Globalist Bookshelf

The West's Third "Late Stage" Globalization

Is globalization really a kind of historical cycle?

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Takeaways


  • We have entered a period of seemingly endless wars of identity, not with nation states, but with groups and communities.
  • We have become the pesticide of authentic and local alternatives that stubbornly resist our cultural defoliation.
  • How many wedding parties on the Afghan-Pakistani border mistakenly attacked with U.S. Predator drones will it take before we see the whole of their world?
  • We must ditch the narcissism of believing that somehow the state is simply being hollowed out by malignant criminal and radical forces.

We are living in the later part of the globalization epoch we call modernity. But remember, this is the West's third "late stage" globalization.

We forget about Late Antiquity (300-700) and the High Middle Ages (1100-1450).

Globalization epochs share many things, but they also share one truth we almost always forget: Globalization integrates, but it also disintegrates. Integration dominates the early and mature phases.

In the late phase, the constant, centuries' tearing down of old ways of life becomes integration's entropy. Then, forces reverse — and cultural creative destruction starts generating high demand for new identity, unleashing new things.

In our world, we see billions left behind. And they are anything but passive. They are self-organizing, and they are ready to fight and to sacrifice for collective realization.

People will always fight for meaning and belonging — identity — even at the very edge of survival. And how they are struggling!

We have entered a period of seemingly endless wars of identity, not with nation states, but with groups and communities and emerging societies. They fight us Americans in order to realize themselves. If we can see this, we also need to see the "community" and "society," rather than just the "fighters" and "radicals."

How many wedding parties on the Afghan-Pakistani border mistakenly attacked with U.S. Predator drones will it take before we see the whole of their world?

We must ditch the narcissism of believing that somehow the state is simply being hollowed out by malignant criminal and radical forces — and that "giving" failing states Western "good governance" and "security" by beating down all resistance is humanity's solution.

If it had been the solution, it would now be the solution. But Western modernity has always offered its "help" in ways that contradict idealized rhetoric. Nineteenth and twentieth century European colonialism left behind, with a couple notable exceptions, nothing more than shells masquerading as Western successor states.

Yet the United States has committed its world leadership to sustaining the masque and its "true lies."

It is in the post-colonial era that Western modernity has set up its own failure, declaring all the while that it must not fail. American "security assistance" and military intervention in the former places of European colonialism is mere life-support for the apparent trunks of modernity where they cannot take root.

So, by extension, we have become the pesticide of authentic and local alternatives that stubbornly resist our cultural defoliation.

At the core, our strategy is the denial of human change itself.

We have seen this before. Aristotle called his world, the world of Greco-Roman antiquity, The Frog Pond, because it clung thickly 'round a middle sea like frogs clustering and crowding at pond's edge.

But that world was really just a fragile tissue of cities. Lest we forget, even the globalization of late antiquity was dependent on the network economy and civilized connections of these not-so-many human nodes.

When the Roman state and its army migrated north in the fourth century to engage Barbaricum, they left the Greco-Roman world — the Mediterranean world of cities — behind. Rome abandoned its own world.

The Roman army and state "engaged" the threat in a long war, the war against Barbaricum. For three centuries and more, the life experience of Roman might and governance was devoted to The Other, and no longer to their own, the discarded "shoppers" of the Mediterranean cities. The identity of the defenders of Rome became bound up with those they fought.

Rome as army and state became part of another world, the world of Barbaricum. Over three centuries, they gradually became part of it. The Germanic peoples became Roman, and the Romans became like them.

Rome never fell: Rather, the Roman state created its own successors. Central to this transformation was the Roman state-army's forever war and its fighting relationship — its culturally productive relationship — with its sworn enemies: the criminal, the radical and the deviant.

In much this same sense, we are also the central participants in the transformation of our world.

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About Michael Vlahos

Michael Vlahos is a professor at The Johns Hopkins University Advanced Academic Programs.

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