Benjamin Geer on Fri, 11 Apr 2003 14:57:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Re: System vs Law

On Wednesday 09 Apr 2003 09:25, Soenke Zehle wrote:
> what I meant to suggest is that
> international law - i.e., human rights provisions, multilateral mechanisms
> of conflict resolution, minimal standards for government and, increasingly,
> corporate accountability etc. - do represent a somewhat independent system
> of rules and regulations that is, even if it is not entirely entirely
> extricable from, also not entirely reducible to the realpolitik of the great
> powers.

I think states respect, and invoke, international law only to the extent that 
it furthers their own interests.  Sometimes, those interests include 
appearing to stand for higher principles, for reasons of domestic 
realpolitik.  For example, it is clearly in the state's interest to nourish 
nationalism at home, by claiming to stand for universal values.  This perhaps 
partly explains the new German nationalism you described.

> But your comment does not explain - and I don't have an explanation for that
> either, which is why I am tempted to see a more or less unreflected
> anti-americanism at work - why the attention of those who are not in any way
> tied to this top-down perspective appears to be almost completely absorbed
> by this view as well. [...]
> If 'another world is possible,' as they say, I think that we need
> to untether our political imagination from its exclusive fixation on the
> great powers that be. [...]

If you want to undermine the global political and economic order, it makes 
sense to focus on the states and institutions that wield the greatest power 
in that order.  Until that power collapses, it will be able to crush any 
attempts to create 'another world' in the periphery, as we have seen all too 

It's also much easier to organise an action on an issue that's close to home.  
Here in Britain, the war in Iraq is close to home because British troops are 
fighting in it.  In the Middle East, it's close to home because people there 
feel that the war emanates from a power that they are *already* subject to.

> The 'street' has in
> many ways become part of an extended state,

The British state certainly didn't want millions of its citizens to 
demonstrate against its participation in the invasion of Iraq.  Nor did any 
of the member states of the WTO want their citizens to demonstrate against 
the WTO in Seattle in 1999.


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