The title seems like a combination of uncombinables. Fascism is an ideology about political power and a system of government that spread in the 1920s and 1930s. Globalisation is a process related to trade, value systems and technologies that transcend national boundaries and turn the world into small village.
The concept gained currency in the late 20th and early 21st century. Fascism is about the state, its national identity and purported superiority over others. Its foremost epitome, Nazism, saw the world in terms of a human biological hierarchy in which military hegemony reflected ethnic superiority.
Much of globalisation is grounded in the dynamics generated by the contemporary technological revolutions in information systems, biology and chemistry. These revolutions have not only abolished distances, they have also abolished differences between societies, states, nationalities and ethnicities, uniting all mankind under the heading of a single human race with no hegemonic or imperial order.
Globalisation is the route to end ignorance, disease, poverty and isolation. After mankind conquered space, the planet and its inhabitants became one. In short, fascism is an outlook that shrinks the world into the space of a single state or ethnic group, while globalisation expands the view to embrace all mankind in a shared destiny.
Nevertheless, the prevalent view on the current direction of history and international relations is that many countries are moving to the political right, in all its populist, isolationist and racist hues, with the rise of politicians reminiscent of Nazi and fascist leaders. The trend poses a major challenge to globalisation which right wing opinion has abridged to the movement of peoples across borders and the threat this ostensibly poses to national sovereignty.
In a way, both concepts have been undergoing a lot of revision lately and much theorising has been devoted to trying to shed the stigma of certain outlooks that may have contributed to shaping and defining the decade that is about to end, along with its more flagrant features associated with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the near certain of departure of the UK from the EU in the process called Brexit.
In an article called “Economists on the run”, appearing in Foreign Policy on 22 October 2019, Michael Hirsh cites the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman who admitted that his own understanding of economics had been “seriously deficient” and that he, and other economic experts, had “missed a crucial part of the story” about globalisation because they failed to realise that it would lead to “hyper-globalisation” and “huge economic and social upheaval, particularly of the industrial middle class in America”.
Hirsh added that Krugman said economists had made a “major mistake” in underestimating Chinese competition which severely hit many working-class communities. Krugman also said that much of the past 30 years of macroeconomics was “spectacularly useless at best, and positively harmful at worst”.
Hirsh cites other eminent economists and it appears that most of them agree that three factors hampered globalisation: the inequality it generated, the impact of the competition between the US and China, which economists had previously underestimated, and the fact that the adverse impacts of globalisation extended beyond poor nations to affect the working and middle classes in developed nations.
In another Foreign Policy article, “Don’t call Donald Trump a fascist”, dated 2 November, modern European historian Eliah Bures turns to the ongoing debate on the term “fascist” which he argues has been misused. He points out that no modern US president, from Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr to Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama — and, of course, Donald Trump — has been spared being maligned as a “fascist”.
Like the other “F-word”, the disparaging label has been affixed not just to right-wing politicians but also to politicians on the left. Also, some of the traits associated with fascism have been applied to politicians from both sides of the political spectrum. Bures argues that the model of fascism as epitomised by Mussolini and Hitler is unique and multifaceted, and that it is difficult to find all its facets combined in a single political adversary today.
For example, you might find anti-migrant and xenophobic attitudes among Europe’s emergent leaders, but none of them seek world domination. Trump might denigrate certain ethnic groups, malign the left or advocate more government intervention in the economy or society; however, if such behaviours show an inclination to discrimination or authoritarianism, they do not signify that he is “fascist”.
The term is used far too loosely, Bures says. When people on the left or right use the “F-word” it is because they feel that the words “authoritarian”, “extremist” or “totalitarian” are inadequate, not to describe the truth but rather to damn a politician or to mobilise opposition against that politician or his/her policies. Bures is arguing against the reductionist logic as expressed in the American saying, “If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
If writers or politicians are going to use such terms and concepts as “fascist” and “fascism” they should adhere to their proper meanings as exemplified by their historical models. They should not put them through a mangle for the purposes of memoirs, propaganda or political ends.
The current revision and rethinking that we find in many articles on globalisation or “fascism” are a reflection of intellectual dynamism. They are also a sign that we are entering a new historical era in which it would be wrong and even harmful to apply old terms and concepts to current realities and which, in any case, will produce the more appropriate terms in its own time. Alternatively, we might be looking at a deeper phase or phases in human evolution which produced conflicting phenomena at the same time, leaving us to await the political outcome of the brew, which could be apocalyptic war or global exodus from the planet.
Whatever the case, continued observation, study, dialogue and theorising are of the essence. The scientific and technological revolutions that gave birth to globalisation are still in progress. In fact, they are probably moving faster than ever before and reaching the remotest villages on earth. The interactions that have propelled the resurgence of the right in developed democratic countries are also still bubbling and fermenting. It is impossible to tell where they will lead or when the great eruption will occur.
The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.