Redefining the Globalisation Debate

This essay is taken from a forthcoming book entitled ‘Redefining the Globalisation Debate’.

Until now, the globalisation debate has been shaped by the proponents of capitalism and the anti-globalisation movement who derive their ideological inspiration from the political ideals of socialist philosophy. However, all of this is about to change as a new ideological storm emerges on the horizon to redefine the intellectual borders of the globalisation debate.

We have entered a new era of epochal change defined by globalisation and the transition into the post-industrial age. Politicians, thinkers and nations can no longer think of themselves in a parochial context of nationalism that gave rise to the modern nation state of the industrial era. Rather, we must think in a new international context since globalisation means that nations can no longer think of themselves in isolation to the rest of the world. The growing interdependencies between nations driven by changes in the structure of the global economy, international relations and technological advancement are forcing people to question the nature of the nation state and social organisation, which we have yet to fully comprehend. Radical new thinking is required to meet the new challenges, which will be unlike any other period in human history. This is because, for the first time in our history, these challenges have to be met as a global community. It will truly be unprecedented and this international debate requires a global political philosophy which is the subject of this essay.

The development of globalisation

Historically, globalisation can be argued to have begun with international trade that grew out of technological advances in transportation during the 15th century. The advances made in shipbuilding and navigation combined with the ideological revolution in Europe as a consequence of the reformation and renaissance precipitated rapid technological advancement and economic growth. During Europe’s intellectual and political transformation capitalism emerged as the dominant feature of secular philosophy generating a whole new paradigm in economic thinking and intellectual creativity. This was to have a profound influence on not only integrating the world but the shape that it would take over the centuries.

The emergence of the stock exchange in the 16th century enabled the emerging powers in Europe to finance wars and generate economic growth. Europe traded with Africa, the Americas, the near and far east on an unprecedented scale culminating in the colonisation of these lands. Consequently western colonialism has and continues to have a profound impact upon global integration. Industrialisation accelerated the forces of globalisation, which Britain exemplified in the vast railway networks she created across her empire. Professor Niall Ferguson wrote in his book, ‘Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power’ that Britain built the modern world and established the infrastructure for globalisation in the 19th and 20th century. However America soon superseded Britain and the rest of Europe politically, economically and technologically in the aftermath of the Second World War. While Britain, France and Germany led the world during the industrial revolution America now leads the world into a post-industrial revolution by harnessing the power of knowledge and information.

Alvin Toffler describes this period as the “third wave” and the birth of a “new civilisation”, while Francis Fukuyama describes it as the “great disruption”. However this historic transformation is not only changing the basis of wealth creation but is also precipitating an evolution in western political thought. Philip Bobbit described this epoch-making cycle as fundamentally changing the nature of the nation state. He said, “Three strategic innovations won the Long War: nuclear weapons, international communications, and the technology of rapid mathematical computation. Each has wrought a dramatic change in the military, cultural, and economic challenges that face the nation-state. In each of these spheres, the nation-states faces ever increasingly difficulty in maintaining the credibility of its claim to provide public goods for the nation.”

Globalisation therefore presents the world with new epochal challenges, dynamics and opportunities that require rethinking the nature of state and political philosophy from first principles. Anthony Giddens said, “globalisation is restructuring the ways in which we live” and “the era of the nation state is over.” The issue of contention that has so far divided western thinkers is whether globalisation is something, which is detrimental to human progress, or whether it is something that can advance humanity on a global level. Joseph Stiglitz believes that capitalism can elevate the world as long as globalisation is correctly managed. The Nobel Laureate said, “I believe that globalisation – the removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies – can be a force for good and that it has the potential to enrich everyone in the world, particularly the poor,” therefore, “The problem is not with globalisation, but with how it has been managed. Part of the problem lies with the international economic institutions, with the IMF, World Bank and WTO, which help set the rules of the game.”

However the anti-globalisation movement contend that globalisation has created unprecedented economic inequality, which has become synonymous with capitalism and western imperialism. There is no doubt that globalisation as we experience today has meant political and economic exploitation but there are those on the political left who also realise the opportunities globalisation presents to the world i.e. a distinction needs to be made between globalisation and the ideological system of capitalism which is shaping global integration. George Monbiot articulated this vision in his manifesto for a new world order. He said, “Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic revolution.”

