Category Archives: Society

Academic Freedom Under Threat – Where do we go from here?

What actions can and need to be taken to safeguard universities as bastions of free thought and sources of innovation?

Not surprisingly, the growth of populism has been accompanied by shrinking spaces for intellectual life, especially regarding (but not limited to) educational activities in at least in some cases.

In Eastern Europe, the Hungarian government is actively involved in closing the Central European University, funded by the U.S. billionaire George Soros. Prime Minister Viktor Orban does not hide his aversion to Soros’s activities in Hungary. In St. Petersburg, the European University is, once more, threatened with closure, due to inspections by the state agency Rozobrnadzor, which has allegedly uncovered some formal rule violations. The School for Political Science at the second most important Russian University, the MGIMO in Moscow, will be closed due to ‘administrative reorganizations’ as of July 1st.

So what can we, more or less concerned observers and colleagues, do about this? We could accept it as a sign of changing global landscapes. Or we could send or sign protest lists online. Or we could give more or less critical interviews. But when there is a pattern in our observation of increasing harassment of certain, mostly liberal, schools and departments, this trend could sooner or later turn against ourselves.

This week’s question is simple (to ask): What can and should we do about these illiberal incidents?

– Klaus Segbers

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To trade or not to trade?

 

To engage in exchanging goods and services is one of the oldest human activities, some even say – the oldest. In the last three or so years, trade has acquired an additional feature becoming a hot topic of global politics. Populists especially, maintain that the positive or negative balance of a nation’s trade reflect that nation’s strength – a hotly debated topic (without much support) in science, and an even hotter issue in politics.

After President Trump’s victory in the US (and even before), trade was one of those topics that served as a rallying cry for political agitators and angry people. Allegedly, trans-border trade was (also) responsible for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. As a result, TPP and TTIP were trashed by the US government after TTIP also fell prey to liberal and leftist suspicions while NAFTA is to be re-negotiated. All this is supposed to ‘bring our jobs back’, where the tricky issue is what ‘our’ stands for.

Following some of the most respected economists, like David Ricardo, there are not many more useful activities a nation can do other than trade. This leads to an equilibrium between strengths and weaknesses of national capabilities, and, on balance, increases wealth across the board. Things have been getting more complicated by the increasing effects of transnationalization of trade where it has become quite difficult to attribute certain features of a product to one country. Most specialists agree that while globalisation, liberalisation and technological developments have contributed to significant losses of (no longer competitive) jobs, they have also added millions of new jobs.

So how should responsible governments react to the current debate and rising expectations from ‘below’? Keep trading and foster innovation, no matter where? Or limit and control transborder trade?

– Klaus Segbers

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Tweets from the Oval Office – How should we react to Trump’s foreign policy?

As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.

There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Why should we study International Relations today?

Two years ago, I posted this text:
“At the beginning of 2015, the world looks more confused than ever. So one would assume that we do need a lot of good specialists to bring a sense of clarity and transparency to what is happening in Global Politics. Alas, what we see is that a lot of people in most countries give up understanding the chaos, resigning in the face of too much complexity. This includes decision makers who are skeptical re. the interference of self-appointed specialists. Plus, media reporting on global affairs is about as simplistic as the reality is complicated.
So why should young people today start a career by studying International Relations/ Global Politics? What can they expect from such a degree? What can taxpayers expect from such an investment? And politicians from these experts? The postings you sent them, and the resulting debate was one of the most successful in the history of ‘Global Matters’.”

So let me repeat my question in a slightly modified form:

‘Global Politics’ both as a subject and a discipline, looks messy. There is less cooperation between governments and all kinds of actors, plus increased populism (U.S. elections, Brexit, Russia, the Philippines, referenda in the Netherlands and Italy, etc.). The world has not seen this degree of conflict with even slimmer prospects of problem solving, since after the Second World War.

Why should we, and how could we encourage young students to get into this field now?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Is liberalism to blame for populism?

Here we go. Europe may fail. This is the first time I am writing such a thing (partly) publicly. There are dozens of questions relating to this possibility. I suggest you focus on one today: Should we all be partially to blame? You may have heard about (or even read) the widely discussed New York Times article by Mark Lilla on ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’ (see reading below).

