It is not possible to separate globalization from liberalism. Without the political foundation that liberalism provides, a project of such scale would have been unfathomable. But just as the originally noble intentions with regards to the social, political, and economic stances of liberalism have wrinkled over the years, we can say that globalization’s social, political, and economic facets have similarly evolved. The question that needs to be analyzed, then, is whether globalization’s relationship with liberalism has grown in a way that is salutary for society, or inimical to it.
The contemporary political theorist would not be surprised to hear that liberalism is an ailing political philosophy. Indeed, much of the debates regarding the political instability we are facing in the United states are centered around questions of liberalism. Answers to this question of liberalism’s evident crisis are being addressed primarily by analyzing the moral and political principles of liberalism by going back to the beginning of its inception to test its philosophical integrity. This idea has merit on the basis of mere political theory, but it leaves out the possibility that, perhaps, liberalism has been altered in some way over the years.
Globalization is one such striking advent in liberalism’s trajectory that has changed how we understand it. British historian, Greg Clark, saw this turning point of globalization in the late eighteenth century with a “confluence of geopolitics and technological innovation.” But all this advancement that globalization has achieved has resulted in an increase of development speed that is making it difficult for many places to catch up. Compared to the waves of globalization that started in the eighteenth century, the duration of new advancement cycles are significantly shorter. Where waves once lasted a century of more, they now appear to run their course in “as little as fifteen to twenty years.” This might sound auspicious, but “as the global economy becomes ever more integrated,” Clark warns that “globalizing city waves increasingly come to resemble global economic cycles and the windows of opportunity for cities to participate close quickly.”
Most historians of globalization cannot ignore the inherent economic element that was vital for globalization’s triumph, but it is also an economic project that is influencing our politics. Globalization as we understand it today is a reconceptualization of democracy, citizenship and community. It is a deliberately thought-out and planned organization for the world and for its future development. Economically, globalization renders ideas, people, culture, institutions, and technologies into commodities open to the world market. If that is the case, then it cannot help but corrode traditional conceptions of liberalism. The purpose of this paper, then, is to offer up one potential variable—but a significant one—to account for liberalism’s changed perception in society. A relationship will be established between liberalism and globalization that serves to posit how liberalism has been mainly altered by the inescapable market focus of globalization. Liberalism’s contemporary faults are, at least in part, exacerbated by globalization’s majorly economic outlook on international relations. This market-driven disposal, in turn, is overwhelming liberalism’s other two facets (the social and political) into moral acquiescence.
I. The Common Element and the Common Problem
What is inherent about liberalism’s system of governing principles makes it something of value for a world that is moving towards a unified transnational governance? This is the question that skeptics of globalization often raise. Generally, we would respond to skeptics of globalization that liberalism is the political philosophy that has best allowed nations to flourish. A great portion of the accolades for this outcome in increased wealth and innovation cannot be denied from the economic principles that liberalism champions in favor of a free market system. Consequently, we might aver that greater national (and international) flourishment necessitates greater market freedom and the necessary politics that are most conducive to it.
Whether liberalism is the best political philosophy upon which to found a nation is not the primary question at hand, but rather whether globalization, a consequence of liberalism, might be corrupting liberalism through its economic emphasis. Globalization is an ideal that, from a social perspective, is attempting to reconstruct the idea of community and of citizenship all while disintegrating the nation-state upon which liberalism was founded. From an economic perspective, moreover, globalization is attempting to widen the scope of a market-based economic system but leaving behind struggling towns in the process.
The social and economic balance that countries need to possess in order to cultivate a flourishing society is being tipped by an international market system that unites profit across borders. It is this balance between social and economic elements that globalization most seriously challenges. Moreover, the area in which globalization’s harshest critics, both on the left and on the right, converge is in what regards the market’s effects on morals and society. To pin this analysis to a specific example, let’s take the global city as our demonstration: Here, we can most clearly see the consequences of a place that has a global outlook rather than a local outlook.
