What is it about?

In this essay, I reflect on the past, present, and potential future of our global condition by addressing the nature of global governance, its historical practices and principles, the interests it has served, and who/what it has included/excluded or marginalized in those developments. I initially explore ontological, conceptual, and normative issues, and how these have been historically connected to the dynamics of world orders, patterns of global governance, and global capitalism. I follow with a reflection on hegemony and supremacy in historical world orders from the eleventh century up to World War II. This historical excursus is justified as a means to critically appraise dominant principles of global governance today, and to highlight key questions concerning the future; namely, whether they are consistent with or in contradiction to the material and human interests and indeed the very survival of humankind and the integrity of the planet, its biosphere, and its life-forms. Put differently, my aim in this essay is to pose acute questions concerning the nature of our global condition in the early twenty-first century, in the context of a “great acceleration” in the nature and scale of capitalist production and consumption patterns (and the means of transportation, communication, and destruction), especially since 1945. Indeed, my premise in this essay is that the world has reached a situation of organic crisis —namely, a situation of multiple intersecting structural crises in the global economy, in politics, in society, in culture and ethics as well as a crisis for the biosphere and, with that, the (social) reproduction of life-forms on the planet. This situation is therefore dramatized by the threats of climate change, intensification of pollution, global inequalities, food crises, and a variety of political challenges to the existing order. These include those from new forces on the left and, particularly, from authoritarian neoliberals and neonationalists associated with the reactionary right. In this context, we also need to ask, Is capitalism the problem or the solution for global governance? These are not necessarily the arguments or discussions found in conventional accounts of global governance or international affairs. Nonetheless, it needs to be emphasized that this essay is not intended to be a polemic against contemporary perspectives on global governance nor any of the Panglossian optimists who seek to claim that we live in an era where “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. Quite the opposite: the key issue raised here involves the contradictory dynamics of a massive ontological shift in the conditions of existence that poses fundamental governance questions concerning the ethical, political, ecological, and social sustainability of our current civilizational and economic paradigms and broader development patterns.

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Why is it important?

It offers a critical perspective on key global issues affecting the human condition and world order and it argues for planetary governance as a means to foster a more just and sustainable collective future for people and the planet.


I was encouraged to to write this by some of my students from among following several generations of PhD candidates that I have taught and trained in the fields of international relations and global political economy.

Professor Stephen Gill
York University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Global Governance “As It Was, Is and Ought to Be”, Global Governance A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, September 2019, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/19426720-02503003.
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