The Inevitability of Globalization: Societal Integration Or Socio-Cultural Fragmentation?

The Inevitability of Globalization: Societal Integration Or Socio-Cultural Fragmentation?

Globalization & Terrorism

The Inevitability of Globalization: Societal Integration


Socio-Cultural Fragmentation?

Harvard University: Government- Public Policy

Globalization & Terrorism -

The Inevitability of Globalization: Societal Integration or Socio-Cultural Fragmentation? © GOVT PUBLIC POLICY

Globalization can be either an integrating force or a fragmenting force. Discuss howhat is possible and under what conditions it tends to be one or the other. Which do you think will prevail in the future? Globalization & Terrorism

Analysis of history - both from a broad perspective and via exploration of specific historical periods - suggests that economic and cultural globalization is a largely inevitably phenomenon. The growth of the human planetary population, as well as unimaginably rapid expansions in our technological capabilities over the last century, have worked together to effectively shrink the globe. In past eras, news from the other side of the world might take months to arrive; today it takes moments. In past periods, the majority of cultures never came into contact; today, multi-culturalism is an inevitable product of rapid transportation and computer-based communication. These contrasting realities have meant that, while globalization occurred in past societies - it wasn't really a "global" paradigm. In the ancient period, when the Roman Empire stretched across Europe and Asia and North Africa, globalization did exist - but it was slow, evolutionary, and regional rather than truly global. As the 21st century dawns, globalization has become truly global for the first time, and the consequences are uncertain. The cultural and political interactions of globalization have the potential to serve as an integrating force, ultimately uniting the human species under one global system of order. However, cultural and even tribal distinctions also breed conflict whenever globalization forces multi-culturalism. Ultimately, while globalization may yet be an integrating force, current events and historical patterns suggest that fragmentation will be a more likely future result.

One of the aspects most often omitted from any discussion of globalization is the realization that, contrary to popular belief, it is not a new phenomenon. As aforementioned, the Roman Empire of two thousand years ago provides a prototypical example of the inherent hazards of globalization; it can be argued that the empire's expansion and assimilation of other cultures led to a multi-cultural globalization that ultimately fragmented the social fabric of the Roman society. Similarly, the regional globalization of Greece in the fifth century B.C., a period marked by Athenian expansion and the rise of Periclean democracy, ultimately led not to integration but fragmentation, as the city-states and multiple cultures of Greece eventually collapsed on each other during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (Pressfield, 2001). It might be argued that these ancient examples are irrelevant, because the civilizations of those eras lacked modern communication and travel capabilities. However, there is a much more recent example of globalization - on an actual global scale - that led not to integration but to fragmentation. That example appears during the late 19th century and led to the greatest social disintegration in history up to that point - the First World War:

From around 1870 until World War I, the world economy thrived in ways that look familiar today. The mobility of commodities, capital, and labor reached record levels; the sea-lanes and telegraphs across the Atlantic had never been busier, as capital and migrants traveled west and raw materials and manufactures traveled east. In relation to output, exports of both merchandise and capital reached volumes not seen again until the 1980s. Total emigration from Europe between 1880 and 1910 was in excess of 25 million. People spoke euphorically of "the annihilation of distance." Then, between 1914 and 1918, a horrendous war stopped all of this, sinking globalization. Nearly 13 million tons of shipping were sent to the bottom of the ocean by German submarine attacks. International trade, investment, and migration all collapsed. Moreover, the attempt to resuscitate the world economy after the war's end failed. The global economy effectively disintegrated with the onset of the Great Depression and, after that, with an even bigger world war, in which astonishingly high proportions of production went toward perpetrating destruction. (Ferguson).

