Jacques Attali, who was otherwise only known to me as the author of a great little book on “noise” but was actually founding president of the European Development Bank (shows where i’ve had my head…), has penned this curious piece calling for a “UN for NGOs”–essentially a formalization of their role in global governance. This strikes me as very french (though not in the way that Attali’s book on Noise will no doubt strike many as very french), especially the demand to rename them “solidarity institutions.” But what I find most curious is the unrepentant, somewhat naive glorification of the NGO as the motor of civil society. Clearly there are bad and good NGOs, and at least a few dissertations I have supervised have focused on the weird parasitic role these institutions often play, especially in poorer nations, on the activities of well-meaning citizens. Even when they work (Grameen Bank, perhaps), they demand a critical eye, and they are best held to account precisely because there is no global or local guarantee of their existence. Attali seems to want to formalize them in order to ensure the existence of “civil society.” This strikes me as particularly poor thinking–since civil society, like that other mysterious entity “the public” exists only when it has no singloe concrete form. But, I ask, what do savage minds think? Global governance by NGOs: hot or not? And what’s a better name than “solidarity institutions”?