Human history has been a process of increased globalisation and interconnectedness. Epochs ago, written language and the advent of messenger services connected regions together, spreading information, trade routes and culture across the world. People migrated from their homelands and settled so firmly into their new land that today, only niche historians even acknowledge that these people were once colonisers. As ship technology developed, the largest obstacle to a globalised world fell apart, and with a few exceptions, the world became truly interconnected.
Of course, this has not been without hiccups. Nothing is perfect – down the utopian route lies only tyranny – and the interconnectedness enabled by technology and geography allows not only goods and people to cross borders, but also armies. But while being able to access the world is an inevitability of our technology today, globalisation still comes under fire.
Many accuse globalisation – interconnectedness of trade and some measure of shared values, such as wealth creation and a semblance of respect of property rights – of being the root of all evil, enabling war, tyranny and the New World Order. Communitarians detest it, painting it as a liberal internationalist atrocity that erodes culture and destroys communities.
Protectionists, so eager to turn the world economy into a board game of economic nationalism, decimate their own economies in an attempt to thwart globalisation. They would rather embrace isolation than benefit from the wealth of the world.
But is globalisation truly an evil? Can it be stopped? Should it be?
Globalisation is an inevitability with speed bumps along the way. So long as geography and technology enable our connection, the world will become increasingly interconnected. This is an inevitability if one likes it or not. But is this a bad thing?
The answer is a resounding: no. Globalisation does not only benefit the material wealth and opportunities of the people of the world, but also their liberty, and enriches their own moral thinking and making sense of themselves and the world around them.
The World is a Free Market
The virtue of a free market is in its competition and its inherent incentive for its participants to perform better in order to achieve better results. Competition exposes a participant to new ideas, new approaches, and challenges participants to do better. This isn’t only relevant in the economic sphere.
For a given society, globalisation and being exposed to other societies in this global free market of cultures, encourages a society to grow, transform and better itself. This is done in a few ways:
Wealth: Globalisation exposes a society to the opportunity to create wealth through trade. Societies can now enjoy goods they once would never be able to experience and sell their own goods and services to the world for wealth. Wealth is the antithesis of scarcity, and it is an intuitive and historical fact that scarcity creates conflict, erodes communities and destroys societies. The richer a people become, the less likely we are to kill each other through desperation.
Ideas: Being exposed to other cultures not only introduces us to new, possibly great ideas, but also helps us adjust our own ideas or test their resilience against opposition. The European Renaissance was sparked by being exposed to Classical Greek thought, adjusted and maintained by the Khazarian and Arabic world. Many aspects of mathematics were developed in India and the Muslim world but were used in Europe despite the cultural conflicts of the day. Good ideas stick.
Resilience: Being exposed to enemies and disagreement helps us grow resilient. It tests our own ideas and practices and helps us develop ways to defend ourselves. The fact of life is that there will be conflict. Better to be exposed to other cultures, exchanges and smaller conflicts, like that of the European societies of the past, so that your society can develop and prepare for a truly life-ending threat.
Transformation: Nothing lasts forever. No culture is immortal. But in the crucible of cultural exchange, cultures and communities evolve, morph and merge into something new and longer lasting. Today, the most powerful and successful culture in the world is a combination of countless immigrant cultures coming together and forming under an ideology of coexistence and freedom. An American was once many different ethnicities fleeing an old country or looking for a better life, but in even less than a generation, they transformed into something more.
To be forged into something greater, societies and communities must come into contact with one another, trade goods, resist bad ideas and test themselves in the forge of the free market.
Being isolated from one another, on the other hand, leaves a society static and weak. Protectionism and intentional isolationism treat a society like a baby, keeping it coddled and unable to compete with the real world when it inevitably comes flooding in.
Globalisation connects every society to each other, allowing an exchange in material and intellectual goods, as well as enabling a competition that benefits us all. Of course, it isn’t perfect. Nothing is perfect. But it beats isolationism, which leaves society weak to the harshness of reality.
Globalisation and Interconnectedness in History
Historically, societies that embraced globalisation and were able to interact with other societies flourished sooner than their isolated counterparts. Embracing and exploiting the benefits of diversity, interconnectedness and cultural exchange was essential for the growth of the empires that built the modern world – all the way from the Romans who adopted Greek values, to the European traders who took advantage of Arabic mathematics.
