Blogger’s Note. Reflecting upon the a recent “long read” published in the Guardian – an absorbing piece by Nikil Saval entitled “Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world” – I was rather jarringly reminded of something I wrote back in the nineties. What strikes me about this vintage analysis, published in the International Journal (53:1, Winter 1997, pp 17-37), is just how little the debate has advanced over the intervening two decades. It seems that virtually nothing has been learned, and even less done in response to this longstanding critique. Why? As a contribution to everyone’s summertime reading, I have decided to re-release the original, complete and unabridged, in five easy pieces. With apologies for the curious formatting and the length of this concluding section , I would very much welcome reader commentary.
Civil society at risk
How, then, has globalization forced authoritarian governments – in Latin America, Southeast
Asia, Taiwan, South Korea – to become more democratic? Again, we are left peeling back the
layers. Gwynne Dyer, Francis Fukuyama, and others are convinced that the triumph of
democracy over dictatorship looms as one of the major historical themes of the late 20th century.
A more searching assessment might conclude that globalization has narrowed political options in
countries with long-standing democratic traditions and complicated the transition to democracy
most everywhere else.
Indeed, the greatest impact of globalization may be the extent to which it has engendered a
palpable dissonance within and between existing forms of economic and political organization.
On the one hand, multinationals have leap-frogged ahead of any countervailing form of authority
and are accountable only to their shareholders, many of whom are other firms or large investment
funds with little or no interest in corporate responsibility. National leaders, on the other hand,
remain accountable to electorates, but their ability to control or even to shape outcomes is
diminishing rapidly. When power without accountability meets accountability without power it
seems a safe bet that the sharp distinction between commercial and political choice will translate
The industrial revolution provided the tools and resources to transform countries into nationstates
and then welfare states. To a greater or lesser extent, these modern political constructs
permitted the accommodation of heterogeneity by imparting a sense of common civic culture
based on shared values and interests rather than ethnic, linguistic, or religious particularity. In
developed countries, the historic compromise between capital and labour, expressed as social
democracy and seen by some as one of the greatest achievements of this century, is unravelling
under the pressure of global competition and shifting factors of production which favour
employers, investors, and others who control capital. This winnowing of the middle ground is
especially profound in the United States and Britain but is increasingly seen in Canada, the
countries of the European Union, and Japan.