This article is concerned with fleshing out a specific argument: that new, contemporary, global citizenship is possible grounds for the prevention of war as it was known in the 20th century. The argument is that in the international arena, it may come to be that the interconnected citizenries of this world will act as the monitory body. (That is, they serve as devices to hold power to account, to question government, private industry, and themselves). This global citizenry does at present act as some type of a check to accumulated power whether in the form of protests against nuclear arms, anti-democratic in camera dealings (such as the G20), or clear abuses of one power over another (such as the Israel-Palestine conflict). It is arguable that this trend will only continue to increase as the democratisation of the international arena (or global politics) comes into some form of maturity.
The method for making this point is comparative and temporal. Let us engage the realpolitik of the international arena in circa 1933. Therein, governments had grave concerns for the strengthening and protection of their ‘sovereign’ territories. The ethos (character) and telos (end) of government was also arguably different than it is today. In character, states were poorly democratic if compared with contemporary minimalistic standards. In end-goal orientation, it could be argued that states in the 1930s were utopian. For example, the USA had grown into its own as a ‘land of hope’ yet imprisoned its citizens for speaking out against the 2nd European War. It also had grand hopes and plans for the shaping of its neighbours in Latin America and the Caribbean which would lead to decades of political meddling and illegal assassinations. The Empire of Japan, its rising sun foreshadowing its bloody finish, had near-Nazi ideology and sought the perfection of one world-view at the expense of all others. Europe was feuding. Africa and the Middle East were bleeding under occupation and would continue to suffer for decades to come. But, perhaps most importantly, citizenries were still very much locked into the false conception of the nation-state. There was very little chance for peoples as far as India to unite in cause with those in northern Europe or western Latin America.
Indeed, it feels as if citizens were tantamount to prisoners of the state or at least something far less than free pluralist sovereigns. ‘Pluralist’ was almost politically absurd during that period. We must recall that this was the age of the nation; the singular commonly bound body of people acting as one entity. A great myth told by demagogues and tyrants to sway gullible peoples into the lunacies of false hopes and trapdoor policies dictators so often concoct. ‘Panem et circenses’ (contemporarily recalled as ‘Give them bread and circuses!’) Juvenal tells Caesar had once said; ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’ (let them eat brioche) was relegated to the mouth of a great princess by Rousseau, and ‘we won’ was established on a ship-deck by George Bush. But who are ‘them’ and who are ‘we’? I think that question would have been much easier to answer eighty years ago than it is today. And we are much better off because of this complexity and uncertainty over what, where, who, when, and how a citizenry is made. Back then, people were subject – not sovereigns.
Because of that the result during the 1930s was arguably a clear one. Men, mostly, making extremely important decisions behind closed doors, led and forced both their own and other citizens into war. The massive extant literature on the major military conflicts of the 20th century, not that one could own complete mastery of the subject due to its sheer volume, is from one scrutiny of important parts of the literature, inherently clear: states went to war and finished war on decisions often made by a select few. I wonder what could have been if Russians and Germans, Polacks and Italians, Egyptians and Englanders, for example had the communication technologies we have today. Would the battle of Stalingrad, where various accounts has it, over one million (some say two million) combatants and civilians died, have ever happened? Maybe a Russian would have added a German to Facebook, or a platoon of Germans could have tweeted about how they hated the war and wanted to play football with the Russians across the Volga instead. Maybe List, Paulus, Hoth, von Bock and von Weichs could have exchanged emails with Yeryomenko, Khrushchev and Chuikov. Together they might have started a blog berating and damning Hitler and Stalin for their ludicrous madness and irresponsible follies. But alas, that is all dust in the wind and many of the aforementioned military leaders were arguably bad men. Maybe they would have simply raged against each other in YouTube forums and continued to do battle at the expense of their men. Maybe their men were so indoctrinated they would not have been able to even think of adding a German, Russian or Roma to their Facebook page. Then again, communications technologies may be a good cure for propaganda indoctrinated societies (if only mainland China would permit greater access to information for its plural citizenry!).
Dr. Jean-Paul Gagnon is a social and political theorist with a Ph.D. in political science. He completed his doctorate at the Queensland University of Technology under the aegis of Australia’s prestigious Endeavour Award.