Our Homeland Is the Whole World

Gary K. Shepherd 
Editor of the review United World

Lorenzo Marsili 
Planetary Politics: A Manifesto 

New Polity Press, Steubenville, OH, 2020

There is an old saying, something to the effect that the whole of something is greater than the sum of its parts. This statement describes the concept of the synergy of the constituent parts leading to something that is more than simply the value of the parts individually added together. One would desperately like to make such a claim for Planetary Politics: A Manifesto by Lorenzo Marsili, the English translation of La tua patria è il mondo intero, because without a doubt the parts of this powerful little book (only 136 pages) are extraordinary. Despite that, the conclusion of the book is, to put it bluntly, rather anticlimatic.

That is a shame, because Marsili is saying some things one seldom encounters elsewhere. His analysis of the problems of the world, their causes, and possible solutions are both accurate and astute. And he has a very colorful turn of phrase in describing them. Take this jarring quote about climate change, for example: "We seem to inhabit a new negative communism, a community of destiny that manifests itself through the disappearance of a habitable planet, of a just economy or a healthy environment. We have privatized the profits, and socialized the apocalypse."

Marsili also points to what he calls the zoning of the world, in which differences between nations have become less than those within them. He explains that two professionals from London and Johannesburg can have a greater community of interests with one another than they do with the lower classes of their own countries. At the same time, in Chicago, the difference of life expectancy between richer and poorer neighborhoods (an astonishing 30 years) is greater than the gap between the United States as a whole and any third world country.

One very startling concept Marsili discusses is that of the rhizome. Originally, rhizome is a biological term for a type of plant that propagates using an underground root system, giving the impression of separate bushes, whereas they are actually all part of the same living entity. This perfectly describes the current neoliberal economic system, which emerges in different nations but is a transnational construct beyond the control of any national government.

Ironically, it is the very powerlessness of national politics in solving transnational problems, such as climate change, migration and tax evasion, which gives rise to the hyper-nationalism, nativism and authoritarianism one sees in so much of the world today. Marsili quotes philosopher Wendy Brown, who says, "Counterintuitively, it is the weakening of state sovereignty and, more precisely, the detachment of sovereignty from the nation state that is generating much of the frenzy of the nation states' wall building today." Closed borders represent the death knell of national sovereignty. As Marsili poignantly describes it, "today's nationalist shadow is nothing but the most obvious manifestation of the twilight of the nation state: its small, fearful dog barking."

To deal with this rhizomic threat, Marsili propounds an ancient philosophical concept, the Chinese idea of Tiartxia, roughly translated as "all under Heaven". This concept treats the world as a whole as the subject of political actions, and the welfare of the entirety as the yardstick by which to judge those actions. He explains that there are three dimensions to this concept. The first is the territorial dimension; that is, taking the entire world as the point of reference for action and thought. The second is the political dimension; in which the world is considered as a political unit whose functions are totally interlinked, so that governing the nation becomes part of governing the world. The final dimension is the social one; which takes the welfare of the totality of humanity as the point of reference for determining the desirability and legitimacy of any action, even if the action is undertaken by only a part of humanity.

This concept has the potential to overturn the entire existing order, if it is applied thoroughly and consistently. Yet when it comes to exploring the mechanisms to establish and maintain the implementation of Tianxia, the author seems to stumble. His chapter "A Glimpse into a Politics of the Planet" entertains for the most part only tired old ideas. He suggests, for example, the creation of a transnational party, whose membership is open to people independently of their national citizenship. But this is precisely what was tried, for example, by the Second International and the Industrial Workers of the World.

He goes on to speak of a transformation of human society, brought about by the realization of our common concerns about environmental destruction and the spread of pandemics. However, the author himself admits that so far our responses to these universal threats have been far from unified. Finally, he mentions the need to find a common enemy as a unifying factor, and he provides an obvious candidate. This is the global economic elite, that tiny percent of the population whose money (estimated at ten percent of all the wealth of the world) is safely tucked away in tax havens, and who can travel anywhere with impunity: "flapping their wings over any fiscal frontier". Yet the existence of this global “class enemy” has been acknowledged by pundits across the political spectrum for many years, and to date no consensus has ever been achieved regarding actually doing something about them.

Despite these flaws, in the last few pages of his book Marsili at least partly redeems himself. He describes the "Tennis Court Oath" taken by the members of the Third Estate at the beginning of the French Revolution. In this Oath, the members abandoned the Estates-General, renamed themselves the National Assembly and pledged not to disperse until a new constitution was established. Thus, says Marsili, the entire dynamic of the Revolution was changed. "The demand would no longer be for better policies and fairer taxation, but for a transformation of the system of government ... The world today needs its own Tennis Court Oath, its own planetary revolution and the birth of its own planetary politics".

It is this very point, the need for a "planetary revolution", that the world unity movement has been so timid to acknowledge in the past, and it is refreshing to see someone like Marsili proclaim the need for it so decisively and unambiguously. Even disregarding the other meaty ideas contained within, that statement alone makes this book a worthwhile one for the members of our movement to ponder.

 

This book was originally published in United World

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