All local politics is global I

tynOne of the interesting things, to me, about visiting Prague was talking to a number of local academics – at the Anglo-American University and the Institute of Industrial and Financial Management – about how globalisation was often viewed through a local lens. Both of my interlocutors – expats themselves – thought that Australians would have much different perspectives on global issues than Europeans. That shocked me out of my own insularity a little. You have to go somewhere else to get your own take in perspective.

We often don’t realise, I think, how closely paralleled some of the social, cultural and political forces at work on our national governments, politics and institutions are with those of other nations. If we look to those parallels, we’ll often draw them with the United States and the United Kingdom. To some degree, that’s understandable – both because of the similarity in culture and linguistic ease which facilitates such comparisons and because the impact and the cross-pollination between us and the UK and the US is higher. (Think either the ‘Tea Party’ or ‘New Labour’ 0r the ‘Big Society’.)

One of the ironies of this limited lens is that global civil society – mediated through the web and social media – is gaining in strength. Yet we too often still see national politics as bounded. Of course, pace Max Weber, part of the stateness of states is the ability to exercise hegemony over a defined territory. But there’s still loss – analytically and practically – from not seeing cross-border forces at work on national polities.

This is by way of wondering what implications two little snippets might have for us:

(1) In Australia, a Billionaire businessman with a large persona creates a political party built largely on a media persona and cash and takes a big slice of the vote, while in the Czech Republic, a Billionaire businessman looks set to enter Parliament riding a wave of disgust with government corruption and the inward looking focus of the political class;

(2) In Australia, The Greens’ forward movement at national level is halted for the first time, internal squabbles appear, and tensions between governing and policy and activism and idealism start to collide. In Germany, The Greens go backwards, and their thunder is stolen by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s denuclearisation, leaving them without a totemic issue and with the fruits of incorporation into the political-governmental machine.

I have my own thoughts, which I’ll set out later, but I’m interested first in hearing from others.

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12 responses to “All local politics is global I”

  1. Golliblog

    Other parallels that come to mind include the decline in union membership and female pay (unadjusted for hours worked, jobs performed etc..) being stuck at something like 70%-80% of male pay throughout nearly all the western world.

    I’ve always made the point that you really need to look at the international situation before assigning local causation to social phenomena.

  2. Sam

    This is all true, but each country has its own idiosyncrasies as well. For instance, the Czechs really, really hate the Slovaks. (The must have talked about it.) Nobody else in the world could give two hoots about the Slovaks.

  3. Tim Dymond

    An example of the type of thinking you mention Mark, is that Australian trade unions are more likely to look to the US for their campaigning models, while Africa and Asia are more likely to have examples of union organising winning against tremendous odds (e.g. unionising a factory despite the threat of being shot, rather than despite the threat of being unable to meet in a lunchroom).

  4. Golliblog

    Another one might be the marked increase in the acceptance of homosexuality in the western democracies. The idea of same sex marriage wasn’t on the radar at all until just before the turn of the century, yet now the momentum seems almost unstoppable.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is- and many here will no doubt disagree- is the shift in the balance of the intellectual calibre of intellectuals. When I was born the best and brightest intellectuals throughout the western world were overwhelmingly from the Left. Today the balance has changed and most (but *not* by an overwhelming margin) of the best and brightest intellectuals are on the Right.

  5. jungney

    Beware the confines of the Anglosphere Mark! It’s such a relief to get out of Oz from time to time, fer sure, just to freshen up. There are global trends, counter currents of which the mass media keeps us largely uninformed. So, what you discern is that democracy is in a particular struggle, reflecting your words but with my emphasis, reflecting the ‘inward looking’ interests and practices of the political classes. Populism and disengagement with democracy leads voters to opt for billionaires who, because they are successful, of whom it is perceived that ‘they must know what they’re talking about’. Or something. A vote for them is like outsourcing your democratic responsibilities, of course, but the trend is apparently the same here and there.

  6. Golliblog

    Mark: “That’s an interesting claim, golliblog. How do you sustain it?”

    I assume you are referring to my conclusion re western intellectuals.

    This is the conclusion I’ve reached in concert with numerous friends of a similarly centrist persuasion. I’m not going to sustain the comment by name dropping as this would be futile. Instead I’ll give what I think are the reasons:

    (a) the insularity, mediocrity and low undergraduate entrance requirements for left dominated fields in the academy compared to more right and centre dominated fields – culture studies versus economics for instance

    (b) the comprehensive failure of the 20th century’s 30 or so socialist experiments in living to provide human dignity, freedom and prosperity

    (c) the relative success of the much reviled nation state + capitalism + social insurance + stable democracy to provide same

    (d) blowback from the Right, including corporate funding for free market think tanks

    (e) a failure on the part of Left intellectuals to actually speak to the public rather than at or above the public.

  7. Judith Downey

    My experience of global connections is a little different. On this visit I find people in my field share ideas and are knowledgable about international trends. And in the past, I have found that in other areas of expertise ie knowledge groups.
    What I have found in France with young people (under 30s) among family and friends was a great awareness of the contrast between their own national conditions and other places. I think this is mainly due to social media which enhances knowledge of other places. A similar phenonemon must have been in play in late 1980s in East Germany via television. But what I find now is young people questioning the sacrifice of efficiency to lifestyle which I think is new.
    That said, Australian politics is viewed as rather odd and exotic, appropriate to our landscape.

  8. Katz

    H. Ross Perot is the clear precursor of Clive Palmer.

    The electoral influence of these men requires a huge ego, stupendous sums of uncommitted capital, disengagement with the energy and time-consuming intricacies of political party cultures and mechanics, and a media willing and able to project the message of the insurgent tycoon.

    On the receiving end are millions of voters disenchanted with politics as usual and comfortable with the idea of voting for a figure over whom they and no one else exercise party discipline. In other words, the demos eschews democratic control.

    Here is the interesting feature — a widespread distaste for democracy.

  9. jungney

    Yes Katz. Distaste at either the current democratic parliamentarism or at the effort involved to develop informed opinion. An infantile desire for daddy/mummy to fix it all or make it go away.

    BTW Golliblog: please do identify of these leading right wing intellectuals who are holding you an captive. I might be able to help.

  10. paul of albury

    Just name one, Golliblog

  11. Marks

    @2 sam. I don’t think the Czechs hate the Slovaks at all. They patronise them…and the Slovaks hate that.

    One of the interesting things going on at the moment is that the local transport company in Prague (Dopravni Podnik hlavniho mesta Prahy – DP for short) is going through General Managers at a rate of knots. (Five in the past five years). The ostensible reason is…er, well there is no ostensible reason, but the Mayor of Prague is one of those you beaut privatisation is best let’s get in Boston Consulting types. So we see a clash of the old engineering and technical types where you have to provide a service to the public and if that means spending money, so be it, versus a mayor who is aware and enthusiastic about privatisation. ie Globalisation vs actual service to the local community.

    It will be interesting to see what happens.

    PS, the other thing about internationalisation in the Czech Republic is the loss of varieties of beer. This is serious.

    Five years ago, one could find four or five different brands of beer within staggering distance of one’s hotel…wherever that may have been. Now, Plzensky Prazdroj (Pilsener Urquell if you want to speak Hun) and its sister beers is almost everywhere. If you want to find others such as Svijany, Regent, Staropramen Zlatopramen, etc etc you have to go on the hunt. Internationalisation is turning the Czech beer market into a monoculture.