Furthest Right

On the genealogy of globalization (Claude Karnoouh)

Because of its very essence, modern culture is destined to become a global monoculture. (2)

The word globalization comes from “globe,” and the verb “globalize” means to turn into a globe or, metaphorically, to become similar to a globe. Here, the globe in question is the earth. Constructed scientifically and ascertained by experience, it is hardly possible for man to change the image of the earth’s shape. In fact, globalize means to build an image of the integration of things produced by man that is closer to the geographic reality of the ground, which he now completely masters. If the globe was represented as an analogical image of the earth before any verification (i.e., a representation unrelated to direct human experiences, except for those of people who had gone around the world), it is because it had been conceived by astronomers using the technical inventions that made possible transcontinental navigation. Thus, the first globes appeared during the last decades of the 15th century, before the discovery of America, as documented by a globe with an admittedly imaginary outline of continents made in Italy before Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

Only Westerners have represented the earth in the form of a globe–as a continuous field, where navigation proved to be unifiable. So the earth became the stage where men, gradually unified by Europeans, would play their future. The world leaned toward one single whole interpreted as the ontological basis and the goal, the primary principle and the final end of the upcoming modernity. In 1492, the step that allowed Westerners to set foot on an unknown continent–at that time mistaken for another one–was enough to discover people just as unknown, with strange customs (at the time European doxa called them monstrous), and to grasp their radical difference. Thus, the Western appropriation of the world goes from the theoretical hypothesis of a representation of reality to the reality of an almost daily practice. In other words, slowly, but irreversibly, a new history appears: the history of a completely integrated new world.

America was unknown to Westerners, but the various peoples who lived there knew very well its wide-open spaces, its islands, its forests. While Westerners were discovering the New World, Indians did not concern themselves with discovering Europe. Coming to America, occupying it, plundering it, subjugating its inhabitants and destroying them, importing slaves from Africa on a large scale, is obvious proof of Western determination, but also of its violence and brutality toward a world characterized by irreconcilable cultural differences. (3) Beginning with a self-referential extension, the West went beyond itself in order to place everything at its disposal, and ended up denying radical differences. In less abstract terms, this is called colonialism. The current debates about colonialism, followed by great mea culpas, by exhibitionist repentances, are ultimately nothing but ridiculous shows for illiterate people. As long as everything is not totalized, as long as pockets of resistance remain, especially in places where resources appeal to the Western world, colonialism persists. It merely acquires more sophisticated forms and uses increasingly radical means. Above all, the West has also learned to conceal it from its own people, with humanitarian rhetoric, pretending to fight international terrorism with military interventions legitimated in the name of human rights.

These conquests and expansions ushered in a totally new beginning. In Greek, one would have said archein. In other words, the Western world literally entered a new era and began a new history–one already prefigured by a new metaphysical concept of the world whose spherical character of the planet allowed human domination without any goal other than itself. The world had renewed itself. The “discovery” of America prepared it as an object of calculation in what became mathematical physics a century later. Whether religious, political, or economic, the Western world gave these new developments an ontological foundation it called Being, whose effects appeared as universal values. This way of thinking can be translated as follows: what is valid here is valid everywhere, for everyone and forever. (4) This is a draft of the metaphysical foundation of that era: the Western eidos of modernity perfectly embodied in the image of the earth as a globe.

That is why “globalization” expresses nothing but the fulfillment of that eidos. This took five centuries to realize by sword and blood, the cross, the Army and the Church, torture (despite the debate of Seville and the recognition of the Indians’ humanity), the introduction of slavery, mercantile capitalism, etc. These milestones are the indelible hallmarks of the unfolding of “globalization.” History as the possibility of the coming of this epoch follows the totalization implied by that eidos, which will produce so many specific stories mentioned later in the claims of historical “sciences”–the story of this or that, as almost infinite variations of the evolution of the same arche.

This move is but one of the founding moments of modernity, of a “… certain sense of Being. This alone marks the era in the fullest sense of the word. It means the unity of a new determination of the world and of an equally new understanding of what it means to be a man. All knowledge, practices, and art receive completely new form.” (5) Some will question the use of only two words, eidos and arche. The question could be rephrased: “Why is it that only West Europeans have been driven by knowledge, (6) and not by the need to survive, that is to say, theoretically, beyond the boundaries of what used to be their original cultural roots?”

Neither the Greeks nor the Romans (not to mention the Chinese (7)) reached out for a world beyond their direct experience of open space on firm land. The Greeks, dispersed all over the Mediterranean and on the Black Sea coasts (Magna Grecia), united culturally, religiously, and mainly linguistically, and exhausted themselves in endless wars between city-states. Outside of the sovereign territory of its city, a Greek was no longer a citizen: he was either a merchant or a warrior, or both. As for the Romans, they built a Republic, followed by a centralized empire based on a body of laws, but ended up succumbing to the barbarians, for whom the empire, after a few centuries of constant expansion of Roman citizenship, no longer had the sacred meaning it had for those who still thought of themselves as the heirs of the Republic. (8)

But, then, who are the Westerners? (9) Despite all academic gymnastics seeking to establish a direct affiliation, Westerners are not the heirs of the Greeks or the Romans–metaphysically, politically, or ethically. They are the products of a strange conjunction of a pre-modern Europe that slowly developed after the fall of the Roman Empire and several centuries of chaos, of small principalities, of often divided empires. After the 10th century, however, there was the growth of a new political and economic system called feudalism, guaranteed by a new ontotheological policy (political Augustinism), which two centuries later, with the help of Aristotle’s logic, developed into Aquinas’ political theology. Nevertheless, what at the time appeared to be another possible future was a new form of socialization and of state, the medieval city, geared to commercial activity and production: Venice after the 11th century, Genoa and Florence from the 12th century on, then the cities of the Hanseatic League in the 13th century, etc. In these cities, exchanges are already seen in terms of a world known in its entirety. They invented and improved the means of transcontinental navigation, cartography, the representation of the earth, and the tools of modern accounting. In short, commercial cities emerged at the fringe of an eminently rural and self-sufficient feudalism in which production and exchange spread under the influence of the same representations. This type of exchange has a generic name: capitalism–the investment by an individual or a group of individuals in order to collect the same capital plus a fraction more, proportional to the original investment.

