Are We All Globalists Now?

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The Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, which drew immediate condemnation from both the business community and world leaders, underscores the notion that the tectonics of both culture and politics are shifting in unprecedented ways.  

As the West moves toward an ever-increasing global outlook, the intellectual underpinnings of this transition must be carefully considered and the reactions to it sensibly measured.  Is the new political paradigm one of globalism versus nationalism?  Has this new paradigm replaced the traditional right-left divide?  Are we all globalists now?

On the one hand, the move toward a unified global “culture” has been embraced both by big business and the information technology sectors because the growth of the Internet has allowed remote regions to instantly connect to the rest of the world.  Reality television and social media platforms coupled with ultra-portable electronic devices connect distant people and instantly bring them into close relation.  For corporations, this is an opportunity to market in new territories and introduce products that were previously available to a mere fraction of the global population.  It is a matter of dollars and cents.   

With respect to politics, near ubiquitous access to the Internet has allowed populist movements to flourish across the globe.  The Internet’s broad reach permits political organizers to reach distant constituencies with the consequence that local politics can transform into global movements instantly.  For example, the “occupy movement” began as a small fringe group, which exploded into a world-wide phenomenon when it was popularized online.

But despite that globalization appears to be an unstoppable force, a strong nationalist ideology is re-emerging in many nations to confront it.  Many are not convinced of the merits of globalism and have turned inward. 

Donald Trump’s rebuff of the Paris accord, accompanied by his affirmation that he is the President for Pittsburgh and not for Paris, reflects a strong discomfort with globalism by the present administration and its supporters.  And this discomfort is not confined to the United States, as the recent Brexit vote demonstrates.  But terrible consequences usually emerge when one ideological extreme is confronted by another, and it is likely that the turn toward nationalism will prove as dangerous and culturally destructive as the globalism it seeks to defeat.

While these observations are hardly new, historians and social scientists are just beginning to ask questions regarding the underlying intellectual predicates of globalism, and must confront whether globalism as an ideology is a cause of this widespread change or whether it is the result of deeper socio-political, and perhaps spiritual, movements.

These issues reach beyond the boundaries of traditional public-policy analysis.

Historian John Lukacs argues that the dominant intellectual trends of Western modernity, the twin “faiths” of (i) unlimited progress and (ii) scientific objectivity, are slowly giving way to a broader subjectivism that denies the existence of truth itself.  This embrace of relativism in both scientific and non-scientific thinking constitutes an unprecedented paradigm shift, with consequences extending deep into the heart of the family, and indeed, into the meaning of what it means to be a person.  And, thanks to technology, the consequences are indeed universal, reaching around the globe.  Most troubling, perhaps, is the notion that a person is not intrinsically entitled to dignity and value – that a person is expendable, an economic unit, or someone else’s pawn.  Globalism does not just demand cheap products and unrestricted trade, it acquiesces to the concept that persons should be treated as objects.

But according to the orthodoxy of contemporary thought, globalism is the only acceptable political ideology because anything else would require value judgments acknowledging the superiority of one culture over another. 

Nationalists, at the other extreme, blindly tout the supremacy of their nation, while ignoring the contributions of others.  Both are different sides of the same ideological fallacy that human beings can achieve absolute happiness through the erection of an all-encompassing, universal and homogenous state – albeit the globalists envision one much larger than their nationalist rivals.  But neither globalism nor nationalism can be the answer, as they are overcorrections to the errors of the other.    

Ultimately, globalism is the politically fashionable buzz-word du jour, but we must not allow ourselves to be seduced by the idea that an unexamined globalism is either a desirable or good thing.  As an ideology, globalism aims to remake the world into a single, all-encompassing culture in which everyone lives in the pursuit of happiness, but where no one is actually happy.  It feeds the big, the powerful, and the monotone. 

Globalism accepted uncritically will surely end in the same misery promised by narrow-minded nationalism.


Glen A. Sproviero is a commercial litigator in New York City. Read other columns by him here.