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April 03, 2003

The Second Superpower

Could the united voices and actions of the citizens of the world ever seriously challenge the hegemony of the U.S.? That's the question at the heart of The Second Superpower by Jonathan Schell, the cover story of the current issue of The Nation magazine. Schell argues that the massive global outcry against current U.S. foreign policy constitutes a second superpower that is already reshaping geopolitics. Meanwhile, James Moore, a Senior Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law, has just published a similar argument in The Second Superpower. Both pieces are almost utopian in their idealism, but they nonetheless offer serious food for thought. Moore's piece especially contains more provocative observations than I can address here, but one in particular resonates with me as I consider what I might want to do with a law degree. Moore writes:

Deliberation in the first superpower [the U.S.] is relatively formal—dictated by the US constitution and by years of legislation, adjudicating, and precedent. The realpolitik of decision making in the first superpower—as opposed to what is taught in civics class—centers around lobbying and campaign contributions by moneyed special interests—big oil, the military-industrial complex, big agriculture, and big drugs—to mention only a few. In many cases, what are acted upon are issues for which some group is willing to spend lavishly. By contrast, it is difficult in the US government system to champion policy goals that have broad, long-term value for many citizens, such as environment, poverty reduction and third world development, women’s rights, human rights, health care for all. By contrast, these are precisely the issues to which the second superpower tends to address its attention.

In other words, Moore's argument is that the "second superpower" of the people of the world (not their governments) might work together through international law, NGOs, and simple global majority to circumvent the actions of their corrupt, money-controlled governments. I agree completely that the U.S. political machine is run by money and that this makes it difficult for those who "desire a superpower that speaks for the interests of planetary society, for long-term well-being, and that encourages broad participation in the democratic process" to enact policies to accomplish their goals. In this respect, Moore's idea of the second superpower suggests that social progressives shouldn't even bother with something like law school because all a J.D. will do is entangle them within a corrupt and broken political system. However, another way to look at this might be that social progressives who do go to law school should specialize in international law so that we will be better positioned to promote the needs and policies of the people of the world.

Considering the difficulty I'm having choosing a law school (it's looking more and more like it'll be GW, though), there's no way I'm going to pick an area of the law to specialize in at this point. However, international law will certainly be in the running.

UPDATE: Credit where it's due—thanks to Scripting News for the original link to Jim Moore's article.

Posted April 3, 2003 04:52 PM | general politics law school

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