II. The Global City and Cosmopolitanism
Before proceeding any further, it is important to clarify the decision to analyze globalization through a critical lens instead of welcoming it as a general advancement. Advocates of globalization believe that its promise for world politics rests in the dispersion of power loci: Effective power, they say, must be shared by various agencies, both public and private, working at national, regional, and international levels because people and communities can no longer be confined to the boundaries of the nation-state. This point of view is a modern adaptation of the long-standing view championed by cosmopolitanism, an underlying philosophical element of globalization.
Many theorists today who specialize in globalization describe cosmopolitanism (explicitly or not) as the philosophical framework that shapes their outlook and preference for globalization. According to political theorist David Held, for example, Stoics were the first ones to use the word “cosmopolitan” to describe their aspiration to replace “the primacy of the individual’s relation to the polis with the idea of the cosmos as encompassing the whole of humanity in an ideal of universal belonging.” While Held does not reject that there are cultural elements that influence our social predilection for the proximate community over the global, he sides with cosmopolitanism, arguing that the reasons for our parochial affiliations “obscure” the common “needs, desires, anxieties, and passions” that define us all as members of the same species.
Globalization’s principles about trans-border processes and cosmopolitanism’s ideas on universality ought to “shape and limit all human activity,” since they “help us understand that the fate of humankind can no longer be disclosed merely by examining self-enclosed political and moral communities.” Held expands cosmopolitanism to become an ethical philosophy, as “a concern with the equal moral status of each and every human,” regardless of “familiar, ethical, national and religious affiliations.” In this sense, cosmopolitanism takes on a political stance as it is concerned with the cultural, legal, and ethical basis of governmental order in a world where political communities and states are not private: “Cosmopolitanism,” Held wrote, “should be understood as the capacity to mediate between national cultures, communities of faith, and alternative styles of life.”
Cosmopolitanism as a philosophy was refined during the Enlightenment, namely in the writings of Immanuel Kant, where it was supplemented with rationalism. Held holds that Kant’s cosmopolitan law “best” represents a person’s “equal moral standing and dignity.” The reason Kant could be considered a founder of modern cosmopolitanism is because he connected the idea of cosmopolitanism with the standpoint of public reason. Kant believed that man’s ability to “enter the realm of public reason” deemed him capable of “free membership in the global community of argument.” Our reason, moreover, is what allows us to discover the best social arrangements, political systems, economic systems, etc., conducive to our own self-actualization. Such premises led Kant and fellow cosmopolitans to conclude that their task is “the conceptualization and generation of the necessary background conditions for a common or basic structure of individual action and social activity.”
The above description of cosmopolitanism overlaps in many aspects with elements of liberalism. We might even say that cosmopolitan thought reincarnated into a form of liberalism that is based on self-determination and reason. In order to be cosmopolitan, we must be able to reason with the global community. The city’s role, historically, has been to host this global community—be it economic or intellectual—and welcome it. The global city was always a center of intellectualism, moreover; a confluence of philosophers, scientists, businessmen, politicians, aristocrats, artists, etc. Cosmopolitanism, in other words, is one with the city: It is the philosophical disposition of the city that compels it to open its arms to the world. Within countries that developed liberalism as its political and moral philosophy, cosmopolitanism thrived. The outcome is now culturally, politically, and economically powerful cities that, with the help of globalization, are creating a standard for the “right” way (that is, the reasonable way) of living and thinking.
The cosmopolitanism that cities adopt soon becomes a political problem. Writing about the current political disputes in Europe, political scientist Pierre Manent noticed that “the energies of our political class have been devoted to buttressing the authority of an enterprise that delegitimizes the nation and promises a new way of bringing humans together.” As cities grew and intermingled, they became a network of political and economic influence that now has a mindset of its own apart from their host nations. Manent blames globalization for the increasingly-popular idea of denationalization in Europe: “In the name of a global marketplace we have constructed a system of action that can best be described as an artificial providence.” In his book, Democracy Without Nations? (2007), Manent wrote of a new phenomenon that political philosophers from de Tocqueville to Montesquieu could not warn against: “The erosion—perhaps even the dismantling—of the political form that for so many years has sheltered the endeavors of European man. I refer to the nation.”
