During the recent celebrations of Tip O’Neill’s centenary, the late House speaker’s famous maxim was much repeated: All politics is local. In his day, O’Neill had wisely countered the elected big shot’s temptation to replace neighborhood concerns with national issues. But is O’Neill still right? What happens when the affairs even of a nation come to seem smaller, against an incipient commonwealth of the planet? We are crossing into a realm where the deepest meaning of civic connection is no longer defined by national citizenship. The dawning of this new year suggests the coming of a new maxim: All politics is global.
For most of a century, idealistic visions of international order have periodically seized the imagination — going back to the League of Nations after World War I. The League failed, and subsequent structures of transnational governance have met resistance. The United Nations has kept its footing, but barely. It remains contested even within the United States, its main sponsor; last month, fearing an infringement of sovereignty, Congressional Republicans successfully defeated a UN treaty protecting the rights of the disabled, despite its American provenance — and the advocacy of Republican icon Bob Dole. The transnational European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this past fall, but economic stresses have revived regional resentments of the kind that often sparked war.