Over the past decades, the idea that national sovereignty and the authority of the state have been increasingly challenged or even substantially eroded has been a dominant one. Economic globalization advancing a neo-liberal dis-embedding of the economy is seen as the major reason for this erosion. Concerns have increased about the negative consequences for the social fabric of societies, deprived of the strong shock absorption capacity that the welfare states had established in the time of the embedded liberalism to use a term John Ruggie coined. The concerns have also helped nationalistic movements to gain power in many high-income countries, not at least in the United States, calling for putting their economy first. Accordingly, a number of commentators have announced a return of the nation state. In this special issue, we will show that the retreat-of-the-state thesis as well as the return-of-the-state thesis shares the same shortcomings. They conflate state and authority. As a consequence, both theses underestimate important transformations of authority that have taken place since the end of the “short 20TH century,” to use Eric Hobsbawm's periodization.
With this special issue, we seek to contribute to a more nuanced analysis of the transformation of authority. The issue is the outcome of a conference that took place at the Copenhagen Business School in 2015, hosted by the research project ‘Institutional Transformation in European Political Economy: A Socio-Legal Approach’ and funded by the European Research Council.