Lilla’s basic point is that liberals (he covers the US, but his point may be extended globally) have enjoyed the luxury of preaching liberal values, while huge groups of their fellow citizens were completely indifferent, or even felt threatened and excluded by these values. According to Lilla, this often went hand-in-hand with preaching to the ‘uneducated’ – for them to better understand things (international trade immigration, sexual and other identity politics), and to accommodate these liberal values.

He sees here, one of the major reasons for the apparently unstoppable success of populism:

‘The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press had produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life’.

He suggests that a more careful liberalism would ‘quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale’, address what for many people, are difficult issues like religion and sexuality. Lilla also suggests that such a re-invented (maybe more civilized?) liberalism would address that ‘democracy is not only about rights’, but also includes duties such as the duty ‘to keep informed and vote’.

Please join me in this discussion and let’s delve into this quite complex issue of liberals’ responsibility for the rise of populism.

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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How to deal with an elected populist? Continuing last week’s discussion

Exceptional events require exceptions. So let’s continue last week’s debate, after we discovered who won (at least the elections, if not the popular vote). But our focus now, will be on how to react to the new situation.

There is a puzzling variety of Western reactions following the election results in the United States. Some leaders (like the Japanese Prime Minister) seem to have bowed deeply. Others (Russia), expressed their (probably wee-founded) hopes to improve relations. But again, others like Chancellor Merkel, appear to be cooperative, based on some conditional expectations. The EU, all of a sudden, has decided to improve its cooperation in the external and defense fields, and even promises to spend more.

What is a viable strategy for handling a committed populist? Bandwagoning? Accommodation? Conditional cooperation? Kow-towing? Pragmatic restraint?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Homogenization of Global Culture

One of the most common arguments concerning the cultural dimensions of globalization is that processes of globalization are creating a homogenous global culture. This argument tends to come from a group of scholars who we referred to in Unit One as “hyperglobalizers”, scholars who view almost everything in domestic and global politics, economics, culture and society as being connected to and influenced by globalization. There are two perspectives on the homogenization of global culture within the hyperglobalizers’ ranks. One group is the pessimistic hyperglobalizers. They argue that a homogenous global culture is emerging, premised on Anglo-American values of consumerism and capitalism. This ‘soulless consumer capitalism’ (Barber 2007) is, according to pessimistic hyperglobalizers, overwhelming more vulnerable cultures and contributing to perceptions that globalization is in fact ‘Americanization’ or ‘Westernization’. In short, the cultural dimensions of globalization amount to little more than a cultural form of neo-imperialism spearheaded by the American ’empire’.

The values disseminated by transnational media feed the belief that globalization is in fact creating a homogenous global culture, a culture that is dominated by Anglo-American pop culture images, products and values (Crothers 2007). The formation of these transnational media conglomerates and the images and values they disseminate tend to lead to the depoliticization of society and the weakening of civic bonds. One of the most glaring developments of the last two decades has been the transformation of news broadcasts and educational programmes into shallow entertainment shows built around the branding and selling of consumer commodities like cars, watches, perfume, or handbags. Given that news is less than half as profitable as entertainment, the corporate media are increasingly pursuing higher profits by ignoring journalism’s traditional separation of newsroom practices and business decisions. Partnerships and alliances between news and entertainment companies are fast becoming the norm, making it more common for publishing executives to press journalists to cooperate with their newspapers’ business operations. A sustained encroachment on the professional autonomy of journalists is, therefore, also part of cultural globalization.

Optimistic hyperglobalizers, such as Kenichi Ohmae (1990; 1995), concur that a homogenous global culture is emerging but view this in a much more positive light than their pessimistic counterparts (Berger and Huntington 2002). They see the spread of Anglo-American values as promoting the rise of democratic politics and increases in personal freedoms in a variety of areas, including trade. While espousing the virtues of market values, these optimistic hyperglobalizers often do not consider the many negative effects of consumerist culture in numerous contexts around the world.
Some authors espousing a ‘cosmopolitan’ perspective (Held 2004) also view the emergence of homogeneity in global culture as a positive development. The rise of a global culture is promoting the spread of liberal cosmopolitan values concerning justice and democracy. Through the expansion of technologies in communication and travel, globalization is creating a global civil society, with increased participation and greater identification amongst people across traditional cultural and geographic divides, particularly in relation to ethics and politics, as we saw in the previous unit. Culture is no longer tied to fixed localities but is able to unite people across vast distances, contributing to the thickening of a progressive global social imaginary (Beck 2005; Held 2004).

