by Benjamin Barber
The American Prospect magazine, September 11,
Can globalism be governed? Or, as a first step, can we start
by building a global civil society? Until recently, one could
took in vain for a global "we, the people" to be represented.
That is now changing. There is another internationalism, a forming
crystal around which a global polity can grow. Effective global
governance to temper the excesses of the global market does not
yet exist; however, international activism by non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) has made some surprising gains. People who
care about public goods are working to recreate on a global scale
the normal civic balance that exists within democratic nations.
Consider the following:
* A young woman named Jody Williams, with celebrity help from
a princess (sadly deceased), creates a worldwide civic movement
for a ban on land mines that actually enacts a treaty.
* A Bangladeshi visionary, Mohammed Yunus, develops an idea
for micro-financing, which makes mini-loans to women in third
world societies, which at once jump-starts enterprise and liberates
women from traditional servitude.
* Striking fear into retired tyrants everywhere, European
public opinion and spirited English law lords make possible the
arrest of a Chilean ex-dictator. III health got Pinochet temporarily
off the hook, but the Chilean Supreme Court has lifted his immunity
and the tocsin has sounded. Dictators are no longer safe in their
* Women's groups from around the world meet in Beijing in
a demonstration of international solidarity that asks nothing
of national governments and everything of civic institutions that
are powerfully reinforced by their actions.
* Multiplying coalitions of workers, environmentalists, students,
and anarchists use the Internet to fashion a decentralized, non-ideological
resistance to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World
Trade Organization (WTO), effectively capturing media attention
by taking to the streets in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and London-Prague
in the fall is next!
* Citizen groups use "Good Housekeeping seal" methods
to underwrite safe fisheries ("dolphin-safe tuna") and
rug manufacturers without child labor (Rugmark), while students
at Duke University initiate a movement to ensure that campus sports
apparel is not manufactured in child- exploiting sweatshops.
* The market-friendly, stealth Multilateral Agreement on Investment
that would further erode national attempts to regulate foreign
investment is subjected to broad citizen scrutiny and indefinitely
* Global Internet communication among groups facilitated by
organizations like Peter Armstrong 'S oneworld.org and Globalvision's
new mediachannel.org supersite are diverting the new telecommunications
from pure commerce to the public interests of global civil society.
* Europe responds as "Europe" to coalition between
Austria's traditional parties and Jorg Haider's reactionary Freedom
Party, signaling the potency of an emerging transnational public
opinion operating across state boundaries.
* Hundreds of NGOs gather in new international organizations
like CIVICUS, the World Forum on Democracy, and Transparency International,
and begin to develop the kind of civic networking across nations
that corporations have enjoyed for decades, courtesy of the World
Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.
* President Clinton offers the corporate leaders at Davos
a "wake-up call" reminding them that there are "new
forces seeking to be heard in the global dialogue' " progressive
forces that want to democratize rather than withdraw from the
new world order.
What is afoot here? Davos is a good place to begin. For nearly
30 years, the world's multiplying multinational corporations,
transnational banks, and speculators have met every February in
the Swiss ski resort to network, strategize, and acquire legitimacy
by mixing with invited statesmen and intellectuals. Davos has
been a fit symbol for an international arena in which the "three-legged
stool" of government, civil society, and the private-market
sector on which stable democracies are said to rest has been transformed
into a tottering toadstool held up by a thick and solitary economic
Markets have escaped the boundaries of eroding national frontiers
and become global, but governing organizations have not. This
has created a perilous asymmetry: Global economics operate in
an anarchic realm without significant regulation and
without the humanizing civic institutions that within national
societies rescue it from raw social Darwinism. National boundaries
have become too porous to hold the economy in, but remain sufficiently
rigid to prevent democracy from getting out and civilizing the
larger world. We have globalized our economic vices - crime, drugs,
terror, hate, pornography, and financial speculation-but not our
civic virtues. The result has been a growing tension between the
beneficiaries of globalization and just about everyone else, a
tension symbolized by the unrest in Seattle last fall, and in
Washington, D.C., and London last winter.
Yet while it has not yet attracted the attention of the media
(inured to good news and preferring to celebrate globalization
uncritically and treat resistance to it as Luddism or worse),
the new millennium has in fact brought new efforts at overcoming
the global imbalance. In June more than a dozen democracies-including
not only the center-left regimes led by Bill Clinton, Lionel Jospin,
Gerhard Schroder, and Tony Blair, but also South Africa, Argentina,
Brazil, and Chile-met in Berlin to discuss how they might redress
international injustices. A few weeks later, nearly 100 nations
met in Warsaw under the somewhat hyperbolic banner of the "community
of democracies" - are there really 100 "democracies"
in the world? fifty? twenty!?-to seek an even broader consensus
for a democratic concert of nations.
