Social Solidarity, Democracy and Global Capitalism

By Laxer, Gordon | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, August 1995 | Go to article overview

Social Solidarity, Democracy and Global Capitalism


Laxer, Gordon, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


WHEN WE HEAR A WORD REPEATED often from enough credible sources we begin to believe it must have validity. A kind of mass contagion occurs. If someone were to tabulate the top 40 words used today on the political newspeak charts, "globalization" would be at or near the top. "Globalization" is a short form for a cluster of related changes.(1) Economic changes include the internationalization of production, the harmonization of tastes and standards and the greatly increased mobility of capital and of transnational corporations (henceforth "transnationals"). Ideological changes emphasize investment and trade liberalization, deregulation and private enterprise. New information and communications technologies that shrink the globe signal a shift from goods to services. Finally, cultural changes involve trends toward a universal world culture and the erosion of the nation-state.

In other words, "globalization" carries much freight. How prophetic--or should that be "how convenient"?--that this freight is the heart of the capitalist Enlightenment project of the past two centuries, with its emphasis on universalism, scientism, rationality, private property rights, liberalism and individualism. The changes associated with globalization are stated in the language of inevitability, of progress. What a relief that these ideas and the way of life they represent have finally triumphed over the irrational, the fanatical and the despotic foes of Western liberalism!

The globalization assumptions are part of the new right's victorious view that after the defeat of communism there is an "end to History," in the Hegelian and Marxian sense that all of the big questions have been settled. Francis Fukuyama (1992) sees that end-point as "liberal democracy," where liberal refers to the "free market" (xiii). Kenichi Ohmae's borderless world, the "Interlinked Economy," is one in which "multinational companies are truly the servants of demanding consumers around the world" (1990: x).

Scepticism is also pert of the Enlightenment. It expresses my view about globalization. I take Fukuyama and Robert Reich as representatives of the range of globalization assumptions. Fukuyama is the optimist seeing globalization as almost entirely positive. Reich (1991) shares his assumptions about the irreversibility of globalization and about technological determinism, but he laments the dark underside of globalization in which the rich increasingly disengage themselves from their fellow countrymen and leave them in deteriorating conditions (302-3).

This paper challenges the globalization assumptions on four points. First, is national sovereignty eroding? Second, regarding the claim of greater global economic integration, is the relative level of transnational ownership and control higher now than in the past? Third, has globalization resulted from technological change or from the political project of the new right? Fourth, is democracy strengthened by global "market reforms"? These questions are discussed in the first half of the paper. The second half examines the prospects for social solidarity and alternatives to the global village of the transnationals.

The Canadianization of the World

Writers in big nations like to universalize the histories of their own countries. "We are the world," they say. This is especially true of nations like the United States and France, which have had world-important revolutions. Given the scientism of Enlightenment assumptions, it is much more impressive to portray events in your own country as societal "laws" rather than as idiosyncratic. The histories of less "important" countries are often ignored, usually not known to outsiders or portrayed as exceptions to historical "laws" set in the great nations (Sayer, 1995).

The ideas of historical convergence and progress date from the 1750s, when Adam Smith posited that all societies pass through four stages, from lower to higher (Meek, 1976). …

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