The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
by Thomas L. Friedman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,488 pp., $27.50
The belief that a process of globalization is underway which is bringing about a fundamental change in human affairs is not new. Marx and Engels expressed it in 1848, when they wrote in a justly celebrated passage in The Communist Manifesto:
All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with his sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country…. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
Marx and Engels had no doubt that they were witnessing the emergence of a global market—a worldwide system of production and consumption that disregarded national and cultural boundaries. They welcomed this development, not only for the increasing wealth it produced but also because they believed it enabled humanity to overcome the divisions of the past. In the global marketplace nationalism and religion were destined to be dwindling forces. There would be many convulsions—wars, revolutions, and counterrevolutions—before the Communist order was securely established; but when global capitalism had completed its work a new era in the life of humankind would begin.
The centrally planned economies that were constructed to embody Marx’s vision of communism have nearly all been swept away, and the mass political movements that Marxism once inspired are no more. Yet Marx’s view of globalization lives on, and nowhere more vigorously than in the writings of Thomas Friedman. Like Marx, Friedman believes that globalization is in the end compatible with only one economic system; and like Marx he believes that this sys-tem enables humanity to leave war, tyranny, and poverty behind. To his credit Friedman recognizes the parallels between his view and that of Marx. He cites an illuminating conversation at Harvard in which the communitarian political theorist Michael Sandel alerted him to the fact that the process of global “flattening” he examines in his new book was first identified by Marx, quoting at length from The Communist Manifesto—including the passage cited above—and praising Marx for his prescience. This acknowledgment of the parallels between his view of globalization and Marx’s theory of history is welcome and useful.
Friedman has emerged as the most powerful contemporary publicist of neoliberal ideas. Neoliberals have a wide variety of views on political and social matters, ranging from the highly conservative standpoint of Friedrich Hayek to the more rigorously libertarian position of Milton Friedman; but they are at one in seeing the free market as …