A SAMPLE POSITION PAPER Globalization: A Transition to What? Barber, Benjamin R. Introduction to Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996) Kobrin, Stephen J. “Back to the Future: Neomedievalism and the Postmodern Digital World Economy,” Globalization and Governance (London: Routledge, 1999. After the bloody clashes between anti-globalization protesters and the police in Genoa, globalization is once again on the world’s agenda and it is here to stay.
A dream to some and a nightmare to others, globalization is a widely debated issue among journalists and scholars, among intellectuals of all profiles, business people and decision-makers alike. Benjamin R. Barber, Walt Whitman professor of political science, and Stephen J. Kobrin, professor of multinational management, both join the discussion, each giving his own vision of what the post-modern future of this globalized world might look like. In “Jihad vs. McWorld” Barber’s fragmented and at the same time integrated world is “terminally post-democratic” (20).
It is pulled apart by two opposing forces: disintegrating ethnic hatreds and unifying mechanisms of global economy, none of which cares much for civic society and civil liberties. In Barber’s terminology Jihad stands for the blind parochialism of any kind, but primarily for tribal instincts that tear countries apart and cause bloody wars. McWorld epitomizes the world of consumerist capitalism unified by commerce, entertainment and consumerism that knows no borders. Although Jihad seems like a more obvious threat to democracy, McWorld is no less dangerous because both are enemies of the sovereign nation states and of democracy.
Barber warns that democracy might be collateral damage from the confrontation between globalization and parochial fragmentation. While Barber is primarily interested in the fate of democracy, Kobrin gives a great deal of attention to the problem of state sovereignty in the increasingly integrated world. In “Back to the Future: Neomedievalism and the Postmodern Digital World Economy” the key issue is the anticipated transformation of state sovereignty into new forms of political loyalty. Kobrin argues that sovereign state as we know it-firmly defined within certain territorial borders-is about to change profoundly, if not to wither away.
National markets are too small to be self-sustainable which challenges the meaning of territorial boundaries between states. Both authors acknowledge that sovereignty, defined as unambiguous authority, is threatened. Whereas Barber finds that alarming, Kobrin takes this as a historical inevitability; modern state system, based on mutually exclusive jurisdiction, may be an anomaly rather than a historically privileged form of political organizations. Kobrin argues that we should look at the medieval world for the answers to how the future might look like.
Medieval analogy offers a world of overlapping multiple authorities and absence of fixed boundaries. It is a world of multiple political loyalties-to emperors, to the pope, to feudal lords-which are complex rather than linear. Kobrin’s modern analogy is European Union, with its overlap of national, regional and supra-national authorities. The medieval metaphor seems attractive, but Kobrin forgets that the world of the Middle Ages was highly decentralized rather than unified, and in that sense radically different from our own.
Medieval feuds, as economic units, were self-sufficient and isolated-everything that modern markets are not. Kobrin himself argues that the integrated economy requires a strong central authority, perhaps not yet in the form of world government but certainly through stronger international organizations such as WTO. Clearly, this is a different kind of authority than a pope or an emperor might have had in medieval world. Is medieval analogy applicable at all? If we follow Kobrin’s reasoning, it appears that the new world will require more rather than less authority.
Nation-state’s sovereignty may be eroding, but, as a result, we have an increasing supra-national authority instead of a loose authority of the medieval type. Barber, on the other hand, may be launching an artificial dichotomy. While McWorld sounds like an apt metaphor for globalization, Jihad seems to be a superficial, emotionally charged term with multiple meanings. Barber draws on Yeats and Mary Shelly to define this “heritage of race,” the force of tribal instincts, ancient hatreds, and fundamentalism. Although doubtless poetic, the concept of Jihad, as described by Barber, is confusing.
He takes a few examples of ethnic conflict, such as Bosnia or Rwanda, and declares they are but a manifestation of the tribalisation phenomenon, but he does little to support his thesis. Did Bosnia really fall apart because of ancient, tribal hatreds? Barber overlooks the fact that peoples of Bosnia have been living peacefully with one another much longer than they have waged wars. Reducing complex conflicts to an oversimplified, poorly defined phenomenon such as Jihad helps Barber support his shaky Jihad-McWorld dichotomy but does little to persuade the reader that Jihad exists as such.
Barber’s and Kobrin’s views seem diametrically opposite whereas it may simply be that they are considering different issues. There is little common ground between them in terms of problems they are interested in. They both take McWorld for granted, though. Neither challenges globalization nor tries to imagine the world as something other than globalized, digital, and integrated. Even Barber who laments over the destructiveness of Jihad admits that McWorld is the winner in the long run. Although they have different agendas, they are telling essentially one and the same thing-the future belongs to McWorld.
What with democracy, Barber asks? Everyone will be a consumer, but what will happen to citizens? For Kobrin, however, the problem does not exist; just as we have civil societies within states today, in the future they will be replaced by global civil society with its mixture of state and non-state actors, NGOs, transnational movements. Are Barber and Kobrin debating at all? Their visions of the world in the future are not mutually exclusive. Barber comes up with a bold notion that not even nations constitute main players today, but tribes.
His description of balkanization, tribalization and awakening of atavistic forces among peoples evokes images of dark Middle Ages. Barber warns that our civilization is beginning to resemble medieval past in which the world consisted of warring fiefdoms unified by Christianity; in our world, Bosnian Serbs and alike wage their ethnic conflicts while both the aggressors and the victims eat the same BigMacs, wear jeans and watch MTV. It seems that he is also looking at the world through medieval prism, albeit from its dark side. It is precisely the dark side that Kobrin avoids confronting.
He is intentionally focused on the practicalities of managing the world in the future so he lefts out of the picture the unpleasant details. Fragmentation is one of the issues that he chooses not to consider although he acknowledges that some authors, such as Kaplan offer a less optimistic vision of the world torn by refugee migration, private armies, collapse of nation state and civil order with it. Kobrin’s only response to this grim prophecy is little more than hope: “One hopes that such an age is not part of the neomedieval metaphor, hat a new and more terrifying barbarian is not on the horizon” (183). Walled communities and private security forces that he admits appear increasingly today could be, Kobrin still hopes, only “ephemeral products of a world in transition and not a permanent characteristic of the postmodern era” (183). Barber, Benjamin R. Introduction to Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996) Kobrin, Stephen J. “Back to the Future: Neomedievalism and the Postmodern Digital World Economy,” Globalization and Governance (London: Routledge, 1999.
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