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The fifth and final level of change in my iceberg metaphor (Figure 1) is the only one above the waterline, above. One can read about it sometimes in the newspaper. And this is presented as a “credibility gap” of the State, of the democracy, and of all the pyramidal structures that currently make up our society.
Citizens of the world today adhere less and less to the State structures and believe less and less in democracy. The number of citizens who do not vote anymore increases more and more in all countries of the world. It’s a disturbing trend that one finds in almost all institutions structured the pyramidal way—trade unions, churches, international institutions, and multinational enterprises.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that the vertical organization of power no longer works. Why? Because even though people want to contribute, have their say, be creative, and be able to participate in the decisions that affect themselves, they no longer trust the vertical structures themselves, which created the dangerous situation that the world finds itself in now. They would agree to delegate political power to the elected ones, at the top of the pyramid, if the governance made sense—that is, if those in the seats of power were intent on preserving humankind’s interests on a middle and long-term basis. But this appears not to be the case.
And there probably is a deeper reason for the distrust and unworkability and death of the pyramidal systems. At the basis of all pyramidal structures exists the patriarchal logic I described in Chapter 2—which is still profoundly rooted in the soul itself of such structures. And the patriarchal logic of death and conquest becomes more and more problematic all the time in the actual world, especially in contrast to the planetary paradigm and vision?
Thus, these pyramidal structures, which are everywhere, are suddenly losing their legitimacy. Instead of being considered parts of the solution, they have become parts of the problem.
Their legitimacy has vanished at an astonishing rate—in just a few years.
There also is a second phenomenon leading to the death of pyramidal structures. It is less spectacular but still important. It is that the State, as a political structure, is losing its hegemony, because other organizations are in the process of sharing its sovereignty.
Modernity invented the State as a structure of ultimate power and did not conceive of another power entity above it. There are certainly stronger States that are able to dominate the less powerful or the poorer ones—there exists a whole body of literature on the subject—but modernity did not conceive any authority above the State or even alongside it.
During the period of modernity, the State was the globally dominant political structure. Of course, a few State forums were set up—like the Society of the Nations between the world wars of 1914–1918 and 1940–1945, the Council of Europe, and, of course, at the global level the United Nations. But all these structures are still modern because they do not accept any level of authority above the State. The United Nations includes a Security Council, where the “big States“ have a veto right over the smaller ones. But we still are in a modern vision because, here again, the relationship between States is a power struggle. And nowhere is it said that this is a new level of power. In fact, some States, like the U.S., would never accept a new level of power—it is too “modern” to do so.
The leadership of George W. Bush as president of the U.S. represents a good example of a totally “modern“ political vision. His leadership is like a yellowed photo of the modern leadership that we are quietly abandoning in Europe but have used for centuries. In his speeches it is obvious that the national State holds the hegemony and priority in all domains, including in those spheres that affect the whole world, such as the environment or human rights. They suggest that the national U.S. State has the absolute hegemony of political power in all spheres of foreign policy and that it will never accept the sharing of its sovereignty with any other State, nor with the United Nations, which it does not fail to humiliate when it does not need its sanction.
Bush is, then, a “modern” head of State. And the extent to which his actions and attitude shock the rest of the world illustrates that European and worldwide (including parts of the U.S.) public opinion no longer is “modern.“
We are already in the planetary paradigm.
At the same time in Europe, one can observe that citizens refuse more and more a “top-down” authority, dictating orders from above. The European citizen no longer accepts this understanding of the political power.
This is probably why the principle of “subsidiarity” has been suddenly rediscovered. According to this principle, any political decision must always be taken at the lowest level. And the superior power level cannot and must not intervene29 unless, and only unless, the inferior level is incapable of deciding. But if the lower level is not able to decide, then the superior level of power must intervene. Thus, subsidiarity is a principle that, while evidently giving power priority to the base, also provides the superior power level its justification, its sense, and its functioning key. Since it also specifies when the superior power needs to intervene. It is written in the first articles of the European Constitution project and is also the keystone of the U.S. Constitution, but under the name of “federalism.” In fact, these two concepts have the same source—a German book from the beginning of the 17th century written by von Althaus or “Althusius”30.
