If Mayors Ruled the World

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* Book: Benjamin Barber. If mayors ruled the world. Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Yale University Press, 2013



Eric Corijn:

"“The challenge of democracy in the modern world has been how to join

participation, which is local, with power, which is central. The nation-state once did the job ,

but recently it has become too large to allow meaningful participation even as it remains too

small to address centralized global power.” (Barber, 2013:5).

The first part of the book delivers the analysis (Why cities should govern globally), whereas

the second part focuses on the pragmatics (How it can be done). Besides the historic argument

on the intimate relationship between cities, citizenship and democracy, the main argument

derives from the central position of cities in the actual globalisation process. Chapter 3 of the

book deals with an historic overview from the independent polis to the interdependent

cosmopolis. Citizenship and democracy originated in place bound territories, in walled cities

opposing feudal rule. Later, regions and estates were unified in territorialised nation-states,

searching for independence. Today the world system and the globalisation process favour

connectivity on a larger scale. That connectivity is not so much obtained through

incorporation of ever-larger territories within a joint border - making bigger countries - but

through a growing importance of nodal connection of networks in a space of flows. The

territorialised political independence of countries is thus deconstructed by trans border

networking and growing interdependence. Chapter 5 explains the deeper reasons for this

interdependence. Globalisation has created a transnational space of flows with cities or

metropolitan regions as interconnected nodes. Barber refers to the work of Castells or to the

author’s own to indicate how “cities undermine national solidarities and favour “glocal”

growth strategies” (Corijn, 2009). That is also why Benjamin Barber created in 2001, after 9-11,

a global Interdependence movement proposing September 12th as Interdependence day in

contrast with the very American 4th of July Independence day commemorating the adoption

of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This initiative has been a platform of yearly

gatherings discussing matters of governance in a globalising world. In 2008 the Brussels

programme developed the theme “The city as commons in a divided world”. The meeting

discussed the rescaling of the world and the remodelling of the city. And it is there that the

growing importance of cities as (potential) global political actors has come to the fore, under

the condition that urban politics also creates self-awareness of this strategic position and the

responsibility that comes with that position. That is the central focus of Barbers’ book.

In short: inter-national politics do not deliver a democratic and transparent regulation of the

world system and do not seem to be able to deliver an inclusive society overcoming

communitarianism and tribalism. That is why cities should “rule the world”. Because, goes

the argument, the complexity of the urban system is closer to the complexity of the world

system and the pragmatism, the proximity and the sense of urgency in urban governance can

lead to more adequate management of cities and its problems. Barber shows that the existing

state-order, the nation-state and its political order, stands in the way of addressing societal

problems. Both because nation-states lost control over so called internal affairs and are unable

to govern global matters. So the focal question is: how to build democratic political power at

the level of the global agenda? How to democratically regulate the world system? It is here

that the call to mayors comes in: “ It is only to understand that to govern their cities

effectively, they may have to play some role in governing the world in which their cities fight

to survive. In governing their cities cooperatively to give their pragmatism global effect,

mayors need not await the cooperation of the disunited United Nations, the special interest

permeated international financial institutions, private-market multinational corporations, or

centuries old dysfunctional nations.” (Barber, 2013: 338)"

(chapter for upcoming book)

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