Barber, Benjamin. “Jihad vs. McWorld.” The Atlantic Monthly. Mar. 1992.
Barber’s central thesis in this piece is that he sees two options in the future: 1) Calling the first future jihad, Barber argues that this future sees the “retribalization” of huge amounts of the world’s population wherein cultures battle against other cultures in the act of shedding any sense of interdependence and social cooperation; 2) The second future is a centralization and homogenization of culture under the aegis of the North American and Western European culture industry – Barber calls this future McWorld. Unfortunately, according to Barber, neither of these options offers anything much in the way of a democratic future.
Barber identifies four components of McWorld: 1) a free-market imperative (and it’s nation-state sovereignty dissolving nature; 2) a resource imperative (all societies need other societies resources to survive. . . no nation is an autarky); 3) an information-technology imperative (underpinned by a Habermasian rational-critical engagement in digital spaces, but laden with Orewellian overtones); and 4) an ecological imperative (a new form of imperialism whereby Western developed nations argue that the world cannot afford the pollutants created in the act of industrialization by developing nations). Taken together these four imperatives have done much to assuage the influence of particularisms in different parts of the world.
Barber characterizes jihad as a movement of micronationalisms that push against any and all larger forces of integration and unification. He also notes that this is jihad: war not as an “instrument of policy” but rather as an “emblem of identity, an expression of community, an end in itself.”
Barber faults the McWorld system with respecting human rights but ignoring active civic participation and the pursuit of social justice; rather, instead most individuals would rather exercise their free will in pursuit of economic production and consumption. Jihad on the other hand demonstrates a narrow parochialism that finds its identity in exclusion and is therefore fundamentally undemocratic. To fix this problem, Barber argues for what he calls “decentralized participatory democracy” or “confederal representative government.” At its heart, this form of civic and political participation recognizes a universal human rights and law; however, it positions local regions more centrally in the decision-making process because democracy grows from the bottom up, not the top down. Barber calls this the indigenization of democracy. In closing, he describes it thusly:
A confederal union of semi-autonomous communities smaller than nation-states, tied together into regional economic associations and markets larger than nation-states – participatory and self-determining in local matters at the bottom, representative and accountable at the top. The nation-state would play a diminished role, sovereignty would lose some of its political potency. The Green movement adage ‘Think globally, act locally’ would actually come to describe the conduct of politics.