“ What is the prospect that a revitalized politics could actually alleviate the loss of mastery and the erosion of community that lie in the heart of democracy’s discontent?...In a world where capital goods, information and images, pollution and people, flow across national boundaries with unprecedented ease, politics must assume transnational, even global, forms, if only to keep up…We cannot hope to govern the global economy without transnational political institutions, and we cannot expect to sustain such institutions without cultivating more-expansive civic identities. Human-rights conventions, global environmental accords, and world bodies governing trade, finance and economic development are among the undertakings that will depend for public support on inspiring a greater sense of engagement in a shared global destiny.
But the cosmopolitan vision is wrong to suggest that we can restore self-government simply by pushing sovereignty and citizenship upward. The hope for self-government today lies not in relocating sovereignty to but in dispersing it. The most promising alternative to the sovereign state is not a cosmopolitan community based on the solidarity of humankind but a multiplicity of communities and political bodies- some more extensive than nations and some less- among which sovereignty is diffused. Only a politics that disperses sovereignty both upward and downward can combine the power required to rival global market forces with the differentiation required of a public life that hopes to inspire the allegiance of its citizens.
In some places dispersing sovereignty may entail according greater cultural and political autonomy to subnational communities- such as Catalans and Kurds, Scots and Quebecois- even while strengthening and democratizing the European Union and other transnational structures. Arrangements like these may avoid the strife that arises when state sovereignty is an all-or-nothing affair. In the United States which never was a nation-state in the European sense, proliferating sites of political engagement may take a different form. America was born of the conviction that sovereignty need not reside in a single place. From the start the Constitution divided power among branches and levels of government. Over time, however, we too have pushed sovereignty and citizenship upward in the direction of the nation.
The nationalizing of American political life occurred largely in response to industrial capitalism. The consolidation of economic power called forth the consolidation of political power. Present-day conservatives who rail against big government often ignore this fact. They wrongly assume that rolling back the power of the national government would liberate individuals to pursue their own ends, instead of leaving them at the mercy of economic forces…The American welfare state is politically vulnerable because it does not rest on a sense of national community adequate to its purpose….
…A more promising basis for a democratic politics that reaches beyond nations is a revitalized civic life nourished in the more particular communities we inhabit. In the age of NAFTA the politics of neighborhood matters more, not less. People will not pledge allegiance to vast and distant entities, whatever their importance, unless those institutions are somehow connected to political arrangements that reflect the identity of the participants.” –Michael Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, “America’s Search for a Public Philosophy”, p. 30-33.