Here, it is not necessary to develop Marx’ typically Hegelian illusions about primitive accumulation or the Weberian mythology of the Protestant ethic. It suffices to emphasize that, in these places, something completely new emerged from four centuries of ruins and barbaric anarchy following the fall of the Roman Empire: “feudalism, its decentralization and fragmentation of political power, its economy based on rural life and often barter. On the fringe of this dominant feudalism something new came into being: another way of building, living, producing, exchanging, organizing space and social relations, eating, dressing–in short, other customs, other ways of looking at the world and, last but not least, another way of learning. “What came into being at the beginning of the 12th century was the social and political life of Venice, with its arsenal, where the quest for practical knowledge and permanent experimentation geared toward efficiency (the experimentum),” (10) would be quickly supplemented by theoretical research. It was the synergy between theoretical knowledge, experimentation, and their instrumentalization by commerce as the totality of the world, as well as the manufacturing of new weapons (11) which created that eidos of externalization, that uprooting from customs, that permanent tension to go beyond the limit–what could be called the spirit of adventure, risk-taking, the attraction for the leap into the unknown.

If the word “experiment” is taken apart, its prefix experi- breaks down into two parts: the Latin ex- (outside of, beyond) and the Greek peri (the perimeter, the limit, the sacred space reserved for people in their own domain). Then, experi denotes going beyond the limits of what is familiar (neighborhood, cultural places). In ancient European traditions, the most sophisticated political perimeter was that of the polls (and surrounding villages), in the middle of which stood the agora. Beginning in the Late Middle Ages, this sacred space is represented by the town, its castle, and its chapel, which provided everyone with the visible signs of belonging–that irreducible identity typical of a location (“heimat,” “country,” or “paese”) where everyone understood everyone else through a common language, since there is no identity unless people express themselves through a common language or dialect. Actually, one only has to look at everyday life to notice that this is the age of permanent movement, that the planet is definitely losing the founding relation between city and country, which has characterized all great civilizations since Sumer, in order to plunge into an openness which could be described as a Brownian movement.

Understanding the origin of this externalization of the post-Roman Western World (this going beyond oneself as the root of oneself) is not an easy matter. As any inaugural movement ready to launch a new era (in Heidegger’s words, a new era of Being), it resorted to a formidable complexity, if the story is not simplified in terms of an unequivocal (even if dialecticized) dynamic of cause and effect projected backward from today’s “normality” to an actually always uncertain origin. Here are a few clues, already exploited both by philosophers of history and by intellectual historians, which one should continue to question.

1) Christianity:

a) Augustinian Christianity and the role of free-will, which generates the concept of individual autonomy

b) The desacralization of the nature of the Greek physis, where man as a living being coexists with animals in his “natural” space (the Polis). According to the Bible, this physis, which refers to all the places where gods, demigods, heroes, nymphs, and satyrs live, is a nature separate from man, who can therefore exploit it as he wishes. Consequently, the valorization of labor is considered a saving goal so that, even if it took a few centuries, it meant the end of slavery in Western Europe.

2) The transcendent universalism of the prevailing Catholic power cannot be omitted. Besides the Crusades, whose only goal was to reconquer the well-known space of the Holy Land, it is the very sacred character of the city that underwent a transformation. Not only is that which is inside the walls sacred, but so is the very center where the cathedral and the basilica were located. The cathedral or the basilica (duomo) were replicated from city to city, ideally ad infinitum, every time a city was founded or reconquered from various infidels. Of course, the cathedral or the basilica was the religious center. It did give the city its metaphysical identity, all the more so as its Gothic architecture elevated it far above the surrounding houses. But it also became very quickly a secular center where trade guilds met to discuss their particular problems. Moreover, at the beginning of the 14th century, it became the place where time was projected all over town. It was a time equal for all: the prince, the courtier, the clerk, the banker, the draper, the innkeeper, the journeyman, and the apprentice–a secularized time infinitely divisible, posted on the clock perched on top of its towers. (12) It had nothing in common with the founding of a new Greek city through emigration, which needed a new law (nomos) and eventually instituted a new citizenship.

3) During its expansion, Christianity’s transcendent universalism, especially that of Roman Catholicism, sought to seize against their will all the people it encountered (see the christianization of Germany, and of the Baltic countries of Northern Europe). Being universal, Christianity could include all people, unless one decreed that “savages” were not human, but animals, as was almost the case for Central American Indians before Las Casas convincingly argued for their humanity. Yet, this notion remained widespread for a long time among Anglo-Saxons in regard to North American Indians, Australian and Tasmanian aborigines.

4) As already mentioned, for several centuries barbaric anarchy led to a complete decentralization of power. The king or the emperor were absolute rulers of nothing more than their own fief, which exemplifies perfectly the political system called feudalism.

5) Because of that anarchy, and despite Rome’s effort, religious power, both spiritual and temporal, was challenged for several centuries by royal or imperial power. 1


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