Charles Lindholm and José Pedro Zúquete
The Struggle for the World:
Liberation Movements for the 21st Century
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010
The single greatest force shaping our age is unquestionably that of globalization.
Based on the transnationalization of American capital and the worldwide imposition of American market relations, combined with new technologies and open borders, globalization has not only reshaped the world’s national economies, it’s provoked a dizzy array of oppositional movements, on the right and the left, that, despite their divergent ideologies and goals, seek to defend native or traditional identities from the market’s ethnocidal effects.
In the vast literature on globalization and its various antiglobalist movements, Charles Lindholm’s and José Pedro Zúquete’s The Struggle for the World is the first to look beyond the specific political designations of these different antiglobalist tendencies to emphasize the common redemptive, identitarian, and populist character they share.
The “left wing, right wing, and no wing” politics of these antiglobalists are by no means dismissed, only subordinated to what Lindholm and Zúquete see as their more prominent redemptive dimension. In this spirit, they refer to them as “aurora movements,” promising a liberating dawn from the nihilistic darkness that comes with the universalization of neoliberal market forms.
Focusing on the way antiglobalists imagine salvation from neoliberalism’s alleged evils, the authors refrain from judging the morality or validity of the different movements they examine — endeavoring, instead, to grasp the similarities “uniting” them.
They abstain thus from the present liberal consensus, which holds that history has come to an end and that the great ideological battles of the past have given way now to an order based entirely on the technoeconomic imperatives specific to the new global market system.
The result of this ideologically neutral approach is a work surprisingly impartial and sympathetic in its examination of European, Islamic, and Latin American antiliberalism.
Yet, at first glance, Mexico’s Zapartistas, Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, Alain de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite, Umberto Bossi’s Northern League, the incumbent governments of Bolivia and Venezuela, and European proponents of Slow Food and Slow Life appear to share very little other than their common opposition to globalism’s “mirage of progress.”
Lindholm and Zúquete (one an American anthropologist, the other a Portuguese political scientist) claim, though, that many antiglobalist movements, especially in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, “share a great deal structurally, ideologically, and experientially,” as they struggle, each in their own way, to redeem a world in ruins.
The two authors accordingly stress that these oppositional movements do not simply resist the destructurating onslaught of global capital.
Since “the global imaginary [has] become predominant, linking oppositional forces everywhere,” they claim antiglobal oppositionalists have adopted a grand narrative based on “a common ethical core and a common mental map.” For the “discourses, beliefs, and motives” of jihadists, Bolivarian revolutionaries, European new rightists, European national-populists, and European life-style rebels are strikingly similar in seeking to inaugurate the dawn of a new age — defined in opposition to global liberalism.
For all these antiglobalists, the transnational power elites (led by the United States) have shifted power away from the nation to multinational corporations, detached in loyalty from any culture or people, as they promote “hypergrowth, environmental exploitation, the privatization of public services, homogenization, consumerism, deregulation, corporate concentration,” etc.
The consequence is a world order (whose “divinities are currency, market, and capital, [whose] church is the stock market, and [whose] holy office is the IMF and WTO”) that seeks to turn everything into a commodity, as it “robs our lives of meaning [and sells] it back to us in the form of things.”
As the most transcendent values are compelled to prostrate themselves before the interests of capital, the global system disenchants the world — generating the discontent and alienation animating the antiglobal resistance.
The power of money and markets, this resistance sees, is waging a scorched-earth campaign on humanity, as every country and every people are assaulted by “the American way of life,” whose suburban bourgeois principles aspire to universality.
In their struggle for the world, antiglobalists prophesy both doom and rebirth.
On the one hand, the Armies of the Night — the darkening forces of globalist homogenization, disenchantment, and debasement — are depicted as an “evil” — or, in political terms, as a life-threatening enemy. Globalization, they claim, disrupts the equilibrium between humanity, society, and nature, stultifying man, emptying his world of meaning, and leaving him indifferent to the most important things.
In opposing a global order governed by a soulless market, these antiglobalists attempt, as a counter measure, to transcend its individualism, consumerism, and instrumental rationalism by reviving pre-modern values and institutions that challenge the reigning neoliberal consensus.
