[Paleopsych] Sunday Times: Paul Kennedy on The Collapse of Globalism by John Ralston Saul
checker at panix.com
Tue Jun 21 17:00:31 UTC 2005
Paul Kennedy on The Collapse of Globalism by John Ralston Saul
May 22, 2005
Current affairs: The Collapse of Globalism by John Ralston Saul
REVIEWED BY PAUL KENNEDY
THE COLLAPSE OF GLOBALISM: And the Reinvention of the World
by John Ralston Saul
Atlantic £16.99 pp309
Most readers will know the apocryphal Indian story about a group of
blind sages being brought to feel the various parts of an elephant and
then to describe what it is they are feeling. One savant strokes the
elephant's rough leg and declares it must be a tree, another feels the
tail and insists it is a snake, and so on. None of them can comprehend
the totality of the beast.
Most scholars examining today's volatile political and economic
circumstances resemble those India sages in that they -- and I plead
guilty here -- focus upon one particular part of the story and tend to
ignore (or at least downplay) the others. Some assemble facts to prove
that China is an enormous investment opportunity; others contend that
it is a vast and growing military threat. Certain scientists warn us
that we are on the brink of ecological collapse, but their
conservative critics declare the evidence to be too murky to tell.
What is the poor layman to do?
Nowhere does our present intellectual Tower of Babel appear more in
contention and confusion than in regard to the matter of
globalisation. This is no mere academic dogfight, because entire
political parties, indeed whole countries, have seized upon the
question of whether the completely free exchange of goods, capital,
ideas and people is a benefit -- or a deadly threat.
There are few middle-of-the-road voices to be heard here. Egged on,
one suspects, by their publishers, authors participating in this
debate tend to advance a more extreme -- or, shall we say, more
dramatic -- picture of events. Just recently, the foreign-affairs
correspondent of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman, published his
new book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalised World in
the 21st Century. Deeply impressed by the communications revolution
and the free flow of capital, and reinforced by interviews with
high-tech entrepreneurs from Boston to Bangladesh, Friedman argued
that globalisation is intensifying, making societies ever more "flat"
-- that is, conforming more and more to free-market western practices.
This debate is now joined by the Canadian philosopher John Ralston
Saul, with The Collapse of Globalism. Saul has written various books
of fiction as well as non-fiction, and he brings a great breadth of
literary and cultural knowledge to his task. But he has his own axe to
grind in this debate over globalism, and his own arguments to advance.
The reader would be wise to ignore the dust-jacket blurb:
"Globalisation, like many great geopolitical ideologies before it, is
now dead." The author is not that crude. He recognises some of the
trends that Friedman celebrates, that is, that software engineers in
Bangalore and female assembly-workers in a Motorola plant in Thailand
are earning 10 times more than their parents could ever hope to bring
home. Saul knows that there are significant winners in this tale.
But his story is about the losers or, better put, about the backlash
against globalism and globalisation. And he is striving, yearning,
faltering and then rising to find what Hans Kung, the great German
theologian, described as a "global ethic" to help us pick our way
through the debris of the 21st century. The Collapse of Globalism is
an angry and, I think, an unbalanced book, for the same yet opposite
reasons as Friedman's. Each is groping a particular part of our
elephant of globalism. For his part, Saul sees, not the "flattening"
of our world, but the increasing storms and dislocations, and the
increasingly powerful movements and protests against unbridled
capitalism, especially in the developing world. And he means to
frighten the reader, not only to his point of view, but to take
action. This is a sort of manifesto, rather like Rachel Carson's The
Silent Spring, or Donella and Dennis Meadows's Club of Rome report,
The Limits to Growth.
There is much that I like about this indignant approach, and there is
much evidence to support Saul's contention that things are going badly
wrong with our planet, its economic and social systems and its
environment. Should the reader peruse a book such as Dominique
Reperant's wonderful photographic work, The Most Beautiful Villages of
France, he or she would find breathtaking images, but one thing comes
to mind: there are few people, except for the ancient women and
bent-over veterans. The modern world has sucked the populations out of
such rural, pre-industrial and pre-high-tech communes. The same is
true in the broad plains of Nebraska, where only the two cities of
Omaha and Lincoln survive, and where rural folk are resigned to
driving 75 miles to a supermarket. If they can pay for the petrol.
These are not pleasant sights and, so far, only a few regions have
found a way to cope with this implosion. And the Wal-Mart revolution
Meanwhile, far from "old" Europe, the backlash against globalism has
intensified. This is not just in depressed, poverty-stricken countries
in the developing world. One of Saul's more interesting discussions,
in chapter 22, is how New Zealand flipped from being the "model" of
Cobdenite free-market success to a nation riven by economic crisis --
and how it has now begun to recover from that crisis with a return to
a mixed economy, recognising where the state has a role to play in
providing for the basic needs of its citizens. The Adam Smith
societies of the world will go nuts at this. And it is unlikely that
Klaus Schwab and the governors of the World Economic Forum at Davos
will welcome Saul's description of their orchestration of enthusiastic
globalism each year.
But the author's chief indignation is arrayed at what is happening in
the poorer parts of the world today -- malnutrition, Aids, abuse of
human rights, gross distortions of income, dreadful examples of child
labour, widespread ecocide, corrupt governments in cahoots with
fantastically rich multi-national corporations whose fat-cat
executives earn ever-higher bonuses even as they shift their
production facilities to cheap-labour countries and fire their own
workers. It is a sort of old Socialist Workers' guide to the planet.
Anecdote is piled upon anecdote, and statistic upon statistic. It is
like being raked by a full broadside from HMS Victory.
Saul's counterblast to globalisation's cheerleaders is a healthy one.
On the whole, I incline to his worries rather than to "the world is
flat" optimism. There is a lot of evidence that societies old and new,
north and south, are responding with anger to the acquisitiveness of
Wall Street and the cheerful forecasts of the Chicago School of
Economics. But the tone of this book is a little too breathless, it
rushes from one fact to another, and awards itself (especially in the
conclusion) too much importance. This is not the modern-day equivalent
of Keynes's Economic Consequences of the Peace; would that it were.
And it will not sell well in Bangalore.
[The continuation of the article. It was three printed pages in Lynx, but only
one paragraph of text!]
Saul is certainly no fan of the World Economic Forum at Davos, which
this year featured Bono, discussing Africa with Tony Blair and Bill
Gates. "Just as classic plays with kings, virgins, love and betrayal
must have their fool," he sniffs, "so globalisation has Davos."
Paul Kennedy is professor of history at Yale University and the author
of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers and Preparing for the 21st
Century. The Collapse of Globalism is available at the Sunday Times
Books First price of £13.59 plus £2.25 p&p on 0870 165 8585
Ralston Saul's official page as Canada's governor general
Page 1 || Page 2
Print this article Send to a friend Back to top of page
[0,,30572,00.gif] TOOLS & SERVICES
[0,,30572,00.gif] Find a holiday
Search our database of deals on city breaks, flights and late offers
Weekly Travel Bulletin
Register for our pick of the late travel deals and special offers
delivered to your inbox every Thursday
Times Sports Book
Rob Wright's racing update, football bets and special events odds, in
association with Betinternet.com
trans JOB FINDER trans
Search for appointments in: trans
The Times (_)
The Sunday Times (_)
trans FIND YOUR NEXT CAR trans
Search our extensive database of new and used cars from The Times &
Contact our advertising team for advertising and sponsorship in
Times Online, The Times and The Sunday Times.
Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.
This service is provided on Times Newspapers' standard Terms and
To inquire about a licence to reproduce material from The Times, visit
the Syndication website.
More information about the paleopsych