The term ‘globalization’ refers to the extension of social relations over the globe. There is no doubt that this is occurring. The more difficult questions are, how fast? How far? How evenly? Are some regions or groups of people being left out? Will it go further in the future? Many imply that globalization is a singular process, moving toward one encompassing global society. Given the dominance of materialism in modern Western thought, their analysis tends to centre on economic matters—transnational capitalism is breaking through the boundaries of states to create a unitary network of interaction across the globe. Others would stress technological and cultural versions—a revolution in the technology of communications, or in new mass markets of consumer capitalism. There are also less economistic conceptions: the emergence of a single global culture, or world order—more usually seen as a convergence of the many existing states into a single political model, rather than the emergence of a single world state. These visions are essentially pacific: the world will be integrated into a more or less harmonious whole.footnote1

These views are false. Though globalization is occurring, it is not singular but multiple, and it disintegrates as well as integrating. Globalization diffuses onto a world scale the unevenness and contradictions of the ‘West’ and the ‘North’, and then adds to them those of the ‘South’ and of North–South relations. Such plural globalizations involve much conflict—often amenable to negotiation and settlement, but at other times sparking armed combat. I will attempt to delineate these varied outcomes, focusing especially on tracing the links between globalizations and the terrible sequence of events begun on September 11. I am not the first to make such arguments. Some emphasize that a capitalist ‘world system’ generates its own contradictions and conflicts as each of its successive hegemonic Powers begins to falter.footnote2 This is quite a forceful argument, attempting to analyse both economics and politics, but it is still too narrow and systemic a view.

Some historians of international relations have stressed that globalization has been Janus-faced, providing both order and fragmentation. Thus the Cold War is seen both as having divided the world and as having given it an essential order, either side of its main fault-line—including the partial incorporation of the ‘Third’ into the ‘First World’.footnote3 There are also many analyses of the ‘new world disorder’. But I will place such perspectives within a broader theory of society. In the two volumes of The Sources of Social Power, I argued that, in pursuit of their goals, human beings set up four main types of power organizations: ideological (or cultural, if you prefer); economic; military; and political.footnote4 This model sees globalization as consisting of expansions of all four of these networks of interaction, each of which may have differing boundaries, rhythms and results, diffusing distinctive forms of integration and disintegration across the globe. Discussion of globalization should not neglect any of these. Recent events should bring this home, since they clearly involve a mixture of ideological, economic, military and political processes.

The multiple nature of globalization had already been evident in its earlier phases. These lasted many centuries, going into higher gear when, at the end of the fifteenth century, European explorers became the first humans to conceive of conquering and settling the whole globe—and then largely proceeded to do so. But their expansion was multiple. It included the global expansion of European capitalism; of imperialism; and of ideologies—Christianity, individualism and racism, with liberalism, socialism and democracy added later. This bundle of European ideologies was internally contradictory; it also provoked much resistance. To give two examples: firstly, European racism undermined European imperialism’s ability to integrate its conquered peoples into enduring empires. Two millennia previously, North Africans had become Romans, contributing to the longevity of the Empire. But in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Africans did not become British. Excluded as racial inferiors, they kicked out their British overlords as soon as they had the chance. The Russian Empire similarly failed to integrate Caucasian peoples; they never succeeded in subduing the Chechens, while the Circassians were completely wiped out.

Secondly, the expansion globalized militarism between rival European states, bringing wars that initially disrupted globalization but then redirected and even enhanced it—the Napoleonic Wars, enhancing the global power of Britain, and the Asian power of Russia; World War II, followed by the Cold War, generating the first global hegemon: the United States. In the past, therefore, globalization was multiple and contradictory, with all four sources of social power entwining to determine its trajectory. This remains true today. States, imperialism and militarism still exist; and though racism may have declined, ethnic and religious nationalism have surged. To put such phenomena in a broader context, I examine the four power sources in turn.

The transnational growth of capitalism has now risen back up to the high levels achieved before World War I—and greatly exceeds these in communications and direct foreign investment. Capitalism is formally transnational: oriented to profit on markets wherever these are found, regardless of national, regional, religious or other boundaries. It could be seamlessly global—but it still contains three main divides, which also cut across a peculiar facet of this recent phase of globalization. For this has not been a period of general economic growth but of overall relative stagnation amid great unevenness between regions.

The most important divide is created by the contradictory relations of what I shall call ‘ostracizing imperialism’. The term indicates that one part of the world both avoids and dominates the economy of the other, the precise mixture of these relationships varying by region and through time. On the one hand, most of the world’s poorest countries are not being significantly integrated into transnational capitalism, but are ‘ostracized’ by a capitalism which regards them as too risky for investment and trade. It is conventional to describe this economic faultline as being between ‘North’ and ‘South’, though this is too crude a division and is not strictly geographical. Much of Russia, China and the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics are classified as ‘South’, while Australia and New Zealand are ‘North’.