, agreements and procedures, as Narcís Serra highlights in his contribution to Debating Globalization.

Third, economic agendas differ, as several of the articles in this debate (and the accompanying book) demonstrate. The differences between the Washington consensus, the augmented Washington consensus and a social-democratic agenda for globalisation are unlikely to be closed by an appeal to common values – systematic differences of interpretation, policy and interest divide them.

Nonetheless, Slaughter & Hale’s arguments are worthy of a wide audience, and offer a welcome new mix of considerations in the debate between cosmopolitanism and nationalism, and how to build bridges between them.



This article concludes a major debate sparked by David Held’s essay on openDemocracy, “Globalisation: the dangers and the answers”. The essay and the debate are also published in book form by Polity under the title Debating Globalization.

The contributors to the openDemocracy debate, in addition to David Held and Anne-Marie Slaughter & Thomas N Hale, are Kofi Annan, Patrick Bond, Maria Livanos Cattaui, Meghnad Desai, John Elkington, David Mepham, Roger Scruton, Grahame Thompson, and Martin Wolf.

The contributors to Debating Globalization additionally include Benjamin Barber, Takashi Inoguchi, and Narcís Serra.


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