Essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul critiqued the theory of globalization at a May 6 event sponsored by the Canada Institute and The Wilson Quarterly. Saul's comments were based on his March 2004 article in Harper's. He spoke about the "emotional nature" of economic theories and noted that they have a life span of about 25 to 50 years. He predicted that we are now in a period of transition and that the economic theory of globalization will be abandoned over the next five years.

Saul described the resurgence during the 1970's of the 1890's theory of globalization. The concept of globalization was used by world leaders as an excuse for not being able to turn their failing economies around. Politicians would state that the forces of the global market were too strong and thus they had little to no control of their countries' economic present or future. Globalization thus replaced the power of the nation state with the faith in the power of global markets. Saul argued that the world generally saw globalization as linear and thus there was no way to stop or reverse the process.

According to Saul, one of the first signs of decline of the theory of globalization was the civil war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. This war, as well as the genocide in Rwanda, confirmed that nationalism was on its way back.

Saul described the aftermath of September 11th with the statement, "Something interesting came out of 9/11." After 9/11, the economy of the world went into a free fall, he said, yet the world did not go into a depression. World leaders printed more money, gave encouraging speeches, and realized that they were not powerless. Depression was averted.

Saul argued that international relations was moving away from the relatively recent focus on economics; he used the examples of the International Criminal Court, the Landmines Treaty, and the Kyoto Protocol as recently signed treaties that are not economic in nature but which focus on well-being. He remarked that during the years when globalization held as the dominant ideology, disillusioned young people moved away from traditional politics to focus their efforts and energies on national and international non-governmental organizations. Noting current apathy towards politics by young people, Saul then asked how one re-engages these young people into politics.

With globalization's demise, Saul said he believed that the world is now seeing a rise of both good and bad nationalism. Pursuing that thought, he stated, "We see a rise in anti-Semitism and the return of God to the public place." What this new resurgence of nationalism will bring remains unclear, and whether resurgent nationalism will become the new dominant ideology is still unknown.

Drafted by Marcia R. Seitz-Ehler, Program Associate

David N. Biette, Director, Canada Institute