In recent years, the term globalization has become a common topic of discussion in academic circles across the world. Amidst these discussions, many people are inclined to assert that globalization is a new phenomenon—the fruits of a postmodernist generation’s labor of advancing technology in order to bridge gaps that were previously unavoidable. For essentially, by insinuating that the current generation has constructed the ‘age of globalization,’ scholars are able to validate that this generation has made a distinguishing contribution to society—a contribution that allows liberal ideologues to salivate at the possibility of a society that abolishes the nation-state in order to unify under the jurisdiction of a single, fair international order. In short, the potential cause-and-effect relationship between a generation’s efforts to bring the world closer together and a world with common political and economic motives is quite appealing to proponents of supra-state involvement. In this sense, globalization would be classified as something new in the world today. However, as history as early as ancient times tells us, globalization has always been a prevalent aspect of human society. Simply put, humans have never been static creatures; our desire to spread subjective culture is one of the defining traits of humanity. For better or worse, humans migrate in search of purpose—a sense of fulfillment that is not emulated by any other species. So, instead of pretending that globalization is a new phenomenon that proves our generation’s worth, contemporary society should realize that we are merely living in the times of a new kind of globalization—one that invites the nation-state and the supra-state to the ‘decision-making’ table. In the process, by studying past failures of globalization, contemporary society has the opportunity to solidify the necessary development of globalization in a way that benefits the greatest number of people. Otherwise, as former United States President Jimmy Carter sardonically reminds us, “[g]lobalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing…you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn't affect two-thirds of the people of the world” (Carter 1: 1977). Ultimately globalization has existed for centuries, and the current state of globalization is one that is undeniably intertwined with innovative technology, a collective capitalist mentality, and the rise of the international community’s legitimacy; accordingly, I intend to prove the aforementioned assertion by providing evidence that globalization has existed in the past, commenting upon current theory pertaining to globalization, and ultimately unveiling my own interpretation of globalization in an age of unpredictability.
Herein, I will try to explain why globalization is not a new phenomenon—even though we are tempted to claim that it is something new merely because of the rise of technology and the debatable decline of the nation-state in favor of international law. For instance, Robert Robertson explains in defense of his assertion that globalization is a relatively new phenomenon, “…there is an eerie relationship between the ideas of postmodernism and postmodernity and the day-by-day geopolitical ‘earthquakes’ which we (the virtually global we) have recently experienced” (Robertson 16: 1990). Granted Robertson is writing during the decline of the Soviet Union, which effectively restructured society in favor of a predominantly Western and capitalist mentality, he is making the mistake of overextending the significance of the present at the expense of similar historical events. In order to illustrate the range of time in which “geopolitical ‘earthquakes’” have restructured society from an economic and political perspective, one could cite Roma’s conquest of the Gauls and Celts in northern Italy in 208 B.C. As realists such as Machiavelli and Morgenthau would note, it is the nation-state’s desire for power in the form of global influence that forms our society of states; hence, globalization has been and always will be eerie as long as there is a hegemonic struggle for autonomous power. Liberals will promptly ascertain that the abolition of hegemonic struggle can become reality if the world were to adhere to international order, but the differences in the particular interests of nation-states prohibits globalization from ever truly having that effect in the foreseeable future.
Another common claim is that the state’s current limited autonomy proves that globalization is a new phenomenon. This is also fallacious for misinterpreting how an involved international community affects a state’s autonomy. For instance, prior to the existence of organizations such as the United Nations or NATO, countries were essentially freely able to act in an unjustly imperialistic manner—surely the Belgian Congo or the events leading up to World War I prove this to be the case. In other words, the majority of states, especially the weakest, have always had limited autonomy; therefore, the continuation of limited autonomy would impose the continuation of globalization. As Frank Lechner states, “…the diffusion of the idea of the national society as a form of institutionalized societalism was central to the accelerated globalization which began to occur just over one hundred years ago” (Lechner 26: 1989). Summarily, if people of various nation-states have always been spreading ideals with people of other nation-states because states have never been the sole possessors of legitimacy, then globalization is not something new.
Since globalization is a rather recent talking point, there are still many various theories that attempt to explain why globalization is occurring and how it positively and negatively affects society. One such theory, proposed by Anthony Giddens and Zygmuni Bauman, suggests that the limitations of state sovereignty—presumably at the expense of sub-state and supra-state movements—results in, “the traditional model of society losing its credence” (Bauman 57: 1992). Therefore, as Giddens says, ““[i]t is thus largely irrelevant to continue to make distinctions between the internal and the external, the foreign and the domestic spheres of socio-economic activity…” (Giddens 14: 1990). In contrast to these suppositions, though, as Anthony McGrew briefly explains, globalization is quite ironically cyclical. For instance, although globalization spreads ideas like it has been for centuries (only now the process is exponentially expedited), particularization is also encouraged in order for people to consider themselves unique in a time of global interconnectivity. Another such example is apparent when power is centralized by the international community; practically involuntarily, “…nations, communities, and individuals attempt to take greater control over forces which influence their ‘fate’” (McGrew 479: 1996) in order to maintain a sense of free will whilst encompassed by ample regulation. The desire for individual identity dually embraces the newfound ‘global-networking’ identity while maintaining traditional forms of state and localized classification.
