Jihad vs. McWorld: How the Planet Is Both Falling Apart and Coming Together and What This Means for Democracy

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Jihad vs. McWorld: How the Planet Is Both Falling Apart and Coming Together and What This Means for Democracy

By Benjamin R. Barber
Times Books, 1995
381 pp. $25.00

This analysis is strikingly similar to that of the Guéhenno volume: the nation-state, the institutional cradle of democracy and citizenship, is being threatened from two directions. McWorld--the consumer-oriented capitalist global economy--is deracinating people from their traditional political communities and subverting communities' power to regulate their own norms and behavior. Jihad, by contrast, is the return to particularistic religious or ethnic communities that has been provoked by precisely the imperialistic reach of the (American-dominated) global consumer economy.

The idea that the world is becoming simultaneously more homogeneous and more diverse, and that these phenomena are related, is a provocative insight. The author's argument is marred, however, by his snobbish distaste for capitalism and American popular culture, which he argues is America's most distinctive product. The trenchant line that Barber would like to draw between a good, democratic civil society and a bad, vulgar McWorld is not tenable: the capitalist global economy is intimately related in ways unacknowledged in this book to the success and stability of democracy and civil society. The spread of pop culture reflects the democratization of cultures once shaped by elitist arbiters of taste. The author ignores countervailing trends in contemporary capitalism that will permit McWorld to bolster rather than undermine civil society, such as the proliferation of new information technologies that will erode media monopolies.

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