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Being Wary of Globalization

By July 26, 2000 No Comments

Conspiracy theorists are forever barking up the wrong tree. Human beings are imperfect, and so are their institutions. When left to our own devices, the only law that governs our affairs is Murphy’s Law – that which can go wrong, will go wrong.

It is a mistake to imagine that a group of people could secretly design a large and complex plan, and then slowly and subtly guide a large group of different peoples in a particular direction. Such things are patently impossible. However, a large group of connected and influential people can slowly work towards a particular end for years, if they share common interests and network with each other. This is different from conspiracy in that the elements of secrecy and design are absent – replaced by a loose form of network and individual approaches towards a common vision.

There is a military analogy that might explain this process. The Germans, who well understood Clausewitz’s fog-of-war, had a concept called Auftragstaktik. The idea is that all elements work towards a common goal in their own way. When an individual soldier, for example, got bogged down and could not reach his commander, he then changed the plan to accomplish the collective mission in an individual way. Everyone, from privates to colonels understood the concept and assiduously practiced it. In the Second World War, much of the excellence of German Arms (which was outstanding, despite the execrable purposes for which they fought) was due to this concept.

Auftragstaktik is a ready-made tactic for activists of all stripes. Every activist in the network knows what the objective is, and all can work together in a coordinated effort at times. However, when opposition becomes strong, or if the internal situation prevents close cooperation, then each group continues to look for their own way to meet their ends. Moreover, like infantrymen threading their way into a difficult objective, when a weakness or effective tactic is found, then all the rest follow suit.

Non-activists often underestimate the determination and ingenuity of seasoned activists campaigners. When most of us get a bee under our bonnet, we take a few actions until the buzzing sound dies away and then return to our normal lives. An activist will decide the world is a better place without bees (or bonnets) and will spend decades working on their elimination.

Those who flock to UN conferences, Global forums and otherwise support international structures over the Nation State are not engaged in a massive conspiracy to strip us of our rights. Nor are those promoting the Globalization of industry and business all aquiver to turn everyone of the rest of us into penniless peons. These might be the logical ends for many of us in their ideal world (according to some people’s logic anyway), but it is not a goal that they are consciously working towards.

Lest we forget, the modern impulse towards globalization might be reasonably traced to the Atlantic Charter. This document was the outcome of the Wartime meeting between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt off Newfoundland in August 1941. The two men arrived by warships while the Second World War was still going Hitler’s way. The conference mapped out the following points and war-aims for the Allies:

  • That neither nation sought any kind of aggrandizement;
  • Nor that either nation desired territorial changes without the freely expressed agreement of the peoples concerned;
  • The right of all peoples to choose their own governments was to be respected, and that self-government would be returned to those who had been deprived of it;
  • That the two powers would work to give all nations, ‘victor and vanquished’, equality of access to the world’s trade and raw materials needed for prosperity;
  • That both countries supported the collaboration of all nations in the economic field, with an eye to securing improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security for all peoples;
  • After the war, that both nations would work to establish a lasting peace and let more countries and people live in safety;
  • To preserve the freedom of the High Seas;
  • To get all nations to renounce force as the first means of resolving differences.

The Atlantic Charter became the foundation for the UN and for most of the Post-War World. Churchill (who always had a particularly keen eye for the future) and Roosevelt planned well, and the world assuredly has become a safer and better place than it was. It is still imperfect and the pace of our progress might be described as three steps forward, two steps back – but the ends that the two wartime leaders envisioned are still worth pursuing and are still being pursued.

However, Murphy’s Law being what it is, perhaps the many and varied Anti-Globalists do have one point: Success attracts the otherwise unsuccessful, who then seek to work it to their own ends. Consider, for example, any political party or set of senior executives that have been in power for too long. They almost invariably grow stale, arrogant and preoccupied with process and appearance.

The dynamism unleashed by the victorious Western powers in the aftermath of the Second World War went a long way to achieving the ends envisioned by Churchill and Roosevelt. However, the success became limited because those with different ambitions entered into the emerging machinery. One need only think of the clutter of parasites that clogged up UNESCO in the 1970s, or some of the first Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that were nothing but ventriloquist’s dummies for the Soviet Union. For a Canadian example, one might compare the first-rate diplomats and civil servants of the immediate post-war era to their lesser successors today.

The process of Globalization unleashed by two leaders who were guiding the democracies through the second global conflagration in 25 years has largely worked… but perhaps the process is now being steered by people with much narrower and less generous vision.

For a start, Western elites (as defined by the late Christopher Lasch, but also by John Ralston Saul) seem pre-occupied by globalization and tend to inhabit a world of policy where the process is much more advanced than it is for the rest of us. They reside in a world isolated from the hard reality of grim industrial neighborhoods, or remain out of touch with the everyday preoccupations of other – more ordinary – people. A career Cabinet Minister, captain of industry or a habitué of UN conferences seldom interact with us ordinary folk… and while familiarity may breed contempt, so does distance.

The world that Churchill and Roosevelt envisioned in August 1941 is the world that most of us want. For the most part, it is the world that we have lived in and seen constantly improved with growing prosperity and freedom. But our embrace of globalization does not mean that we have given our blind trust to those who further it now.

We want responsible government – and that means a set of governors that we can get our hands on; not an abstracted semi-anonymous collection of NGOs operating with little fanfare. We do not want our governments to fund a few select special interest campaigns to represent their idea of Canadians interests at international forums without our consent. By way of special interests one might include both environmentalists and industrialists, or laisse faire economists and human-rights activists with equal wariness. For the most part, most ordinary citizens do not know who these activists are, and would not trust them if they did.

We do not want the advance of globalization to provide a level of authority that overarches the nation-state. Churchill and Roosevelt understood that, their heirs seem to be failing them… and us.

Globalization is creating a new world, and a generally more decent one. Yet it would be a stark betrayal of entire generations, if a small elite undermines or subverts the will of the democratic peoples. Churchill and Roosevelt (who represented these peoples) sought to build a strong foundation, but if shoddy and inept elitists finish their task, then all might come to naught.

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