In her 2016 Tory party conference speech, Theresa May stated that “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re are a citizen of nowhere.” The contention was that identification with any concept beyond the nation state was of little value.
This view resonated with a political process grappling with the consequences of Brexit. The tone reflects a broader rebalancing between the values of the national and global.
Economically, this is demonstrated by the debate between the role of national tariffs and the needs of free-flowing trade. Politically, by whether all decisions should be made by national governments or by the voluntary sharing of sovereignty through the European Union or the United Nations. Socially, by the raging contests over how open national borders should be to the movement of people.
These two books provide contrasting insights on this debate. The eerie similarity of their titles is evidence of the relevance of their shared subject matter.
The Globalist by John Walsh is a biography of Peter Sutherland, an Irish power broker in global institutions and businesses.
Hassan Damluji argues that the international economic forces, which Sutherland shaped, can be mediated to better respond to the needs of citizens and communities. The Responsible Globalist proposes six principles to build more resilient support for integration between societies and a global identity. The subtitle might make this an interesting read for Theresa May – “What Citizens of the World Can Learn from Nationalism”.
Though never an elected politician, Sutherland led a public life. As chairman of the investment bank Goldman Sachs and British Petroleum (BP) he benefitted from the global order that he helped create. To his great credit, the last phase of his public life was devoted to making the case for the most vulnerable and voiceless, as the special representative for migration for the United Nations.
The skills of John Walsh as a journalist are well displayed as he briskly leads the reader through Sutherland’s career. As a current Dáil representative for Dublin Central, I was interested to learn that he contested the general election of 1973 for that constituency.
His legal career, from the Arms Trial of 1970, to his role as attorney general, when the Eighth Amendment was inserted into constitutional law, despite his advice, is the early part of this story. This laid the foundations for an extraordinary international career.
Dubbed the “father of globalisation”, he decisively shaped the single market as European commissioner with responsibility for competition policy. Competition was enhanced and the ability of larger countries to selectively fund favoured companies or industries was constrained. Sutherland changed the operation of markets such as aviation, energy and telecommunications.
This momentum was maintained as director general of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, the organisation responsible for overseeing the flow of global trade. He brokered an agreement that cut tariffs on industrial goods by 40 per cent.
This is a probing work. Respect is not offered blindly. As Walsh writes “Globalisation is now at a crossroads. The sort of multilateralism that Sutherland advocated is out of political favour.” He concludes, fairly I believe, that “it would be fanciful to pin the pitfalls of globalisation on the shoulders of one man”.
The tension between his philanthropy, faith and lucrative business endeavours is also analysed. Business successes are acknowledged. So are the challenges and difficulties. Walsh notes mixed views on his tenure as chairman of BP. Sutherland served on the board of Guinness Peat Aviation, a company that crashed spectacularly due to an aborted flotation.
Phases in his career are very well illustrated by access to a wide variety of sources. His relationship with Jacques Delors is prominent, with some surprising tensions well described. Stormier moments in BP and as a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland are also clearly detailed.
While it is a judgment of slight hyperbole to conclude “What can be said with certainty is that it is unlikely that any Irish person will match his achievements again”, it is a tribute to the author that the case can be credibly made. It is a tribute to his subject that a life of achievement underpins the claim.
I suspect Peter Sutherland would have enjoyed The Responsible Globalist.
Identity and co-operation
On the first page the author acknowledges his “multiple forms of belonging”, including his ties to his parents’ countries of origin: Ireland and Iraq. A nuanced argument that acknowledges that deep value of identity may, perhaps, flow from this multilayered personal heritage.
Damluji argues that global integration and co-operation is vital to respond to our most urgent challenges and needs. However the lack of a global identity undermines these efforts. Such an identity is possible, but this requires the restructuring of global co-operation.
This work opens by briskly summarising factors that contribute to the development of national identity. A common language, the influence of education and the role of media and social mobility are crucial ingredients in the crafting of a shared belonging.
The author contends that these factors will create a new sense of global belonging. “It would be astonishing if the scale of change of these processes from being at the level of individual countries to being entirely global did not also create a powerful shift in the way people thought about themselves and their place within society.”
This thesis underestimates, I believe, the role of institutions in creating that sense of belonging. Parliaments, churches, sporting clubs, police forces, tax collectors – they all form vital threads in the weave of national belonging.
The difficulties in creating European institutions are evident. To go global seems an awesome stretch.
However, this does not undermine the value of the balance of the book. It makes an argument for changing the narrative on global co-operation, basing it as a response to shared challenges or threats, not on appeals to abstract ideals.
This co-operation should not seek to replace nation states. Freedom of movement for refugees and students should be strengthened, but controls should be implemented for other migration flows. The author highlights how global tax reform is an example of co-operation that can deliver tangible benefits to citizens.
The Responsible Globalist suffers from inconsistencies. It is difficult to see how a globalist should both “defend and strengthen the nation state” while also making the case for a global nation. Similarly, if the argument cannot be won for the free movement of skilled workers I am not sure how it can be won for freedom of movement of refugees.
These issues affect the concluding chapter. Lessons from Arab, Chinese and Indian nationalism show the challenges of a political project on a global scale, not the pathway towards its creation.
However, the great redemption is the author explicitly acknowledging that defending the status quo does not win arguments of high passion with great consequence. The levels of openness between economies, the level of co-operation between democracies and the renewal of shared values are not constants. His enthusiasm for this battle of ideas shimmers through these pages.
Through the story of a life and the story of an idea both of these books look at the challenges of our age. These stories matter and are well told.
Paschal Donohoe is the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform