Can nationalism and globalization coexist

Nationalism and globalization

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Subject / Archive | Article from October 8, 2009

Saskia Sassen in conversation with Jürgen König

In the context of globalization, civil rights are increasingly restricted, Saskia Sassen believes. (AP)

The sociologist Saskia Sassen advocates the thesis that a de-nationalized area has emerged in the course of globalization so that "global actors" can expand further. This de-nationalization goes hand in hand with a simultaneous resurgence of nationalisms.

Jürgen König: Saskia Sassen, born in 1949 in The Hague, grew up in Argentina and Italy, is now Professor of Sociology at Columbia University in New York and at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her work focuses on the processes of globalization, i.e. questions such as work, how capital migrates across the continents and what influence modern means of communication have on this. Saskia Sassen coined the term Global City, the global city in which we all live, and she sees herself as a globally active person. She is currently in Berlin on the occasion of an exhibition by the artist Thomas Demand in the Neue Nationalgalerie on the subject of Germany. Saskia Sassen gave a lecture on this in Berlin.

Yesterday she was our guest with the interpreter Marei Ahmia, and the first thing I asked her about her core thesis, which she also represented in her new book "The Paradox of the National", that the national and the global do not form a contradiction , but that the nation states - on the contrary - first prepare the way for globalization. In what way?

Saskia Sassen: At the beginning I have to start with a clear picture, that is, a very clear idea that there is actually no legal unit in the sense of a global company. But still there are 300,000 companies that say of themselves that they are global companies, that they operate worldwide. How does this work?

To do this, one has to know that state after state around the world, all states have changed more and more in a certain direction, towards de-nationalization, that legal units, legal units, and institutional units of the state have become more and more denationalized so that in the end a de-nationalized space was created. That was necessary, so to speak, in order to create this certain standardization. This was necessary so that these global actors could expand everywhere and act equally.

King: But when you talk about de-nationalization, Ms. Sassen, then you can see on the other hand that there are a lot of groupings which, following the pattern of "us against the rest of the world", are very attractive. The nation states, including transnational entities such as the European Union, on the other hand, defend themselves very vehemently, even aggressively, for example against migrants from all over the world, so - then national and territorial thinking suddenly plays a very important role again. How does that work with the global?

Sassen: That is a very important question. In addition, one has to see that the progressive de-nationalization can wonderfully coexist with a strong nationalization on the other side or a reference to the nation. One area, for example, where the nation state comes into force particularly strongly, is securing national borders. When it comes to rejecting refugees, asylum seekers or immigrants and not the flow of capital or finances, then suddenly the nation is very important again.

Second, you have to be aware that both have to be understood as very complex things, they are relevant in very different areas. There is no such thing as the national and the de-national or denationalized.

It seems that there is also a difference between structural conditions and ideology. Citizens in liberal democracies, for example, in countries like this one, are increasingly losing their rights, and that is not just because of the famous war on terror, but that is simply the course of neoliberal developments. This happens both under social democratic governments and in governments from the other side.

This is a structure that is developing, and this structure in principle brings the citizens closer to the immigrants, whereas the ideological development, i.e. the ideologies that are now represented, are nationally oriented and tend to pull the two apart.

At the moment there are again very strong activities against immigration, anti-immigration resentments are rising again, and at times when both sides are actually getting weaker, one would think that they should come together to become stronger, but the opposite is the case Case.

Take the financial crisis, for example. The state is using massive amounts of tax money to strengthen the economy, especially to strengthen financial companies in the crisis. These are all signs of a strong state, and this can be seen from country to country. Take the US, for example, where $ 8 trillion has been used to bail out the banks. These are all national tax dollars that are being used there by American taxpayers.

The Citybank example illustrates this quite well: American tax money was used for this international banking system. On the one hand, however, 30 percent of it belongs to the United Arab Emirates together with Singapore, another 30 to 40 percent belongs to a mixture of different European shareholders, and the rest, American finances may also be involved.

And that is being referred to as saving the American market. In reality, however, it is a global financial system that is supported here, and that is really not economic nationalism as we understand it.

