Globalization between the Cold War and Neo-Imperialism: Volume 24

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Table of contents

(10 chapters)

In early April 2004, a group of social scientists gathered at Florida State University, for an interdisciplinary conference on “Globalization and the Sedimentation of the Cold War.”1 The papers and discussions centered around the following question: Has the configuration of business–labor–government relations that took hold in the West after World War II – during the so-called “Cold War” – become “sedimented” in ways that delimit the possible scope of choices and actions decision-makers in key institutions and organizations can make and engage in. Has it done so in a manner that resembles an underlying program which remains concealed from sight – perhaps more so, as time goes by? If we should need to answer this question in the affirmative, this program would predetermine both the confines of strategies institutions and organizations can pursue in their efforts to confront emerging challenges, and the nature of the results those strategies produce. While the configuration, as it took shape in western democratic societies – especially in North America and Western Europe, but also in Japan – was historically specific, it produced a condition that appears to perpetuate patterns established during, and characteristic of, the Cold War – beyond the official end of the Cold War. By implication, decision-makers in politics, business, and the policy apparatus would presume the prevalence of patterns that were endemic to the Cold War constellation of business, labor, and government, along with corresponding definitions of the functions and responsibilities of government, as integral to the design of early twenty-first century societies. Put differently, in the absence of a definite break with the political and economic patterns that took hold during the Cold War, the latter will remain as a central feature and organizing principle, continuing to define the perimeter of choices we perceive, the nature of goals we pursue, and the types of means we both employ and deploy.

We address here how the U.S. neoliberal policy regime developed and how its reconstructed vision of modernization, which culminated, under the rubric of globalization, was neutralized by 9/11 and neoconservative geopolitics. We analyze the phases in the rise of neoliberalism, and provide a detailed map of its vision of global modernization at its high tide under Clinton. We also address how the Bush Doctrine's unilateral, preemptive polices and the consequent War on Terror and Iraq War eroded U.S. legitimacy as the globalization system's hegmon and shifted the discourse from globalization to empire. Cold War modernization theorists, neoliberal globalization advocates, and Bush doctrine neoconservatives all drew on an American exceptionalist tradition that portrays the U.S. as modernity's “lead society,” attaches universal significance to its values, policies, and institutions, and urges their worldwide diffusion. All three traditions ignore or diminish the importance of substantive equality and social justice. We suggest that consequent U.S. policy problems might be averted by recovery of a suppressed side of the American tradition that stresses social justice and holds that democracy must start at home and be spread by example rather than by exhortation or force. Overall, we explore the contradictory U.S. role in an emergent post-Cold War world.

Officially, of course, the world is now post-imperial. The Q’ing and Ottoman empires fell on the eve of World War I, and the last Leviathans of Europe's imperial past, the Austro-Hungarian and Tsarist empires, lumbered into the grave soon after. Tocsins of liberation were sounded on all sides, in the name of democracy (Wilson) and socialism (Lenin). Later attempts to remake and proclaim empires – above all, Hitler's annunciation of a “Third Reich” – now seem surreal, aberrant, and dystopian. The Soviet Union, the heir to the Tsarist empire, found it prudent to call itself a “federation of socialist republics.” Mao's China followed suit. Now, only a truly perverse, contrarian regime would fail to deploy the rhetoric of democracy.

In recent years, and especially with the war in Iraq, the U.S. military's reliance on private contractors as forces in the theater of war has grown and become increasingly clear. We critically evaluate some of the best literature on the emergence of this phenomenon – especially Ken Silverstein's Private Warriors and P. W. Singer's Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry – and find a neglect of the historical path-dependent character of the rise of the new corporate armed forces. In particular, we concentrate on American experience and two silences that are integral to understanding the path-dependent character of this process: (1) earlier historical reliance on private armed force to suppress the labor movement in America, the template for this new form of irregular armed force and (2) the ghost of Vietnam as a continuing political liability in the mobilization of sufficient troop levels under neo-imperialist aspirations and “the global war on terror,” as the main condition for the rise of the new private military form. Both elements suggest the theoretical importance of state strength/weakness in any explanation of private armed force. We discuss several important political implications of our findings.

Arthur Schlessinger (1983) suggested that the contradictions and paradoxes of American foreign policy reflected contradictions and paradoxes in the underlying character of the people. We would go further to suggest that the early years of colonial life, much like the early years of a person's life, had major consequences ever since. The intersection of Puritanism, available land, and eventually the rise of a commercial culture would forge a unique trajectory of what would be called “American Exceptionalism”, reflecting an “American character”, which itself is subject to three paradoxes or polarities, individualism vs. community, toughness vs. compassion, and moralism vs. pragmatism. The effect of this legacy and the dialectical aspect of American character were first evident when Winthrop proclaimed the city on the hill as the new Jerusalem. The legacy of that vision is taking place today in Iraq.

This critique asks how much allegedly “transnational terrorist threats,” as framed by the events of 9.11.01 and their aftermath, are a displaced struggle for global social justice mediated through cultural, religious, and ethnic conflicts. The loosely articulated transnational networks of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists, which appear to be behind the attacks of 9.11.01 as well as many previous incidents, have concentrated their efforts on finding vulnerabilities in several major Western nation-states, even though many of their attacks have been directed mostly against high-profile U.S. targets.

A major focus of analysis for this study is asking to what extent Hardt's and Negri's “Empire” vs. “the Multitude” thesis is, or is not, substantiated by the nature of the 9.11.01 terrorist actions. The post-9.11.01 global response to these attacks, the multinational invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the new opening of the NATO alliance to Russia with operations outside of Europe, and the anti-terrorism campaigns inside many nation-states are signs of a different approach to national and transnational security that reflects a global struggle between newly found enemies and newly affirmed allies. On balance, there are many indications that these terrorist attacks are aimed at the U.S., but the role of the United States in the workings of what Hardt and Negri call “Empire” does lend support for seeing some Islamic terrorist networks as a counter-globalizing, anti-empire resistance movements that express class, cultural, religious, and ethnic conflicts caused by enduring economic inequalities in today's grids of globalization.

Nonetheless, the battleground of this unusual struggle continues to be found in nation-states, so their crosscurrents of social justice need to be addressed. Here the paper will look very closely at the outsourcing of military services in Iraq and Afghanistan to private contractors, foreign coalitional allies, and foreign national recruits in the U.S. military as another sign of class, gender, ethnic, and racial inequalities.

Antonio & Bonanno paint a fairly bleak picture of the trajectory of our current history in the emergent post-Cold War world. They show how three political discourses – Cold War modernization, neoliberal globalization, and neoconservative politics – all draw on particular elements of American Exceptionalism that have shifted us toward imperialist tendencies that “ignore or diminish the importance of substantive equality and social justice.” Although Langman & Burke stop short of making the same final point, their analysis of the weaker sides of the tri-part dialectic – individual/community, toughness/compassion, moralism/pragmatism – is useful in developing Antonio & Bonanno's point a bit further.

The hegemony of the Republican right and the global triumph of neoliberalism comprise the two central political questions of the contemporary age. Progressive intellectuals seem to be at a loss as to how to explain these intertwined themes. Why has the war waged by the American ruling class, at home and abroad, been received so enthusiastically among many in the U.S. and faced so little opposition internationally? What can history tell us about the triumph of the Right? These papers shed light on three aspects of the American empire, pointing to the ways in which the domestic and the foreign are entangled in powerful and complex ways.

Cover of Globalization between the Cold War and Neo-Imperialism
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Current Perspectives in Social Theory
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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