The New Global Apartheid
The era of unalloyed globalization lasted roughly a decade, from the end of the Cold War to September 11, 2001. Never before had world affairs been entrusted so completely to “free market” forces. With power politics sidelined, or relegated to the erstwhile Third World , the Treasury and Commerce Departments won out over State and Defense as the chief power brokers for an emerging “Washington Consensus.”  Even those who saw through the myth of globalization as a ticket to universal peace and prosperity were often taken in by the lesser god of TINA: “There Is No Alternative.” Clearly there were, however, alternative globalizations.  While Europe took the high road of cosmopolitanism, purging foreign policy of power itself , America took the all too effective low road of power economics. 
That road proved even less amenable to the needs of the global South than geopolitical realism was at the height of the Cold War. The change was in the works long before the full Soviet collapse. During the Reagan years it took a rock concert to draw attention to mass starvation in Africa, and still the issue was left to fester. Not even the 1990s’ economic boom could stir a more generous attitude, thanks in part to the global application of domestic “trickle down” theory. The plight of the South got little more than passing reference at economic summits. 
Now, with roughly a billion people living somehow on less than $1 dollar per day, and billions more losing their grip on yesterday’s global promise, the dream of universal modernization is collapsing into a postmodern nightmare. At best globalization offers a limited number of luxuriously furnished lifeboats, with lifeboat ethics to match. From any more egalitarian perspective the “win-win” formula of early globalism has joined the 20th century’s long line of failed ideologies. Globalization was supposed to replace the old economic ladder with an elevator. Instead, as William Greider puts it, the world’s working classes got more of a seesaw: many must fall for some to rise. 
Only the capitalist classes won on both sides, and even within their ranks the price of survival was the surrender of all competing loyalties.  In the lingo of anti-globalist protest, power economics (which is to say actually existing globalization) works by putting “profits over people”—and over nations, indigenous cultures, ecosystems, and every trace of non-materialist values.
Few know how low this reaches. The vaunted information revolution, as dissected by Manuel Castells, caters to a criminal economy that includes child prostitution (slavery, pure and simple) and a genocidal drug trade which by the mid-1990s was grossing more than the global trade in oil.  Meanwhile a massive traffic in weapons supplies the needs of criminal and terrorist organizations, which are also gaining access to nuclear materials.  We can rest assured, however, that the same information economy that services this global firestorm also makes a better fire engine: America’s “new face of war,” to borrow Bruce Berkowitz’s title. Clearly globalism is a double agent, being at once the arsonist and the firefighter.
The success of neoliberalism’s public relations lies in what is omitted from its mission statement. Many globalist enterprises disappear from view. These unmentionables include a burgeoning trade in bodies, dead or alive: the transport of illegal immigrants—netting $1 billion a year in Mexico alone  — as well as assorted body parts. Cases of literal slavery are emerging across the U.S., especially in immigrant farmwork, where the standard remuneration is about $150 a week.  Other growth industries include money laundering and rogue banking , the privatization of water supplies , and all kinds of sub-employment: the use of workers as literal industrial fodder, without contracts, minimal safety standards, union representation, or the most limited health care. China, for example, “has emerged as Asia’s major exporter of manufactured goods to the United States, but the workers who produce those goods are victims of a surge in fatal respiratory, circulatory, neurological and digestive-tract diseases like those American and European workers suffered at the dawn of the industrial age.” 
This is not to suggest that sweatshop horrors are absent from today’s America. When student protests recently exposed the global network linking overseas sweatshops to on-campus stores, attention was also drawn to a startling amount of sweatshop production in American cities. While giant agri-corporations rake in massive subsidies, family farms are passing out of existence, victims of the same rural impoverishment that is hitting the Third World.  Regardless of location, the global system encourages bare subsistence wages, inhuman hours, abysmal working conditions, and draconian action against workers who dare to question the system. 
It is also not mentioned how pharmaceutical companies block access to generic medicines in impoverished regions, or how double trade standards allow America and Europe to flood less developed countries with highly subsidized agricultural products, undercutting the subsistence incomes of small farmers throughout the world.  Then there is “structural adjustment” (euphemistically termed economic “reform” by the World Bank) , which indentures the future production of developing nations. On the same moral plane there is the environmental holocaust perpetrated by multinationals, often with direct funding from the World Bank and other global institutions.  And finally there is the general cultural onslaught of consumerism. Postmodern culture critics write this off as a commendable exercise in “hybridity,” but those being hybridized may have a radically different opinion. What they lack is a means of collective resistance—unless of course they are Muslim.
Although the vast majority of Americans see the Muslim world as the aggressor in our current civilizational clash, Islamism is patently on the defensive. Coral Bell reminds us that until recently Islam and the West shared a rich religious heritage—one, we may add, that took on new meaning in the face of Soviet-enforced secularization during the Cold War. Islamic societies survived that challenge only to be slammed harder than ever by their former theistic allies. Western secularization removed Christian nations from this common ground, setting the stage for the present East/West culture clash.  When the West, emboldened by its Cold War victory, launched its full assault on the non-secular East in the name of globalization, Islamic resistance was inevitable.
