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Globalisation – Democracy in Decline

Robert Woog and Vladimir Dimitrov


 In discussing globalisation one quickly comes across the disagreement about aspects  of it that we like and dislike. We bring to our assessment of globalisation different  motivations. This paper is no different. 

Globalisation presents many faces to many different observers. The most general and  the most negative are those dealing with the process of economic globalisation. The  ugly face of globalisation has become the huge trans national corporation with a  relentless drive to create a consumer dominated global middle class. 

This paper will discuss the economic as well as some other aspects of globalisation. It  will consider the desire to collaborate between nations and communities for such  common good as, social justice, health and sustainable environments. It will also look  at the uncontrolled popularist form of globalisation through which people are  informally communicating with each other overcoming through the technology of  global communication networks, the isolation enforced, in the past, by the tyranny of  distance.

It will be argued that globalisation has been an evident and powerful social trend for  at least half a millennium and that the protesters have arrived at the rally, 500 years  too late. A somewhat controversial proposition will be made that the protests  opposing globalisation are the manifestation of the same forces that are driving  globalisation, the so-called "will to power". In a globalised society the powerful are  those who grasp and are capable of utilising purposefully the compression of space  and time. Those who are capable of using and are greatly advantaged by the  compression of space and time are a minority of the worlds population and their  actions are leading to a decline in democracy.  

Compression of Space and Time

Globalisation may be thought of as a form of time and space compression. The First  World lives in time, but our first experiences in globalisation were based around the  compression of space.

Early human lives were dominated by space, expressed as distance and a lack of  knowledge, mingled with fear, myth and superstition about what lay 'beyond' the  known boundaries.

What follows is an exploratory speculation about the social implications of the  compression of space and time and how this may be thought of as the generic face of  globalisation. The examples chosen, about space and time compression, are  indicative and not definitive.

The wind knows every corner of the globe

Every society knows its own territory, its own country. As populations, exploration  and trade grew during the early history of human development, there was an  accompanying growth in knowledge about our world. What was known was often  thought of as the 'centre of the universe'. 'Esfahan is half the world' and other such  sayings were indicative of prevailing attitudes. This saying also hints that what was  unknown was not worth knowing.

By the time of the Middle Ages, there was a good knowledge of the Mediterranean  lands. Northern Europe, Africa and Asia were known about and often without much  detail or accuracy. The Americas and Australia remained unknown and the source of  mystery and speculation. But the wind knew every corner of the glove.  

The Portuguese were among the first to venture into a monster-filled ocean towards a  horizon that they may have fallen off. Prince Henry of Portugal, also known as Henry  the Navigator, became obsessed with the discovery of the things hidden from men.  Under his patronage from 1425 and 1434, Europeans set sail to explore the world.  Henry also organised what would be now be called the appropriate infrastructure  support by bringing together mapmakers, sailers, astronomers and shipwrights. He  was ably abetted in his task by Renaissance men, like Ferdinand Magellan and  Christopher Columbus, who wanted to prove something in which they believed.  Others, like Vasco de Gama and Francis Drake, were motivated by a mix of desire to  conquer the unknown and the acquisition of wealth and glory. (Estenson, 1998.)  

Through rapid advances in shipbuilding and sailing technology, a new kind of ship,  called the caravel began navigating to all parts of the world. The first compression of  space had begun, under sail. This sail-led exploration of the world could be truly be  called the first major act of globalisation, because the discovery was made that the  world was actually not flat, but spherical or 'global'.  

The tyranny of distance was being conquered, the compression of space had begun,  but it came at a price. The price was time. It would be several centuries before  inventions like the telegraph and radio would begin the compression of time.  

Greed and the will to power

The ships tied the globe together for the first time by bringing 'home' tribute,  intelligence and commercial advantage.

What started out as a restless curiosity of what lay beyond the rim of the ocean  quickly gave way to an unbridled greed and a will to power. 

Soon the competition between the major trading nations of the world for exotic  produce, like slaves and spices, led to jealousy and enmity between them. Almost  simultaneously with the development of globalisation began an exploitation of the  weak and a warring between the powerful and dominant – trends that, in varying  scale, have continued to characterise globalisation to this day.
Accompanying the commercial rivalry between the major global traders was a desire  not only to be successful but to be supremely successful, to become the most  dominant imperial power – sadly, another of the human characteristics to stand the  test of time and persist as a feature of the globalisation imperative to this day  

European colonisation of Africa and Asia  

Sail and trade-based globalisation quickly progressed to the stage where European  expeditions not only travelled the globe but also made the producers of the exotic  goods into their dominion colonies. The zenith of this period of annexation and  colonisation occurred when most of Africa and Asia were made into European  outposts and colonies. This represented the second advanced phase of exploration  and trade-based globalisation.

It is in this way that the dominant world trading partners, while importing  commodities and generating wealth, were exporting political and religious ideology –  once again a trend that has continued.