Another theory resides in the belief that the rapid demilitarization occurring in the post-Cold War era also threatens state sovereignty (Shaw: 1991). As McGrew claims, “This result is a significant shift towards multilateral diplomacy and collective action, which in the process further erodes the competence of states to control their own destiny” (McGrew 489: 1996). On the surface, rapid demilitarization does seem to lessen the state’s most notable advantage over international jurisdiction in controlling armed forces, but in actuality, the state continues to find ways to avoid the negative aspects of demilitarization. For instance, a handful of states vehemently abstain from joining the NPT and, as is the case in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, states find ways to circumvent the legitimacy of international law. And in that regard, states—under the guise of globalization and imperialism in particular—have always circumvented international policy if it is beneficial to the state’s subjective interests. Essentially, states have always sacrificed some sovereignty in order to participate in globalization (voluntarily or involuntarily), but a state’s ability to always act in its own best interests denies the existence of a world community that could be classified as even remotely omnipotent.
The evidence reveals that states are gradually relinquishing more and more sovereignty as globalization is at its peak, but clearly they remain the primary actors due to maintaining force and acting in their own interests. Bearing this in mind, then how can globalization be defined? If it were simply that globalization implies faster connectedness with other parts of the world due to technological advancement, then my argument probably would have been that globalization is something completely new. In contrast, globalization stems far beyond bridging the time-space gap; globalization is what has prompted civilization after civilization to expand its territory, what appeals thousands of cultural connoisseurs to travel around the world to educate and to be educated, and what has always given people multiple identities—firstly loyal to their particular state, but always identifying with alternative influences as well. The creation of infinite melting pots intertwining garners the notion that one event can directly affect multiple peoples across the world—whether it be socially, politically, or economically. In this sense, globalization has never ceased to exist, nor has it ever been as important as in the present time. There is indisputable evidence that we are embarking upon a new kind of globalization.
Overall, there are a few distinct characteristics that define contemporary globalization. Firstly, globalization is nearly synonymous with Westernization due to the rise of capitalism and democratic values that are gradually becoming predominant around the world. The recent developments during the Arab Spring serve as an example of how Western social influence has facilitated the desire for personal freedom. Similarly, Immanuel Wallerstein asserts that capitalism is the driving force behind the rise in globalization because capitalism opens generally unregulated avenues for previously disconnected states. However, as he warns, “It is simply not true that capitalism as a historical system has represented progress over the various previous historical systems that it destroyed or transformed” (Wallerstein 98: 1995). A contemporary example that highlights Wallerstein’s concerns can be observed in the current EU economic crisis; capitalism without sufficient regulation tends to be detrimental to society—Italy and Greece amongst other states can attest to this. Nevertheless, the spread of globalization typically correlates with the spread of capitalism since inviting businesses and entrepreneurs alike to invest in many different areas increases the exchange of culture and technology. And finally, in accordance with a realist perspective, the hegemonic “society of states” (Gilpin 311: 1986) remains the primary actors—an example being how the United States and the Soviet Union remained the primary actors during the Cuban Missile Crisis rather than resorting to ineffective international protocol. As Kenneth Waltz proclaimed, “…power maintains an order; the use of force signals its breakdown” (Waltz 185: 1979). Globalization has the potential to be very effective if it does not interfere with state sovereignty, as history has proven that situations become hostile when a state believes that their sovereignty is at risk. In short, the world must embrace ‘unity in diversity,’ thusly inviting the, “…possibility of cultural imperialism coexisting with cultural identities” (Smith 174: 1990). If respective societies can maintain the beneficial aspects of their own society while welcoming favorable change (democratic values, fair capitalism, etc.), then the potential of contemporary globalization is boundless.
In conclusion, globalization is a topic that deserves to be thoroughly examined in order for humanity to fully understand what it entails. For while technology has certainly made information from distant lands more accessible, events occurring in one place have always had the ability to affect decisions and subsequent outcomes in another place. If that were not the case, then interconnectivity would not have existed until very recently—a stance that makes very little sense in my opinion. Because the world has been interconnected for hundreds of years, as previously mentioned, globalization is not something new. Rather, the current state of globalization is something new—attributable to the rise of Western values, demilitarization, and the increasing legitimacy of the supra-state community in particular. In spite of all of these developments, globalization is still dictated by the best interests of state actors; hence, globalization can only be as effective as the strongest states allow it to be. Accordingly, globalization has the potential to aid or hinder society; it is entirely dependent upon whether desirable cultural values are being spread. The global society appears to generally be on the right track (minus some current exploitative economic and hawkish militant blunders), but until all states embrace basic freedoms, the effects of globalization are as unpredictable as the rest of the age of postmodernism.
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Carter, J. (1977) Address to the Nation on Energy, Charlottesville, United States, University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Giddens, A. (1990) The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge, England, Polity Press.
Gilpin, R. (1986) ‘The richness of the tradition of political realism’, in Keohane, R. (ed.), Neo-Realism and its Critics, New York, Columbia University Press.
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