The problem with globalization for Manent is one of identity. He writes, “[a] political form—the nation, the city—is not a light overcoat that one can put on and take off at will and still remain what one is.” He recalls one of de Tocqueville’s warnings: Man’s “sentiment” of resemblance, within liberal democracy, has become a “passion” for resemblance. The intellectual development of globalization, which began as an enlightened form of cosmopolitanism that Kant expressed as a mere recognition and respect for man’s equal humanity, has devolved into one that forces man to see “the other as the same as ourselves.”
III. A Magnanimous Globalization
It is clear that globalization is influenced by liberal ideals about human equality and human development. Individual nations, it seems, are insufficient, perhaps even incapable, of achieving equality at a global scale. This theme about the political triumph of the global over the national as a result of its superior humanitarian efforts brings to light a most important issue regarding the natural legitimacy of the nation-state as the best form of government for social organization. Held, for example, argued that nations are constructed, not grown. He would refute Manent’s argument about the alleged decline of a nation’s “culture,” saying that such an argument is false. People like Manent, who believe that the decline of the nation-state strips citizens of their identity, refuse to accept that “the consolidation of the ideas and narratives of the nation and nationhood” consists of “attempts made by ruling elites and governments to create a new identity that would legitimize the enhancement of state power and the coordination of state policy.” These governments manipulate their citizens’ by leading them to believe in “a common framework of understanding” that diffuses “national histories, myths, and rituals and a new imagined community.”
The only community is the global one. Driving this belief is a generous ambition to help those beyond our borders. Certainly, this is a respectable and admirable goal that nations should pursue. Yet, globalization’s economic focus has somewhat distorted this intention. As an inherently economic project, after all, globalization can only amend problems through pecuniary means, which is hardly an apt way to solve political and social problems. But the amount of wealth that globalization manages to amass turn it into a political influence. As a result, cosmopolitanism’s ideals adjust dangerously in globalization since power relations are “deeply inscribed in the dynamics of globalization.”
In his book, The Trap (1994), financier and politician James Goldsmith warned about the early changes in society as nations were beginning to conflate economic advancement and social interests. Goldsmith refuted the Enlightenment ideal of a universal civilization by proclaiming it as a form of “cultural imperialism” where “the multitude of different cultures are no more than rivulets, whose fate is to flow into the great ocean of cosmopolitan world-society.” Goldsmith also argued that implementing a global free trade would impoverish and destabilize the industrialized world and ravage the Third World, even though the intention was to improve the conditions for underdeveloped nations. The decreasing esteem of the nation-state and the rising popularity of cosmopolitanism inevitably led to a shift of focus towards the market as the universally unifying force for human advancement.
That globalization seeks political and economic hegemony is the point of criticism for philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in his book, In the World Interior of Capital (2014). The problem, according to Sloterdijk, is that contemporary commentary on globalization is too focused on the most recent manifestation of globalization as an accelerated exchange of commodities and as the financial market, but it ignores the cultural influences it can have on society. Globalization has also radically altered what he calls “spatial organization,. The premodern space, he argued, is being defeated by globalization in a dogmatic way as it throws “the freely trading cities and ultimately even the introverted villages, out into public space,” thus reducing “all particularities to the common denominator—money and geometry.” Early waves of urbanization, in fact, were originally driven by desired possession of material assets and luxuries.
Sloterdijk concludes that the history of the modern age is simply a history of what he calls “a spatial revolution,” all leading toward achieving a “homogeneous outside” in the form of an urban city and a culture of consumption. Like many other critics of globalization, Sloterdijk agrees that globalization, by effective consummation of its project, has advanced to a point where it has established itself in society as an irremovable part of everyday life. Thus, its political implications are unavoidable, and Sloterdijk recognizes that with globalization’s ubiquity will come problems for democracy. Sloterdijk takes it one step further, and predicts that there will be a set of what he calls “journalistic universals” for the next couple of decades and centuries that will dictate the conversation about globalization: For example, “that the emergence of a new modus vivendi between the local and the global must be negotiated time and time again;” “that political communities after modernity have entered a new constellation beyond the nation state;” and, “that the gaping divide between rich and poor has brought the globalized world to a state of political and moral tension.”
