During and after the Second World War, public intellectuals in Britain and the United States diagnosed the world of their times as increasingly interconnected. Many of them also described the war as ‘global’, or planetary. The globality of the war, as well as innovations in transport and communication technologies led many to discuss the ‘shrinkage’ of space. There seemed to be no more distant places: every point of the Earth could be easily reached by airplane or at least contacted via the telephone line.
For many public commentators in the English-speaking world, these perceptions of a ‘global world’ had also political implications; they meant that political order should be measured globally, not only locally. These thinkers became increasingly aware of the global dimension of politics, and tried to envisage the post-war political order accordingly. Globalism implied, for them, that post-war reconstruction would have to be planned on a global, world-spanning scale.
The globality of the war, as well as innovations in transport and communication technologies led many to discuss the ‘shrinkage’ of space. There seemed to be no more distant places: every point of the Earth could be easily reached by airplane or at least contacted via the telephone line.
The new dimension of global politics did not imply, however, that all smaller units of politics – like states – should be abolished. Rather, many of the theorists of post-war global order considered states, regional blocs or federal unions as important forms of political order that would continue to exist in the global age. Only a few of these thinkers envisioned a global state to replace the pre-existing international system. Yet, the globalists mostly agreed that states would have to recalibrate their internal and external politics, to adjust to the changing conditions that global war and technology implied.
The globalist debate sought to balance the tensions between a growing recognition of pluralism on the one hand and an appreciation of the unity of humankind on the other. The new approach to inter-state interaction implied an emphasis on democracy, pluralism and anti-imperialism. These three principles highlighted, for globalist thinkers, the difference between their vision and previous attempts to order the world. The globalist order would break the political patterns of imperial domination, would accept a plurality of political forms and values, and would be based on free democratic participation.
While the Cold War marginalised the globalist discourse, today, at the age of globalisation, we see a rise in public debate about the political implications of economic, technological and cultural interconnectedness.
The competing visions of global world order that emerged in the 1940s were the intellectual production of a transnational loose network of globalist thinkers, influenced by the traumas of war and expatriation. These thinkers drew on political philosophy, geopolitics, economics, imperial thought, constitutional law, theology, and philosophy of science, to outline their interpretation of the ‘global’ as a political concept. The theorists of globalism included, I suggest, Raymond Aron, Owen Lattimore, Lionel Robbins, Barbara Wootton, Friedrich Hayek, Lionel Curtis, Richard McKeon, Michael Polanyi, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Maritain, Reinhold Niebuhr, H. G. Wells, and others. These thinkers gave rise to a growing awareness to the important need for a distinctly political response to the challenge of interconnectedness that they had diagnosed in their 1940s world.
While the Cold War marginalised the globalist discourse, today, at the age of globalisation, we see a rise in public debate about the political implications of economic, technological and cultural interconnectedness. Thus, the mid-century debate gains new relevance for highlighting the advantages and limits of the political aspects of globalism.
Dr Or Rosenboim is a Research Fellow in History and Politics at Queens’ College, Cambridge. Her book, The Emergence of Globalism: Visions of World Order in Britain and The United States, 1939-1950 is now published with Princeton University Press.