Sense and Nonsense: Global Illusions

One of our favorite buzzwords these days is “globalization.” Globalization is when someone sitting on the Metro in Washington, D.C., talks on a cellphone to a colleague in a skyscraper in Tokyo about opening a branch office in Hamburg. Many people can hardly wait to take it a step further and set up a global government. They want global courts, global taxing powers, and global police forces that would give international political bodies direct control over individuals without local interference. Whether such a government would actually help mankind or constitute a tyranny on a world scale is seldom the subject of much reflection.

I must confess that Hilaire Belloc’s thesis of “the servile state” haunts me. Belloc thought that modern corporations would gradually come to take care of us from cradle to grave if we would consent to be their docile subjects. Now, however, it appears that governments will be more likely to serve as our wardens and guardians. Ironically, the greatest threats of tyranny today arise from proposals to take care of us, not from threats to enslave us. Or, perhaps more accurately, our enslavement is offered to us as a kindness. If we consent to be taken care of, we will not notice that we are not free.

Is there an alternative to globalization? Globalization is when, as I noticed in a United Airlines advertisement the other day, flights from the East Coast of the United States are $20 cheaper to European capitals than to the U.S. West Coast. What we notice is that when we go to Western Europe, or when Western Europeans come here, the folks working in the kitchens and on the streets often come from places of famine, war, and extreme poverty. We do not like to think how they got to where they are.

The poor of the world are said to be a problem. The population-control folks have long proposed that the best way to solve their poverty problem is to “inhibit” them from begetting. Billions have been spent for this presumably happy purpose. It is the rich, however, who have mostly stopped begetting. Since they do not have children of their own, the rich need labor. This results in an enormous migration of workers from poor to rich countries. We live by the labor of other people’s children. The poor settle into wealthier countries and change the face of the older lands. Settled customs are strained to the breaking point.

Poverty, some enthusiasts for socialism tell us, is caused by “unjust structures.” This implies that political solutions can be found to moral problems before moral solutions are found to political problems. It does seem that free, responsible governments, along with generally free trade and enforceable laws protecting property and profits, are a prerequisite if poor nations are to become richer.

We in America know how to produce wealth. But few of the customs and laws that lead to the production of wealth are in place in other countries where they are most needed. And it is contrary to our fashionable multicultural ideology to suggest that a particular culture ought to take on the principles or habits of another culture. So we are caught in our own theories. We have one thesis about how to help poor countries. We have another thesis about not interfering with the customs of poor countries.

Aristotle was said to have opposed the empire-building of his pupil, Alexander the Great, because he did not believe that enormous empires, ancient forms of globalization, as it were, permitted the practice of virtue. That required a small-scale polity, in Aristotle’s view. So, instead of one world government, one globalized mass of people, maybe it would be better not to have the 200 or so nations we have at present, but maybe 2,000 or even 5,000 of them. Perhaps tiny countries such as Singapore and Luxembourg are the wave of the future. If the District of Columbia, where I live, is said to be fit to be a sovereign state (which it isn’t), why isn’t Los Angeles fit to be a nation? Why can’t our technology and our philosophy help us to be smaller rather than bigger?

In short, is globalization really the direction in which we should be going? We should instead be returning power to local entities composed of people willing to take responsibility for their own lives rather than turn themselves and their problems over to a worldwide government.


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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