‘Globalist’ has Become a Useful Slur—but What Does it Really Mean?
We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism.
~Donald J Trump, April 27, 2016
In 1950 the American dream lived in Detroit: it was a magnet for talent, for hardworking hands and dreaming minds. The city was rich—fabulously rich, boasting enough classical art to satisfy a Medici’s greed—and it was growing richer still. Industry boomed in the wake of America’s post-war export surge.
Everyone benefited: Detroit was home to an affluent middle class, and even its poor were relatively comfortable—at least they had jobs. If you were willing to work, you could make it in Detroit.
How things have changed.
Detroit is derelict, it’s a warzone: its population has plunged by 63 percent since 1950, 78,000 buildings are empty, and the city is plagued by America’s highest violent crime rate. Many of its greatest monuments—reminders of its gilded past—lie abandoned.
Rain dribbles down into the cavernous United Artists Theater, flooding the auditorium once crowded by low men with high aspirations: what used to be alive with costume and dance and song is now an archaeological ruin.
Sadly, this story is not unique to Detroit. This is Pittsburgh. This is Buffalo. This is Flint.
This is America’s heartland, where 5 million people lost their manufacturing jobs since 1979 and tens of thousands die of opioid addiction every year. These are the people who suffer under globalism, and they voted for President Trump.
Many formerly blue states turned red in 2016, galvanized by Trump’s promise to end the bad trade deals that gutted American industry and impoverished American workers. In fact, some 12 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters voted for Trump, bringing him 47,000 extra votes in Michigan (he won by just 10,000) and 116,000 in Pennsylvania (where he won by 44,000).
The 2016 election was a referendum on globalism, but what does globalism really mean?
Very few people seem to know, and too often the word is simply used to tar political opponents: disagree with me and you’re a globalist. It’s fast becoming the right’s racist—a word devoid of meaning through overuse. Not everyone who opposes illegal immigration is racist, and not every liberal is a globalist.
It’s time we get specific: what is globalism? Who are the globalists?
What Is Globalism? How Is It Different From Globalization?
Pick up any political science textbook and flip to the glossary. There you’ll find a definition of “globalization” that reads something like this:
“Globalization” describes increasing connectivity between individuals, countries, and regions, throughout the world. These connections are generally thought of in economic terms (increased trade in goods, services, and ideas), but they also manifest themselves politically (through international bodies like the UN), and culturally (through global architectural styles and “pop culture”).
Globalization is a descriptive, objective term: it refers to the process of increasing global connectivity, and makes no claim as to whether this is good or bad—it simply is.
Globalism, on the other hand, is a prescriptive, subjective ideology that says globalization is good and more must be better.
Therefore, a globalist is someone who believes in globalism, and seeks to increase globalization whenever possible.
This is where the confusion starts.
The fact is that almost everyone likes certain aspects of globalization. For example, most Americans are glad they can buy strawberries year-round, and they enjoy watching hundreds of countries compete in the Olympic games. And can you imagine how difficult scientific cooperation would be if every country used different weights and measures?
Some elements of globalization are clearly good. Does recognizing this make us all globalists? Certainly not. It is possible to see an ideology’s merits without subscribing to said ideology: Mahatma Gandhi vociferously opposed British colonialism in India, but liked the law and order they brought.
The distinction, then, is more profound. It is a question of presumptions: globalists presume a priori that globalization is good, and support policies that increase global connectivity even in the absence of evidence that said policy will be beneficial. They are a fundamentally hopeful (naïve) bunch.
On the contrary, the conservative presumption is skepticism: measures that increase globalization should not be taken unless there is good evidence that they will benefit us.
In short: globalists assume globalization is good, conservatives want proof.
Specifics Matter, Why We Need a Working Definition of Globalism
Why does any of this matter? Simply put, there can be no conversation without shared language, and there can be no genuine debate without shared understanding—common ground is persuasion’s starting point. This is the main reason why we must agree on a definition of globalism.
But not everyone is interested in a fruitful discussion: some are content to insult one another for political gain—globalist is a useful slur. Yet by speaking without specificity, these people harm the cause for two reasons.
First, diffuse goals produce diffuse results. The “Year of Revolutions” (1848) is known to historians as the year Europe failed to turn. In the decades prior Europe’s expanding bourgeois class grew increasingly liberal, embracing the notions of free speech, equality before the law, and universal suffrage—in stark contrast to the conservative cliques who ran Europe’s governments.
Tensions roiled over in 1848 when sporadic revolts occurred in Europe’s greatest cities: idealists from Budapest to Berlin rose in the name of liberalism. But when it came time to translate their utopian visions into reality, many of the revolutionaries lost their tongue: what did they actually want? What did liberalism mean in practice? In the end, this lack of specificity, combined with government repression smothered the revolutions. Little changed—if anything, Europe became more conservative.
The moral: vague causes have vague effects. We would do well to remember this: if we cannot agree on what globalism is, we have little chance at effecting meaningful reform in Washington. We need clear purpose.
Second, overuse strips “globalism” of its power—it becomes a useless catchall, like “systemic racism” or “the patriarchy.” We need to get specific: what laws further the globalist agenda? Which are detrimental, and which are beneficial? This exercise in practicality is boring, but necessary.
Likewise, by overusing the term we risk losing the signal in the noise. Consider how the rampant accusations of communism during the McCarthy era allowed many true agitators and KGB agents to hide in plain sight: there were so many “Pinkos” that there were no Pinkos.
The same is true today: calling every Democrat or “neocon” a globalist simply dilutes our attention and distorts our message.
If we’re serious about preserving and building upon the gains made in 2016, we need to start speaking in specific terms and acting for specific purposes. The risks are simply too great to let “globalist” become a meaningless slur.
This definition covers the broad strokes of globalism, but there are nuanced questions left unanswered.
For example: where do groups with supra-national identities, and who work in their own self-interests fit into this schema? By this I mean groups like the Catholic Church or Jihadis—or any other proselytizing religious or ideological group—who seeks to replace national identity with a belief-based identity?
Are they globalists, since they seek to erase national boundaries and promote a global (Catholic or Islamic) culture? Or are they nationalists, who promote a nation of the faithful?
Or what of ethnic groups like the Jewish Diaspora, or Europe’s Roma people? These groups can hardly be considered “global” in the same sense as a proselytizing religious or ideological group—they want to maintain exclusivity—and yet they have historically been in conflict with their host nations.
These questions will be answered in a subsequent series of articles where I explore the evolutionary biology, and political utility of altruism and group preference.
A brief adumbration: in my view the distinction between nationalists and globalists lies in whether or not they express a group preference—globalists reject group preferences with respect to altruism, whereas nationalists practice preferential altruism. There are some other caveats and avenues to explore, but this seems to me to be the crux of the issue.
Articles will be linked below once completed.