In This Review

The War of Words: A Glossary of Globalization
The War of Words: A Glossary of Globalization
By Harold James
Yale University Press, 2021, pp

In this masterful exercise in “intellectual decluttering,” James cuts through the tangled terminological and conceptual jungle of modern globalist discourse. All the major ideas make an appearance: capitalism, socialism, democracy, populism, nationalism, technocracy, and so on. The book takes the form of a glossary: each of those concepts gets its own chapter, organized around fascinating discussions of the origins and meanings of the words used to describe them. Many of the terms have gone through a sort of conceptual life cycle: emerging and gaining currency in a particular historical moment, often during a global crisis or a rapid transformation in the world economy; being deployed in discursive battles between advocates and critics; and over time slowly losing their precise meaning as more and more connotations and ideological usages undermine the original idea. The book can also be read as a history of the modern global system, in which the terms stand in as markers for upheavals, innovations, and transformations in markets and politics. Particularly revealing chapters on the terms “neoliberalism” and “globalization” show the complex ways in which scholarly ideas have been weaponized for political struggle. James argues that successfully navigating today’s technological revolutions and upheavals in global capitalism will require the invention of new concepts.