[But that doesn’t mean there is a ‘Clash of Civilizations,’but what it does

mean is that there is a critical need for global governance.]


Benjamin R. Barber


In the early 1990s, observers like Francis Fukuyama were insisting that the fall of the Soviet Union and the supposed triumph of “capitalist democracy” signalled the end of conflict, division and war – hence “the end of history.” Other commentators like Samuel Huntington were equally insistent that the old cold war was merely yielding to new forms of civilizational enmity, above all the clash between “the West and the rest,” most  saliently, the West and Islam.

As I argued in my Jihad vs. McWorld (1995), neither of the extreme arguments were really viable. The truth was a dialectical interaction of the commercial and cultural forces behind globalization modernity (what I called “McWorld”) and the reactive traditional forces opposing modernization and globalization (what I called “Jihad) in mutually reinforcing ways. The triumph of capitalist modernity was actually creating the reaction against it, and the reaction mimicked and reflected many of the features of the modernization it opposed.

Since those quarrels of a previous generation, the primary reality that has dominated history and our politics has been the reality of interdependence: the challenge of global crises in climate, health, crime, weapons, terrorism and markets that are global in nature and do not respond to the political solutions devised by traditional nation-states. In a world with problems without borders, we rely on solutions within borders. A 21st century world of interdependence is still governed by a 19th century architecture of sovereign nation states. The asymmetry between problems and solutions is the biggest crisis of all.

Either we must find a way to globalize democracy, or democratize globalization – or democracy and democratic politics will become increasingly irrelevant to the anarchic forces of a globalized, interdependent world.   Where global governance was once a utopian ideal of naïve idealists, it has today become a necessity of realism.

But that global governance is needed does not mean it will necessarily be achieved. How can a world still defined by borders and sovereignty create a politics without borders? How can citizenship, founded on membership in the territorial state, be transformed in al age of globally networked cities and digital technology into a force that operates across borders? How can democratic community nurtured by local community, common social capital and value consensus be extended to a global society with neither common social capital nor common values?

These questions are no longer merely theoretical but define the challenge of how we might survive interdependence without sacrificing our freedom or equality.



Benjamin R. Barber is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and President of CivWorld (at Demos), the international NGO that sponsors Interdependence Day and the Paradigm Project. Barber was Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University for 32 years, and then Gershon and Carol Kekst Professor of Civil Society at The University of Maryland. For five years he served as an informal consultant to President Bill Clinton. Barber's 17 books include the classic Strong Democracy (1984), reissued in 2004 in a twentieth anniversary edition; the recent international best-seller Jihad vs. McWorld (1995 with a post-9/11 edition in 2001, translated into twenty-seven languages) and Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, published in 2007 by W.W. Norton in the United States and in seven foreign editions. The paperback edition of his controversial Clinton memoir The Truth of Power: Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House was published in May2008. Barber's honors include a knighthood (Palmes Academiques/Chevalier) from the French Government (2001), the Berlin Prize of the American Academy of Berlin (2001) and the John Dewey Award (2003). He has also been awarded Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Social Science Research Fellowships, honorary doctorates from Grinnell College, Monmouth University and Connecticut College, and has held the chair of American Civilization at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. Barber is a regular commentator for National Public Radio’s Marketplace and his blog can be found on The Huffington Post. He has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, Le Nouvel Observateur, Die Zeit, La Repubblica, El Pais and many other scholarly and popular publications in America and abroad. He was a founding editor and for ten years editor-in-chief of the distinguished international quarterly Political Theory. He holds a certificate from the London School of Economics and Political Science and an M.A. and Doctorate from Harvard University.

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