These three observations regarding the shift in lifestyle between the global and the local, the evolution of the nation-state, and the socio-economic problems between classes, are relevant underlying themes that globalization reveals. Sloterdijk, however, attributes globalization’s flaws to what he describes as “Christian-capitalist” culture. This description is a caricature that detracts from his otherwise astute observations and criticisms regarding globalization, since he agrees that it is primarily through economic persuasion, embodied by the wealth of cities, that globalization bought its influence.
IV. The Price to Pay
Cosmopolitanism and globalization both share another element in common: They corrode the line has always existed between the state and society—liberalism’s keystone. Liberalism’s foundational principle, if corrupted, would mean an end to the west’s integral political tradition. As Leo Strauss once wrote, “liberalism stands or falls by the distinction between state and society, or by the recognition of a private sphere, protected by law but impervious to the law.” Although Strauss was not directly referring to globalization in his statement—he was actually discussing liberalism’s inability to prevent discrimination against Jewish people in society—he did, nevertheless, notice the problematic paradox in liberalism that is its inability to choose between protecting one private sphere over another. If it chooses wrong, “the abolition of the private sphere, the denial of the difference between state and society, the destruction of the liberal state” are its natural corollary.
Strauss’ analysis indirectly identified an Achilles heel for liberalism, and it can be extended to the ideas of cosmopolitanism and globalization. Together, they attempt to eliminate the private sphere of society by making everything global and economic. Advocates of globalization agree that this project is raising doubts about the legitimacy of “sovereignty and territoriality” in an international system. It is creating the beginning of “an unbundling of sovereignty as we have known it for many centuries.” Globalization undoubtedly denationalizes specific institutional areas through the global market because it creates a concentration of power that then moves and shapes the national government through its economic policies that affect and influence other policies by extension. We should notice how this result compares with globalization’s early intention to disperse political power loci. Globalization and new technologies are destabilizing and transforming state sovereignty, nation-based citizenship, and institutions in charge of regulating the economy such as central banks and monetary policy. It confronts the nation-state, above all, with a major transformation in its territorial and economic-political organization.
So the price to pay for globalization is political, which is to say that it is social, and it is reemerging as a subject of great importance in the field of political theory. In the popular book, Why Liberalism Failed (2018), political scientist Patrick Deneen explained that the state has expanded to a point where the existing conception of its function entails controlling “nearly every aspect of life while citizens regard government as a distant and uncontrollable power, one that only extends their sense of powerless by relentlessly advancing the project of globalization.” Deneen’s analysis of the crisis of liberalism is closely tied to the rise of globalization, which he describes as an “unstoppable” and “inevitable” process because it possesses an economic “logic” that cannot be resisted and a technological element that is “inescapable.” The expansion of the state, moreover, means the reduction of personal autonomy; thus, a country’s unique culture also requires submission in order to give way to a new form of anti-culture, the liberal market.
Deneen posits that globalization’s economic model is toxic for liberal society. Invoking Marx, he paraphrases the argument that the greatest source of economic discontent is not inequality, but alienation. Deneen understands alienation as the separation of the worker from his product, as the “attendant loss of any connection with the goal and object of one’s efforts.” Liberalism is not “neutral about the basis on which people make decisions” because, just as a capitalist economic system describes human beings as utility-maximizing agents and influences people to act more selfishly in consequence, so too does liberalism teach “loose connections” by encouraging citizens “to hedge commitments and adopt flexible relationships and bonds.”
Deneen places the fault of this current dilemma on liberalism itself. As this paper has attempted to demonstrate, however, globalization and liberalism cannot be isolated from each other. While Deneen wants to blame liberalism for globalization’s moral and social flaws, there is a more convincing argument to be made that globalization is, at least in part, responsible for liberalism’s moral and social corrosion. Globalization’s economic influences around the world need to be analyzed more closely before asserting that liberalism is a failure. The final section of this paper on the relationship between globalization and liberalism will introduce another analysis that takes the side of economic failure, not political-philosophical failure, for liberalism’s predicament.
