How to Avoid the Parochialism of the Present
Globalisation and International Relations are two important fields for individuals to engage with at this present time given the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the US as the world’s only hegemon. Globalisation is an vital field to comprehend, not simply because of the actualities of globalisation (which are themselves at times difficult to understand) but because the field has caused much equivocation. It is a term broad enough (similar to the term ‘terrorism’) to encompass a range of activities. But sometimes partisan political beliefs, adversarial convictions, and attenuated world views prevent individuals from pursing the path of truth and honesty in research but instead use a somewhat nebulous and misunderstood term to conceal their own partisan beliefs.
Own Harries is not one of these people. His lectures on Radio National for the Boyer series are honest, well balanced, considered, and well historicised. He embeds ‘globalisation’ within the realist school of international relations and realist history, both of which are impossible to dismiss in any conversation that claims to engage with ‘the global’.
His major gaps in discussing the global political typography are that he fails to mention Green politics and environmentalism, corporate globalisation and the limits to consumerism: All of these forces promise to become major political entities in shaping global political consciousness.
I will list some of the major points that he uses to schematise the global political economy:
The US is in a unique position at the moment as the only global hegemon. Before the second world war there were many (which is the usual state of affairs), then there were two during the cold war, then there was only one. The US has an unwritten script and this was not tested until the terrorist attacks of S11 2001.
He claims that the most important policy document to be produced by the US (in terms of foreign affairs and since the Truman Doctrine of 1947) is The National Security Strategy of the United States of America: This sets out how the United States is to use its hegemonic position: http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.pdf
Harries makes a realist attack on the Utopia School of globalisation (about time). He quotes that Utopia is always one of the world greatest countries.
He makes the contentious point that countries are no more economically integrated at the end of the 20th Centuray as the were at the start of the 20th Century. This refutes the Manual Castells ‘network society’ view of the global economy.
Harries discusses the term ‘democracy’ and discusses how this world is now used is a superficial manner. He makes the distinction between liberal democracies, democracies, liberalism and illiberal democracies. He states that all democracies are different and it is not a system that can work with a great deal of poverty or without liberalism.
In his ‘challenges’ lecture he discusses the enormous risks being taken by China and Europe and how both these powers could drastically influence the world order. He concludes that perhaps some of the greatest challenges posed to the US may be the US itself, especially considering the reckless nature of its government and the collapse of the institutions that moderate the individual. He discussed the changing demography of Europe, in terms of an ageing and falling population, and how this is exactly the opposite in the US and could pose internal challenges for both societies.
What a comendable addition the Quarterly Essay is to the national debate. It is refreshing to engage with larger Australian discussions after floundering in the intellectual vacuum of ‘the global’†for such a long time. The problem with much discourse on ‘the global’ is that it is largely dismissive of national discussions. ‘The national’ is seen as the complicit pariah whilst all the answers to (and causes of) the world’s ills are contained within the utopian vacuum called ?the global?. All social movement, such as the Civil Rights movement in the US, have had utopian elements, but one wonders how long one can be utopian for? The anti-corporate-globalisation movement was far too utopian and I wonder where next for this crucial social movement?
The utopian is not enduring (it soon turns into hell ie. Lord of the Flies) and how long does it take the average utopian to undertake a reality check (kill Piggy)? The reality check is that Australians live in one of the most enduring and stable democracies in the world. This, as David Malouf points out, is because of the Westminster system and the legacy of our British inheritance (for better or worse). It is going to take a little bit more than a trade agreement or ?sectarian? globalisation discourse before Australia disappears into the anlienting vacuum of the global (either corporate or civic). To take ‘the national’ out of the discussion of ‘the global’ is like playing football without a football oval. It is an intellectual version of year zero, a post-industrial Pol Pot for the Social Sciences.
I suppose that it is much easier to name and blame your ‘enemy’ than it is to understand them. As Owen Harris from the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies claims, the reason that there are clashes during this present period of ‘globalisation’ is perhaps because people do not understand it. It is largely equivocation.
Anyway, David Malouf’s essay Made in England is far too brief and does not do justice to the topic. But it is optimistic and honest; it is worldly as well as emanating from an older Australia that I can only imagine. This older Australia seems smaller, homogenous, narrowly globally networked and not well rounded. It is an industrial Australia, a pre information society Australia, a middle brow Australia. It is vapid and oblate Australia and one that I am glad that we left behind for a much more complex and culturally topographical (if unfair) Australia. It is an historically energetic essay but it is forgettable. It is well trodden ground; perhaps our history story telling parallels our democratic history; unreflective and secure. Malouf’s comparisons to the United States in terms of slavery and convicts is insightful (in terms of articulating the great hypocracy at the centre of American dictums such as ‘freedom’).
And I come away from the essay a little wiser as to who I am in the culture and language that is my country. Sure I could imagine another country such as ‘the global’ but then I would lose my culture and lose my identity. No one lives in the global, it is an imaginary place. The world is full of contradictions and inefficiencies and contingent centres of power. Napoleon called Britain (during the last great period of free trade and globalisation) a nation of shop keepers. So too is Australia. A nation of petit bourgeois ‘Bo Bos’ (bourgeois bohemians) imagining a much more engaging and rugged past. This is the invention of a national tradition. And shop keepers don’t talk about ‘the national’ that much because ‘the national’ is, in the old world of real politiks, the enemy of the shop keeping class (ie. invasive taxation and work place laws). Shop keeper radicals talk about the global because the global isn’t that much bigger than the doorstep that is swept each day.
What is globalisation?
Thankfully, globalisation is not understood as being one thing. Different groups (depending on their social and geographical positioning) interpret it in various ways depending on their own political circumstances. The minimal working definitions of globalisation (or dare I say ‘globalism') circulate around the belief that complex interconnections are rapidly developing between societies, institutions, cultures, collectives and individuals worldwide. The growth of the Internet is part of globalisation.
These connections are believed to occur between cultural and economic practices that are local, national, technological and corporate. Globalisation is often discussed in terms of inevitability by governments, activists and academics but in my mind there is no such thing as inevitability only conformity and compliance.
Continue reading “What is globalisation?”