August 1, 1995
Jihad vs. McWorld is a groundbreaking work of enormous importance – an elegant and penetrating analysis of the fundamental conflict of our times: consumerist capitalism versus religious and tribal fundamentalism.
Jihad vs. McWorld offers a lens through which to understand the chaotic events of the post-Cold War world. Benjamin R. Barber argues that if you look only at the business section of the daily newspaper, you would be convinced that the world was increasingly united, that borders were increasingly porous, that corporate mergers were steadily knitting the globe into a single international market. But if you focus only on the front page, you would be convinced of just the opposite: that the world was increasingly riven by fratricide, civil war, and the breakup of nations.
In this brilliant and insightful book, Barber provides a single map that unites these two sides of the same coin, and convincingly demonstrates that what capitalism and fundamentalism have in common is a distaste for democracy. For both, in different ways, lay siege to the nation-state itself – heretofore the only guarantor of conditions that have permitted democracy to flourish. Democracy, Barber suggests, may well fall victim to a twin-pronged attack: by a global capitalism run rampant whose essential driving force is nihilistic, at its root destructive of traditional values as it seeks to maximize profit-taking at virtually any moral or religious or spiritual cost; and by religious, tribal, and ethnic fanatics whose various creeds are stamped by intolerance and a rage against the “other.”
Barber gives us two scenarios, which he fleshes out in riveting detail. The first holds out the grim prospect of a re-tribalization of large parts of humanity by war and bloodshed, a threatened balkanization of nation-states in which culture is pitted against culture – a virtual Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived fates against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and mutuality: against technology, against pop culture, against integrated markets; against modernity itself.
The second scenario paints the future in shimmering pastels, a busy portrait of onrushing economic, technological, and corporate forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize people everywhere with fast music, fast computers, and fast food – with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogeneous theme park: a veritable McWorld tied together by communications, information, entertainment, and commerce.
The paradox at the core of this bold book is that the tendencies of both Jihad and McWorld are at work, both visible sometimes in the same country at the same instant. Jihad pursues a bloody politics of identity, while McWorld seeks a bloodless economics of profit. Belonging by default to McWorld, everyone is compelled to enroll in Jihad. But no one is any longer a citizen. And, asks Barber, without citizens, how can there be democracy?
Jihad vs. McWorld is a startlingly fresh book – a description of our present and, possibly, our future. It is required reading for anyone seriously interested in politics, culture, and business.
Benjamin R. Barber is the Whitman Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University and the director of the Walt Whitman Center at Rutgers. He is the author of numerous books, including An Aristocracy of Everyone and Strong Democracy. He writes regularly for many publications, including Harpers, The New Republic, and The Atlantic Monthly.