Friday, January 27, 2006


Tom Nairn, world's leading citizen of necessary nuance on all things global-like, reviews for OpenDemocracy The Collapse of Globalism:
Suffixes like "-ism" aren’t accidents. They appeared in the 19th century for good reason, and are to be found still sprouting in the 21st: information technology may have changed the semiotic soil a bit, but not yet all that much. They stand for modern myths: the grander, more colourful belief-structures made necessary by general literacy and the compulsion of all state forms to maintain a minimum of non-coercive unity in the societies they govern. Modern -isms and -ologies signal not simply an idea-system, but its importance — its nature as a cause, a banner in history’s wind[...]

In America itself, the non-voting party represents half the electorate, and the constitutional order was profoundly shaken by its inability to elect a president in 2000. A few supreme court judges chose the man who, in 2001, decided to revive the popular spirit with an expeditionary war.

In Saul’s view, these are all tragedies of the -ism. He doesn’t dispute the real gains of global commerce and expansion. The point is that these have been systematically exaggerated and turned into a pretentious catechism, by corporations, proprietors, banks and their political and cultural servants. Cold war victory was in part engineered by this contemporary mythology, and went on to exalt it farther. In Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, the Hegelian dialectic bestowed an academic halo upon this "no alternative" mantra — pleasing American Christians without surrendering too blatantly to their Godly imprecations.

Yet the signs now are that all these forces have at last overreached themselves, and forced a counter-movement into existence. However, this should not be identified with "anti-globalism" and the World Social Forum. Without decrying such trends, or the rising significance of non-government organisations, Saul points out they are also ideological in origin — in effect, like globalism’s negation or antithesis[...]

And "positive nationalism"? Saul’s argument is that globality, not to be confused with its -ism, impels peoples towards a greener, more democratic, accountable, participatory and public formula. Making their soul their own is essentially a constitutional question, and involves acknowledging "major failings in the formal political system". Some elements of the unmade revolution need to be retrieved, by outward-looking, patient reform, and the construction of a political system less "at odds with our real situation and our real needs".

This demands more politics, not less, and an earth-shift towards a national identity that does not need to seek revalidation of its meaning on distant shores, additional blood-sacrifice, or fulsome applause from the great powers of the moment. By these criteria, Australia joined in the Iraqi crusade for outdated motives, to rekindle a makeshift identity formed by remoteness (and of course, Canada refused, in spite of the North American Free Trade Agreement). But globality has really dispelled re-moteness, and a different, more democratic identity should be on Shaun Carney’s agenda. It’s no use decrying nationalism as such. More plausibly, John Ralston Saul’s positive brand might be the answer: a nationalism of the global village, rather than of the windjammer and the desert.

Not saying I agree unconditionally of course. But Nairn is a rather exceptionally good critic to follow on such matters. The careful embrace of a glob-ality distinct from both ideology and counter-ideology strikes me as accurate.

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