There seems to be a clear historical lesson here, a lesson that was as true during the Wilson administration as it was for the ancient Greeks - and which remains true today: namely, that there is a balance that must be precisely satisfied between the forces of globalization and the inherent powers of nationalism and cultural identity. It seems clear that we are once again entering a period in which we are approaching a tipping point - a point at which the world will either come together or fall part, politically and culturally. "World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be-the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others" (Huntington 22). The great danger here is that even as we once again enter a period of history in which expanding multi-culturalism and globalization may create greater unity for our species, we are still proceeding as if we are unaware of the pitfalls of past such periods.

It is not necessarily inevitable that globalization will lead to fragmentation; however, current events suggest that will indeed be the end result. American global dominance and the current "war on terror" provide the clearest indicators. Like empire building civilizations before us, we are rapidly spreading out into new cultures and regions, expending vast resources to do so, yet we do not appear to be fully examining the likely long-term consequences:

We have to spend hundreds of billions more rebuilding Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries we've pledged to help. We'll need to spend a bundle policing against terrorism around the world, even if other nations are pitching in, too. Helping Russia and other nations secure all nuclear-fissile materials will be a further major expense. Add to that the substantial cost of beefing up homeland security. As I've noted, exercising true world leadership is also expensive; it will require far more money, as well as attention, than we devote to it today. (Reich).

In effect, globalization is not just a global phenomenon but a singularly American phenomenon. Unfortunately, as world society becomes more truly global and our own American influence is felt more deeply on a world-wide scale, we are beginning to experience the same tribal, ethnic, and nationalist resistance to globalization that the ancient Greeks and Romans experienced; this is arguably the same phenomenon that led to World War I and the subsequent conflict. The "war on terror" and the Iraq conflict provide perfect illustrations. "Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, a training ground and an operational base for jihadist terrorists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at ... The so-called Bush Doctrine that set the framework for the administration's first term is now in shambles. The doctrine (elaborated, among other places, in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States) argued that, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, America would have to launch periodic preventive wars to defend itself against rogue states and terrorists with weapons of mass destruction; that it would do this alone, if necessary; and that it would work to democratize the greater Middle East as a long-term solution to the terrorist problem ... but it is the idealistic effort to use American power to promote democracy and human rights abroad that may suffer the greatest setback" (Fukayama). This assessment is debatable, of course, but when examined from a historical rather than political perspective, the truth becomes clear: no matter how admirable or benign American intentions may be, the inevitable response is a resistance to globalization. In theory, there may be tactical and strategic decisions that could be made to limit this disintegrative nature of globalization, particularly as it relates to the war on terror; some commentators have argued that rather than have an "American-style" war, we need to focus on covertly subverting terrorist organizations - in other words, taking a non-globalist approach that minimizes American global influence as we advance our own policies and interests (Ignatius, p. A13).

In the final analysis, however, whether discussing globalization as a broad principle or as it relates to specific American policies, the simple truth may be that globalization inevitably leads to societal fragmentation. By definition, globalization necessitates accepting a global order over individual, tribal, and nationalistic impulses. The record of mankind suggests that as a species, we are inherently resistant to acquiesce to such a political and cultural order. With cautious strategic selection we may be able to diminish the divisive nature of globalization, although history suggests that in the end - fragmentation will prevail over unification.

References Cited

Ferguson, Neil. (April, 2005). "Sinking Globalization." Foreign Affairs. Available online at: econ/2005/03sinking.htm (7 July 2006).

Fukayama, Francis. "After Neoconservatism." New York Times Magazine.

Available online at: magazine/neo.html?ex=1141362000&en=a6ab5b762c549c55&ei=5070&emc=eta1 (8 July 2006).

Huntington, Samuel. (Summer, 1993). "The Clash of Civilizations" Foreign

Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3: 22-28. Available online at: economics/misc/clash.html (7 July 2006).

Ignatius, David. (August 25, 2003). "Strategy, Not Numbers." Washington Post.

Available online at: (7 July 2006).

Pressfield, Stephen. Tides of War. New York: Bantam, 2001.

Reich, Robert. (May, 2004). "Radcon 3." The American Prospect. Available online

at: (7 July 2006).

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