Summary of "Myth, Identity, and the Politics of Conviction: Participation in the Struggle for a Just World Order"

Summary of

Myth, Identity, and the Politics of Conviction: Participation in the Struggle for a Just World Order

by Saul H. Mendlovitz and Lester Edwin J. Ruiz

Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: "Myth, Identity, and the Politics of Conviction: Participation in the Struggle for a Just World Order," in The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence, ed. Eugene Weiner, (New York: Continuum Publishing, 1998), pp. 94-115.

Peoples define their identities by myths. A myth is "a story usually of historical events that unfolds a worldview of a people; the origin, destiny, practices, and beliefs of a people." (p. 94) They are "historical and contingent constructions of human identity , interest, and practice."(p. 96) Mendlovitz and Ruiz are particularly interested in the myths of territorially fixed identities, the extent to which this myth is being supplanted by a new myth of global citizenship, and the potential o f this new myth to create a just world order.

The myth of territorially fixed identities says that peoples' identities are derived from their occupation of some particular territory. This myth underlies the rise of modern nation-states. The authors argue that this myth is currently being eclipsed by new myth of global citizenship, under which individuals identify with the human race and view themselves as members of a planetary people. The authors hope that this new myth will make us better equipped to create "political practices that are adequate to the global polity of our time" and to work toward a just world order.(p. 97) This essay explores ways to increase the number of people who adopt this myth.

Mendlovitz and Ruiz begin by describing several narratives which are currently used to describe global society. One view sees the world as a jungle of competing and dangerous self-interests. The world is full of fear and threats. Another narrative emphasized the increasing globalization of contemporary life and the end of doctrines of absolute national sovereignty. This is a hopeful view which sees the world as full of opportunities to create a global order. The narrative of popular internationalization is critical of both the traditional nationalist view, and yet also skeptical of appeals to universal human values. It instead emphasizes the need to develop a global civil society and acknowledges that traditional nation-states will have a role to play in creating such a global civil society. Mendlovitz and Ruiz seek to expand upon this third view.

The authors offer their own narrative describing the current world situation. First, they envision an alternative normative order. Validity is to be established by law and agreements rather than by military force. This alternative normative order is in fact emerging in the world today. Second, they emphasize the existence of transnational movements for peace and justice. Many of these movements have roots in world religions, and oppose war and violence generally. Third, they emphasize people's growing preference for non-violent activism to promote radical change. Mendlovitz and Ruiz point out that this new myth creates the possibility of ending organized warfare.

The authors suggest supplementing this new myth with three more propositions. First, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. they note that "a riot is the voice of the unheard."(p. 100) We must be alert to the sorts of hidden or structural violence that marginalized and oppressed people suffer, and empathize with their anger without condoning their use of violence in response. Second, Mendlovitz and Ruiz offer the axiom that where there is society there is law. The question for the future the is not whether there will be a global legal order, but who shall make and administer the law, and what purposes and values will the law serve. Third, they suggest that "to think, feel and act as a global citizen is essential for analyzing, prescribing and implementing struggles for a just world order."(p. 100)

The emergence of some global law is inevitable according to Mendlovitz and Ruiz's second axiom. However they emphasize the importance of a democratic legal order. The twentieth century is marked by two contradictory trends: the increased practice of violence and the increased condemnation and delegitimation of violence. Coupled with these trends is an accelerated process of global communication, interdependence and intermingling of peoples. As a result of these trends, democratic constitutionalism has come to have great appeal as a foundation for the global polity.

Development of a global civil society is also an important element in the creation of a just world order. Transnational social movements are already leading in the development of global civil society by acting together across national boundaries to pursue common issues. Efforts must also be made to build a sense of global community, based on recognition of a shared human condition.

The authors argue that developing a widespread sense of global citizenship is not impossible or Utopian, although it will complex and difficult. National, ethnic and gendered identities are very resilient. Nevertheless a perspective of global citizenship is emerging from contemporary political practice, particularly from the "politics of conviction" and the political practice of struggle. This newly emerging politics of conviction is "a common practice that includes the articulation of preferred objectives for an imagined community that is global in reach, the identification of concrete social forces and agents of transformation, and, the creation and nurture of fundamentally new and better relationships, already in existence and still to be constructed, and the institutionalization of structures and processes that will bring about the transformation--without denying the major difficulties, hostile actors, and deep structures that need to be overcome."(p. 104)

The goals of the politics of conviction include peace, social justice, economic well-being, ecological balance and positive identity. This approach reinforces the contingent nature of history, and thus the potential for change. It makes shared vulnerabilities a source of shared aspirations.

Three principles of political practice emerge from the practice of struggle, articulate that struggle, and are part of the emerging myth of global citizenship. The first principle is to decentralize production, consumption and community participation. These processes should be globally oriented but locally shaped, and must include the right of appeal to an external authority. Second is the principle of transnational cooperation. Transnational cooperation should only be undertaken for the benefit of all humanity, or at least for the benefit of the worst-off 40% of the population when 5-20% of the local polity can be mobilized. The third principle is to increase accountability via wide participation in global institutions. Violence is to be avoided. It should be used only as a last resort against direct sources of oppression, and then only with global authorization.

The authors conclude by offering examples and signs of the emerging myth of global citizenship. They point to the protests of Chinese dissidents, the statements President Jimmy Carter and Chancellor Helmut Kohl made addressed to the world, and various citizen sponsored world conferences. They also include in an appendix the Iowa Declaration of 1995 which set forth long- and short-term goals in pursuit of a just world order.