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The Alien in us

My speech today at the Diplomacy Festival during the session “The erosion of sovereignty” .

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Are we here tonight to talk about the erosion of sovereignty or about the erosion of globalisation ? Or, rather, more than any of these two issues, better, I see a dilemma, as definitely more relevant: should we pick globalisation or should we pick sovereignty?

Interestingly, it is not so much an individual dilemma, a moral dilemma, but rather a macro, a community dilemma, a political one. 44% of Italians would choose for staying in the European Union, the lowest amount in Europe (an incresing amount though). And the fracture is so deep that the debate is non existent, mostly within a given circle : in social media, on twitter, sovranists leave hearts to tweets of sovranists and cosmopolitans or globalists do the same for their own species; rather than engaging diversity they ridicule it. Diversity will be a theme I will touch upon.

I spoke of species. I am told that Sigourney Weaver is in town for the Movie Festival. Well, it is an appropriate metaphor then than to remind ourselves that in Italy and all over the Western world we have an Alien in our Country. It is a very different, threatening, distant being. Globalist and sovranist : who of the 2 is the Alien ? Who of the 2 is the threat ? It matters little for the purpose of my train of thoughts. What matters is that it exists and it carries the danger of war.

For the sake of it, let us presume that the ugly Alien is the sovranist, in tune, I suspect, with the majority of the crowd today. Had we given this speech in the periphery of Rome I am quite sure that the ugly Alien would be the cosmopolitan.

So we were in our space mission, directed toward a Global World, with Global Institutions and a Global Governance; so close to the landing. Globalization and cosmopolitanism appeared inevitable and driving the show. Why? The usual list of factors: evolution of technology, mobility and global trade; with which legal rules and institutions found it natural to play in tune.

But the trip became bumpy during the road. As the economic story goes, world inequality declined (China and India converging) national (Western) inequality increased. It increased because Italian low to middle class jobs were taken by a growingly urbanized low to middle class in China. But it also increased because Italian policy-makers did not respond to the pain of those of their citizens suffering from globalisation. A pain made ten times worse by the 2008 recession and the once again lacking response of policy makers.

So 2 issues, one structural (globalization) and one contingent (the recession) saw a muted response from politicians. One mistake is human, two is diabolic, we say in Italy. This generated the Alien, the constituency for sovranism, burping right out of our society, unexpectedely, and grew.

I am not that interested here in opening up an important side issue, whether the causes were really economic or, spiritual, as Fukuyama puts it: « economic distress is often perceived by individuals more as a loss of identity than as a loss of resources». No matter what the first cause, the Alien was born.

Question number 1 . Why was it born? Why did politics feel the urge not to respond to the pain of those who were suffering. I see three culprits.

First. Global Governance. Global institutions by definition care about global problems and threats: local problems are in the backburner. Not surprisingly, nowadays Global Governance is suffering from bad PRs also thanks to Donald Trump (UN General Assembly speech).

Each of us here today is the emissary of a distinct culture, a rich history, and a people bound together by ties of memory, tradition, and the values that make our homelands like nowhere else on Earth. That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination. I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return. America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.  Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination.”

A problem for my undergraduate course! But, mostly, a complicated issue for Europe: what do you do when you are still in search of your common memories, traditions and values, like Europe is? Do you go global or sovereign? This issue was one that others have had to face. When the United States was like Europe today, in search, in the late 1700s, it was internally, not at the global level, divided on its governance. The so-called anti federalists (who were federalist, but of a different kind from the ones  lead by Alexander Hamilton, who eventually won) were the (state) sovranists of today. Around 1788, unwilling to sign the Constitution, they would say something like this related to Federal representatives taking away sovereignty from states: “furthermore, they would represent people from such a large area that they couldn’t really know their own constituents.”  Europe and its institutions decided to go «global» and, not surprisingly, when it was hit locally by pain it was unable to react.

Second reason ? Interestingly enough Hamilton’s Federalist Party was often thought of representing (beside strong central government) the rule by a wealthy class, the export-led manufacturing industry, a strong national bank, while Jefferson leading the Democratic-Republicans party, represented (beside a strong state government) the rule by the people, the agricultural sector, state controlled banks. So the second reason I put on the floor is the following: if the European Parliament and institutions were indeed dominated, to begin with, by rich pro-banks cosmopolitans and globalists, it would have been even harder, for a far away, distant, institution, to care for those who suffer in the middle of a crisis.

I mentioned three culprits. The third one is the mission, or the creed, or better the lack of a creed. Fukuyama claims that «Democracies need to promote what political scientists call “creedal national identities,” which are built not around shared personal characteristics, lived experiences, historical ties, or religious convictions but rather around core values and beliefs.» Makes sense: if you don’t know what your mission is, how can you act for the whole of the community and why would you act to relieve the pain? And what are these beliefs for Europe? Ask a 20 year old. I believe he would stare at you blank. It is not enough anymore to claim that Europe is the champion of equal recognition, as generic human beings. Not only because migration issues have put a dent into that claim, but also because equal recognition is not equal opportunities. It might be a necessary but not sufficient condition.

However, it should be reminded that the mission for Europe was one day pretty clear. Jean Monet, one of the founding fathers of the EU, had it summed up pretty well: «La grande révolution européenne de notre époque, la révolution qui vise à remplacer les rivalités nationales par une union de peuples dans la liberté et la diversité, la révolution qui veut permettre un nouvel épanouissement de notre civilisation, et une nouvelle renaissance, cette révolution a commencé avec la Communauté européenne du charbon et de l’acier

Diversity. Again. As a goal, to be honored first and foremost within the European borders. Is diversity a globalist or sovranist concept? For how it is framed, I don’t know. This concept of diversity was well tackled by Winston Churchill in his United States of Europe speech in Zurich in 1946: The structure of the United States of Europe will  be such as «to make the material strength of a single State less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by a contribution to the common cause.» A goal to be protected, having in mind Nazism.

Honoring and protecting diversity is not only a mere issue of culture or peace, however important they might be. For an economist, diversity allows risk-sharing and insurance. When one is down, small or large, the other picks up the bill. This reduces the chances that each one disappears and makes each one stronger and the Union stronger. And yes, insurance has moral hazard, but when you are about to die, when things are really dramatic, as they were in the 30s and as they have been in this century, moral hazard is irrelevant and should not be mentioned as a priority.

Question n. 2. So when Fukuyama says and asks, correctly so in my mind, the only relevant question, « how to reverse the 30-year trend in most liberal democracies toward greater socioeconomic inequality?» I have only one answer: like Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s, come to the rescue and protection of those who suffer, write Treaties based on solidarity in exceptional circumstances and not only on rigor in normal circumstances and you will see that the Alien will magically leave you alone. Or else, if you are unwilling and incapable, disappear into the deep space.

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