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Benjamin Barber Jihad Vs. Mcworld Essay

Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World is a 1995 book by American political scientistBenjamin Barber, in which he puts forth a theory that describes the struggle between "McWorld" (globalization and the corporate control of the political process) and "Jihad" (Arabic term for "struggle", here modified to mean tradition and traditional values, in the form of extreme nationalism or religiousorthodoxy and theocracy). Benjamin Barber similarly questions the impact of economic globalization as well as its problems for democracy.

The book was based on a March 1992 article by Barber first published in The Atlantic Monthly.[1] The book employs the basic critique of neoliberalism seen in Barber's earlier, seminal work Strong Democracy. As neoliberal economic theory—not to be confused with social liberalism—is the force behind globalization, this critique is relevant on a much larger scale. Unregulated market forces encounter parochial (which he calls tribal) forces.

These tribal forces come in many varieties: religious, cultural, ethnic, regional, local, etc. As globalization imposes a culture of its own on a population, the tribal forces feel threatened and react. More than just economic, the crises that arise from these confrontations often take on a sacred quality to the tribal elements; thus Barber's use of the term "Jihad" (although in the second edition, he expresses regret at having used that term).[why?]

Barber's prognosis in Jihad vs McWorld is generally negative—he concludes that neither global corporations nor traditional cultures are supportive of democracy. He further posits that McWorld could ultimately win the "struggle". He also proposes a model for small, local democratic institutions and civic engagement as the hope for an alternative to these two forces.

Problems for democracy[edit]

Barber states that neither Jihad nor McWorld needs or promotes democracy.[2]


Barber argues that there are several imperatives that make up the McWorld, or the globalization of politics: a market imperative, a resource imperative, an information-technology imperative, and an ecological imperative. Due to globalization, our market has expanded and is vulnerable to the transnational markets where free trade, easy access to banking and exchange of currency are available. With the emergence of our markets, we have come up with international laws and treaties in order to maintain stability and efficiency in the interconnected economy. Resources are also an imperative aspect in the McWorld, where autarky seems insufficient and inefficient in presence of globalization. The information-technology of globalization has opened up communications to people all over the world, allowing us to exchange information. Also, technology is now systematically integrated into everyone's lives to the point where it "gives every person on earth access to every other person".[3] Globalization of ecology may seem cliche; Barber argues that whatever a nation does to their own ecology, it affects everyone on earth. For instance, cutting down a jungle will upset the overall oxygen balance, which affects our "global lungs". McWorld may promote peace and prosperity, but Barber sees this as being done at the cost of independence and identity, and notes that no more social justice or equality than necessary are needed to promote efficient economic production and consumption.


Barber sees Jihad as offering solidarity and protecting identities, but at the potential cost of tolerance and stability. Barber describes the solidarity needed within the concept of Jihad as being secured through exclusion and war against outsiders. As a result, he argues, different forms of anti-democratization can arise through anti-democratic one-party dictatorships, military juntas, or theocratic fundamentalism. Barber also describes through modern day examples what these 'players' are. "they are cultures, not countries; parts, not wholes; sects, not religions, rebellious factions and dissenting minorities at war not just with globalism but with the traditional nation-state. Kurds, Basques, Puerto Ricans, Ossetians, East Timoreans, Quebecois, the Catholics of Northern Ireland, Catalans, Tamils, and of course, Palestinians- people with countries, inhabiting nations not their own, seeking smaller worlds within borders that will seal them off from modernity."[4]

Confederal option[edit]

Barber writes democracy can be spread and secured through the world satisfying the needs of both the McWorld and Jihad. "With its concern for accountability, the protection of minorities, and the universal rule of law, a confederalized representative system would serve the political needs of McWorld as well as oligarchic bureaucratism or meritocratic elitism is currently doing."[4] Some can accept democracy faster than others. Every case is different, however "Democracy grows from the bottom up and cannot be imposed from the top down. Civil society has to be built from the inside out."[1] He goes on to further explain exactly what the confederal option means and how it will help. "It certainly seems possible that the most attractive democratic ideal in the face of the brutal realities of Jihad and the dull realities of McWorld will be a confederal union of semi autonomous communities smaller than nation-states, tied together into regional economic associations and markets larger than nation-states—participatory and self-determining in local matters at the bottom, representative and accountable at the top. The nation-state would play a diminished role, and sovereignty would lose some of its political potency."[4]

See also[edit]