The subsidiarity principle moves us toward a post-pyramidal society because it also applies to a network society.
The European Union is a new level of power to which States are invited to surrender part of their sovereignty in order to exert it together at a more global level—that of the European Union. This is a new level of power above the State.
But the EU is neither a State nor a Super-state. It is a transmodern or planetary structure.
That’s right… without knowing it, the Founding Fathers of the European Union created what Jacques Delors called an “unidentified political animal.” I dare add that it is a political animal of the new transmodern or planetary paradigm that corresponds to the true needs of the 21st century, as it appears more and more obvious that war and violence are no longer acceptable political solutions.
The EU is, in fact, the first transmodern political construction. It is the first structure that relativises the State hegemony, since it organises a sharing of part of the national sovereignties to institutionalise absolute non-violence between the States of the Union. But, by so doing, the member States create, de facto, a superior level of power and of continental responsibility to which they delegate part of their sovereignty. And the European Court of Justice did not err when it decided that European laws always take precedence over national laws.
The EU is an enormous and significant step toward a non-violent global society. It is setting us, without our knowledge, in the political transmodern or planetary vision because it is a new level of power (not State controlled) and of political continental responsibility.
During my years at the European Commission, I had he opportunity to attend reflections on the evolution of national governments as they visited Brussels. Such governments usually need several years to realise that when they sign European laws they are not at the same level of power as when they sit in their national government. It is not the same level of power, nor the same level of responsibility. One can observe quite often a heightening process of the level of political consciousness of the government and its political staff. Suddenly, they become conscious of their new level of European and global responsibility… just about the time that the government is replaced by the subsequent one.
But this also means that the great “modern” thinkers of political wars like Clausewitz and Machiavelli are also surpassed. Thus, it is an enormous side of political science and of war tactics that is collapsing. In fact, we are also facing a paradigm shift in the manner in which war itself is conducted. A British general who directed the siege of Sarajevo in the Balkan war has just published a revolutionary book that suggests a total rethinking of our strategic concepts in a mutating world.31 According to him, the atomic bomb of 1945 ended the “industrial war” and opened the era of the “war among people.” The result is that “you use soldiers for tasks that they are not prepared for.”
I believe that we are only at the beginning of a reflection on the role of armies in the post-industrial, transmodern 21st century.
But there also is the relativisation “from below.” Sovereignty divides itself into levels, which are lower than the Nation State. The growth of the European regions is impressive. Even though the Council of European Regions does not hold a lot of institutional power, it has acquired a growing importance in the European apparatus. Thus, there is an obvious sharing of sovereignty.
In Belgium, this is even more evident since the successive reforms of the Federal State provide the Belgian regions with more and more power and rights, including, for example, commercial representations abroad. Indeed, there is a true sharing of sovereignty, this time toward the bottom.
Cities and regions also appear to be much more open to changes and new ideas. Management at that level is, at times, surprising and sometimes very creative. It perhaps is at this level of power that the political mutation toward transmodernity and the knowledge society will occur first.
Finally, I am only skimming here the topic of the intrusion of civil society in the political debates on environment, consumers, etc. Moreover, it is obvious that the impact of civil society is growing, more and more. The most obvious sign is that the United Nations has now created an ad hoc department for civil society and non-governmental organizations.
The pyramidal structures that have governed the world for many years are dead. And their demise is occurring rapidly, even though almost all governing structures in the entire world are pyramidal. The principal reason that they are dead is that “modern” leadership is incapable of resolving the problem of our collective survival. Thus, its legitimacy is dead even though the structures are still in place.
Ces messieurs ont appelé dame Bess, dit-il; mais dame Bess n’est pas au cottage