More to the point, they met for the first time together with
a fledgling transnational civil society - a parallel forum supported
by Freedom House, Poland's Stefan Batory Foundation, and George
Soros (author of a remarkable new critique of globalization called
Open Society), with the title World Forum on Democracy. This forum
assembled a company of NGOs, foundations, and intellectuals committed
to strengthening global civil society; it underscored its novelty
by actually holding a joint dinner and several meetings in common
with the foreign ministers, who were eventually presented with
a document in effect announcing, "Here we are, and we want
to be heard." The World Forum plans biennial meetings, with
work groups gathering more frequently, but it is by no means the
only civil society umbrella group seeking a serious hearing on
the global scene.
Last fall the National Endowment for Democracy had already
convened the first of what were to be a series of global meetings
of its own, the next of which will be in Sao Paulo. Other global
civic umbrella groups playing on this turf (finally it is valuable
enough to be the venue of turf wars!) include the aforementioned
CIVICUS, a group of more than 500 NGOs that has been meeting for
a half-dozen years; Transparency International, a German-based
civic group focusing on monitoring corruption; and the Aventis
Foundation's Triangle Forum on the global future, which met in
the middle of July at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center on Long
Island for another of a series of trilateral discussions among
businesspeople, politicians, NGO representatives, scholars, and
(uniquely) artists, including Watermill's creator, Robert Wilson.
All this activity suggests we are entering a new era in which
global markets and servile governments will no longer be completely
alone in planning the world's fate. And just in time. While President
Clinton showed at Seattle that he could talk eloquently about
civic and human dilemmas of globalism (in a speech that upset
his advisers), there has been no meaningful follow-up. On the
contrary, with his fast-track legislation (failed) and his opening
to China (apparently successful), Clinton is accelerating a headlong
rush to global laissez-faire. Likewise Bush and Gore.
The asymmetries resulting from the rapid globalization of
markets in the absence of any commensurable globalization of political
and civic institutions are largely ignored by elected officials,
even those of the center-left. Ripped from the box of the nation-state,
which traditionally acted as its regulator and civilizer, capitalism
turns mean and anarchic. The market sector is privileged; the
political sector is largely eclipsed (when not subordinated to
the purposes of the market); the private is elevated above the
public, which is subjected to ruthless privatization at every
turn. Liberty itself is redefined as the absence of governmental
authority and hence an exclusively market phenomenon, while coercion
and dependency are associated with government even when (especially
when) government is democratic.
The difficulty nation-states have with globalization comes
not just from the force of what is happening in the international
arena but from ideological developments within nation-states.
The push toward privatization is bipartisan. This is not decentralization-the
devolution of power down the democratic public ladder to provinces,
municipalities, and neighborhoods-but de- democratization, the
shifting of concentrated power at the highest levels from public
to private hands. Power shifted from authorities that were hierarchical
but also public, transparent, and accountable, to authorities
that remain hierarchical but are private, opaque, and undemocratic.
In the unfettered high-tech global market, crucial democratic
values become relics. Indeed, because globalization is correctly
associated with new telecommunication technologies, the globalized
and privatized information economy is constructed as an inevitable
concomitant of post-sovereign, postmodern society.
MEDIA CONCENTRATION VERSUS DEMOCRACY
Nowhere are the asymmetries of the new globalism more evident
than in media mergers like Disney/ABC, Viacom/CBS, Verizon (Bell
Atiantic/GTE), and AOL/TimeWarner/CNN/EMI. These mergers present
a challenge not just to economic competition in the domain of
goods, labor, and capital, but to democracy and its defining virtues.
These include free and autonomous information (guaranteed by the
independent existence of plurally-owned media), social and political
diversity (guaranteed by genuine pluralism in society), and full
participation by citizens in deciding public policies and securing
-public goods (guaranteed by a robust public domain). When Congress
passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996-the first major piece
of legislation dealing with new media since the Federal Communications
Act of 1934-it effectively ceded the modern information economy
to the private forces that control global markets.
The new monopolies are particularly insidious because while
monopolies of the nineteenth century were in durable goods and
natural resources, and exercised control over the goods of the
body, new information-age monopolies of the twenty-first century
are over news, entertainment, and knowledge, and exercise control
over the goods of the mind and spirit. When governments control
information and news, we call it totalitarianism; when monopolistic
corporations control them, we call it free market strategy.
