Prof. Anthony Giddens (Professor Emeritus & Former Director, London School of Economics; UK; Life Fellow of King's College, Cambridge; UK)

06.11.2010 - Conducted by Jack Hood & Elizabeth Hurst

Q1. How has globalisation impacted upon the concept of the nation state?

It must be understood that globalisation is not a single thing. It is a set of influences; increasing interdependency, a conflicting swirl of influences. So in terms of the nation-state, some get powers taken away from them, but you also get a push down effect because you get pressures towards local and regional autonomy, you also get a lateral effect because of trading and other relationships which cross national borders. For example the increased economic integration between Barcelona in Northern Spain and Southern France. Thus one can derive a sense of push and pull effects. My main theme is that when there is such a situation one has to in an active way, rethink the identity of the nation. You cannot any longer base a nationís identity on the divisions you have with neighbours. It always used to be the case you did that. So British identity, for example, came from divisions between the British and the French. A lot of national identities were born out of warfare. We hope there will not be any significant wars between nations, so we have to look for a different mechanism to establish national identity. No matter what country you go to, that country is struggling to re-define itself: what it stands for, what its history is, what its future should be. I propose to talk about immigration, because in Europe that is a big topic and is very much bound up with the identity of the nation.

Q2. How do you think the Nation State has been changing throughout the years since? Would you say that as the nation-state has been changing over the years since you wrote ďThe Nation State and violenceĒ in the 80ís? Would you say that the ability to use violence is still the defining feature of the nation-state?

I think nation-states retain more power. Much of law is still in the hands of nations. We do have structures of international law, but as can be seen by the case of Iraq, it is relatively easy to break those laws: International law doesnít have enough teeth to make it whole, whereas the nation-state does. It has the power to force compliance. If you look at the state in the international situation, we have multinational institutions, but where are the main governing bodies of the world? They are probably in the organisations of nations: so the G20 has emerged perhaps as the prime talking shop in world society - consisting of nations. And I suppose it can also be seen to be complementing the UN, but it is not simply straight forward a multi-lateral organisation. So although nations have lost a great deal of power, they are still significant players in the global system, especially when they get together.

Q3. Presumably national agendas get in the way of multi-lateral organisations and their aims. Would you say that national-identity and the nation state as an entity obstructs those kinds of organisations?

There is a dislocation between the global problems we face and the continuing pre-remnants of the nation. For example, in the last two years I have been intensively working on climate change and the effects of climate change, and we are really struggling to get a transnational agreement, and that is partly because individual nations generally seek to put their own interests first. The United States is the prime culprit at the moment: for whatever domestic reasons within the US. President Obama has not been able to get any sort of climate change legislation through congress. The US is pursuing a lifestyle that is incompatible with a sustainable global economy. The US is 4% of the worldís population, consumes 25% of the worldís energy, and generates 25% of the worldís greenhouse gas emissions. So nations indeed are indeed able to inhibit the kind of policies we need, however, on the other hand, you have to be realistic about it, recognise that this is the case and try to work with the existing frame-work of states. In the case of climate change, I never expected much in the case of Copenhagen because I always thought that the global geopolitical divisions would be too great which proved to be the case. What we have to do now is work with those divisions, not pretend they do not exist. And we just donít know if we can do it: whether we have the capabilities to control the forces which we have unleashed on ourselves.

Q4. What would your prognosis be for the upcoming summit in Mexico be?

I have some optimism for Cancun because the proposed expectations are much lower than the case of Copenhagen. I doubt there will be any form of a binding agreement, but there may be significant advances in certain key areas: deforestation, replacement to clean development program (which expires in 2012). We will have to see if we can make something of the Copenhagen Accord. Over 150 nations have now submitted plans. Although these plans do not add up to the required emission reductions, they are quite substantial. What is really required also is innovation, which should be as much of the driving force as regulation. We also need business people. I am interested in, for example, a new form of Latin American leadership on climate change issues because the Brazilians have become quite prominent in this field. We wrote an open letter, myself and a scientist named Martin Rees, to act as a wakeup call before Cancun which is being published in 15 newspapers in 50 countries around the world. So out of this, you could make a pattern of response which could be quite important, so I am not one of those who simply write Cancun off.

Q5. What would be your thoughts on the political discourse not only in the United States with the recent midterm election, but also in the UK with the recent elections?