King: Ms. Sassen, you said: we citizens will lose rights. You describe this in your book "The Paradox of the National". According to your thesis, our long-established, democratic instruments such as parties, parliament, elections and trade unions are losing their importance. In its place have long since been replaced by executive administrative bodies, commissions and authorities. So if the citizen's voice counts less and less - what should we do?

Sassen: This is a very complex topic and also in transition, I think, and you can perhaps also observe the emergence of a new development in politics, sometimes nationally and then perhaps also subnationally. There are, for example, new directions, organizations, endeavors, for example with regard to human rights, where work is done locally. This is a possible way for a new policy to address very specific issues in each country on an activist level. That varies from country to country, but it also repeats itself with the different facets of the respective country.

And this constant reappearance is something that these countries have in common, it is, so to speak, a globalization on a broad scale and now not in the sense of in a line, we are going through it on a financial path or something. And that occurs in different countries. And this emergence, I would say, is specific to this transition phase.

Another critical element has to do with the International Criminal Court. This has shown that it is no longer a matter of course for any dictator to escape the law. My particular concern is to make it clear that in principle every citizen is in a position to bring a dictator or a human rights violator to justice before the International Criminal Court. This development of human rights is still weak, but it is clear - and that is already certain - that these human rights will remain as a concept. This is a development that takes place in different stages, but which can definitely be observed.

King: In the book, Ms. Sassen, you speak of an "alternative globality", and that already echoed with what you said. Now you yourself are a globally active person, you speak five languages, you work in London, in New York, you were born in the Netherlands, grew up in Argentina and Italy, you give lectures all over the world. Few of them are that mobile. How should those who have no voice so far, often not even an internet connection, participate in the alternative globality?

Sassen:(original German) Yes, I think that is an important problem, and I am working on a category, immobility, and I ask myself: Can those who have no mobility, who are really immobile, who are too poor, too political, their country to leave, then they can never go back, or they have too much (incomprehensible), I don't know - can globalities do? Can they make globalities - make, do? This is very important in my work. And the answer is: yes, but under safe conditions. So, on one side, the immobility is the old immobility, nothing happens, so to speak. But at the other end of a variable, immobility is much more complex today than it was 100 years ago, I believe. And there again, if you think of the activists in human rights and environment, they are ...

King: In human rights and environmental issues.

Sassen: ... they are very local, they are not cosmopolitan. But they now know - and that is knowledge that is active, isn't it, even when they are not in communication - they know that their local quarrels repeat themselves all over the world.

King: So, repeat themselves everywhere.

Sassen: And that creates a subjectivity, you don't need the internet. You know that, you know that, because the radio said it, the television said it, et cetera, the friends. And I think that is also an important alternative policy. But then there are other versions, of course, where the alternative politics are not as extreme as the immobile ones. So if you think of Oxfam, Amnesty International, Medicines sans frontiers, Pacifistas sin Fronteras - there are a lot of organizations.

(translated again from here) They feel that they can work in a global space and that is the beginning of something new. I think that alternative globalization also has negative sides. I like a lot about it, but there are other things that I don't like.

So, on the negative side, I see - and I also write it this way in my book - a strong spread of private, isolated, global areas. An example of the big construction companies that are redefining the topography around the world ... Since Kyoto - an agreement that almost everyone has signed, to what extent they are actually implementing it is a different question, but almost all countries have ratified it - there standards have been set that must now be met by construction companies. But the construction companies around the world have said to themselves that instead of simply following these standards bit by bit, let's do it this way: We don't pay attention to what we are doing, but rather the national governments should see for themselves where we might violate these standards. And most governments lack the expertise on the one hand and simply the money on the other to prove these standard violations.

This is just one example of a negative side and that these multiply multiple times, so there are many, many others. And that is just, as I said, an example of the globalization of different standards of behavior.

King: Thank you, the nation state and globalization, a conversation with the American sociologist Saskia Sassen. If you want to read up on Ms. Sassen's thoughts, you can do so: Her latest book, "The Paradox of the National", was published by Suhrkamp last year.

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