Islamism may be, as Bryan Turner suggests, the only surviving alternative to Western capitalist hegemony.  Whether it alone can hold the fort is uncertain, but soon it may get some help. Little as CNN viewers would know it, another global firestorm is building in the South. Neoliberalism reserves its most deafening silence for the neocolonial dynamic whereby the world is put on the capitalist auction block. There is nothing TINAesque about this geocorporate power grab, which has more to do with purchased political decisions than with inexorable economic forces. But the end result, in terms of both class and culture, is every bit as grievous as the colonialism that led to war in 1914.
A clue to what is happening is provided by the ironic plight of South Africa’s poor after the official end of apartheid in 1994. By 1996, as Arundhati Roy comments, ten million people out of a population of 44 million had had their water and electricity cut off, and the old economic power structure was more secure than ever behind its new shield of “democracy.”  Robert Mukolo charges that while the old racist apartheid set white against black in his country, a new corporate hegemony sets rich against poor.  This would be bad enough if it were unique to South Africa, but regretfully it is but a chapter in the new global apartheid.
Making Democracy Safe for Empire
Even the U.S. is not exempt. The 1990s saw the victory, as Thomas Frank puts it, of one America over another.  But America’s place at the top of the global food chain—a position it won by force of bartered arms in World War II  — gave this corporate takeover a much broader sweep, constituting the victory of one world over many.
Today’s global ethnocide and cultural homogenization trace in part to America’s own cultural implosion. This process has been obscured, Frank notes, by endless talk of cultural difference: “Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the two individuals most responsible for choking off dissent in the Anglophone world, loudly celebrated diversity and multiculturalism. . . .” 
There are signs, however, that a pluralist counter-logic is starting to take shape.  Castells points out that with
“the exception of a small elite of globapolitans (half beings, half flows), people all over the world resent loss of control over their lives, over their environment, over their jobs, over their economies, over their governments, over their countries, and, ultimately, over the fate of the Earth. Thus, following an old law of social evolution, resistance confronts domination, . . . and alternative projects challenge the logic embedded in the new global order, increasingly sensed as disorder by people around the planet.” 
So far, though, those who have the power to implement change are the least likely to want any. That is why, as Bruce Scott recognizes, it hardly matters that the economic resources to remedy this eco-social crisis exist; for the political will does not  — not, at least, within the reigning Washington Consensus. And grassroots efforts carry their own risks. One danger is that homegrown resistance can take a highly reactionary form , fueling the kind of militia or “underground man” mentality that inspired Timothy McVeigh , Theodore Kaczynski , and (allegedly) Erich Rudolf. Globalists who railed against anti-WTO protesters in Seattle might reconsider the matter if they knew more about the new social movements waiting in the wings.
Neoconservatism has absorbed much of this ultra-Right disaffection, including a good deal of its anti-government animus, but that linkage is strictly opportunistic. The neocon commitment to Empire ultimately ties it to bigger and more intrusive government, in both a geopolitical and “law and order” sense. The welfare state may be under siege, but a new mode of statism—prone to use more stick and less carrot—is under production. This ultimately puts neoconservatives at odds with anarcho-rightists as well as cosmopolitan globalists.
There is an organic accord, however, between neoconservatism and neoliberalism , both being factories for cultural homogenization. Both are shamelessly at ease with the deepening divide between global haves and have nots. It is only when an antiseptic view of globalization is contrasted with a noxious view of Empire that a diametrical opposition is obtained. Even in the sphere of geopolitics, where the two seem most at odds, the seeds of Empire were deeply planted within neoliberal globalization. The cardinal feature of Empire’s foreign policy—its “for us or against us” binaryism—has long been a feature of the globalist outlook on the non-globalized world.
For those outcast regions the end of the Cold War signaled the dawn of an even colder peace. Washington served notice on them that nonaligned strategies would no longer be tolerated. The message they got was sink or swim, join or starve. The old realist restraints—which had the accidental effect of curbing imperialist ambitions—were cast off. So too the Cold War’s sometimes generous (albeit strategically motivated) developmental assistance was suspended. Ingeniously this was all done in the name of the greater good. It had been a postwar cliché that what was good for General Motors was good for America. Now it was ordained that what was good for Unocal was good for the world.  Nor was this geocorporate conceit advanced on economic grounds alone. Like Islamic jihad it was packaged as a moral and civilizational injunction. And like communism before it was looked to as a blueprint for world domination with a clean conscience.
That moral wrapping allowed Francis Fukuyama to declare this the best of all possible world orders, and hence the “end of history.” But unlike his vast globalist following, Fukuyama comprehended the banality of posthistorical security. He worried that the sheer boredom of it all could drag humanity back into the “historical” abyss.  If that concern seems overdrawn after 9/11, it is because we know with perfect hindsight that history will soon enough come to us. Fukuyama is nevertheless on target with his recognition that mainstream politics has moved beyond the bigger questions that once animated it. He understands, as his imitators rarely do, that this seeming concord has its darker side. As we enter the new millennium it is hard not to see that something is sorely missing in the globalist concept of “democracy”: actual political options.