Well we can start with climate change which is an issue that confronts all of us. In the UK we have collaboration, but in the United States there is complete polarization between Democrats and Republicans. Only 16% of Republicans said that climate change was dangerous and was caused by human activity, while Democrats were at 60%; that is disastrous. Politically, there are issues that transcend the left and the right, and climate change is one of them. This means you canít simply push politics back into a simple left-right division. I wrote a book called ďBeyond the divide of left and rightĒ-and I still hold this to be the case now where you have two levels of intersecting politics. A left-right division over issues such as inequalities, the role of the state, and other traditional issues. Then you have an overlapping set of issues which are to do with our interaction with nature-some of the big risks and opportunities we have created, we have to put all those together in a package. The left isnít doing very well with that as there are very few social-democratic parties at the moment in power in European countries. I was very much a fan of President Obama, but now I find it hard to see Obama as a centre-left leader because I no longer see what his progressive project actually is. We need to rethink the left of centre political philosophy, but there is a good chance that left of centre parties could be back in power in Italy, Germany, France, and the UK possibly. This is dependent on how incumbent right wing governments manage the recession and austerity. My starting point would be to treat austerity as an opportunity because it could be treated as a form of Ďrealismí- that is we are living beyond our means. Do we really want to live in a runaway, capitalist system where GDP is the only measure of growth? I donít think so. You canít possibly deal with climate change unless you have a long term perspective and we have to find a way to generate that across party lines, we need to look beyond the temporality of elections. The fate of the world depends on us finding an effective framework. At the moment we are at a great time of uncertainty, not only economically but in other areas as well, concerning what the future will be like, both locally and globally. I donít think China is able to carry the world economy.

Q6. To me it seems there are two Americas talking across each other, they're talking about the same thing but envisioning themselves in the same time, being very destructive in the confusion of what American identity is. Is this what is currently wrong with American politics?

It is, there was a time when people said there is a problem that the main parties are two similar, but when there is too much division it is also a big problem. This is happening in the United States at the moment and its very much bound up with the idea that the Tea Party has the narrative of the nation, it doesnít want to see it as a multicultural nation but wants to trace its roots back to the original white settlers. There is a lot of blatant racism in the attacks of the right against President Obama which they canít express openly, but I feel that a lot of people just donít want a black president. I canít prove it as they arenít going to say so; theyíre going to wrap it up in the mystique of what the Tea Party stand for. America at the moment looks a bit dysfunctional and itís difficult for the world community as itís not just the political situation, itís also that the American way of life just is not consistent with the kind of world we have to create, it is based on a mixture of cheap energy and cheap credit, and we know that canít go on. My brother lives in LA where the whole city is busy with cars; itís a metaphor for dysfunctional America. In politics you have the decision of the Supreme Court that there will be no limit on political contributions and so all politicians are spoken for, you canít get to the top without enormous financial backing and most of that comes from individuals with partisan interests or corporations with partisan interests. I think the US is in a very difficult passage of its history. Itís true that in US there needs to be a complete rethink of what it means to be American and that is a very difficult task, the American mentality of SUVs exists on both the Left and the Right and itís still very strong. There is still the wide-spread idea that the government should get off our backs and the Tea Party is radicalising. Thatís ludicrous as now theyíre voting for the movements that led to the financial crisis, and so I find the return of the republican right in American very paradoxical. Of course we donít know yet where it will lead as the Tea Party is so radical that it could still split the Republican vote, so we donít know what will happen at the next Presidential election. On climate change I feel very disheartened with what is happening on the federal level, there is some action on the state and city level which I guess is a positive aspect of decentralised system, in Colorado for example they want zero carbon economy.

Q7. How can a government or an NGO create a situation where we look to the other and how can we create understanding and not focus on the extremes?

Within nations you must support multiculturalism, not only in political philosophy but there needs to be an understanding of what it actually is, and thereís problems with this for example with Chancellor Merkel. It should stress dialogue which gives you unity; it should not be about national narratives but narratives of relatives. It also applies to Islam, thereís no place in my view for Shari law in society, you need to extend the principle of tolerance which is enshrined in the democratic system and there are limits to that. However these issues are very difficult to manage, perhaps it is a mistake to focus too much on Islam that can become a kind of scare tactic on both sides. There are issues there though, such as that of home-grown terrorists. Itís difficult for secular societies to deal with religiosity, and itís difficult for a democratic country that respects human rights to deal with a religious system where at least amongst some believers those rights are flouted. The position of women is an example of when that can be difficult, it is not as straight forward as it seems, I once wrote an article on headscarves and looked at opinions from around the world, and many women see it as an article of liberation and adopt it freely as part of their identity, as a part of the emancipation and not the oppression of women.

Professor Giddens, thank you so much for your time.