November 4, 2002

Barber Speaks On U.S., Globalization

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Prof. Benjamin Barber, government at University of Maryland at College Park and novelist, spoke last Friday about “Globalizing Markets? Globalizing Terror? Or Globalizing Democracy?” to an audience in the David L. Call Alumni Auditorium in Kennedy Hall at the second annual Polson Memorial Lecture.

Barber came to Cornell to discuss “issues that we are engaged in not only as students and scholars but as citizens of this country and the world.” He discussed issues of globalization in the context of Sept. 11 and its aftermath.

According to Barber, after Sept. 11, the media and politicians woke up and saw the changes of globalization that have been in effect for the past 30 to 40 years.

“We as Americans, have lived in a cocoon, wrapped in American myths, such as that we are the city upon the hill,” Barber said.

He said it is now unsafe to hold fast to isolationist ideas.

“The missile shield was a materialization of the metaphor of American insularity,” Barber said.

He said that the United States must learn the lesson that Europe learned after World War II: National sovereignty no longer can provide national safety.

Barber continued on to say that globalization creates a world of anarchy, where AIDS, drugs, crime and the Internet freely cross international borders.

He pointed out that Americans have benefited economically from the lack of order in world markets, but that same lack of order has hurt the United States directly through terrorism.

“This is a world we no longer control,” he said.

Barber also discussed how to cope with this realization; it was his point that the U.S. cannot reassert its independence by removing itself from all international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol.

Following the lecture a interdisciplinary panel responded to Barber’s comments.

The panelists included Prof. Brett de Bary, Asian studies, Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, industrial and labor relations, Prof. Peter Katezenstein, government and Prof. Phil McMichael, rural sociology.

Bary said in response to Barber, “A new world order is under construction that will be as powerful as the cold war order, but we need to make a new language of political thought to challenge [that order].”

Katezenstein argued that Barber’s theories are far too Eurocentric.

He said, “Globalization does not homogenize, it creates conflicts and dialectics.”

Lieberwitz challenged Barber’s views upon capitalism’s interplay with democracy. She questioned America’s anti-communist foreign policy of the 1980’s, pointing out the harm that it did in supporting the Mujhadin and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

“Modernity is not the issue but the politics of it,” McMichael said.

Prof. Emeritus Frank Anastasio, English at Corning Community College, said of the lecture, “I think they need coaching, they need to consider the audience. Less verbiage and more concreteness would have helped.”

Others did not feel so strongly about Barber’s lecture.

“I didn’t think it was too abstract, in fact I was impressed with Barber’s articulation,” said Carol Colfer, a professor adjunct from the Center for International Forestry Research, Indonesia. “He was able to keep track of his arguments and I thought [his arguments] were very good.”

Barber’s arguments expressed in this lecture originated in his 1996 novel, Jihad vs. McWorld.

“The Polson institute is a group of faculty and students in rural sociology that deal with and conduct research on issues of population and development, social equality, social exclusion and the role of the environment in society,” said David Brown director of the Polson Institute said.

Archived article by Michael Margolis