Is "Globalism" Beyond Reclamation?

III. Is Globalism Beyond Reclamation?

Pinned as it is between the jaws of the right and the left, can globalism somehow escape—or better still transcend—its tainted reputation? Are we naïve to think that a “higher globalism” that dismantles rather than perpetuates economic inequality is possible?

Some would argue that globalism is dying the death it earned. But others—idealists like me, perhaps disabled by naïvete—hope that its highest political aims could be reclaimed. One might look to the world’s most prominent partnership for world peace, the United Nations, to seize globalism from the vise.

The United Nations—an institution that JFK regarded as “our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace”—will turn 77 years old this fall. Indeed, when the U.N. recently celebrated its landmark 75th birthday, many news outlets trumpeted the U.N.’s remarkable endurance.

But we also read headlines like “As U.N. Turns 75, the Celebration is Muted by Calamity and Conflict” (The New York Times) and “UN failures on coronavirus underscore need for reforms” (The Washington Post). More recently, as Russian soldiers continued to invade Ukrainian cities, Samuel Goldman wrote in the pages of The Week, “With its credibility undermined by the revival of open competition among great powers, ineffective peacekeeping missions in Africa, fruitless diplomacy in the Middle East, and corruption scandals, the U.N.'s reputation is at its lowest ebb at least since the late 1960s, when Soviet opposition helped stymie collective action…. Like its landmark headquarters building in New York, the U.N. has become a relic of 20th-century optimism, unsuited to harsher times. The proof isn't that we care what it does — it's that we don't”

Those who plead for U.N. reform raise valid and urgent criticisms. Even so, I share President Kennedy’s belief that the U.N. holds a unique opportunity to become our most effective “instrument of peace.” But the institution’s remoteness and its convoluted power structure have prompted many to look elsewhere for change agency.

For a decade, I thought that I’d found a powerful “instrument for peace”—and for its prerequisite, economic and environmental justice—in the International Green Party. The Greens were committed to bolder ends than were our two dominant U.S. political parties; but their very commitment to principle rather than expediency left them on the periphery of national politics. The Green Party’s refusal to sacrifice one nation’s environmental integrity for the preservation of another’s comfort didn’t square with capitalism’s goals and with U.S. reluctance to share our abundance with other nations. The 45th President didn’t invent “America First,” he merely exploited a persistent strain in American politics.

There have been other inspiring movements dedicated to the cultivation of international peace and equity. The principled Global Exchange, founded by Medea Benjamin and Kevin Danaher in 1988, has organized effectively and labored in the name of environmental, social, and economic justice. But it would be an exaggeration to say that, with a membership in the thousands, it has gained deep traction in American politics.

High-minded documents like the Earth Charter (as well as the Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter) point us in the direction of a peaceful, democratic, and equitable “Respect and Care for the Community of Life” ( But manifestos are easy to write; organizing for non-violent, effective change is herculean. The Earth Charter inspires us—I share it with my students—but one can hardly claim that a document endorsed by two famously lefty cities (Berkeley and Corvallis) and 21 towns in Vermont constitutes a national mandate.

As a public-school teacher, I tow the teacherly party line and tell my U.S. Government students that our own local, state, and national governments comprise the best avenue for political change, but they remain skeptical. Nonetheless, I persist in my defense of American democracy, encouraging them to “learn the system” and then use said system to chip away at injustice. Amidst the current national and international crises, however, you can’t blame them for being turned off by politics-as-usual and for seeking to dynamite rather than chisel away at our manifold injustices.

Many public intellectuals are suggesting that a more diffuse, egalitarian movement—what Michel Foucault termed a “plurality of resistance”—is our most effective route to social justice.

As an example, the urgent need to address climate change and climate adaptation run counter to the slow and often meager national responses to our current predicament. What the Democratic U.S. Congress is celebrating as a landmark environmental initiative (embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022) the Center or Biological Diversity calls “a climate suicide pact.” The sentient are impatient.

When asked about the anti-globalization “movement,” Naomi Klein explained that “it’s not one movement in the sense that everybody is part of a political party organized into neat little cells and locals.” In a PBS interview, during which she wiped away tears post tear-gassing, she told a reporter, “There are thousands of autonomous protests going on in Quebec City that all happen to be here at the same time. It’s kind of like this web that all comes together in one place, and it has to do with the fact that there are common themes that run through all of the campaigns that are converging in Quebec this week” (

As much as I admire some of the artistic, creatively anarchic creations of “the plurality of resistance,” I fear that we are witnessing gestures rather than a sustained, disciplined movement. My former regard for the Voice of the People Rising is much tempered by the events of the last five years.

Remember, colleagues, those heady early Internet years, when so many of us dreamt that the World Wide Web would become a supranational, democratic tool, founded in scientific evidence and data—an electronic classroom and public forum that would bring to light “injustice everywhere” and allow the Global Village to solve our gravest problems?

The internet seemed our best tool yet to root out injustice. Hadn’t Dr. King reminded us, decades before the first Apple was installed in the first high-school computer lab, that “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny”? At last, electronic connectivity might be the very tool that stitched us together! The moral arc of the universe was streaming through my ethernet cable!

And hadn’t we educators insisted, over and again, that “Knowledge is Power”? The Internet seemed to have room for both the Library of Alexandria and amusing cat videos. At last, we thought, here was the great equalizer; for a few hundred dollars, kids from both sides of the tracks would have equal access to the world’s sprawling electronic library.

Alas, few predicted the mayhem the internet would unleash—that it would in a quarter-century become an accelerant for nationalist violence. Knowledge is power, and power can both invade countries and feed refugees.

So it is, jaded and serially disappointed, that I end up drawing a conclusion so inevitable that it must seem trite: in the end, our schools might be our most effective workshops for social transformation. Not because we teachers have a unified, liberal, globalist agenda, but because we can provide a forum for sharing ideas and then subjecting them to reasonable criticism.

Consider that there are now few places in American society where our thoughts and words are subject to opposing viewpoints, where we must share space with people who think and act and dress and talk differently than we do. Schools really do achieve all that—at least as long as we cultivate a strong public-school system that can counter the atomization of American education. Is it too Pollyannish to believe we can disarm white nationalism, economic inequality, anti-LGBTQ aggression, and other social ills by creating Brave Spaces where debate and data can have their day?

Just Teaching/Still Learning is dedicated to the proposition that U.S. public schools are places where we study, debate, share, and act. We subject globalism and anti-globalism to classroom critique. Indeed, it is ironic that I state my conclusion on a website, because effective sharing and debating takes place in public: face-to-face and unmediated by a screen. Just Teaching/Still Learning is merely a text, a source or rapid resources for the (mostly) delightful scrum that is an American public school.