Postglobalization: Six Scenarios

Raffaele Marchetti, Professor of International Relations, LUISS University, Italy, specially for

In the dreams of the most hardliner hyper globalists, the ultimate stage of mankind evolution coincides with a world system that is perfectly integrated in all of its dimensions: a system with a single global market, a single jurisprudence and a single world supreme court, and a single political-institutional system. Analytically, already in 1969 Deutsch held that “societal borders dissolve when there is no more critical reduction in the frequency of social transaction” (Deutsch, 1969, 99). This is the stage that hyper globalists would like to reach. Are we proceeding through this path? The answer is not univocal.

Liberals argue that world integration is progressing gradually but (at least for some) inevitably. Realists maintain that the current phase of integration is subject to future changes that will depend with the international distribution of power. Which one of the two readings is most likely: The liberal interpretation according to which globalization is destined to intensification bringing about benefits and peace for all, or the realist interpretation according to which the current phase of globalization is destined to a stop at certain point in the future and will be followed by a period of serious rivalries for the control of the new world hegemony?

For liberals the world we live in is getting increasingly integrated and this is generating benefits for the whole of humanity in terms, in the ultimate analysis, of the diminution of the likelihood of armed conflicts. Trade, and more generally economic interaction, is continuously growing and with it the irrationality of war in terms of costs/benefits analysis. International institutions, both the classical intergovernmental ones and the hybrid or private ones of governance, are more robust and ubiquitous than ever. The intrinsic mistrust of international affairs would then be diminishing thanks to the repeated interaction within these institutional contexts. Finally, the specific form of democratic government is spreading more and more, and this would lead to a generalized pacification of the international realm, according to the theory of democratic peace.

For realists the state is still important. At least two major interpretation may be identified. Some argue that state still plays a role within the phenomena of globalization. Other see the global transformations as the very product of the governmental action of the great powers. According to the former, the state would keep a significant function in terms of decision and implementation of public policies. National policies would serve precisely to attenuate the effects of integration (a sort of risk insurance). Sovereignty would thus be dispersed on many levels and among many institutions, but would not be lost and citizens would still have in their hands effective tools to influence publicly their own lives. According to the latter more statist position, instead, globalization is just be the product of American hegemony of the last decades (perhaps with a support by European leaders), as much as the period of global integration of the end of the XIX century/beginning of XX century was linked to the hegemonic power of that time, the British empire. Globalization would be a product of hegemony generating benefits also for those states that are ultimately band-wagoning the western leadership. Globalization would then be animated by an open dynamics, which however, precisely for this internal characteristics, would tend towards instability, tensions, conflicts, and ultimately wars due to the ambition of (re-)emerging powers to challenge the hegemonic leadership. This is the story of Germany before WWI and WWII, and this would be, according to some commentators, the destiny of China. Were this interpretation correct, the evidences of the decline of the American power could not but be a prelude to a very worrying future.

In synthesis, in the debate about the future of globalization six scenarios can be detected.

The first scenario, of liberal nature, sees globalization as an unavoidable context ultimately based on liberal-democratic values to which all present and emerging powers will have somehow to adapt. Globalization would then be on track for a continuous growth, if not acceleration, that will only stop when a complete integration is reached.

The second scenario, of realist nature, suggests that, once a certain physiological degree of integration is reached, globalization will speed down, if not stop at all, in order not to put in peril the results of integration achieved so far. A number of self-control mechanisms will then be implemented, which will impose constraints on the integrationalist vectors in order to tame social costs.

The third scenario, of critical nature, is based on the idea that the globalization processes are not, in fact, governed and therefore cannot stop motu proprio: they will continue to intensify until social costs will get unsustainable thereby leading to the emergence of nationalistic, anti-systemic, or regionalist forces that will impose an up-side-down turn to the logic of integration in favor of a retreat to an isolationist and nationalist closure.

A fourth scenario, of realist nature, holds similarly that the future will be compartmentalized. From a geo-politic stand point, while it is true that the transatlantic globalization offered economic emancipation to the emerging powers, it is also evident that such power shift from the west to the east will put under pressure the system itself and would seem to lead to a return to a logic of compartmentalization and of multipolar balance of power on a macro-regional, possibly conflict-ridden basis.

The fifth scenario, of realist nature, maintains that the process of globalization will go, as it was always the case, according to cyclical waves, with ups and downs: to a phase of global integration will follow a phase of nationalist or macro-regionalist fragmentation from which a way out will be constituted by a conflict generating the bases for the next expansionary cycle of globalist integration.

The sixth scenario, finally, presents an imagine of constructivist nature with a less defined contours: it does not either point to a shrinking or to a preservation of globalist dynamics, but to a transformation of them. According to such perspective, which is close to the idea of multiple modernities, the current degree of supranational integration would proceed on a path that is different from the western expectations and that would be based on new hybrid modes inspired by non-western political-cultural traditions, so far mostly marginalized. From this point of view, the consolidation of emerging powers will not necessarily lead to a phase of conflict for the conquest of the new global hegemony, but rather to the formation of differentiated areas of development, some of which will be governed according to principles that are alien to the West. A world of differentiated capitalisms might turn out, which will be constituted by several components of a single global yet de-centered system.
Deutsch, K. W. (1969). Nationalism and its Alternatives. New York: Knopf.