The globalisation debate therefore transcends national borders – it is a revolutionary debate about how the world is run and how the people’s political will can be voiced and represented in a globalised world. This issue perhaps, presents one of the greatest challenges to western political philosophy since the reformation and renaissance because the world is in need of a political philosophy that encapsulates the new dynamics humanity has and will face in the 21st century. Indeed western thinkers are not only confronted with the philosophical issues but also the practicalities of ensuring that democratic systems can work in a global context. Matthew Horsman and Andrew Marshall wrote about the “urgent need to find new means of collective representation,” and Will Hutton said, “In an era of globalisation all nation states need to cooperate and collaborate if they want to represent their citizens interests.”

Therefore one of the critical questions thinkers across the world need to ask is whether capitalism or socialism can transcend modern paradigms that shaped the period of industrialisation to meet the post-modern challenges of the information age and a globalised world. Since it is this shift from national and regional specific problems to global problems that distinguishes this period from any other. The Renaissance was born out of problems specific to the European experience as western thinkers challenged the authority of monarchical rule and the intellectual validity of Christianity, while Marxism-socialism emerged from the social problems of capitalism, which were specific to the newly industrialised powers. These were epoch making periods in history and the advent of globalisation means another epochal social change which is in the early stage of political evolution i.e. political debate and change is no longer national or regional specific.

In the era of globalisation the problems facing one state are more often than not faced by every nation because capitalism is the defining force of politico-socio-economic organisation in the world today, and as a result problems in the world are interrelated. This is evidenced not only by the fact that there are problems which are unique to capitalist societies and are therefore experienced by every nation on earth but also by the international organisations which dictate economic policy nationally, regionally and globally. The IMF, World Bank and the UN are the principal institutional agents for global integration while social problems such as poverty are universal for all nations because free market doctrine governs the world economy.

This means that human experiences of capitalism are shared globally and therefore the debates that face one nation will also be faced by every nation because all of us live under this system of life. The characteristics of the debates may differ nation to nation but in origin they all emanate from the same ideological root. And it is this aspect which can potentially lead to a global debate and revolution which will be unlike any other period in human history.

The context of globalisation

At this moment in time the parameters of this debate have so far been discussed in a secular context. The political and intellectual classes from all spectrums of western political philosophy have arrived at some conclusions about how to manage this revolutionary change but there are more unresolved questions than there are answers, and this has created much upheaval amongst thinkers in the western world. Indeed these debates are as profound as the debates that gave rise to the modern nation state because globalisation is forcing us to re-evaluate our conception of identity, politics and state. One could also argue that these debates are as profound as the debates of the renaissance because globalisation is complemented by revolutionary scientific advances that provide us with new insights into human nature and how we as a species can progress. After all it is our conception of human nature that shapes political philosophy. Steven Pinker illuminates this reality in his book, ‘The Blank Slate’ in which he describes how our views of human nature define the political nature of the state. John Locke’s theory of empiricism exemplifies this concept since it was his theory of empiricism that became one of the conceptual foundations of liberal democracy. So the debates of this age are revolutionary and there is a struggle between the western intelligentsia to come to some ideological consensus about how to meet these profound challenges.

This is apparent across the western world as the battle lines are being drawn between the left and the right. In America the philosophical issues are exacerbated by the political reality of her status as a superpower and how she should project that power. While in Britain and the rest of Europe 20th century political traditions and conceptions of the nation state which were still very much the defining idea of conservative politics is increasingly challenged. This has brought the conservative traditionalists into conflict with new progressive conservatives who have grasped the opportunities and challenges of redefining conservatism in a globalised world. Philip Bobbit perhaps best embodies the philosophy of the progressive capitalists who can see beyond the outmoded concepts of 20th century political paradigms. They have sensed how the constitution of the state has to evolve to meet the new realities of globalisation and a post-industrial world. This is further accentuated by the vast migration of peoples continent to continent since it has changed the face and structure of western societies. Thus the defining idea of nationalism that shaped the modern nation state of the 20th century is clearly no longer viable. In a collection of essays published by the Foreign Policy Centre entitled, ‘Reclaiming Britishness’, British thinkers attempt to address these complex issues. Mark Leonard, director of The Foreign Policy Centre said, “What are British Values – and will they help us make these decisions? When conflicts arise, the political class searches for ties that bind. Both David Blunkett and Peter Hain recently declared that immigrants need to be ‘more British’ – but their invocation of ‘British values’ merely highlighted the extent to which there is confusion about the content of British identity”.

