Smart Library on Globalization
Topics |  Bibliography |  Authors |  Expert Panel |  Help Print PDF Add
Political authority now extends beyond the territorial boundaries of the state. Nation-states still wield massive amounts of power on the world stage, but this power has become more diffused and limited by regional and global processes.

Globalization is changing the way people think about the political authority of nation-states. However, this is not just a matter of theory. Since World War II, states have begun to exercise political authority differently. These processes have not rendered sovereign states irrelevant in global political affairs. States still exhibit a massive concentration of power. However, this power has become more diffused and qualified in the past half century.

The common view of geopolitics before the recent era of globalization was that national sovereignty was the indivisible and exclusive form of public power. This state-centered view, however, has become less and less useful as a way of understanding political authority in a globalizing world.

Five Central Points of Globalized Political Authority

Five points characterize the change in the relationship between political globalization and the political authority of nation-states. Globalization of political authority occurs when:

  1. The locus of power shifts away from nation-states,
  2. The political community of fate broadens beyond state boundaries,
  3. Complex interrelations among states and regions alter the notion of national sovereignty,
  4. Globalization provokes new boundary problems,
  5. The distinction between domestic and foreign concerns is blurred.

Locus of Power Shifts Away from Nation-States

As regional and international structures of political authority have developed, the effective use of this power is no longer limited to autonomous nation-states. Rather, power is shared by an increasingly diverse range of organizations and agencies at national, regional and international levels.

Recent developments in regionalism are examples of the shift of power away from nation-states. States cede to regional governments or organizations some aspects of political authority. In the case of the regional political integration of the European Union, the Union's authority was based on the willing surrender of aspects of sovereignty of participant states. This surrender of sovereignty has created new layers of sovereignty that are divided between states and the Union.

However, not all models of regionalism are the same. The regional political organization of the European Union is quite different than the institutionalized forms for multilateral cooperation in extending free trade and capital liberalization of APEC.

Political Community of Fate Broadens Beyond State Boundaries

The collective fortunes of human communities (what the authors call a “community of fate”) now is understood to extend beyond the territorial boundaries of nation-states. While the life chances of humans are still deeply tied to the political community of their nation-state, there is a growing realization that the factors that affect these life chances are not limited by national boundaries.

Issues such as economic regulation, the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of the environment have highlighted the fact that the community of fate extends across the territorial boundaries of separate states. Events like the nuclear accident at Chernobyl make it clear that events that affect the collective fortunes of humans are not circumscribed by political boundaries.

Interrelations Among States and Regions

States do not exist as islands unto themselves. On the contrary, states have become enmeshed in:

  • Criss-crossing loyalties. For example, an individual works in one country and lives in another—with whom does his loyalty lie?
  • Interconnected legal and authority structures. How do state authority structures relate to potentially conflicting regional and authority structures?
  • Conflicting understandings of rights and duties. For example, how does a state's duty to its farmers mesh with the expectations that the state will be a participant in regional and global free trade agreements?

As states have become more deeply embedded within increasingly complex regional and global systems, their autonomy and their sovereignty have become more limited. In short, political authority can no longer be located solely within states. The situation is not so simple. Political authority has become “fractured” by virtue of the fact that political relations in a global system are so complex.

Globalization Provokes New Boundary Problems


If the actions of people, corporations and organizations in one country can have a dramatic effect on people outside the country...

If powerful states make decisions that affect not only their own people, but people in other states...

If territorial boundaries become more permeable, allowing people to cross them for work...

If the common welfare of humans depends on problems (environmental degradation) and opportunities (potential resources on the moon or in the ocean) that fall across state boundaries...

...then in what sense are the territorial boundaries of nation-states relevant for defining political authority? Issues raised in an increasingly regionalized and globalized world have created “boundary problems” where the limits of a country's territory do not determine the limits of a country's involvement in the common community of fate.

Blurred Distinction between Domestic and Foreign

States are caught up in increasingly intensive regional and global flows of people, capital, culture and information. Because of this, states find it necessary to participate in common coordination and regulatory efforts. Distinctions between domestic and foreign affairs are less clear cut than they once were.

Data and Methods:

Data Source:

Historical and theoretical research.


Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Full Text Availability:
Available for purchase at

Held, David, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton. 1999. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Ch. 1, pp. 32-86.

Other Keytexts from this source
© Copyright 2017 CLG Portal. All Rights Reserved. Powered by