ANCIENT ROME AND GLOBALIZATION
An interesting and well-crafted essay by Harold James
that fuses analogies with imperial Rome and Great Britain with Schumpeterine creative destruction. " Our Roman Predicament
" postulates what the Old Marxists might have called the "contradiction of capitalism", that geopolitical success of the liberal order undermines itself. A nod to cyclicalism, a theory that stretches back to Polybius
:"In these monumental and parallel works, Smith and Gibbon explored what I term the “Roman predicament”: the way that peaceful commerce is frequently seen as a way of building a stable, prosperous and integrated international society. At the same time, the peaceful liberal economic order leads to domestic clashes and also to international rivalry and even wars. The conflicts disturb and eventually destroy the commercial system and the bases of prosperity and integration. These interactions seem to be a vicious spiral, or a trap from which it seems almost impossible to escape. The liberal commercial world order subverts and destroys itself, and Smith’s gloomy concluding chapters are a long away from the apparently optimistic beginning with the immense productivity gains possible as a result of the division of labor. ...Today there are no grounds for thinking that the United States – or the global economic system – has reached any kind of inherent limit to growth. The pace of technical innovation even seems to be increasing, and the U.S. is one of the world’s most dynamic and innovative societies. The possibility of an unraveling of the U.S. position comes rather from political developments that respond to the uncertainties of the new economy as well as the new security situation. Some of the backlash stems from fears of immigration, even though it is precisely the openness to immigration that has made the U.S. so dynamic. Our political and social psychology responds to globalization by imagining an idealized safe and closed off world. The more we think of the military and security challenge, the more likely we are to try to close ourselves off. "I am not persuaded by James argument of the decisive nature of inequality, which he correctly diagnoses as evidence of economic growth. Human beings have an immense capacity to tolerate political and economic systems that produce both real and relative inequality - what they tolerate poorly is personal regression to a lower status. Peasants, who are acclimated to famine, have rebellions; the newly hungry urbanite though, will make a revolution.
I also found James section on rule-sets superficial and weak:"The central problem is that we need rules for the functioning of complex societies, whether on a national (state) level, or in international relations. But we do not always comply voluntarily with rules, and rules require some enforcement. In addition rules need to be formulated. The enforcement and the promulgation of rules are both consequences of power, and power is concentrated and unequally distributed. Even when we think of voluntarily negotiated rules, there is the memory of some act of power, the long shadow of a hegemomic strength – the shadow of Rome - falling on the negotiators. The propensity for subversion and destruction of a rule-based order comes about because and whenever there is a perception that rules are arbitrary, unjust, and reflect the imposition of particular interests in a high-handed imperial display of power. "
That section cried out for deeper treatment.
Rules need to be enforced, certainly but they do not simply flow out of " hegemonic power" but must reflect the conditions in which the hegemonic power, so-called, operates. They need to match reality, partly as a matter of functionality and so as to also have legitimacy in the eyes of the ruled. Legitimacy comes in part from the character of the power attempting to secure compliance but the rule itself must make sense or provide a recognizable benefit. Rules rise or fall on securing at least the grudging voluntary compliance from the vast majority of society. Catch-22 situations breed resistance and can result in a hoplesss task in terms of enforcement ( Napoleon's Continental System proved so unenforceable that the French government eventually granted exemptions to legitimize some of the ongoing smuggling and profit from it).
Despite having numerous disagreements with the author on a nuber of levels, I still found it a stimulating piece of synthesis.