Academic journal article Social Justice

The Future of Global Polarization

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Future of Global Polarization

Article excerpt

History since antiquity has been characterized by social inequality. Yet it is only in the modern era that polarization has become the immanent by-product of the integration of the entire planet into the capitalist system. Modern capitalist polarization has appeared in successive forms during the evolution of the capitalist mode of production:

* The mercantilist form (1500-1800) before the Industrial Revolution, as fashioned by the hegemony of merchant capital in the dominant Atlantic centers and the creation of the peripheral zones (the Americas) in the function of their total compliance with the logic of accumulation of merchant capital; and

* The so-called classical model, which grew out of the Industrial Revolution and henceforth defined the basic forms of capitalism, whereas the peripheries - progressively adding all of Asia (except for Japan) and Africa to Latin America - remained rural, non-industrialized. Because of this, their participation in the world division of labor was via agriculture and mineral production. This important characteristic of polarization was accompanied by a second equally important one: the crystallization of core industrial systems as national autocentric systems that paralleled the construction of the national bourgeois states. Taken together, these two characteristics account for the dominant lines of the ideology of national liberation, which was the response to the challenge of polarization: the goal of industrialization as a synonym for liberating progress and a means of "catching up"; the goal of the construction of nation-states inspired by the models of those in the core. Modernization ideology was defined in terms of these two goals. The world-system from after the Industrial Revolution (after 1800) until after the Second World War was marked by this classical form of polarization.

* The postwar period (1945-1990) was one of the progressive erosion of the above two characteristics. It was a period of the industrialization of the peripheries - unequal to be sure, but it was the dominant factor in Asia and Latin America - during which the national liberation movement did its best to accelerate within peripheral states having recently regained their political autonomy. This period was simultaneously one of the progressive dismantling of autocentric national production systems and their recomposition as constitutive elements of an integrated world production system. This double erosion was the new manifestation of the deepening of globalization.

* The accumulation of these transformations resulted in the collapse of the equilibria characteristic of the postwar world-system. It is not leading by itself to a new world order characterized by new forms of polarization, but to "global disorder." The chaos that confronts us today comes from a triple failure of the system: it has not developed new forms of political and social organization going beyond the nation-state - a new requirement of the globalized system of production; it has not developed economic and political relationships capable of reconciling the rise of industrialization in the newly competitive peripheral zones of Asia and Latin America with the pursuit of global growth; and it has not developed a rapport other than an exclusionary one with the African periphery, which is not engaged in competitive industrialization. This chaos is visible in all regions of the world and in all facets of the political, social, and ideological crisis. It is at the origin of the difficulties in the construction of Europe and its inability to pursue market integration and parallel integrative political structures. It is the cause of the convulsions in all the peripheries of eastern Europe, of the old semi-industrialized Third World, and of the new marginalized "Fourth World." Far from sustaining the progression of globalization, the current chaos reveals its extreme vulnerability.

* The predominance of this chaos should not keep us from thinking about alternative scenarios for a "new world order" even if there are many different possible future "world orders. …

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