As soon as you hear the conceit of this book--that there are two great opposing forces at work in the world today, border-crossing capitalism and splintering factionalism, and that they are the two biggest threats to democracy--you know it rings true enough to be worth reading. Although capitalism could have only grown to current levels in the soil of democracies, Benjamin Barber argues that global capitalism now tends to work against the very concept of citizenship, of people thinking for themselves and with their neighbors. Too often now, how we think is the product of a transnational corporation (increasingly, a media corporation) with headquarters elsewhere. And although self-determination is one of the most fundamental of democratic principles, unchecked it has lead to a tribalism (think Bosnia, think Rwanda) in which virtually no one besides the local power elite gets a fair shake. The antidote, Barber concludes, is to work everywhere to resuscitate the non-governmental, non-business spaces in life--he calls them "civic spaces" (such as the village green, voluntary associations of every sort, churches, community schools)--where true citizenship thrives.
From Publishers Weekly
Expanding on a 1993 article in the Atlantic, Rutgers University political scientist Barber offers a stimulating, tartly written survey of two paradoxical world trends: the looming balkanization of nation-states (Jihad) and the inexorable force of integration by technology (McWorld). The trends are in dialectic, not opposition. In McWorld, Barber notes, national boundaries become less significant in the face of multinational corporations and resource interdependence. World culture, he observes, is driven by the "infotainment telesector," characterized by American advertising, film and MTV. Noting that McWorld can serve Jihad, Barber sketches the rise of nationalism in European democracies, in central Europe's emerging democracies, in Islam and, intriguingly, in the American Christian right. McWorld, he writes, threatens democracy by deadening debate and accepting inequalities, while Jihad threatens democracy by sacrificing tolerance and deliberation. "[T]hey both make war on the sovereign nation-state and thus undermine the nation-state's democratic institutions." Barber believes each culture must build its own institutions of civil society. More wishfully, he suggests that a form of confederalism?not that of the European Union but of pre-1800 Switzerland?might serve to knit both regions and states.
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