V. Economizing or Politicizing Policy?
A 1999 discourse by the political scientist Kenneth Minogue argued that globalization is an economic process that very quickly consumes social elements. He explained that globalization, above all, is a unifying concept that attempts to replace nation-states with the creation of a single world system. Its unity is based on trade and on the “onward march of human rights,” synonymous with “the Westernization of other cultures and civilizations.” Some of the components of globalization that Minogue highlighted include urbanization; the flow of capital and labor across boundaries; and universalization in the form of a single world economy. One novel aspect about globalization in the contemporary sense, however, concerned what he called the divide between economic relations and political systems. He was interested in the “highly significant differences between the participants” (states and cultures) in global interaction when states, due to the conditions of modern technology, follow two types of public policy: Economizing or politicizing.
An economizing route of public policy in globalization supplies a general framework of laws within which individuals produce and consume according to their desires. While this route helps an already prosperous and balanced economy, it can, however, come with social problems of crime, homelessness and illegitimacy because such a form of public policy generates markets that tend to turn social aspects into commercial aspects. The economic interface of international trade, moreover, ignores cultural differences, which means that economic activities such as trade with certain nations could be abandoned at any moment based on convenience. A globalized world creates “two kinds of economy,” Minogue concludes: Market economies such as the ones found in the West, and “highly controlled economies, or rather state-societies organized to achieve certain forms of domination” through economic performance that attempts to imitate “the front runners.”  These are the underdeveloped nations around the world.
The politicizing route, instead, “is the dream of instrumentality and control, usually collective” that has a greater program of “making the world conform to some ideal.” Of these two policies, it should be easy to infer that the former won. Most liberal nations have adopted economizing policies—the United States is no exception. The twentieth century had been a scene of competition between these two forms of policy, but, while the politicizing form of policy had flourished under communism, the economizing policy, instead, survived the “statist passions” of the mid-century that saved freedom for his generation. Helpful as the economizing policies were for society in the mid-twentieth century, globalization’s hyper focus on the economy is a “threat to happiness” today, Minogue concludes. Quoting Henry Kissinger’s opinion, he wrote that indiscriminate globalization imposes “limitless suffering in the name of the market.” Globalization, then, is more detrimental to democracy in its economic facets than in its social facets.
If globalization is ultimately a unifying form of economic activity, the interesting question that globalization raised for Minogue was the following: Do the laws of economics determine an emerging homogeneity of human life? This is an open question. Like Sloterdijk, Minogue puts in question the ability of the market to stop imposing this homogeneity. Minogue’s conclusion upon his analysis of globalization as it pertains to the crisis of liberalism is clear: “Democracy I have little doubt is doomed,” because the belief in the universality of globalization is an economic illusion that misleads society about “the dynamics of the modern world.” Globalization’s liberalism does not seem apt, moreover, at making any distinction that implicates value judgements on what is best for society if that response cannot have a market price.
But the market would not take this radical direction if it was contained by local forces that keep it grounded on a humble mission like generating national prosperity and sustaining moral values, even through international means. Upon taking off those national fences, market forces run amuck and start to dictate our labor and leisure. Nevertheless, globalization’s liberalism does not need to become our new liberalism. As far as definitions changing over the years goes, liberalism has been no exception. As this paper has intended to demonstrate, globalization is, in large part, a reason for liberalism’s shift, but it is also a child of liberalism’s project. This paradox is one that we can come to terms with because liberalism in itself also needs to be pulled back every now and then, such is the responsibility that comes with liberty.
Clark, Greg, Global Cities, (Washington, D.C.: 2016).
Deneen, Patrick J., Why Liberalism Failed, (New Haven: 2018).
Goldsmith, James, The Trap, (London: 1994).
Held, David, Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities, (Cambridge: 2010).
