Governments with no power cannot be democratic. When governments cannot implement the people's mandate, the people have as much power as they would have in a dictatorship. Globalisation is making states increasingly unable to realise their citizens' aspirations.
If we want the politics of the future to be both democratic and effective, we must radically reform the world system.
Climate change, depletion of the oceans, drug trafficking, nuclear fallout: the most pressing issues facing the world have one thing in common. None can be tackled by one country alone. Recent decades have seen a reduction in the ability of governments to act effectively. The Internet, international transportation networks and global markets have denationalised power.
States no longer have a monopoly on the exercise of power within their borders.
Whilst the problems we face have become global, democracy remains national. Democracies elect leaders who are accountable only to the citizens of that country. Re-election demands that governments act in the perceived national interest.
This means that if countries come together to act in the common good, it is always in the interest of one country to pull out of the agreement. For example, if countries collectively agree to lower their carbon emissions, individual states are then incentivised to reap the economic rewards of not signing up - hence the United States' refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol.
For example, if every country were to agree to stop producing landmines, lower supply would greatly increase the value of landmines, hugely increasing the national incentive to produce landmines. Whilst everyone may therefore agree that landmines are generally bad, they are still produced in their thousands. The best outcome would be for no one to produce them, but every state knows that if it did not produce them, another state would.
The same logic applies to selling arms, climate change agreements and banking reform.
How can we expect governments to act on the big problems facing us when collective action seems incompatible with national interest?
This is the most important question of our age. Whether or not we find an answer to it is the difference between a future of great resource wars, environmental destruction and death on an unimaginable scale, versus a future of peace and prosperity.
Some say "it's impossible - let's just look after our national interest". This is the response of nationalists, of Ukip, and of almost every government. Yet a world of great resource wars, terror and climatic disaster is in no one's interests. As solutions can no longer be found within one country, the path of global interest is also the path of 'national' interest.
In following what may appear to be our national interest, we actually act against our national interest.
Citizens demand peace, health, prosperity, but the state alone simply doesn't have the power to realise these things in the long term. The proponents of 'national interest' seek to help one set of people over everybody else, but in doing so they fail everyone.
If we continue prioritising 'national interest', elections will become ever more meaningless. Our leaders will be powerless to implement their citizens' demands. Democracy will continue decaying from within. Little wonder there is so much apathy towards politics when governments can achieve so little! For I speak not of the future, but of the present. Democracy is dying, and national interest is its assassin.
In the global world, 'national interest' is a contradiction.
Are we content to elect governments which cannot govern? We need democratic power-holders above and beyond our governments.
What then of the EU, which has the power to legislate directly in its member states? We have no confidence in it as it lacks democratic accountability. We do not give it extensive power because we feel it lacks responsibility to us.
We need representatives that can govern free from the zero-sum shackles of national interest, exercising power which depends on the people.
Are we content to keep demanding the impossible of national governments? This is the path to disappointment, apathy, and unrealised aspirations. Arms production will not be halted. Terrorism will not be tackled. Global warming will not be confronted. The poorest suffer first. However, we face the problems together, and unless we tackle them together, we will all suffer the consequences in the long run.
We must stop pretending that the solution rests with national governments. Globalisation means that it cannot.
The path we must take is to develop democratically accountable institutions to which we can confidently delegate both power and responsibility. In the information age, all states must satisfy to some extent their citizens' aspirations, and they won't be able to do this unless they delegate power to accountable transnational institutions.
This is the solution to the crisis.
Do you agree? Leave your comments below.