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Globalization and global governance

  • Zheng ChenEmail author
Book Review

1 A Theory of Global Governance: Authority, Legitimacy, and Contestation, by Michael Zurn, Oxford University Press, 2018, 336 pages, $94 (Hardcover)

A timely book by a leading European international relations scholar, A Theory of Global Governance sets an ambitious goal to explain both the operation of the current global governance system and its recent crisis. Its first part is theoretical. Michael Zurn argues that global governance is embedded in a normative and institutional structure of world politics that is dominated by regime hierarchies and power inequalities. Both the technocratic and power bias within the system endogenously create severe legitimation problems, which lead to two main forms of contestation. One is the contestation of international institutions by non‐state actors through social movements (labeled as “politicization”). The other is the contestation by state actors that occur when states demand change in, or the dismantling of, international authorities (labeled as “counter‐institutionalization”). These contestations can lead to different outcomes, depending on the nature and strength of the challenges, the challenger’s alternative options, and the authority holder’s adaptation capacity.

The second part of the book is empirical. Propositions derived from the above theoretical framework are put forward to explain the emergence of societal politicization and counter institutionalization, and how they can lead to either a deepening or a decline of global governance. Chapter 6 utilizes semi-automated content analysis to explore the dynamics of societal politicization. Chapter 7 uses structured, focused comparison to analyze states’ counter institutionalization. Chapter 8 then builds on comparative process tracing to show when and how societal politicization may lead to a deepening of global governance. Chapter 9 examines the socio-economic and socio-cultural background conditions in the current world. The author concludes by suggesting that the intergovernmental model is not the best candidate for the future, while a global normative order with cosmopolitan pluralism is not completely out of reach, despite how dim it seems now.

The main takeaway of the book is that the 1990s brought a new system of global governance that is much more intrusive, has more demanding normative principles, and involves more authority and hierarchy. It is these new features that have caused the contestation of international institutions—not just exogenous factors, like the rise of new powers or the decline of established ones.

Most studies of global governance so far have kept the issue area‐specific focus of international regimes analysis. With a new systematic conceptual framework, this book goes beyond its predecessors by developing a general theory—which at times risks overgeneralization—on the evolution of the global governance system. Rich with insights, it is an important theoretical exploration about world politics in the 21st century.

2 Renegotiating the World Order: Institutional Change in International Relations, by Philip Y. Lipscy, Cambridge University Press, 2017, 338 pages, $86.29 (Hardcover)

Rising powers such as China and India are pursuing reforms of existing international organizations (IOs) to better reflect their increasing economic strengths. Meanwhile, established powers such as the United States are demanding institutional changes to safeguard their privileges. These new developments raise an important question for academic research: when would states be more successful or unsuccessful in renegotiating international institutions?

Philip Y. Lipscy’s new book, Renegotiating the World Order, tackles this puzzle. Lipscy formulates a parsimonious formal model deriving insights from micro-economic theories on firms and markets, arguing that the policy area of an IO strongly predicts whether it will adjust to demands for change. Specifically, he suggests that in highly competitive policy areas, such as development finance, where states have sufficient alternative options to collaborate without the institution in question, IOs should be flexible and adjust frequently. Meanwhile, as competition pressure from other or new IOs is low, established IOs in areas such as the management of financial crises can remain rigid, even in the face of dissatisfaction.

Lipscy then uses various positive analytical methods and carefully selected cases to verify his arguments. Chapter 3 provides a quantitative analysis that exploits a quasi-experimental setup between the IMF and the World Bank, while chapter 4 compares different fates of Japan’s campaigns for greater voice in these two institutions over past few decades. Chapter 5 provides a set of case studies across development institutions and regional integration projects. Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Chapter 8 contrasts the regular shifts of the League of Nations with the United Nations Security Council’s relative stasis. Chapter 9 analyzes Beijing–Taipei competition over IOs as a placebo test. These carefully designed empirical tests make Lipscy’s argument very convincing.

Lipscy’s book provides insight for scholars and policymakers. While extant literature emphasizes path-dependence and stickiness of IOs, he shows that there is much greater variability in the potential for institutional change than has been acknowledged. However, because the competitiveness of a policy area is largely a given, rising powers also have limited room for maneuvering to fulfill their goals. The book sets up a useful example for future studies. Scholars can broaden Lipscy’s study to test his propositions within additional policy areas and types of institutional contests among states.

3 Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, by Quinn Slobodian, Harvard University Press, 2018, 400 pages, $24.10 (Hardcover)

In this provocative book, Quinn Slobodian presents a new intellectual history of neoliberalism, showing how it originated in Vienna as a conservative reaction to the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire and then rose to global influence. His main argument is that the neoliberal project cared less about liberty and laissez faire and instead “focused on designing institutions—not to liberate markets but to encase them” and “to inoculate capitalism against the threat of democracy” (p. 2), while state borders and international regimes played indispensable roles in this project.

Key actors in Slobodian’s new narrative, from well-known Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises to lesser-known figures, such as Wilhelm Röpke and Michael Heilperin, were handling three shocks: World War I, the Great Depression, and “the revolt of the Global South in the 1970s” (p. 18). In all these cases, previously excluded people gained political power and required redistribution of social goods in defiance of existing property rights. Those neoliberal “globalists” were hostile toward trends of mass democracy and economic nationalism. Their way to contain state intervention and mass demands for redistributive equality was to develop international institutions that created “a carefully structured and regulated settlement” (p. 12) between states and a global marketplace that helps “override national legislation that might disrupt the global rights of capital” (p. 13).

Their original candidates were the International Chamber of Commerce and the League of Nations in the 1920s. After World War II, neoliberalists actively engaged in debates around the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) of 1957 and the renegotiation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) during the 1970s. In the late 1970s, they finally helped unleash a wave of globalization based on a new model for global economic governance. The culmination of these processes was the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. The result is a world economy that is not a borderless market without states. Instead, transnational legal regimes play a very active role in prescribing market rules and trade policies.

Globalists thus gives us a new narrative of how the old world of colonial empire gave way in the 20th century not to a laissez faire market but a system in which global economic activities are regulated through international regimes. In this way, Slobodian presents us not only a more sophisticated understanding of neoliberalism, but also a different image of economic globalization.

Copyright information

© The Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS), Peking University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of International and Public AffairsShanghai Jiao Tong UniversityShanghaiChina

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