Robert Cox and the post-hege­monic global or­der

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion - SADIK ÜNAY

ne of the prom­i­nent an­a­lysts of the in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal econ­omy in the 20th cen­tury, Robert W. Cox, sadly passed away this week, leav­ing be­hind a sub­stan­tial in­tel­lec­tual legacy based on the neo-Gram­s­cian anal­y­sis of the global or­der. Cox was one of the pi­o­neer­ing lead­ers of the crit­i­cal po­lit­i­cal econ­omy tra­di­tion and stim­u­lated a wide reser­voir of in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary lit­er­a­ture that thrived to un­veil the ma­te­rial and ideational bases of cur­rent and pre­vi­ous cases of global hege­mony.

He mod­ern­ized the ideas of clas­si­cal Marx­ist thinker An­to­nio Gram­sci and pro­duced an up-to-date the­o­ret­i­cal per­spec­tive which al­lowed the use of such cru­cial con­cepts as “his­toric blocs” and “con­sent” in the con­text of po­lit­i­cal gov­er­nance of a rapidly glob­al­iz­ing world econ­omy. By ar­gu­ing that “ev­ery the­ory is for some­one and for some pur­pose,” Cox prob­lema­tized the re­la­tion­ship be­tween lead­ing the­o­ret­i­cal par­a­digms and ma­te­rial de­vel­op­ments in world pol­i­tics and econ­omy, and as such, at­tracted harsh crit­i­cisms from both lib­eral and re­al­ist cir­cles in the aca­demic field.

When I was pur­su­ing my doc­toral stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the crit­i­cal po­lit­i­cal econ­omy tra­di­tion was pretty strong in the U.K. and the neo-Gram­s­cian per­spec­tive, which prin­ci­pally de­rived from the writ­ings of Robert Cox, in­spired many an­a­lysts who crit­i­cized the Amer­i­can hege­mony in in­no­va­tive and re­fined ways.

My per­sonal aca­demic su­per­vi­sors, Prof. David Coates – who also passed away this year – and Prof. Paul Cam­mack, as well as lead­ing Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal econ­o­mists like Prof. Ror­den Wilkin­son and Prof. Phillip Cerny were among the pro­po­nents of neoGram­s­cian anal­y­sis at vary­ing de­grees. What these and sim­i­lar schol­ars were try­ing to achieve was ex­tremely valu­able as they were at­tempt­ing to de­con­struct the lib­eral nar­ra­tive of eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal glob­al­iza­tion, and un­veil the ma­te­rial and ideational bases of ac­quir­ing wide­spread con­sent for the sus­te­nance of Amer­i­can hege­mony from de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. A lively lit­er­a­ture fo­cus­ing on the link be­tween eco­nomic pro­cesses in pro­duc­tion, fi­nance and trade with is­sues of po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy, cul­ture and iden­tity pol­i­tics sprang out of orig­i­nal writ­ings fol­low­ing neo-Gram­s­cian anal­y­sis.

But when we say RIP to late Robert Cox in the first quar­ter of the 21st cen­tury, his ideas con­cern­ing the le­git­i­ma­tion needs of the global hege­mony and elic­it­ing con­sent for this pur­pose from dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties seem in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant in a rapidly chang­ing global or­der. As the U.S. in­creas­ingly dis­tances it­self from the lib­eral post-war or­der and em­braces the re­al­ist lan­guage of trade and cur­rency wars, power pol­i­tics, xeno­pho­bia and ex­clu­sion; the neo-Gram­s­cian ap­proach to global po­lit­i­cal econ­omy rapidly loses its ex­plana­tory value.

The U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Don­ald Trump is not keen to carry the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal bur­den of rule-based in­ter­na­tional regimes, mul­ti­lat­eral plat­forms and gov­er­nance struc­tures in or­der to pro­vide sta­bil­ity in the global sys­tem. It does not claim to de­fend lib­eral val­ues such as fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights and lib­er­ties, plu­ral­ism, multi-party democ­racy and rule of law.

There­fore, the struc­tural need to elicit wide­spread in­ter­na­tional sup­port on the ba­sis of a rhetoric of de- fend­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal lib­er­al­ism is not rec­og­nized any­more. In­stead, power games to con­strain China’s as­cen­dancy as a global po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal power are played in an open and fla­grant man­ner with no care for the at­ti­tudes of global pub­lic opin­ion. The U.S. acts in an ag­gres­sive pur­suit of its na­tional in­ter­est, as de­fined by the cur­rent politi­cobu­reau­cratic elite and does not feel to le­git­imize its ac­tions by us­ing a com­pli­cated ar­ray of po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural ar­range­ments as in the pre­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal epochs.

Time will show whether the new Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism – based on bi­lat­eral al­liances, eco­nomic pro­tec­tion­ism and ex­clu­sion­ary po­lit­i­cal rhetoric to­wards mi­nori­ties, mi­grants and dif­fer­ent re­li­gious groups – is a tem­po­rary at­ti­tude as­so­ci­ated with the Trump pres­i­dency, or the re­flec­tion of a long-term paradig­matic shift sup­ported by the U.S. es­tab­lish­ment. But if it proves to be the lat­ter, we will need novel the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works and macro-the­o­rists such as the late Robert W. Cox to thor­oughly un­der­stand and ex­plain long-term prospects of in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity in an in­creas­ingly chaotic global or­der.

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