The Promise of Globalization or the Clash of Civilizations

By Neckermann, Peter | The World and I, December 1998 | Go to article overview

The Promise of Globalization or the Clash of Civilizations


Neckermann, Peter, The World and I


If I were asked to give a name to our century, I would not hesitate for a single moment. I would call it the "Century of Globalization," because this will be its lasting legacy. The two dominant ideologies, communism and liberalism (liberalism meaning democracy and free enterprise), did not respect borders, and each claimed to bring redemption to all people and to unite them: one into the universal class of the proletariat and the other into the bourgeoisie. It was not at all clear from the outset which ideology would win. At the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, many in Europe believed that communism was the future for enlightened people and that mankind would escape greed and individualism under the tutelage of a superior state. As late as 1962, Nikita Khrushchev declared that the Soviet Union would win the economic race against the United States in less than twenty years--and many in the West feared that this might actually happen.

Fortunately, communism was destroyed by its own contradictions; in 1989 the communist icon, the Soviet Union, went under. It was consequential to believe that the only other universal ideology--"liberalism"--had won and that we had therefore reached a new era. Liberalism, now unresisted, would spread quickly to even the most remote corn of the world and unite all people under the umbrella of capitalism and democracy. The euphoria was so great that Francis Fukuyama, undersecretary of state at the time, argued that we were rapidly approaching "the end of history," when the world would finally become one global community, with no more fighting over ideologies or faith.(1) A new world order would emerge, guided by the principles of individualism (human rights), democratic governance, and free enterprise.

THE WESTERN MODEL

For most of the twentieth century, the two centers of the world's ideologies were the Soviet Union and the United States. Marx and Lenin were convinced that proletarian revolutions would sweep the world and bring one country after another under the tent of international communism. The American people were convinced that the example of our "American way of life" and our missionary zeal would peacefully convince other people to adopt our principles and become like us. After the victory in World War II, our conviction about the righteousness of our beliefs was so strong that we devised a model showing how countries could become like us. The American development model in simplistic terms is as follows: Remove the shackles of dictatorship, tradition, and religion, and empower the people. Give them simultaneously political and economic freedom. Then their ingenuity and entrepreneurship will unfold in such a way that a stable and civilized society with a rapidly rising living standard will emerge.

The guiding principle in a democratic society is the well-being of the people and not the grandeur of the state. The well-being of the people is best served in a peaceful world. Therefore, democracies tend to be peaceful. Interstate disputes are usually settled by negotiations and compromise and not by destructive wars. Since the United States is the "beacon on the hill" for democracy and free enterprise, it is in its best interest to make the spread of democracy and human rights the centerpiece of its foreign policy. By doing so, the United States will maintain its dominant position, because it works in sync with the forces of history. According to the forces of history, liberalism is conquering the world. Its victory is unstoppable because it is the only way that promises a rising living standard for all.

Until a few years ago, the American development model went unchallenged. It was so dominant that even Russia followed the advice of Western economists (Jeffrey Sachs from Harvard and Anders Aslund from Sweden) and wanted to reform its political institutions and its economic system simultaneously. Modernization and Westernization were seen as synonymous; you could not have one without the other.

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