But is a global culture actually emerging? It is difficult to deny the existence of powerful homogenizing trends like those outlined above or to deny that these trends are having a significant impact on local cultures, but does this mean that a uniform global culture in the American image is developing that will overwhelm and eventually diminish or wipe out traditional, historical local cultures?

Written by Manfred B. Steger & Erin K. Wilson

The US presidential election – What is ahead for global politics?

The end of the presidential election in the United States is fast approaching. Following it, are an abundance of domestic issues which need sorting – along with a few international ones as well. Let’s focus on the second group of challenges here.

What can the world expect from a new American administration? Externally, what are the fundamental new features of either a Clinton or Trump government? The interventions in failing or failed states, and for fighting ISIS and related threats – what effects will the new administration have on these? Will there be more isolationism, or more interventionism?  What about the pivot towards Asia? Will NATO be strengthened, or will it lose credibility? What will the trade, immigration and climate policies be? Will there be new ideas for transatlantic relations?

Let’s compose a list of first assessments.

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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The Referendum – How much power to the people?

To hold a referendum seems to have become the newest way of externalizing difficult issues. For sure, there are countries with a long tradition of directly involving their citizens  with all kinds of issues, like accepting foreigners or not, raising taxes or not, or to add a train or not. In Switzerland, people are used to it, and one could make the point that the political system there may be flexible enough to digest it – though a while ago, the almighty people voted in favor of limiting the movement of EU citizens which produced a problem for the de-facto Swiss membership in the common market.

But otherwise, referenda are blossoming, and regardless of whether they create confusion or not, seem to be gaining in popularity. We do not have to mention the Brexit referendum that failed to meet the expectations of their organizers (and subsequently outed them from office), and the consequences of which the UK and EU officials now have to focus on for years to come. But there was however, one referendum on accepting a certain number of asylum seekers in the EU framework in Hungary (that equally failed), which will now be circumvented by the government. There was another referendum on the peace deal in Colombia a few days ago – that one failed too, and both government and the formerly armed opposition, FARC, now have to remedy the damage. In November, Italy will hold a referendum looking for the consent of the people to streamline their so-far awkward decision-making process which is predicted to probably fail as well. Let’s not forget the referenda on planned EU treaty revisions that went down: Ireland rejected Nice in 2001, Denmark and Sweden rejected Europe in 2000 and 2003,  France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, and so on.


The question for this week is: Why on earth are sane politicians continuing to put complex issues in the hands of voters who decide by whatever criteria, but rarely on the substance of an issue?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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The Olympics – political games?

In ancient Greece, when the Olympic Games were running, weapons were silenced. Wars were put on hold. This is not something that we can observe anymore. The political implications of the Olympics are becoming ever more complex, but they do not appear to approximate the world in a more peaceful condition. In Rio, we encounter a ‘refugee team’ for the first time. A significant number of Russian athletes have been excluded due to notorious and state-induced doping. All Russian athletes have been excluded from the Paralympics. But Russia, though probably among the worst, are not the only dopers.

In previous years, some countries abstained from participating in Olympics organized by other states, due to political misbehavior or just inconvenience (Taiwan was excluded from the Montreal Games in 1976; the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to a Western boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, while the Eastern Bloc retaliated with a boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984). The Berlin Games in 1936 were not boycotted. There were protests against the Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 Games, due to human rights issues, but no boycotts. The Olympics have also attracted terrorist attacks (a Palestinian commando killed Israeli athletes in 1972 in Munich) and during the Games in Mexico (1968), black power symbols were put on display.

So what is the role of the Olympics now? Should we stick to the notion that the Olympics are a politics-free zone? Or should we accept the unavoidable, and let politics impact the Games?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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