Held, David and Mathias Koenig-Archibugi, Taming Globalization, (Cambridge: 2003).
Held, David and Anthony McGrew, Globalization/ Anti-Globalization, (Cambridge: 2002).
Minogue, Kenneth, Papers of Kenneth Minogue, Special Collections, University of St Andrews.
Manent, Pierre, Democracy Without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, (Wilmington: 2007).
Sassen, Saskia, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization, (New York: 1996).
Sloterdijk, Peter, In the World Interior of Capital, (Cambridge: 2014).
Trepanier, Lee and Khalil M. Habib, Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Globalization, (Lexington: 2011).
Deneen, Patrick, ‘Unsustainable Liberalism’, August 2012, <https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/08/unsustainable-liberalism> [14 July, 2018]
Clark, Greg, ‘How Cities Took Over The World: A History of Globalisation Spanning 4,000 Years’, 1 December 2016 <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/dec/01/how-cities-took-over-the-world-a-history-of-globalisation-spanning-4000-years> [10 May 2018]
Manent, Pierre, ‘Repurposing Europe’, April 2016, <https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/04/repurposing-europe> [2 June, 2018]
 Greg Clark, ‘How Cities Took Over the World: A History of Globalization Spanning 4,000 Years’, 1 December 2016 <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/dec/01/how-cities-took-over-the-world-a-history-of-globalisation-spanning-4000-years>[10 May 2018]
 Clark, ‘How Cities Took Over the World: A History of Globalization Spanning 4,000 Years’, 1 December, 2016.
 Lee Trepanier and Khalil M. Habib, Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Globalization, (Lexington: 2011), p. 211.
 Trepanier and Habib, Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Globalization, p. 2.
 David Held and Mathias Koenig-Archibugi, Taming Globalization, (Cambridge: 2003). p. 161.
 David Held, Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities, (Cambridge: 2010). p. 15.
 Ibid., p. x.
 Held, Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities, p. xi.
 Ibid., p. x.
 Held and Koenig-Archibugi, Taming Globalization, p. 167-168.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 Held, Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities, p. 21.
 Ibid., p. 15-16.
 Held, Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities, p. 77.
 Pierre Manent, ‘Repurposing Europe’, April 2016, <https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/04/repurposing-europe> [2 June, 2018]
 Pierre Manent, Democracy Without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, (Wilmington: 2007), p. 4.
 Manent, Democracy Without Nations?, p. 5.
 David Held and Anthony McGrew, Globalization/Anti-Globalization, (Cambridge: 2002), pp. 25-26.
 Held and McGrew, Globalization/Anti-Globalization, p. 8.
 James Goldsmith, The Trap, (London: 1994). p. 183.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital, (Cambridge: 2014), p. 7-9.
 Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital, p. 30.
 Greg Clark, ‘How Cities Took Over the World: A History of Globalisation Spanning 4,000 Years’, 1 December 2016 <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/dec/01/how-cities-took-over-the-world-a-history-of-globalisation-spanning-4000-years>[10 May 2018]
 Ibid., p. 31.
 Ibid., p. 149.
 Ibid., p. 30-31.
 Leo Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, (New York: 1965), p. 4, quoted in Pierre Manent, Democracy Without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, (Wilmington: 2007), p. 58.
 Saskia Sassen, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization, (New York: 1996) p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 31.
 Ibid., p. 42.
 Ibid., pp. xi-xii.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, (New Haven: 2018), p. 3.
 Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, pp. 10-14; 98.
 Ibid., pp. 64-65.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Deneen, Patrick, ‘Unsustainable Liberalism’, August 2012, <https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/08/unsustainable-liberalism> [14 July, 2018]
 Kenneth Minogue, Papers of Kenneth Minogue, Special Collections, University of St Andrews, p. 1-5.
 Ibid., pp. 5-7
 Minogue, Special Collections, University of St Andrews, p. 13.
 Ibid., pp. 7-10.
 Ibid., pp. 14-16.
Also see “Globalization and Our National Anomie” and “James Burnham’s and Daniel Bell’s Critiques of Globalization and Liberalism.”