In conservative circles, the words “globalist” and “globalism” are thrown around like they’re the monster hiding under Alex Jones’ and Paul Joseph Watson’s beds. Conservapedia’s definition of globalism makes the philosophy seem even more nefarious:
“Globalism is the failed liberal authoritarian desire for a “one world” view that rejects the important role of nations in protecting values and encouraging productivity. Globalism is anti-American in encouraging Americans to adopt a “world view” rather than an “American view.” The ultimate goal of globalism is the eventual unification of humanity under a one-world government. Communists and Marxists are using globalization to advance their political aims.”
Granted, this may be an extreme example, but the general view of globalism being a leftist idea that counters the right, and a favorite fake enemy of populists, is pervasive among conservative popular media. However, this is a classic case of generating an enemy, for globalism isn’t some looming, ultimate idea of world authoritarianism, but a method of observing an increasingly connected world.
Unfortunately, globalism is a word that has been used in a variable way and across different political philosophies. This makes the word easily skewable to such conspiratorial musings as noted above, and an overall misunderstanding among the general public. But the idea still is not as scary as some proclaim.
Political scientist Joseph Nye explains that:
“Globalism, at its core, seeks to describe and explain nothing more than a world which is characterized by networks of connections that span multi-continental distances.”
With advancements in connection, the world becomes more and more complex, causing greater globalization, which Nye distinguishes as going from “thin globalism” to “thick globalism.”
“Thin globalism” is something akin to the Silk Road that connected Europe and Asia, while “thick globalism” is more like today’s markets where the failure of one nation’s currency can cause other countries to also have downturns. This explanation is vastly different from the conservative rhetoric of a global regulatory state and appears to be more of a way to measure the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the modern world.
Nye himself noted that globalism “does not imply universality” and that no one country feels the effects of globalization in the same way. So, the theory is clearly not an authoritarian communist view because “globalization implies neither equity — nor homogenization. In fact, it is equally likely to amplify differences — or at least make people more aware of them.”
Another theory of globalism/globalization used by the Australian professor of politics, Paul James, follows a similar vein of interconnectivity “relating the various intersecting modes of practice to the extension of social relations across world-space.” James’ approach looks to history and how the process of globalization has transformed across time leading him to define it in his book Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism: Bringing Theory Back In as “the dominant ideology and subjectivity associated with different historically-dominant formations of global extension.”
Unlike Nye, who essentially believes globalism has been similar across time but differed by its intensity, James distinguishes between the globalization of the past and present, calling ancient forms “traditional globalism” such as the expansion of the Roman Empire or the influence of the Catholic Church, and “modern or postmodern globalism.” Traditional globalism tended to involve physical geographical lines (roads and trade routes) and embodied movement (people physically relocating) with more distinction between local and global, while today’s globalism involves more abstract, disembodied movement and tends to be a seemingly contradictory mix of local and global at the same time.
James also pointed to capitalism, interconnected mass media, and an intersection between scientific methods and modes of production structured through power relations as being a driving force of modern globalization. Electronic mediums have made it easier for economic means, communications and scientific inquiry to overlap worldwide leading capitalism to become the dominant means of an expanding interconnected globe.
The author also believed that modern globalism was a type of “disembodied power” that would affect people globally with increasing intensity over time, and that globalism could possibly undermine the concept of the nation-state. With these ideas in mind, one could possibly see where a conservative ideologue might conclude that this version of globalism was influenced by Marxism and its talk of power relations and dominant cultures.
What has yet to be found in the idea of a one-world government communist utopia that many right-wing commentators insist is the final product of globalism. Ethical claims cannot be made of an idea that doesn’t claim to purport a form of morality at its core. James notes that globalism is “ethically ambiguous” because it can be both good and bad at the same time, and as Nye pointed out earlier, it is more an observation of what is occurring in the world more so than an idea antithetical to nationalist, conservative or even “American” ideals.
Globalism is clearly not a beast waiting to prey on the ideals of borders, different cultures, or individual governments, but a way to observe and analyze a complex, chaotic world. With the ease of connecting businesses, media, and friendships globally, it will become increasingly important to understand the ways in which decisions by anyone affect citizens across oceans and landscapes. Globalism is a tool for greater understanding, not a boogeyman seeking to destroy the modern or postmodern world.