Globalization and Globalism

Last spring one of my students asked me to explain the difference between globalization and globalism. This is what I said, but I am curious to hear how other people would have answered the question:

“There are many different definitions of globalization, but it’s generally understood as the flows of people, ideas, culture, funds and biology at a global scale, which connects disparate parts of the globe. Globalism is often (not always) defined as the policy and ideas of those people/nations that support globalization, which is frequently equated with neoliberalism. Globalism is a sometimes politically loaded term, because it is frequently used by those who oppose globalization, to critique the policies of elites that favor financial and political globalization. It’s also a more complicated term to define, because different groups use the word in varied ways.”

I think that term globalism has become common because of a populist and nationalist wave in the West. The New York Times had an excellent article about the term, and how it was associated with the Trump campaign. See Liam Stack’s piece, “Globalism: A Far-Right Conspiracy Theory Buoyed by Trump,” in the New York Times on November 14, 2016. I’ve published two articles on conspiracy theories, and the term globalism is a favorite of Alex Jones and similar figures. What’s core to most definitions of globalism is the idea that globalization takes place because of the policies of elites, which act based on their economic self-interests, and who lack any sense of national allegiance. Perhaps the rise of the term reflects a common sense that the current political system does not capture the needs of working and middle class people, either economically or culturally. It’s also associated with anti-immigrant rhetoric, which suggests that globalists are facilitating an invasion of migrants who are undermining their nations’ culture and security.

Globalism, to me, is a very different term than global citizenship, which starts from the perspective that all people share common responsibilities to others, regardless of nationality. In contrast, it seems to me that globalism begins with the premise that the nation-state owes its primary duty to its own citizens, so any assistance or support for people elsewhere may represent a betrayal of the government’s responsibility to its own populace. Amongst populists, globalism is often rhetorically associated with treason. Global citizenship was a much more powerful concept before 9/11. I believe that over the last decade its power has declined, whereas globalism has become a powerful rhetorical tool that is often used in a popular context, such as Youtube videos or campaign rallies.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

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