As one Zapartista manifesto puts it: “If the world does not have a place for us, then another world must be made. . . . What is missing is yet to come.”
At the same time, antiglobalists endeavor to revive threatened native or traditional identities, as they deconstruct modernist assaults on local culture that parade under the banner of progress and enlightenment. They privilege in this way their own authenticity and extol alternative, usually indigenous and traditional, forms of community and meaning rooted in archaic notions adapted to the challenges of the future. Even when seeking a return to specific communal ideals, these local struggles see themselves as engaging not just Amerindians or Muslims or Europeans, but all humanity — the world in effect.
Globalization, the authors conclude, may destroy national differences, but so too does resistance to globalization. The resistance’s principle, accordingly, is: “Nationalists of all countries, unite!” — to redeem “the world from the evils of globalization.”
If one accepts, with Lindholm and Zúquete, that a meaningful number of antiglobalization movements share a similar revolutionary-utopian narrative, the question then arises as to what these similarities might imply.
The first implication, in my view, affects globalist ideology — that is, the recognition that globalism is itself an ideology and not some historical inevitability.
As Carl Schmitt, among others, notes, liberalism is fundamentally antipolitical. Just as Cold War liberals tried to argue the “end of ideology” in the 1950s, neoliberal globalists since the Soviet collapse have argued that we today, following Fukuyama, have reached the end of history, where “worldwide ideological struggle that calls forth daring, courage, imagination and idealism” has become a thing of the past, to be replaced by the technoeconomic calculous of liberal-market societies, conceived as the culmination of the human development.
In a word, liberal “endism” holds that there is no positive alternative to the status quo.
The strident ideologies and ideas of liberalism’s opponents have already dislodged this totalitarian fabrication — as The Struggle for the World, respectable university press publication that it is, testifies.
They also highlight globalization’s distinct ideological nature, as they contest its notion of history’s closure.
A second, related implication touches on the increasing dubiousness of right-left categories. These illusive designations allegedly defining the political antipodes of modernity have never meant much (see, e.g., the work of Marc Crapez) and have usually obscured more than they revealed.
Given the antiglobalists’ ideological diversity, right and left designations tell us far less about the major political struggles of our age than do categories like “globalist” and “antiglobalist,” “liberal” and “antiliberal,” “cosmopolitan” and “nationalist.”
Future political struggles seem likely, thus, to play out less and less along modernity’s left-right axis — and more and more in terms of a postmodern dialectic, in which universalism opposes and is opposed by particularism.
A third possible implication of Lindholm/Zúquete’s argument speaks to the fate of liberalism itself. Much of modern history follows the clash between the modernizing forces of liberalism and the conservative ones of antiliberalism. That the globalist agenda has now seized power nearly everywhere means that the “struggle for the world” has become largely a struggle about liberalism.
Given also that liberalism (or neoliberalism) ideologically undergirds the world system and that this system has been on life-support since at least late 2008, it seems not unreasonable to suspect that the fate of liberalism and globalism are themselves now linked and that we may be approaching another axial age in which the established liberal ideologies and systems are forced to give way to the insurgence of new ones.
But perhaps the cruelest implication of all is the dilemma Lindholm/Zuqúete’s argument poses to US rightists. For European new rightists, Islamic jihadists, and Bolivian revolutionaries alike, globalization is a form not only of liberalization but of “Americanization.”
And there’s no denying the justice of seeing the struggle against America as the main front in the worldwide antiglobalist struggle: for the United States was not just the world’s first and foremost liberal state, it is the principal architect of the present global system.
At the same time, it’s also the case that native Americans — i.e., New World Europeans — have themselves fallen victim to what now goes for “Americanism” — in the form of unprotected borders, Third World colonization, de-industrialization, political correctness, multiculturalism, creedal identities, anti-Christianism, the media’s on-going spiritual colonization — and all the other degradations distinct to our age.
One wonders, then, if a right worthy of the designation will ever manage to intersect those Americans willing to fight “Americanism” — and its shadow-casting Armies — in the name of some suppressed antiliberal impulse in the country’s European heritage.
An earlier version of this essay was published at The Occidental Observer, June 16, 2010