(A guestpost written by Balázs Szendrői.)
Walking across the University of Berkeley campus one sunny afternoon, I could not help but notice two young, scantily dressed people on the grass in front of the Campanile, Berkeley's iconic bell tower. They were engaged in an activity which, in most countries I know, would have counted as sex and therefore strictly forbidden in public places. Not in California; the words "yoga", "acrobatics" and "massage" were whispered amongst the small but reverent group of casual onlookers of whom I was by no means the only one.
America: the Land of Freedom. And the Land of Free Enterprise. Well, you could argue that Free Private Enterprise has not been doing so well here lately. Yet it is clear that even at this hour, is the world's largest economy that the rest of us look to for leadership, growth generation and a general cure to our ills. Despite its evils, in a way the USA still seems to be the best we have.
One way out of the present mess might be a global framework along the lines of the federal structure the USA has successfully adopted over the course of its existence. It might perhaps be of interest to pause and recall one or two factors that played a role in its formation, at least in an impressionistic way.
First, necessity. The cellar of the apartment block where I am staying contains, along with the expected assortment of broken light bulbs and other assorted bric-a-brac, a collection of about fifty leather bound volumes humbly entitled The Annals of America. Volume 1 contains the documents relating to the prehistory of the USA, starting with Columbus' triumphant report of his first encounter with the Indians. Later, there are long descriptions of the now well-known difficulties the first settlers encountered, including loss of crop, hunger, cold and isolation. But one striking aspect was the description of the first encounters between emissaries from Virginia, Massachusetts and other early colonies. It is clear from the excitement of the reports that the settlers thought of unity and cooperation as a necessary virtue.
Second, the Founders, among them the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, lawyer and historian. Benjamin Franklin, polymath, scientist and author. Thomas Jefferson, philosopher. Robert Livingston, diplomat who helped Fulton develop the commercially viable steamboat. Roger Sherman, influential lawyer without any formal training. Surely not without their faults, nevertheless these were people of huge intellectual and moral standing. Along with the other Founding Fathers, they were entrusted by their communities with the job of creating a system that would outlive them. This they certainly accomplished.
Third, America's moral Coming of Age: the long civil war, starting with the Civil War itself, and culminating in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Walking the streets here, talking to people or looking at the newspapers, it seems clear that people of colour get more opportunities, have more freedom and command more respect than anywhere else in the developed world. And this was true (and had to be true) even before one of them became President. Some American (wo)men are more equal than others in many respects, but at least this is decided to a much lesser extent by their racial heritage.
Back to us, then. The necessity for global governance has been amply argued elsewhere, not least in these pages. How about founding fathers? It is clear that the election of President Obama has presented the US and thus the world with a unique opportunity; just imagine attempting to build global institutions with a US president with 20% home and 10% overseas approval ratings. Looking further afield, an unlikely globalization hero has recently emerged in President Ghaddafi of Libya. Bring along President Lula of Brazil, the reluctant European Union, start talking to China, and we would have most continents covered.
Finally, the moral coming of age. If there is to be lasting peace, surely a condition for a successful global governance framework, it is necessary for different communities to accept, trust and value each other to a much greater extent than currently is the case. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is but one of the starkest illustrations of this. It would be truly tragic if mankind were destined to only achieve moral peace through many more local, or even worse, global wars. Give peace a chance.