  • Barber, Benjamin R., Jihad vs. McWorld", Hardcover: Crown, 1995, ISBN 0-8129-2350-2; Paperback: Ballantine Books, 1996, ISBN 0-345-38304-4
  • Frank J. Lechner and John Boli., The Globalization Reader: Fourth Edition, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2012

External Links[edit]

  • C-SPAN: Jihad vs. McWorld March 6, 2002 - Mr. Barber talked about his book Jihad v. McWorld and about globalism in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Among the topics he addressed were international actions to combat terrorism, evolution and continuity in American foreign policy, U.S. commitments around the world, and American cultural attitudes toward world events.
  1. ^ abBarber, Benjamin (March 1992). "Jihad vs. McWorld". The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  2. ^Frank J. Lechner and John Boli., The Globalization Reader: Fourth Edition, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2012
  3. ^Frank J. Lechner and John Boli., The Globalization Reader: Fourth Edition, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2012 pg.30
  4. ^ abcLechner, Frank J. (2015). The Globalization Reader. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 36. 

Jihad vs McWorld
by Benjamin R Barber
Corgi, £7.99

If ever a commentator on the world scene was to be allowed the dubious privilege of saying "I told you so" on September 11 2001, it was Professor Barber. The commentator with the eggiest face is Francis "End of History" Fukuyama. Barber's book, which is a kind of riposte to Fukuyama's and similarly began life as an article (in this case, in the March 1992 issue of Atlantic Monthly), was published in America in 1995. And the title, from which it isn't hard to get an idea of the contents, is rather chillingly apt - even more so than it was a decade ago. Recent events have not exactly conspired to overturn its thesis, although one might for the moment feel like reversing the word order, given who has been most visibly on the offensive lately. Surprisingly, this is its first publication in the UK.

Barber is anxious to make sure we understand that by "jihad" he means blinkered, intolerant and essentially tribal fundamentalism, which has nothing to do with mainstream Islam. It means, too, the Oklahoma bombing, the demented Protestantism of Jerry Falwell and his kind, which, he says, "no more defines Protestantism than the Taliban defines Islam". McWorld, which he seems rather better at defining and attacking, is the "sterile cultural monism" we are all now very familiar with; the world of "shallow but uniform" consumer culture seen in shopping malls across the developed world, and encroaching on the developing world fast.

One may expect Guardian readers in particular to raise a cheer about this. And there is much to cheer in Barber's analysis. The things that especially bother him are the erosion of the state's responsibilities, the maniacal rush towards market solutions, the bogus ethical concerns of corporations and the potentially catastrophic competing demands of multiculturalism, as opposed to the mutually beneficial interdependence of pluralism. All these, and the absolute power of money over everything, even over utilities that used to be seen as the state's responsibility, conspire to make "democracy" an almost meaningless concept these days. (He points out that Islam has no word for "democracy" and has to use the Greek term. "But then, as it happens, so do we," he adds.)

Against this is the argument of those like Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, railing against the "wave of atheism and lewdness" rolling over Egypt in the 1920s. Among his targets were half-naked women, liquor, theatres, dance halls, newspapers, novels, "whims, silly games" and "vices". The list, Barber points out, is very similar to that of William Prynne's 17th-century tirade, Histriomastix ; but it is at this point that Barber seems most to sigh for the moral purity that we have lost while playing Nintendo and eating cheeseburgers. At which point you might think that putting "Mc" in front of anything you find meretricious or glib is . . . well, somewhat glib.

Any book as ambitious and wide-ranging as this is going to have at least a few flaws. Those I've noticed are minor. He may remind you at times of Daniel Bell, whose Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism more or less blamed Playboy for the unravelling of the work ethic, but (like Bell) he's no fool. You might take issue with the two-page preface to the British edition. This is a wholly generous tribute: "Yet as a birthplace of liberty in 1215, the country of the Magna Carta knows better than most that democracy is likely to be served neither by a victory of McWorld nor such successes as reactionary Jihad might achieve against McWorld... I continue to believe that Britain has discovered at least one part of the secret of how to elude both Jihad and McWorld, and recreate in the global arena the tradition of rebellion and liberty, of democracy and the limits on democracy, that has fashioned its own liberal tradition." To which one can only murmur, "you're too kind".

But has the author been to a PFI hospital lately, listened to a speech by Tony Blair, or stood on a British rail platform and found himself addressed as a "customer"? The index, incidentally, could do with some improvement.

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