John Ralston Saul, The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World, Penguin Group (Australia), 2005. 309 p
Reviewed by Edmond Nixon, C.Ss.R.
Reading The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World one sees not only the validity in many of the issues raised, but one can actually feel them as well. In fact, you hear many of your own interior voices and questions coming back at you. You remember conversations had in pubs, across dinner tables and over the news maybe ten or twenty years ago. You realize that John Ralston Saul is putting words on many felt and known inconsistencies in the great sweep of political-speak that has dominated the world since 1975 and which still has a hold in present day democracies, even if, since 1995, it is a less believable one.
Saul lifts the lid on the language of globalism and in so doing exposes its thinness, its lack of intellectual rigour, its ultimate failure to take hold. His book situates this lack of intellectual rigour and also the lack of an anchored ethics in the politics of the last quarter century
Quoting from Karl Polanyi’s 1947 Commentary 3, Saul makes the point that “to attempt to apply economic determinism to all human societies is little short of fantastic”. Yet the period 1975 – 1995 was a period when most of the Western democracies tried to do just that, some excessively (New Zealand) others more moderately (Australia).
Saul is a writer with a gift for raising questions. When you read his work you find yourself saying “Yes, these are certainly questions worth raising”. But as you read on you wish the counter argument could be more forcefully put, not only as a way of seeding a deeper debate, but as a way of driving home the main argument he is making. That frustration never quite leaves the reader. It is a matter of “I believe what you are saying from common sense, now tell me why I should believe it from a scientific perspective, whether it be philosophy, statistics, economic theory, ethics, or sociology”. Yet this weakness is also the book’s strength, it is very readable, and its ability to make connections pulls together a web of influences behind what we have come to know as globalism.
Saul’s claim that Globalism is dead smacks of a certainty that resembles the certainty of those who previously proclaimed it lived. The world is more complex than that. Saul gives good reasons for thinking that Globalism has started on a slippery slide to oblivion. Yet daily in the media Australians are still reminded, by politicians and commentators alike, that Globalism is very much alive and will be for years to come. “It is in the national interest”.
The rise of terrorism has amplified the cry of the nation state. This is the same nation state that Globalism believed to be obsolete. The West’s response to terrorism has actually meant a building up of our own and other nation states. Thus the contradiction in political speak whereby governments highlight the nation state for the sake of safety and security, and highlight its demise for the sake of economic growth. Saul gives language to what people intuit around these inconsistencies.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal Saul says “Ideology, like theatre, is dependent on the willing suspension of disbelief. At the core of every ideology lies the worship of a bright new future, with only failure in the immediate past. But once the suspension goes, willingness converts into suspicion - the suspicion of the betrayed. Our brilliant leaders abruptly appear naive, even ridiculous.”
In the contemporary world’s states and churches, in its corridors of power and halls of reason, ideology is very much an overpowering and undermining force. But for those who live in the Spirit of the Nazarene there is also the conviction that humanity’s deepest journey is way beyond what ideology can provide and underneath any power it can wield.
From the thinking of Christian Duquoc we might say that humanity is incapable of achieving a “whole” or “ideology” into which everything will fit. Duquoc suggests that humans best live beyond all fantasies of unity and deal rather with the fragments of life that are our reality. Saul, by lifting the wraps on Globalism, reveals the fragments of the human condition.That is why he can say, “The priorities of citizens and their governments are shifting as the Globalist myth evaporates”.
All in all, The Collapse of Globalism is a good read, and suitable for the beach or the verandah this summer.