The United States and Globalization

What pressures has the U.S. model exerted on other nations — and how should they think about the United States?

September 23, 2001

What pressures has the U.S. model exerted on other nations — and how should they think about the United States?

Dominique Moïsi: Should the United States be compared with the Roman Empire rather than with the more recent British Empire? And should we conclude that its history is only just getting started?

Hubert Védrine: America today is much more than the British Empire — and closer to what the Roman Empire was compared to the rest of the world in that era. Maybe not in terms of duration, but surely in terms of universality and influence.

And even so, at the borders of the Roman Empire, there were barbarians who put up some resistance in the Germanic forests and other powers beyond the limes, like the Parthians and Chinese. But even this is not the case today.

American globalism — the “World Company,” to use the expression of a spoof on French television — dominates everything everywhere. Not in a harsh, repressive, military form, but in people’s heads.

As globalization tends to be equated with Americanization, there is inevitably confusion, which leads some watchdogs to jump up and denounce France’s anti-Americanism. But that’s not what it is!

Moïsi: Is globalization the same thing as Americanization? Why does the United States seem to be like a fish in water in this new global world?

Védrine: “Like a fish in water” is exactly the right expression. The United States is a very big fish that swims easily and rules supreme in the waters of globalization. Again, globalization is not the completion of an American plan, even if it is the case that the big American firms have supported it and are profiting greatly from it.

The United States, it is true, is pursuing an Open Door commercial policy, which was Britain’s policy in the nineteenth century. (It was, of course, someone else’s door that was open!) Americans get great benefits from this for a large number of reasons:

— because of their economic size

— because globalization takes place in their language

— because it is organized along neoliberal economic principles

— because they impose their legal, accounting, and technical practices

— because they’re advocates of individualism

They also benefit because they posses what the writer and philosopher René Girard has called the “mental power” to inspire the dreams and desires of others, thanks to their mastery of global images through film and television and because, for these same reasons, large numbers of students from other countries come to the United States to finish their studies.

Moïsi: Doesn’t America’s real power lie as much in the dynamism of U.S. society as in traditional measures of power? Indeed, couldn’t you even say that America is powerful despite — rather than because of — Washington and American policy? Isn’t America’s “soft power” — the power to convince others and the power to attract people to the American model — in this sense greater than its “hard power” — the power to compel others to act? You sometimes see this in times of international crisis.

Védrine: But these two types of power reinforce each other! This is what I mean when I talk about the Pentagon, the English language Hollywood, CNN, the Internet, American culture, etc. Soft power any case, is not entirely new. The way Santa Claus is now represented throughout the world is thanks to an advertisement for Coca-Cola in the 1930s.

Today, it’s the diffusion of Halloween that is striking. This magnetism results from a combination of economic and human vitality — 17 years of growth! — of technological and cultural creativity, of an abundance of resources and the size of the internal market myths and reality. American policy expresses and projects this influence, reinforced by the conviction of fulfilling a providential mission behalf of humanity.

But the American political system is becoming less and less capable of shielding elections, and thus democracy, from the law of money and lobbies. (Is not the ultimate logic of the market economy that everything is for sale?)

Torn between isolationism and hegemony, weakened by abstention, often hindered by tensions between the White House and Congress, this system is a serious handicap for United States itself, and therefore a problem for everyone. Not to mention the role of Supreme Court judges.