From a League of Nations to the United Nations

The United Nations is the only global political organisation. It was established as a  product of globalisation and in part it exists as an attempt to bring understanding and  management control to the globalisation process. The UN seeks to draft and  promulgate international law. It has the onerous task of enforcing those laws on nation  states who offer varying levels of co-operation. The most visible action of the UN is  its involvement in disciplining the conflict between powerful national states and their  annexation and exploitation of the week. It works in a global framework for human  security. In this regard it is, if not the first then the most visible attempt of society to  deal with globalisation on a global scale.

The activities of the UN are interlinked with the issues as well as the technologies of  globalisation. In seeking to operate at a global level, the UN is engaged in wide  spread high-speed communication. Such communication is needed for it to operate at  a global scale to cut across the self-referential priorities and logic of the corrupt, the  dominant, or the most powerful.

Everyone knows everyone else's business

The Internet, computers and telecommunication are the beginning of a single global  nervous system. A concept foreshadowed by the first description of the "noosphere".  The World Wide Web represents a kind of realisation of the prediction of the Russian  ecologist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) and the French palaeontologist and  philosopher-theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) about the emergence  of the noosphere. Vernadsky imagined it as a “sphere of intelligence, wherein  humanity could employ its evolutionary gifts as a creative collaborative agent of  evolution – and where the widening conflict between techno sphere and biosphere  could be transformed into synergy” (Allen and Nelson 1986). For Teilhard de  Chardin, the noosphere is a “planetary thinking network – an interlinked system of consciousness and information, a global net of self-awareness, instantaneous  feedback, and planetary communication” (Dimitrov and Woog, 2001).  

The technology is in place for quick and inexpensive global communication. In the  world we now inhabit, distance does not seem to matter much; space as well as time  has become compressed. Wherever we are at the moment, we cannot help but know  that we could be elsewhere. Never before has communication occurred  instantaneously and as unencumbered by distance, as well as being at the disposal of  so many. Immediacy and communication of information has become linked. A major  step in globalisation is that everyone knows everyone else's business and everything  takes place in a virtual present.

The Internet has seriously challenged and changed past practices and any on-going  expectation of the formulation of ultimate principles of thought and action. The  design of unified political systems, based on democracy, seem most unlikely in a  world characterised by a plurality of conditions, thought and levels of thought.  

The nature of human nature

Gribbin and Gribbin (1998) have proposed a theory that, in human history, there have  been glacial periods – successive recurrences of harsh conditions, broken by benign  and bountiful ones. They argue that this put curiosity, adaptability and intelligence at  a premium in all species, struggling to survive under these conditions. Natural  selection would have favoured those who could most quickly take advantage of and  maximise short bursts of opportunity available to them. This was the selection  criterion and these were the conditions under which humans showed themselves to be  incomparably successful against all other species.  

Our ancestors lived in small, nomadic bands of a few dozen individuals who received  their food each day by gathering plants and hunting animals. For our hunter-gatherer  ancestors, problems such as finding mates, hunting animals, gathering food,  negotiating with themselves and neighbouring bands, defending against aggressors,  safe-guarding children and finding good habitat became the determinants of their  survival. Natural selection is a slow process, and there simply have not been enough  generations for it to select new circuits that are well adapted to our current form of  life. We find ourselves with Star Wars technology and Neanderthal wiring.  

One can speculate about the influence of our evolutionary hereditary on the  motivation and behaviour of early explorers and current world leaders. The  speculation could include suggestions that exploration, annexation, colonisation and  rapid exploitation of resources, as they became available, were and remain, part of our  evolutionary heritage.

Unity in the uniqueness of diversity

Natural selection favours the individual and not the group, but a curious attribute of  being human is that we are capable of following innate biological drives while being  able to reflect upon the consequences of our actions. This may be described as  enlightened self-interest. It is in this way that some of our patterns of social behaviour may be described as democratic individuality. A great deal of individual  freedom is accepted and, to a degree, encouraged, as long as it lies within broad social  rules. Boundary judgements between individual needs and common good remain as  continuous as it is challenging. This judgement is less problematic within societies  than it is between societies and cultures. Closely related to the tension between  individual and group needs is the tension between who to include as members of one's  social group and who to exclude. Inclusion in the group, both directly and at times  indirectly, favoured at first the survival and then the ongoing prosperity of the group.  Part of this process required the identification and exclusion of the non-members of  the group – the exotic other. The exotic other can be those who gave different  aesthetic sensibilities, worship a different god or organise their political  administration by other than democratic means. 

There is a fear and vilification of the culturally distinct 'other'. In a recent Australian  case, the focus of exclusion and hence, by default, the reaffirmation of 'Australianism'  was directed at asylum seekers. Demonisation of the ethically and culturally different  is not new: it can be found in our early historical behaviour of group maintenance. It  can be exhibited in current socio-political practice, such as the sloganeering during  the recent Australian elections, where 'People who threw their children overboard  were not worthy ever to be considered as Australians' and, to a degree and in various  other forms, it characterises aspects of our globalisation imperative as much as it  characterises various resistances to this imperative.  

