Towards a Theory of Everything: Pt III. Development

Initiatives towards a ‘global theory’

Kennedy Graham

(Part III of three parts)

Part II identified, in developing a ‘global theory’ for the 21st century, the following components:

  • primary features, global values, citizenship, law and governance;
  • foundational concepts of consilience and coherence, along with operational concepts of risk management and jurisdictional subsidiarity;
  • a central principle, the ecological imperative of survival, with normative socio-political principles compatible with, and subordinate to, the survival principle.

A global theory, developed through an international discourse based on ‘cultural cosmopolitanism’, would facilitate a move from the 20th c. transactional system to a 21st c. constitutional system that involved multi-layered jurisdiction. 

  • How, then, to begin such a discourse – in an age of global angst?
  • What is our contemporary, transactional, international system doing about this?

Towards a Theory of Everything: Part II. Content

Components of a ‘global theory’

Kennedy Graham

[Part II of three parts]

In Part I of the above, I explored the methodological differences between the various branches of human knowledge, the idea of consilience for an underlying unity of knowledge, and what a synthesis derived from this might mean for global studies.

In this second part, I take things a step further. 

  • Is it possible to develop a theory of everything in the science, or the art, of global politics, with a set of inter-related components?
  • Might there be paradigmatic step-change towards such a theory comparable, in some manner, to the way physical science develops?

The answer is probably ‘yes, but’. 


Towards a Theory of Everything: Pt I. Conceptualisation

Paradigmatic change in human knowledge

Kennedy Graham

[Part I of three parts]

We have entered an era of human crisis.  What we think and do in the future will inevitably build on, but cannot be confined to, the past.

The Centre’s Trust Deed (2012) requires it to “encourage and facilitate informed interdisciplinary research into global affairs in the 21st c. CE”.  As part of this, the Centre is to “review the history of human ideas, including the various philosophical streams of thought, whose contemporary expressions may strengthen global cooperation and unity.”

Easier said than done – but the aspiration is to clarify our future thinking, for thinking about the future.   After all, in the present historical moment we seem to have lost the plot.

Earlier columns by others are directly relevant to such an aspiration: ‘Keeping a parliamentary eye on the future’; The global university of the future; The new [digital] omnipotence; Earth Trusteeship; Responsibility to Protect.  But I get ahead of myself.

To commence with the ultimate challenge – is it possible, feasible and credible to strive for a single, over-arching, coherent, political-legal ‘theory of everything’ that can help in the creation of a global unity that guides us through this century’s crises?

It depends. 


Climate Challenge 2020:

Existential - political; global - national

Kennedy Graham

I was recently invited to talk to a consultancy firm about my take on the climate challenge facing both our world and our country, now that New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act is in force, and as the UN’s latest COP writhes in interminable stalemate – 25th version.

I was given various questions to address. These were my reflections.


Multilateralism & the Rules-based Order:

What role for international law?

Kennedy Graham

Yesterday I attended MFAT’s annual Beeby Colloquium on International Law. Having had the privilege of working closely with Chris back in the ‘80s, it is quite a moving experience to attend these events.  It is also, equally, an annual highlight in terms of intellectual stimulation and insight into issues of international law.

In earlier blog-posts, I have touched on the issue of a multilateral rules-based order and the competing perceptions among prominent national leaders as to what this means and what is might be composed of. At the 2019 Colloquium, a more penetrating and analysis emerged from the informed and thoughtful contributions, not least from one of the Centre’s Board members, Duncan Currie, on the ‘common heritage’ concept and the law of the sea. 

A highlight yesterday was some personal comment advanced by MFAT’s Acting Dep-Sec, Victoria Hallum.  Here are a few of her observations:


Strengthening Multilateralism:

The sovereignty debate at the UN

Kennedy Graham

My first column (9 Oct.) noted the ‘bipolar mind-set’ discernible among national leaders at the UN General Assembly debates in recent years.  An ‘intellectual rivalry’ was playing out between two apparent doctrines – ‘patriotism’ and ‘universalism’.

Both address the issue of a rules-based order, though from apparently different premises and reasoning. The debate revolves around two central principles of the UN Charter: national sovereignty and international law.

The debate is not new, but the modern pace of change and the onset of existential challenges put the framing of global problem-solving in starker relief than before.  The UN, with 193 Member States, is founded on the mid-20th c. principle of national sovereignty, yet three-quarters of a century later the emerging global community faces global problems unanticipated back then.  How is this handled by today’s leaders?


Global Security and UN Peacekeeping:

Logistical and Legal Challenges

Kennedy Graham

Jayden van Leeuwen’s column on UN peacekeeping and its accounting to the global community raises some important issues that thematically fall within the Centre’s global security programme.

Jayden addresses the problem of sexual abuse by personnel in UN peacekeeping missions – and the ‘startling lack of accountability’ applied to contributing member states.  The main barrier to accountability is the ‘legal status quo’ imposed by the Status of Forces Agreements under which individuals in UN missions are subject to the jurisdiction of the contributing State for any criminal offence committed in the host country. 

As Jayden observes, the foundation of the UN system is state consent, so the UN can only pursue non-legal accountability, such as financial assistance to victims and support for whatever redress the contributing State decides, which is usually inadequate.   

The UN itself acknowledges that it lacks ‘the authority or legal mandate to criminally prosecute individuals’, and can only refer allegations to the ‘relevant national authorities’ for action. 



Global Studies

in a Time of Global Angst

Kennedy Graham

Welcome to this revamped website of the NZ Centre for Global Studies which has just gone live today. 

After five-years of activity in research and policy prescription, the Board sees it now as time to reach out more to the general public with its research findings and individual conclusions and views – not least to the younger generation pursuing their study and commencing their careers.

Most of the content of the original website is retained in the new updated version, but the main innovation is the series of columns on global affairs, commencing today.  Four columns will be maintained, consisting of separate commentary from the Director, and from a member of the Board, a member of the International Advisory Panel, and of the Young Global Scholars Group. There will also be invited commentary from others.

Global Studies

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