The impact on diversity is misleading because sources of content
and information delivery appear to be multiplying. Superficially,
this trend is pluralist and empowering. Analysts argue that AOL
and Time Warner cover different consumer bases, and the new partners,
Steve Case of AOL and Gerald Levin of Time Warner, both promise
to pursue "open access" on cable so that the owners
of "pipes" that carry content do not become monopoly
gatekeepers. But it is hardly clear between AOL and Time Warner
who actually represents the pipes and who the content. AOL controls
online content but as a Web server is also a monolithic Web portal.
Time Warner wanted the deal to get its content on the Web; it
is a content provider but, via hard cable installations, also
controls pipes. AOL wanted the deal to get its Net services on
fast hard-wired cable (it currently depends on snail-speed telephone
lines). To suggest there is no real overlap, to suggest there
is other than one audience and one information market, is to badly
misunderstand the technology and to muddy the real issues of monopoly
and globalization in the new information society-as, ironically,
the Disney corporation's assault on the merger cogently argues.
Indeed, the whole point of "convergence" is to eliminate
the features that separate hardware and software, the carriers
and the content, until there is a seamless stream of information
and entertainment entering your home: one medium, one content,
one audience. Telephones, computers, televisions, VCRs, DVDs,
video stores, and content companies are the segmented way of the
past. The new media company must control them all; in an economy
that demands integration and convergence, this means they must
control (own) one another.
Monopoly is not an accidental outcome but a necessary condition
of doing business in this new world. Vertical integration is a
condition of synergy. When Bill Gates insists his integration
of an Internet portal into his Windows operating system is a "natural"
extension of his original product, he is being truthful. But the
truth he tells is that convergence means monopoly, and synergy
means vertical integration; that a capitalism still defined by
real diversity, genuine competition, differential markets, and
multiple firms is an anachronism - these are practices of the
industrial past that have no place in the postindustrial information-economy
Now this may all represent a new and powerful logic of an
information economy that dictates its own imperatives. But no
one has spent much time trying to think about how this new economic
logic in which private monopoly is a public good impacts the traditional
logic of the democratic society, which holds that private monopoly
is a public bad. There were good reasons for thinking that many
newspapers and magazines were better than a few when the founders
wrote the First Amendment. There were good reasons for thinking
that broadcast media were public utilities over which the public
had special claims when legislators wrote the Federal Communications
Act of 1934. There were good reasons for thinking that diversity
of content and pluralism of culture were integral virtues of a
democratic society when America embraced multiculturalism in the
1980s and 1990s.
Does a change in private technological and economic logic
mean that the public logic of democracy must accommodate itself
uncomplainingly to that change? Or is it technology and the information
economy that need to be reassessed and revised to meet our public
goals and common goods as a democratic people? Should private
logic dominate public logic in democracy? Are Steve Case, Gerald
Levin, and Ted Turner appropriate unelected representatives to
shape America's destiny as an information society? Will their
decisions become de facto legislation for the rest of the world?
These troublesome questions cannot be answered in the context
of national politics. The real challenge is whether we can address
the erosion of democracy in the asymmetrical setting of global
markets, where such civic and political tools as are available
to us within nations have gone missing.
Yet the outlook is not quite so pessimistic as the diagnosis
suggests. Why? Because there is an emerging international alternative
to global markets in new transnational civic organizations and
social movements, and there are still political strategies that
can oppose privatization within nations and then help nation-states
reassert control over the global economy through traditional "concert
of nations" approaches. After all, the IMF and the WTO are
not supranational organizations, but the tools of groups of powerful
nations. They will bend to the will of democratic governments,
if leading governments can once again represent the public interests
of their sovereign peoples and can find ways to cooperate.
TRANSNATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY
The marketplace functions effectively within nation-states
because it is only one of three sectors. The private -business
sector is not only balanced by the public- government sector,
but the two are in turn mediated by a civil society that, like
government, is public and composed Of communities and other collective
associations, but like the market is voluntary and free. Within
nation-states, it is not the market alone but this stable tripod
of governmental, civic, and private institutions that generates
liberty and produces the pluralistic goods of free society. Rip
the market from its nesting place in nation-states, however, and
you have wild capitalism-wild not in itself (it is supposed to
be aggressively competitive) but because in globalizing it slips
the civilizing embrace of its nation-state hosts.
The turmoil in Seattle at the end of last year and in Washington,
D.C., and London in the winter and spring arose from frustration.
