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If These be Men…

Considerate se questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace

(Consider if this be a man
Who works in the mud
Who knows no peace)

–Primo Levi

Globalization is about many things. It‘s about flows. It‘s about identities. And, perhaps most importantly, it‘s about dreams.

The chief proponents of Globalization are mainly positive when it comes to global financial markets and the liberalization of trade. Even the more cautious (or prudent?) among them, such as the Harvard/Princeton economist Dani Rodrik, do not advocate the reversal of these trends but rather their regulatory synchronization with domestic institutions and practices.

In a world where goods circulate ever more freely can the desires of the world’s less fortunate be far behind?

Indeed, I think the less fortunate of the world have understood the process of Globalization most correctly. They recognize the growing convergence of world capital in the hands of a global elite as an ineluctable fact. While another world might be eventually possible they are, for the moment at least, resigned to accept, the new technologies and even the new institutions of global capital. They seek to “exploit” the exploiters as best they can; through attempting to wrangle better jobs, training, and education whether this means accepting employment at a Transnational Corporation, learning English, or cooperating with NGOs.

While there are some, especially in the Muslim world, who are radically affronted by “The Great Convergence” that Globalization represents; the majority of the world’s population are becoming secularized through a growing willingness to participate in the culture and practices of consumerism that are increasingly available all over the world. Coca-cola has indeed become King.

And many want to enter the Kingdom.

Logically, those who are materially worse off in the world want to drink more deeply from the well of global capitalism. They want to be “there” where it is being “made”. Their motivations however are not solely economic, but often political and social as well. They want to live in a society that provides the goods: food, freeways, and freedom. And through the global propaganda of the great capitalist powers, they are quite sure of these things and their current exact address and the value of the comparative risk that they must take to get there.

In the Nineteenth century, capital also moved freely, in some superficial ways almost as much as today, but labor moved across borders at an astounding rate. Some 50 million Europeans, by some accounts, left their home continent for other shores between 1815 and 1930. Considering that there were far less people living in total during these years, that is a not an inconsiderable amount of migration.

Of course, after the First World War, restrictions on immigration were put in place and states became both more “jealous” of their home populations and more “suspicious” of those who they were willing to let in. The problem was made more acute since many of the new sources of immigration stemmed from former colonies; often people of different colors and beliefs.

Yet fundamental questions remain: if present globalization, perhaps best understood within terms of particular domestic institutions and practices mediated by a maximum amount of participatory democracy, seems to be a long term good then how can we honestly maintain brutally closed borders towards the global aspirations of millions?

Are these not, after all, men and women, who toil and struggle in the mud (as Primo Levi so poignantly once phrased it) and very often know not a moment’s peace?

Are their global, human hopes not legitimate enough in the face of lingering nationalism?

Are they to be dehumanized because they do not share the same language and culture as the people who inhabit the destination of their dreams?

Is it really true that the leading nations of global capitalism do not have the resources to absorb those who eagerly want to join them? Or is the fear of the “other” so important to maintain so as to ease the control and manipulation of those who already “securely enjoy a warm meal in a snug house and the faces of friends” (Voi che vivete sicuri, Nelle vostre tiepide case,Voi che trovate tornando a sera,Il cibo caldo e visi amici-Levi).

Does Nationalism ultimately have to die a long overdue death in order to realize the inherent humanist potential in a full fledged Global world; where labor moves as freely as capital?

Is this the true key to social justice and equality on a global scale? A rallying cry for a New Left?

Where every person on the planet no matter how downtrodden and covered in mud and the sweat of desperation from the crossing of treacherous rivers, and the perilous crossing of seas; where every persecuted conscience would be allowed the opportunity to reside in that place where they consider the air fresher, the water cleaner, and the liberation and attainment of their human potential would be more secure and happy; a world of free men and women where the tyranny of place has been finally abolished.

 

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Dan Corjescu teaches Political Philosophy at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

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