These debates starkly demonstrate how nationalism is incompatible with the reality of life because globalisation transcends ethnicity. What this means is that nationalism was always philosophically deficient and therefore has always been unsuitable as a basis for defining one’s identity. Why do I say this? The subject of identity is the central question for every human being and nation because it not only defines who we are but also how we should live. This has meant that nations particularly in the western world have not solved this profound question correctly. Consequently thinkers such as Philip Bobbit recognise that the state has to redefine its constitution and encapsulate the new dynamics shaping the world today. He describes this state as the ‘Market State’ while British diplomat Robert Cooper describes it as the ‘Post-Modern State.’ Both terms encapsulate the need to adapt western political philosophy and the need to redefine a nation’s political identity. However despite this evolution in thought we still find that they are unable to completely abandon nationalism as the basis of a nation’s political identity, which is evident by the fact that nations still exist as independent entities. Bobbit’s thesis for a market state goes someway to address the multicultural reality of western society by defining political identity upon a set of values that embrace diversity of cultures and race. He says, “We will inevitably get a multicultural state when the nation state loses its legitimacy as the provider and guarantor of equality.” He goes on to say, “the market state is classless and indifferent to race and ethnicity and gender…the market state is accessible to all societies.”

This philosophy gives some fresh perspective to the subject of political identity. If not satisfactorily it does stipulate the central tenants to its creed whereby every human being participates in the affairs of state through the market i.e. “In the market-state, the State is responsible for maximising the choices available to individuals. This means lowering the transaction costs of choosing by individuals and that often means restraining rather than empowering governments.” It is defining political identity upon ‘pure’ capitalist concepts, a belief in the ideology of the state rather than a state defined by its ethnicity. However this does not solve the problem of identity satisfactorily because what then determines whether a state is American, British, French or for that matter European? If the secular and capitalist values are the sole basis of a nation’s identity then why should there be more than one government? After all, the western nations all believe in secularism. This point becomes clearer when we examine the transition to a European constitution. The European states aim to integrate their economies and forge a constitution that will define the governance of the European Union. However nations remain resistant to completely giving up their political sovereignty to the European Union on the basis of preserving the nation’s interests. This disparity reveals the underlying problem facing the western nations and the world. That is to say western political philosophy has not been able to construct a wholly rational solution to answering the most fundamental question of life. Consequently it is not political philosophy that is the impetus behind closer European integration rather it is political and economic interests which is forcing western philosophy to adapt itself. Centuries of internecine fighting on the European continent between Europe’s great powers and the political and economic forces of globalisation are forcing nations to take these historic steps, and not a philosophical view of our existence. It is an important point to highlight because it demonstrates the intellectual problems of western philosophy. Not only is western philosophy the reason for these problems but also its concepts and values are proven to be incompatible with human progress. This is evidenced not only by the erosion of nationalism as a political philosophy but by every facet of the secular creed and capitalist economic system that dominates the world.

The anti-globalisation movement

The anti-globalisation movement on the other hand provide a different alternative and again within the socialist realms of political philosophy we find differences amongst its foremost thinkers. There are those who argue passionately against globalisation and there are those who recognise that globalisation can be a force for good if the basis of globalisation proceeds upon a different intellectual path. George Monbiot articulates the case for completely restructuring the world order. One which is based upon a clear philosophical view of the world, he says, “Indeed, all nationhood is to some extent artificial, the product of historical accident, the convenience of tyrants and the disengagement of colonists.” He goes on to describe a Darwinian view of identity that should be the philosophical basis of all societies in the world, “The new mutation will force us to abandon nationhood just as, in earlier epochs, we abandoned the barony and the clan…For the first time in history we will see ourselves as a species.”

While the capitalist vision seeks to preserve the nation state albeit in a new form, the anti-capitalist vision seeks to eliminate the existence of nation states altogether through the creation of international structures that will truly represent the will of the people. The anti-capitalist movement or what is also known as the global justice movement seek to realise this worldview through the creation of a world parliament. Therefore the global justice movement realise that new international structures are needed if humanity’s political will is to be truly expressed democratically. Current international structures do not resemble the true reality of globalisation and the possibilities it presents to end conflicts and all the myriad of problems that plague the world. The World Bank, IMF and the UN are institutions created for a different world i.e. an industrialised and bipolar world. Whereas today the world moves ever closer to global integration and into post-industrialisation which means that existing structures need to be dismantled to facilitate this historic transition. Indeed these structures were created by the superpowers of the 20th century to further their imperialist interests around the world and it is in the realm of international relations and economy where we will find the great debates between the left and right reach boiling point.

One fundamental problem is that the capitalists seek to preserve their power whether it is within their own countries or globally. The capitalists on the European continent while moving towards economic integration and political cooperation still maintain the independence of their own respective nations so as to maintain their power in each nation and so they are be able to challenge American power. American capitalists on the other hand seek to maintain their global empire and monopolise the material wealth in the world. This is evident in the differences between Europe and America over a whole host of issues ranging from how to fight the war on terror to global climate change. The Kyoto talks demonstrated the intellectual inconsistencies of those nations who champion globalisation. America rejected the Kyoto treaty despite the overwhelming consensus of the world community. And the war of words over steel tariffs further demonstrated the inconsistencies of a free trade global economy between Europe and America.

