Jihad vs. McWorld

The following article from The Atlantic Online, has been reposted here. It looks at the issue of democracy and how neither terrorism nor corporate globalization necessarily support democracy. While written back in 1992, it seems quite relevant today. This article can be found at its original location, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/199203/barber.

Jihad Vs. McWorld

By Benjamin R. Barber

The Atlantic Monthly; March 1992; Volume 269, No. 3; pages 53-65.

The two axial principles of our age — tribalism and globalism — clash at every point except one: they may both be threatening to democracy by Benjamin R. Barber

Just beyond the horizon of current events lie two possible political futures — both bleak, neither democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened Lebanonization of national states in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe — a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast food — with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.

These two tendencies are sometimes visible in the same countries at the same instant: thus Yugoslavia, clamoring just recently to join the New Europe, is exploding into fragments; India is trying to live up to its reputation as the world’s largest integral democracy while powerful new fundamentalist parties like the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, along with nationalist assassins, are imperiling its hard-won unity. States are breaking up or joining up: the Soviet Union has disappeared almost overnight, its parts forming new unions with one another or with like-minded nationalities in neighboring states. The old interwar national state based on territory and political sovereignty looks to be a mere transitional development.

The tendencies of what I am here calling the forces of Jihad and the forces of McWorld operate with equal strength in opposite directions, the one driven by parochial hatreds, the other by universalizing markets, the one re-creating ancient subnational and ethnic borders from within, the other making national borders porous from without. They have one thing in common: neither offers much hope to citizens looking for practical ways to govern themselves democratically. If the global future is to pit Jihad’s centrifugal whirlwind against McWorld’s centripetal black hole, the outcome is unlikely to be democratic — or so I will argue.

Update: November, 2009

Please visit http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/199203/barber to read the rest of the article.

Update: July 16, 2005.

The remainder of the article has the following sub-headings:

  1. McWorld, or the Globalization of Politics
    • The Market Imperative
    • The Resource Imperative
    • The Information-Technology Imperative
    • The Ecological Imperative
  2. Jihad, or the Lebanonization of the World
  3. The Darkening Future of Democracy
  4. The Confederal Option

Atlantic Monthly recently made their articles available on a paid subscription-only basis. As a result, this article is no longer freely available on the web at all, and they have asked me to accordingly remove the full article, and just leave the introduction section. Please visit the above link if you wish to see the original article (or to suggest to them to make at least this one article available on line for free!).

Benjamin R. Barber is Whitman Professor of Political Science and director of the Whitman Center at Rutgers University and the author of many books including Strong Democracy (1984), An Aristocracy of Everyone (1992), and Jihad Versus McWorld (Times Books, 1995)

©, 1992, Benjamin R. Barber. All rights reserved.

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  • Posted: Saturday, September 14, 2002
  • Last Updated: Saturday, July 16, 2005

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