The Ugly Face of Globalisation

The wider the process of economic globalisation, the narrower the circle of those  who benefit from it. The free, global market has begun to appear less and less free.  Both trade and investment seem to be governed by more and more complicated laws  and procedures in favour of monstrously rich economic and financial corporations –  the real beneficiaries of the free global market. With the passing of each day, these  unaccountable corporations, with unlimited life, size and power, are taking ever- increasing control over national economies – largely to the detriment of the individual  consumer, worker, neighbour and citizen. One can find much evidence that corporate- led globalisation negatively affects the environment, financial stability, equity,  security, food safety, health and cultural diversity of millions of people; the number of  the countries classified as the ‘most poor’ in the world has doubled in the last several  years. There is a tendency for the governments in the Western ‘free’ democracy to act  as the ‘armed’ militia for the large financial corporations and banks.  

In so far as economic globalisation is a process that involves complexly interwoven  social, political, psychological, anthropological dynamics, it is difficult to grasp it holistically, let alone predict its unfolding. But only to protest, foresee and preach  catastrophe for a large part of humanity does not help much. (Dimitrov and Woog,  2001).

Globalisation does not have a specific target, it has effects that include the erosion of  the power of national governments. Nation states have to share power with others,  notably the trans national corporations. This process has resulted, in what may be  euphemistically described, as collateral casualties. One of those casualties is the  enshrined governmental process of democracy.
There is a part of society whose intuitive judgement is that those who are the most  influential in the ongoing development of the global economy are harming society in  the long term. This belief, and the protest action it engenders, come from intuitive  knowing. But how does one reconcile such an intuitive knowing with the national  democratic mandate? (Dimitrov and Woog, 2002).  

A Complexity Perspective

A globally connected word is a complex world characterised by contradictions and  paradoxes. One such paradox is that the decline of democracy and the desire to  maintain it appear to be serving the same ends. There is a tension between individual  democracy and the democracy of individuality. Another is, that the motivation to  resist globalisation may be an alternate manifestation of the same sort of force as the  lust for globalisation. The "will to power" which may be expressed as an unpleasant  economic, resource grabbing dominance, or less obviously as the enforced  aculturalisation of parts of society to a dominant ideology. That ideology can have a  deceptively attractive name such as sustainability or democracy.  

Globalisation may be thought of as manifest evidence of the complexity of our world.  Key principles of complexity (Wolfram, 2002) are evident in the globalisation  process. Examples are, the process is sensitive to initial conditions, it is governed by  many and not a single set of rules, it is self-organising and has emergent properties. In  such a pluralist complex world no one ideology, even one as long serving as  democracy is going to provide the adequate social organisational framework.  

Advanced states of self-organization require rapid forms of adaptive adjustment.  Elections in democratic societies are held every 4 to 5 years. Despite a majority  agreement about a democratic mandate, this period of time may be too long for an  informed knowledge rich society to be held back from responding to the forces of  self-organization.

The challenge is to avoid creating simplicity on the wrong side of complexity. To  some degree the protest against globalisation is an attempt to do this. It is trying to  bring order, understanding and control to a complex process under the influence of  tremendous dynamics, by imposing too few and overly simple rules. Seeking to  accommodate complexity, carries its own inherent risks that in trying to account for  and to accommodate an incomprehensible plurality of forces and eventualities, we end  up, drowning in rules. Perhaps the only response we can make is to allow  globalisation to continue under the influence of self-organisation but with an  increased awareness of the dynamics, emergence and possible manifestations, which  we cannot control, but nudge towards desirable directions. In this process we will  have to come to accept living in a world without certainty one that continues to be  characterised by paradoxes and contradictions In having to make such an  accommodation what is annoying is that it seemed so promising that with the  compression of space and time we would gain control.  

Democracy as we know it, may have to decline in order to be replaced by a  governmental system that is more representative of a globalised world which in turn is a complex system reorganising itself at higher and higher levels of complexity. At the  very least it may be contestable that inter community affairs can be run in a  standardised global scale even by something as socially revered as democracy.  


Allen, J., Nelson, M. (1986) Space Biospheres. Synergistic Press, London.  Dimitrov, V. and Woog, R. (2001) Use of Fuzziology for Studying Global Economy.  In New Logics for the New Economy, VIII SIGEF Congress Proceedings, Edizione,  Scientifiche Italiane, pp. 313-317
Estensen, M. (1998) Discovery. The Quest for the Great South Land. Allan and  Unwin.
Gribbin, M. and Gribbin, J. (1993) Being Human. Putting People in an Evolutionary  Perspective. Orion House, London.
Wolfram, S. (2001) A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media, Inc.  

Dr. Robert Woog

University of Western Sydney, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences  Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC NSW 1797, Australia  Email:
Phone: 61 (0) 2 45 701902
Fax: 61 (0) 2 45 701255

Dr.Vladimir Dimitrov

University of Western Sydney, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences  Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC NSW 1797, Australia  Email
Phone: 61 (0) 2 45 701903
Fax: 61 (0) 2 45 701255