Globalisation is therefore being used by the major capitalist powers to further their own national interests. The Europeans seek to become America’s equal partner by creating a new international order based upon shared interests and responsibility. Dominique de Villepin said, “The path to a new world is one we can truly map out together… To gain the support of the peoples and adapt to a new world situation, we have a duty to share. Without barriers or borders our world is rich with promise for the future… No international order can be built upon the power of a single country. So what path must we take? To go the unilateral route is utopia. If we want to be effective, we must have legitimacy. So the multilateral route is the only realistic one. Europe has to be one of the pillars of this new world!” Tony Blair further illuminated this thinking when he said, “It means reforming the United Nations so its Security Council represents 21st century reality; and giving the UN the capability to act effectively as well as debate.” Therefore we find that the capitalists are not making judgements solely upon a philosophical idea about identity rather judgements are made according to economic and political interests. Indeed since the end of the Cold War they also realise that they cannot completely control the markets and the preservation of the nation state goes someway to prevent trans-national corporations from dictating politics.

Globalisation therefore illuminates the flaws of secular philosophy and the contradictions of maintaining political structures that don’t emanate from the ideals of global integration. This is evident not only in the logical inconsistencies of preserving the nation state but also in creating or reforming global organisations that will only perpetuate western power which is evident in the G8. Whilst these logical inconsistencies remain, justice can never be truly achieved and which is why we are already seeing the embryonic stages of a global justice movement that seeks to dismantle these power structures. Indeed the creation of a new political party entitled ‘Respect’ and the growing influence of environmental politics upon the intellectual landscape means that we are seeing another dimension to the struggle between the ruling factions of society and the people i.e. this struggle mirrors the struggle between the people and the church and monarchy – the struggle between the workers and the capitalists. However the struggle in the 21st century will proceed upon a global scale. There are different dimensions to this struggle. There is the struggle between the United States and the rest of the world. Martin Jacques review of ‘World on Fire’ by Amy Chua reflects on this aspect, “Finally she considers the position of the United States in the post cold-war and argues that its global position is akin to that of a market-dominated ethnic minority.” The other dimension as I have discussed is between the global justice movement and the capitalists. However there is another dimension which hasn’t been really explored which is the Islamic ideology.

Islam and the globalisation debate

The Muslim world has for over fifty years been engaged in a profound debate about whether capitalism, socialism or Islam is the correct basis for progress. This debate has been internationalised since the events of 9/11 and the vast migration of Muslims to the western world further opens up new possibilities to the global debates and challenges that we’re all facing. After all the debate about capitalism is an international debate and the question that now confronts all of humanity is which philosophy is truly a global political philosophy? Which philosophy truly embodies the ideals of globalisation? And which philosophy can provide a system of life that can elevate humanity and work on a global scale? Central to these questions is the issue of identity, and globalisation means that the question of identity has to be answered in its true context i.e. globalisation forces us to pursue the question of identity to its logical end otherwise its intellectual disparities and contradiction will become acutely apparent. The capitalist solution still resonates with intellectual disparities and contradictions as the essence of the nation state is preserved while the leftist view of identity although being more logically consistent is debilitated by its system of life, particularly since the demise of the socialist ideology.

Islam on the other hand can be argued to not only be the first global political philosophy but the only practical philosophy that can truly capture the forces of globalisation and thereby create a ‘new civilisation’ in a post-modern world.

Islam transcends ethnicity because it defines identity upon the basis of a comprehensive view of the world. This view is based upon an understanding that all of creation is created by a Creator – Allah – and is subservient to his natural law. Islam not only views us and defines us in our capacity as human beings but goes further to prohibit ethnicity to be a basis of identity. The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said about nationalism, “Leave it, it is rotten”. This all encompassing view of humanity means that Islam is a natural globalising force since it brings people together upon a rational basis rather than upon ideas which create conflict and disharmony. The unnatural borders that have been created between people as a consequence of false ideas such as nationalism are the primary reason as to why we have seen so much bloodshed through the centuries.