To be posthistorical, it turns out, is to be postpolitical. This is the grating contradiction at the heart of neoliberalism and cosmopolitanism alike. The end of ideology that was falsely proclaimed in the late 1950s is here at last, as the liberal/conservative tug-of-war that once energized democratic politics slips into “history.” On both sides of the Atlantic, all that is ideologically off center melts into air, putting real political difference out of business. Few in establishment circles seem to realize or much care that this “Third Way” circumvention of Left and Right brooks no opposition. Globalization on these terms would make democratic resistance a relic of the past.
Re-framing Democratic Action
Spearheaded by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the neoliberalization of the Democratic Party took (and continues to take)  the “politics” out of American liberalism. But even more profoundly an absence of liberal opposition has allowed for the Republican transfer of power from “paleoconservatives” to neoconservatives. So it was that the neocons could all but dictate the nation’s response to 9/11. Even if America’s Afghan incursion was unavoidable—and elsewhere I argue that it was entirely avoidable—America’s “second front” in Southeast Asia, and especially its preemptive strike on Iraq, would have been unthinkable without this illiberal power shift. 
This was the hard Right turn that Sheldon Wolin dubs “inverted totalitarianism,” with reference to Nazi totalism and expansionism. But unlike the Nazis, who strictly subordinated corporations to political control, the neocons (being neoliberals with the last vestiges of progressive liberalism removed) corporatize the state. And against the Nazi goal of full and continuous social mobilization, the new Right depends upon the sheer apathy that comes with wall-to-wall consumerism. The President brilliantly played this hand, shortly after 9/11, by exhorting the public to “Unite, consume and fly!”  Visit Disneyland.
Globalization exports that consumerist ethos in the name of “democracy,” and Empire does the same on its neoliberal side. Yet, like Cold War realism, Empire is less guarded in its security tradeoffs, such as its blatant funding of dictators like Pakistan’s Musharraf.  In its 2002 annual report on human rights abuses, Amnesty International charged President Bush’s security agenda with sheltering some of the world’s worst regimes.  So too Thomas Carothers blames the administration for sorely neglecting democratization.  He is right so far as the more capacious meaning of democracy is concerned, but misses the utility that pro forma democracy has for the new power elite. Without this fig leaf, Empire would be naked imperialism.
So it is that Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, was only half lying when she rebutted Carothers by adducing the administration’s record of “democracy" promotion.  The trick is in what counts as democracy. The administration supports an overlay of largely procedural reforms for the same reason that corporate globalists have: Not only do “free” elections provide good public relations for authoritarian regimes and their corporate cronies, but they offer an effective inoculation against more substantive democracy, which is always unpredictable and often anti-American. For these reasons the new Empire builders tend to be more “democratically” engaged than traditional conservatives, and far more so than traditional realists. Such “instrumental” democracy, as Carothers terms it , permits Empire to seize the moral high ground even as it tends the geocorporate bottom line.
This literal incorporation of democratic imagery has its silent partner in the de-basement of politics that Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg see as the end of the era of the citizen. With public policy brokered almost entirely by special interests, citizens have become little more than consumers of government services.  The resulting erosion of mass politics coincides, ironically, with the full advent of mass culture in the form of corporate hegemony. That highly mediated “frame” of reference, to borrow George Lakoff’s term , must be deconstructed if the delusions of Empire are to be cast off.
The question is what will replace it. For thirty years the Democratic Party has hawked itself to corporate donors while skirting the interests of the working class.  This policy was “framed” upon the early postwar assumption that “what is good for G.M. is good for America,” and the ancillary notion that what is good for America is naturally good for the world. Cold War constraints put a partial brake on U.S. corporate imperialism, but that brake was released in the 1990s, and 9/11 gave the Washington Consensus a virtual license to kill whatever stood in its way. The Bush Doctrine took geocorporatism to its logical, unipolar conclusion.
Any effective resistance must avoid the temptation simply to invert the Bush Doctrine with flatulent anti-Americanism. That reflex would abandon the field of practical foreign affairs to the present power structure. To strike at the heart of geocorporatism, the Left must turn the old G.M. mantra on its head by providing a radically new frame of reference: the proposition that what is good for the world is ultimately good for Americans.
Thornton is Professor of Literary
and Cultural Theory at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan. He
is the author of
Cultural Prosaics: The Second Postmodern Turn (1998), of
Fire on the Rim: The Cultural Dynamics of East/West Power Politics
(2002), and of New World Empire: Islamism, Terrorism and the Making of
Neoglobalism (forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield in early 2005),
from which this article is drawn. He can be reached at:
songokt.hornton@msa. hinet.net. Copyright (C) 2004 William H.
1) See Francis Fukuyama,
The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Avon Books, 1992, 276.