The protectionist backlash bespeaks a deep insecurity in the face
of a world out of control-an exaggerated nightmare of a world
in which American soldiers serve under foreign command, Islamic
fundamentalists conspire to wage terror on the American heartland,
jobs hemorrhage abroad, immigrants inundate the nation and rend
its fragile unity. Far from suggesting common cause between American
protestors and the wretched of the earth elsewhere, however, this
backlash can look like an American version of Jorg Haider's politics
of fear. As Egypt's Economy Minister Youssef Boutros- Ghali said,
"The world is not represented on the streets of Seattle.
The truth is, most of the world's population was inside the conference
in Seattle, not outside."
Yet the democratic world really is out of control because
the instruments of benign control-democratic governing institutions-simply
do not exist in the international setting, where markets in currency,
labor, and goods run like engines without governors. Happily,
the rising internationalism of transnational civic institutions
and social movements promises a measure of countervailing power
in the international arena and serves as an alternative to the
reactionary politics of Pat Buchanan or Jean-Marie Le Pen.
These civic efforts-the work of citizens rather than governments,
or the work of governments reacting to citizens (and not just
their own)-embody a global public opinion in the making, a global
civic engagement that can alone give the abstraction of international
politics weight. The outreach of citizens and civic groups can
make entities like "Europe" more than a mere function
of economic and security concerns. Coteries of NGOs, the shifting
voice of public opinion, and the emergent hand of the international
rights movement may not be the equal of multinational corporations
or international banks, but they represent a significant starting
place for countervailing power. They put flesh on the bare bones
of legalistic doctrines of universal rights. James Madison noted
that a declaration of rights is a paper fortress from which it
is impossible to defend real rights. Rights. depend on engaged
citizens and a civic space where their activities are possible.
These new transnational civic spaces offer possibilities for transnational
citizenship and hence an anchor for global rights.
A CONCERT OF NATIONS
Even so, these transnational civic projects should not fool
us into thinking that Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontieres
are the equivalent in clout of AOL Time Warner or the IME International
markets spin out of control not just because the economy has been
globalized, Ink because, nation by nation by nation, we have conspired
in the transfer of sovereignty from popular hands that are transparent
and accountable to private hands that are neither. We remain transfixed
by privatization on the Thatcher/ Reagan/ Blair/ Clinton model,
and so we are unable to avail our-
selves of the many potential control mechanisms already in place.
We bemoan the absence of governance and international regulation
over free markets, though in truth the international institutions
most often vilified are ultimately instruments of sovereign nations
acting in concert. Their subservience to multinational corporations
and powerful banking and financial interests reflects not just
some historically inevitable erosion of sovereignty but the willed
sellout of sovereign peoples to the myths of privatization. As
international civil society grows stronger, it can become a source
of countervailing democratic pressure on national governments.
Technically, like the United Nations, the WTO is itself a
creature of nation-states. Like the IMF and many other market
institutions, it could be regarded as the exoskeleton of international
governance. But privatization-globalization's nasty twin-has robbed
the nations that nominally control it of their democratic will,
and they appear to be servants rather than masters of the new
global corporate sovereigns. With animals running the zoo, those
who seek such public goods as environmental protection, transparency,
accountability, labor safety, and the protection of children look
in vain for keepers and finally settle for theatrics, raising
a ruckus rather than effecting a change.
Were they to agree on policy, the leading industrial nations
could probably work their will at the IMF and the WTO. Ironically,
although global markets do erode national sovereignty, a reassertion
of national sovereignty as a consequence of domestic political
campaigns aimed at challenging privatization could go a long way
toward controlling global markets. Currently, the WTO treats national
"boycotts" of imported goods, even when they are motivated
by legitimate safety or environmental or child-labor concerns,
as illegal. Its members can change these provisions. Third world
nations worry with reason that first world environmental and safety
and minimum wage concerns are a way of putting a human face on
protectionism. By imposing impossible- to-meet standards, the
United States can win back jobs from developing nations. But if
first world governments agreed to pay the price of meeting those
standards, they would win the support of third world governments
in regulating global capitalism and improving standards worldwide.
National sovereignty is said to be a dying concept, but it
is a long way from dead. Sovereign nations remain the locus of
democratic society and the only viable powers capable of opposing,
subduing, and civilizing the anarchic forces of the global economy.
International civil society, the emerging global alternative to
world markets, needs the active support of sovereign states for
its fragile new institutions to have even a modest impact. Working
together as they began to in Berlin and Warsaw in June, progressive
forces within the democracies can increase the voice of civil
society in how the world is organized and governed-but only if
citizens and the new president they elect in November begin to
listen to that voice in earnest.
BENJAMIN BARBER is the Walt Whitman Professor of Political
Science and director of the Walt Whitman Center at Rutgers University.
He is the author most recently of Jihad vs. McWorld and A Place
for Us: How to Make Society Civil and Democracy Strong.