[Overseas view]Toward a global civilizationVery few people in Western Europe are openly enthusiastic about globalization and its consequences; in France, the dominant discourse is brutally against it. In our part of the world, when listening to the chattering class of scholars and politicians, you mainly hear sad remarks on the loss of national identity, the erosion of cultures, or the threat to current jobs. Is this chattering class right? Why are they so anxious about globalization? Actually, I think that most of the critics of globalization fear for their own social status. True enough, globalization does redistribute power, raise new generations against old and offer new opportunities to formerly destitute people. We have to admit that globalization is a source of opportunity for the nations and the individuals who are at the lower step of the social and economic hierarchy, and it is a bad omen for entrenched elites, rent-seekers, ossified states, obsolete lobbies or trade unions, narrow-minded scholars, jingoistic ideologues and archaic politicians. If this is the case, globalization’s critics mainly advocate an idealized old society against revolutionary new times. Of course, they are entitled to do so, but we should take their criticisms of with a grain of salt.
First of all, what are we really talking about? Globalization is a more complex and pervasive revolution than free trade alone. Beyond economics, globalization is also transforming our worldview. Through the free flow of ideas we discover strange ideas and foreign behaviors; our world becomes broadened and transformed. We also travel more: Globalization becomes a physical experience and not merely a conceptual one. We become more open-minded, less formal, less respectful of traditional hierarchy, and more egalitarian. Some will like it, some will miss the old ways.
These new norms impact the political life of all nations by making democracy inescapable. Within the new democratic framework, authoritarian and feudalistic attitudes are rejected. The losers are the authoritarian rulers, not the people. In a closed world, rulers were accustomed to printing money in order to finance their whims. The victims were people ruined by inflation. Today, inflation by state fiat is impossible because people demand a reliable currency. Because of globalization, it has become impossible to rule a company, a country, a church or even a family by decree.
Globalization impacts international relations along the same lines. The respect for human rights and the notion of a global legal order slowly reduce wars. They cannot be as lightly declared and fought as in the past. Looking at the desperate situation in Sudan, Iraq, Congo, or Tibet, we can see that the world is far from peaceful. But we are closer to peace than at any time in the history of mankind; we are immediately aware of any armed conflict or repression anywhere and the so-called world community quickly reacts, slowing down the violence. Military violence still exists, but it remains local and very often contained, even in the Middle East; major wars do not occur anymore. The UN is far from perfect, but its very existence limits the temptation for aggression among rogue dictators; globalization is bad for these dinosaurs, their end is near.
Yet are these new behaviors really global or are they only American? True enough, the liberal democracy we consider global looks very much like it was Made in America. But what is America? Is it an imperialistic nation that tries to rule the world? Or, is it a kind of laboratory for modernity? Probably America is a bit of both; half of it is classic imperialism, and the other half is a world project without borders. Moreover, many aspects of the new global ethos borrow a lot from non-Western cultures. This is clear enough in aesthetics or music, in which Asian design and African rhythms have thoroughly transformed collective behaviors and industrial forms. In a similar vein, if we try to understand some specific dimensions of the global ethos, like feminism or ecology, we must refer to the Asian sources of these so-called modern ideologies. The new respect for Mother Nature that we find among the advocates of the environment owes much to Indian and Buddhist influences. Also, the very success of Asian entrepreneurs demonstrates that entrepreneurship is hardly a specifically Western behavior.
The same goes with Islam: Islam in the past was a civilization based on individualism and entrepreneurship. Then, it was disrupted by Western colonization and the repression that followed. In the future, let’s hope that the creativity that is dormant in the Arab world will also be liberated.
Is this worldwide globalization project good or bad for mankind? Let us consider culture, economics and peace.
It can be argued that globalization gives access, for the first time in history, to the whole cultural pool of mankind, including both high culture and popular culture. By increasing access to these world treasures, we enrich our cultural identity and enter a new world of multiple identities. We remain connected to our roots, but our experience becomes more diverse. For example, many Korean people are entering into this new world of multiple identities: Whether they live in Korea or not, they blend West-ern culture with their traditions. They demonstrate that a true civilization is a living civilization, not only nostalgia for past habits. It could be argued that Korean culture is more lively today than it ever was because of its interaction with the rest of the world. This type of mixing makes globalization a great source of creativity; contemporary Korean artists prove it to the world.
Against economic protectionism, it can easily be demonstrated that globalization benefits billions of individuals. Huge masses have emerged from poverty through the free market. Mass poverty is actually disappearing, except in those parts of the world, like Africa or the Arab Middle East, which are not yet economically globalized. We hear a lot of criticism of the globalized economy. But in economics, facts prove the relative and pragmatic superiority of the free economy versus any other system yet tried. According to World Bank statistics, the year 2006 was the first in the history of mankind when all nations grew economically thanks to free trade. India and China began their escape from economic stagnation when their governments chose to open their borders. As a proof to the contrary, take North Korea, the anti-globalization paradigm, an economic and social disaster.
The ultimate rationale for globalization is that it leads to a more peaceful world. This claim was initially elaborated by Jean Monnet, the intellectual found-er of the European Union. After World War II, he observed that diplomats and politicians had been unable to stop 10 centuries of war on their continent. Monnet suggested that they try free trade instead of classic diplomacy. He argued that the building of what he called “concrete solidarity” would be the road to peace. He proved right. His method has trickled down to other parts of the world like Latin America; the day will come when China, Korea and Japan will understand that they must follow a similar path in order to preserve stability in Asia. Eventually, on top of the cultural, economic and diplomatic benefits of globalization, we are perhaps entering a new phase of human history. Perhaps a new global civilization is emerging.
*The writer is a French journalist, economist, philosopher and civilization critic.
by Guy Sorman