Europe developed into a powerhouse because its small size, many traversable rivers and ease of travel ensured that societies and communities lived on top of each other. Many different cultures constantly had to clash, trade, debate and morph, forming stronger societies than those before and benefiting in the short and long run as a result.
Europe was strong because it was forged in a constant crucible of cultural clashes and interaction. While small, Europe became a globalised region, whereby sea and rivers connected vastly different cultures to each other, for everyone’s benefit.
Conversely, societies that rejected globalisation and embraced isolation, suffered. China was undoubtedly the most highly developed and advanced civilisation on Earth, until it embraced a long isolation that left it culturally and technologically backwards – easy pickings for the rest of the world that had been forged in competition and made resilient through interconnectedness.
Japan also embraced isolation and was rudely woken up by foreign powers. In its isolated state, it had been unable to develop a resilience to invaders. But fortunately for them, the Japanese were quick to embrace globalisation and caught up fast. But before this, its isolation was marked by the execution and hunting down of Christians, the perpetuation of an oppressive feudal caste system and many other brutal atrocities. These only really came to an end when Japan was brought into the global community.
For societies that were unable to globalise due to geographical restraints, the difference with the globalised world is stark. Sub-Saharan Africa was geographically isolated, with jungles and large swathes of land separating tribes and societies from one another. As a result, the civilisations remained primitive. No written language was developed because what would be the point? Subsistence was the primary level of wealth, with little trade bringing in new goods or solving issues of scarcity. Societies were fragile, often one disaster away from annihilation.
This exposes another benefit of globalisation: a support network. Communitarians will often discuss the importance of community as it makes a group of individuals stronger. By that logic, a global community, underpinned by a few shared, basic values, is even stronger, with our connection to other societies through globalisation making us all the more resilient against the freak accidents of nature.
Europe, North Africa and the Arab world were connected through the Mediterranean. In fact, the Dark Ages began when this world was split between cultures that refused to interact. But while all the societies around this sea interacted, they created civilisations that stood the test of time and all bettered each other. Unfortunately, many of these societies have since embraced protectionist trade policies that hurt their ability to create wealth and benefit from a globalised system of trade.
Globalisation as a Gateway to Tyranny
Opponents of globalisation and the buzzword “globalism” often spread fear that our interconnectedness can be used as a tool to control people and spread authoritarianism (Note: Globalism is the idea that globalisation can be used by international powers to centrally plan global affairs). And sure, bad ideas can spread alongside good ideas. This is why it’s crucial for those of us who believe in liberty and independence to fight for these values and ideas.
But to co-opt the communitarian argument again: if a community is stronger because it has many individuals working together, then many communities working together could far more easily stand up against tyranny than a single enclave.
Globalisation turns many scattered communities into a global civilisation, informed by the values that have spread through trade networks and cultural exchange. Together, these communities are far more likely to resist a tyrannical invader than a single community.
Additionally, globalisation enables communities and societies to hold each other accountable. The international community as it stands today is far from perfect, but nations condemning the evil actions of regimes – and taking different forms of action – has led to many governments second-guessing falling down the road to serfdom.
Isolated communities are also not immune to tyranny. Isolationism itself needs to be enforced and by its nature is authoritarian. In a globalised system, a person can escape a tyrannical community, but in a non-globalised world, they are trapped.
Also, even if isolated, communities will inevitably seek conflict over scarce resources, territorial claims and probably sheer boredom. Being unable to interact and trade leaves communities with little choice but to wage war.
As Bastiat put it: “When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.”
Interconnectedness: We’re Stronger and Freer Together
To reiterate the core of this article: globalisation is not only an inevitable event; if harnessed properly it can lead to freer, more resilient and more advanced societies. Historically, societies that embraced globalisation and the interconnectedness it enables flourished while those who denied it or were unable to embrace it became backwards.
We shouldn’t fear globalisation. Far from it. There is much more to fear from isolation, a hatred of the foreign, and ideologies that seek to divide and keep us apart rather than being able to enjoy all of human civilisation.