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RECONCEIVING THE GLOBALIZATION PARADOX

The increasing appeal for sovereignty is perhaps not surprising in light of the perceived “inevitability” of globalization. In the absence of agency, the desire for it will undoubtedly grow. This dynamic, nevertheless, opens new ways to conceive of the tension-filled and paradoxical character of contemporary globalization. It is one where the longing for freedom and collective self-determination are transformed into a call for greater sovereign power.

Traditionally, the contradictions of globalization are phrased rather differently. In fact, in the past they were often ignored all together. Marketization was a cure-all for the world’s economic underdevelopment and political tyranny. It would provide not only for material growth but also liberal democracy across the globe. Yet the realities of the twenty- first century have severely tested this rosy picture of corporate globalization. The 2008 financial crisis dramatically challenged the narrative linking international free markets and privatization policies with mass economic prosperity or security. No longer was it possible to simply spout romanticized rhetoric of the benefits of global capitalism.

Politically, the nation-state and national rule was viewed as progressively disintegrating as a result of this new economic world order. As Sassen (1996: 33-4) observed even in the 1990s:

economic globalization has contributed to the denationalizing of national territory ... sovereignty, until now largely concentrated in the national state, had become somewhat decentered; there are other locations for the particular form of power and legitimacy we call sovereignty; now it is also located in supranational organizations like the European Economic Union, the new emergent transnational legal regime, and international covenants proclaiming the universality of human rights. All of these constrain the autonomy of any state operating under the rule of law . the processes of economic globalization have played a critical role in these developments.

Just as significantly, the dream of the universal ascent of liberal democracy was crumbling in light of continued authoritarianism and illiberal- ism in states both formally democratic and dictatorial. The “inevitability” of globalization has, in turn, produced distinctive and enhanced desires for a sovereignty that appears to be increasingly lost.

Emerging from these new challenges, Rodrik (2011) introduced the “globalization paradox.” At its crux, he argued that corporate globalization simply could not co-exist with nationalism or democracy. He notes: “The intellectual consensus that sustains our current model of globalization had already begun to evaporate before the world economy became engulfed in the great financial crisis of 2008. Today the selfassured attitude of globalization’s cheerleaders has all but disappeared, replaced by doubts, questions and skepticism” (ibid.: xvi-xvii). Speaking with the fervor of a former true believer, he argues that there now exists a fundamental “trilema” at the core of globalization - whereby it is currently impossible to “simultaneously pursue democracy, national self-determination and economic globalization.”

This reading highlights, at the very least, a number of certain contradictory features of present-day globalization. Notably, while it literally refers to something geographic in character - the “globe” - it is not always clear where globalization is occurring or where exactly its power lies. Kelly observes “the popularity of globalization as a concept is to be found in its own global circulation as an idea - a way of constructing a particular geography of the world” (Kelly, 1999: 380). The geography of globalization is, in this sense, quite ill-defined. On the one hand, it appears to be an all-pervasive force for guiding and transforming social relations. On the other, it seems to be devoid of any specific cultural foundations or context. Importantly, it locates individuals concretely within global economic processes but leaves them progressively feeling as if they have no concrete or unique place in this changing capitalist world, particularly as previous identifications, such as with their nation, appear to be rapidly disintegrating due to the inevitable onslaught of globalization.

It is this “decenteredness” that defines modern politics in the age of corporate globalization. The deterioration of “national selfdetermination” and the pining for “democracy” put in sharp relief shared broader concerns over the rise of an international free market that is at once “everywhere” but is increasingly leaving individuals feeling as if they exist “nowhere” - taking away their previous social geographies and groundedness as a social subject. In turn, this creates a fresh and impassioned longing for such an identity, a renewal of one’s traditional and secure sense of self. Benjamin Barber (1992: 53) refers to this as the conflict of “Jihad vs. McWorld”:

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.

However, examining globalization as a fantasy, its geography begins to become better illuminated. It is precisely in its contradictory state of being “everywhere” and “nowhere” at once that makes it so politically durable and vital. This contradiction produces the ground for an affective discourse whereby international processes can be made palatable to local conditions. To this extent, Rosamond (1999: 657) argues “that the deployment of ideas about globalization has been central to the development of a particular notion of European identity among elite policy actors.” In this respect, the very frustration over the seemingly amorphous and universal nature of globalization permits for the emergence of new custom made “localized” fantasies of corporate globalization.

Structurally, this echoes Naisbitt’s (1994) early identification of a “global paradox” in which “the bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players” (ibid.: 12). He argues that the greater the international market expands, the stronger “localized” actors - such as indigenous entrepreneurs and confederations of corporate networks - will become. He prophesized that “economies of scale are giving way to economies of scope, finding the right size for synergy, market flexibility, and above all, speed” (ibid.: 14). While this prediction has not necessarily been completely borne out by contemporary developments, it does point to the continuing longing to combine global capitalism with local control and innovation. The paradox Naisbitt refers to has perhaps ironically revived the political and economic national power found in the “continuing purchase and relevance of nation-state institutions to shape and define the regulatory context for these ‘local wonders’” (Gertler, 1997: 24).

There is a similar dynamic at work related to time and corporate globalization. The utopian justifications of international marketization continually place its value in the future. To reiterate a previous point made above, present concerns over inequality and material conditions for the majority of the world’s population are pushed aside in favor of idealized claims about the prosperity capitalism will soon provide. Globalization is therefore happening “anytime and no-time.” Again though, it is this tension in its temporality that creates fertile soil for globalization’s mass appeal. The forward-looking character of this discourse renders it easily adaptable to individual and collective desires for future prosperity. As with localization, it provides the sturdy foundations for constructing an affective discourse tailored to the culturally specific desires of a wide range of individuals and contexts. In this regard, there is not one but many co-existing “futures” of globalization.

Reflected, in turn, is the deeper paradox of twenty-first century global capitalism. The more foreign and alienating corporate globalization appears to individuals and communities, the more they seek to “make it their own.” In this respect, the particularist visions of marketization provide individuals with an ontological security that universalist discourses fail to do. Accordingly, the paradox of globalization is not that it destroys nations but that it enhances our subjective attachment to them. Established values of national sovereignty dovetail almost perfectly with these localized fantasies of modern capitalism. They represent a desire to “rule” globalization and not be “ruled by it.” To craft it to the specific wishes of those it is affecting rather than subject them to its capricious “one size fits all” agenda. If it is the global aspect of corporate globalization that is “subjecting” present-day individuals, it is the possibility for it to be made local that ironically produces inspired subjects of globalization. And it is upon these foundations, the combining of the economic inevitability of capitalism and the desire for political sovereignty, that authoritarian globalization is born and thrives.

 
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