One may argue that the issue of belief in Islam detracts from this global view. That is to say, differences of identity exist in the area of creed and hence it cannot be said that Islam provides a comprehensive global identity: Islam differentiates between people on the basis of being a Muslim or non-Muslim. When we examine this point we find that it does not impact upon the issue of identity in any significant sense because when Islam is implemented through the Islamic State (Khilafah) it does not differentiate between people on this basis. Rather Islam views people in their capacity as human beings and citizens of the Islamic State. So no differentiation is made between Muslims and non-Muslims, both are viewed in their capacity as human beings and are treated as such by the Islamic rules. We further find that Islam addresses all of humankind without differentiation and provides a system of life irrespective of one’s creed, race or lineage. Allah said in the Qur’an:

“Oh mankind, verily We have created you from a male and female, and made you peoples and tribes, so that you may recognise each other.” (Surah Al-Hujurat: 13)

“Woe to mankind! What made him reject God? From what thing did He create him? From a clot he created him…”  (Surah Abasa: 17-19)

Therefore Islam provides us with a logically consistent global view of identity and a system of life that is entirely consistent with this philosophy. The Islamic political system known as the Khilafah is the practical manifestation of this global view and through history it moulded people of different races into one homogenous society. That is to say a global political philosophy must have a method of implementation that is entirely consistent with its thoughts and rules. The Khilafah system achieves this because it is a state solely defined by the Islamic ideology. This point becomes clearer when we examine states existent today who have been unable to provide a satisfactory answer to one’s identity that agrees with the mind and brings tranquillity to the heart. Rather divisive concepts such as nationalism remain a part of western political philosophy albeit in a different form i.e. we find western thinkers trying to reinterpret a nation’s identity as a consequence of the growing immigration into the western world where traditional conceptions of identity are no longer viable.

Indeed multiculturalism as defined by the west has been recognised by certain quarters amongst the western intelligentsia as ultimately divisive. The problem of unifying different communities in the Khilafah State was never an issue because Islam solves the problem of identity without any ambiguity or disparity. Rather diversity is viewed as a strength and not a weakness. Muslims and non-Muslims have lived together for centuries and everybody contributed to the golden ages of Islam. Indeed when we examine the history of Islam we find that Islam embraced people from Africa, Eurasia and Central Asia, the Balkans, China, the Indian Sub-Continent, South-East Asia and Europe. Islam removed the false borders between human beings intellectually and politically until the understanding of Islam weakened in the minds of the people and nationalism took hold during the political and cultural invasion of the Islamic world by the western colonialists. Rather than demonstrating a weakness of Islam it actually demonstrates just how devastating nationalism and secular philosophy actually is. Therefore it is an argument for Islam, not against Islam.

The globalisation debate is in the process of being redefined by Islamists who provide an alternative vision and conception of globalisation. Indeed the debates about secularism and capitalism are already becoming globalised because Muslims inhabit all corners of the earth and as they become more politicised their voice will increasingly grow in unison. This is evidenced in the recent hijab ban controversy in France where Muslims are challenging secularism. This debate has international ramifications because to win the intellectual debate in the western world would contribute greatly to winning the secularism debate internationally. Especially when the west seeks to propagate its values and culture to the whole world. We are indeed on the precipice of something great, something monumental and historic. There is an urgent need for all of us to engage in a debate about identity and the correct basis for progress.

Globalisation provides us with this opportunity to truly engage in a global debate involving all of humanity. While this essay merely touches upon the epochal opportunities open to us it should remind us that we are at a point in human history when we can truly forge a better world.

1Professor Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Basic Books, April 13, 2004)

2Alvin Toffler, Turner Pub, (March 1, 1995)

3Francis Fukuyama, The Great Disruption, (Profile Books, 2000)

4Philip Bobbit, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, (Penguin Books, 2003), p216.

5Anthony Giddens, Runaway World, (Profile Books, 2002)

6Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and its Disontents, (Penguin Books, 2002), p214.

7George Monbiot, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order (Flamingo, 2003)

8Matthew Horsman & Andrew Marshall, After the Nation-State: Citizens, Tribalism and the New World Disorder, (Harper Collins, 1994) xi.

9Will Hutton, The World We’re In, (Little, Brown, 2002) p47.

10Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin, 2002)

11Mark Leonard (Ed.), Phoebe Griffith (Ed.), Reclaiming Britishness (Foreign Policy Centre, September 2002)

12Robert Cooper, The Postmodern State and the World Order (Foreign Policy Centre, June 2000)

13Philip Bobbit, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, (Penguin Books, 2003), p225.

14Ibid p230.
15Ibid p230

16George Monbiot, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order (Flamingo, 2003) p111.

17Ibid p8

18Dominique de Villepin, Dimbleby Lecture 2003.

19Tony Blair speech, Iraq and the threat of international terrorism (05/03/2004)

20Amy Chua, World on Fire, (Heinemann, 2004)

21Martin Jacques, The Power of the Ethnic Minority (Guardian Newspaper, 21st February 2004)

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