While globalization may be the hot topic of the day, most of what is written about it lacks historic perspective. As a result most attention is given to economic drivers. Yet there is more to globalization.
No author better exemplifies the thinking that globalization appeared from nowhere sometime during 1989 than New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman. In his first book on globalization, the Olive Tree and the Lexus, published in 1999, he starts with the telling chapter titled “The World is Ten Years Old.” It is the same with his follow-up book the World is Flat; which is another breathless account of globalization, which limits itself to events since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Globalization is much older, and can be traced back at least to ancient Greece. By not placing globalization in its historic context, Friedman robs it of its rich tradition.
For Friedman, globalization is all about the rise of the Internet, the clever entrepreneurs that bestride world markets, the power of technologies to transform the world and the even greater power of borderless money to dictate how the world should be ruled.
While all these drivers certainly exist, commentators like Friedman have given little thought into what globalization means beyond the narrow world of markets or waxing lyrical about the power of the Internet. If there is a hero of Friedman’s account, it is Homo Globalus Economicus, which some call Davos Man, who have been able to exploit economic and technological opportunities to create the world anew.
The first globalist we know of was Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope in fourth century B.C., who, when asked where he belonged, replied “I am a citizen of the world.” This statement had nothing to do with economics or markets. In fact, Diogenes eschewed worldly goods. Stoics who followed Diogenes believed that human beings are part of two communities: the city-state or nation where they were born and the community of humanity.
Several hundred years later, another famous globalist emerged named Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, in the second century A.D. A Stoic philosopher and a follower of Diogenes, Marcus Aurelius struggled long and hard with a very modern problem. How could he reconcile his citizenship of the world with his obligations to the Roman people.
The reason, in respect of which we are rational beings, is common: if this is so, common also is the reason which commands us what to do, and what not to do; if this is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are fellow citizens; if this is so we are members of some political community; if this is so the world is in a manner estate … My nature is rational and social; and my city in my country, so far as I am Antonius, is Rome; but so far as I am a man, it is the world.
Here we have the major strand that has sustained globalists for the past two millennia. At its heart, globalization is a humanist philosophy in which individuals identify with other members of humanity, wherever they may be.
Monotheist religions (with the notable exception of Judaism) also cross tribal and national boundaries to declare a universal spiritual community. Globalization was approached from a different direction during the Enlightenment, as intellectuals were drawn to one another, without regard for borders. One of them, Immanuel Kant, believed that globalizations could create a “perpetual peace”. As he wrote in 1795:
Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a law of world citizenship is no high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a supplement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, indispensable for the maintenance of the public human rights and hence also perpetual peace.
Globalism also sustained those supporting universal principles of liberty. For example, eighteenth century revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote in Rights of Man, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
If anything, the economic thread in global is relatively new. And while it does not necessarily conflict the earlier humanist traditions, many of its adherents are oblivious of their rich inheritance.