Globalization, its nature and misconceptions

Chris Chan

Robert Gilpin, Eisenhower Professor of Public and International Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University, gave the fourth Povolny lecture of the 2002 season on Jan. 22. Mr. Gilpin has ties to Lawrence University—his wife, Jean, was born and raised in Appleton, and both of her parents were Lawrence professors. Gilpin has won the Woodrow Wilson Book Prize, is an expert on the United States Navy, and his scholarly works have been translated into many languages.

Gilpin discussed the nature of globalization. Some think of globalization as the increasing social and economic integration of the world. Others define it as a major transformation in human history. Still others take a position between these two extremes.

Gilpin explained that with the end of the Cold War and the apparent triumph of capitalism, globalist theory became very popular. This outlook changed with the Nov. 1999 riots in Seattle protesting globalization, with rioters asserting that the new international scene promotes inequality, Western dominance, exploitation, and human rights abuses. Gilpin believes that these protests “dented, but did not destroy people’s faith in globalization.”

Criticizing the once-popular theory of “endism,” the post-Cold War belief that a radically altered historical era had emerged, Gilpin asserted that the tragedy of Sept. 11 falsified this view. Many Western thinkers had been convinced for years that the West had become an unstoppable driving force for the world. Most American globalists are unaware that most peoples of the world (including many Europeans) believe that globalization is a synonym for Americanization. There is no clear answer for why Sept. 11 happened, but several partial explanations include the globalist trend towards secularization.

“Religion is fundamental to human existence,” Gilpin asserts. Gilpin is skeptical of the popular “clash of civilizations” thesis, but he is more accepting of the possibility that the terrorists retaliated against America for U.S. support of Israel.

Gilpin discussed the role of Islam in the modern world. Colonialism left a nasty scar on much of the Islamic world, and many people blame the “secular and corrupt United States” for numerous problems. Islam experienced a revival in the 1960s and 70s, which was partially a response to the foundation of Israel.

According to Gilpin, there is an “intra-Islamic war for the hearts and minds of Muslims.” Muslim elitists and radical Islamics are trying to define the true nature of Islam for millions of believers. Osama bin Laden is one such influencer. A particularly dangerous situation for the United States is if oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia were taken over by groups hostile to the United States. “Our principle defense for a situation like that is conservation,” said Gilpin.

Globalists were right about one prediction, claims Gilpin. The world is very different from what it was two decades ago—it is far more dangerous. Many people view the United States as the principal source of aggression in the world. Tensions are high in many areas of the world. Gilpin believes that there are no easy answers to world tensions.

“Many people say we should just talk to bin Laden,” he comments,” but he thinks that we’re infidels who must be destroyed.” Gilpin also wanted to impress that radical, violent Islamists are in a minority. However, the United States needs to alter its foreign policy in order to keep from making new enemies. Too often, the United States thinks that money can buy friends.

Gilpin does not believe that globalization equals Americanization. “The United States needs to be less arrogant and self-righteous,” he says. Only by more thoughtful and intelligent long-term planning can problems be solved. Gilpin finished his lecture by quoting Otto von Bismarck who once commented,”God protects fools, drunks, and the United States”. “I hope God is still on our side,” said Gilpin.