This truly is a dazzling brief introduction to a subject that could not be covered even by a very long book. As Steger points out, the fact of globalization is the predominant issue of our time. Far too man, as he points out, tend to treat the subject in monolithic or simplistic fashion, focusing on merely one aspect of globalization, and assuming that that aspect defines all of globalization. Anyone familiar with Thomas Friedman's THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE (who is frequently described as a "hyper globalizer") will recognize one such very narrow approach. Despite his brief space, Steger wants to do justice to the complexity of the subject. For the past decade, most writers on globalization have focused on economic globalization, but Steger emphasizes that the process has political, economic, religious, cultural, environmental, and ideological conditions.
Many people who tackle the question of globalization seem to want to know, "Is this a good or bad thing?" Steger is anxious to emphasize that this does not admit of an easy answer. Clearly, the massive increase of economic inequality--which occurs both on international and national levels, e.g., wealth has more and more been concentrated in the industrial countries of the northern hemisphere, and within those countries, more and more in the hands of a small economic corporate and investing elite--is not a good thing, but that is not the only aspect of globalization. Steger seems to suggest that there are both significant advantages and some lamentable dangers in globalization.
The one aspect of globalization concerning which Steger is clearly and rightfully concerned is the promotion of globalization in the ideological terms of the Neoliberal project of promoting free markets over all other concerns. The term "Neoliberal" might throw some people, since the leading Neoliberal of recent decades would include Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and most members of the George W. Bush administration (though also many
This was the first book I read in the "Very Short Introduction" series. I was surprised by how substantial it is. It also seems quite balanced. References, suggestions for further reading and a 5 page index are included.
My overall impression is how strong capitalism is world-wide. That supports Fulcher's conclusion that reform must take place within capitalism rather than seeking a replacement for capitalism. However, when Fulcher writes that a "search for an alternative to capitalism is fruitless ... and no final crisis is in sight, or, short of some ecological catastrope, even really conceivable", how improbable is that ecological catastrophe?
As the globe warms and the oceans die, will the rich hold out expecting to be able to use their wealth to make their lives bearable as the rest of us suffer? Just how will capitalism respond to a growing pressure for sustainability? By not exploring the ecological challenges to capitalism, Fulcher has indeed introduced capitalism but not addressed its fate and ours later in this century. Although this is a "very short introduction", Michael Newman's "Socialism: A Very Short Introduction" and Colin Ward's "Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction" do address the ecological issue. Even if socialism and anarchism seem improbable and reform is possible within capitalism, it would have been useful to hear Fulcher's impression of whether and how capitalism might address the challenge of ecological sustainability.
This Very Short Introduction is blessedly free of the typos that usually infect this otherwise excellent series, and for once, the illustrations are relevant, indeed central, to the text. There is a timeline and a very useful map at the end of the book, but the text itself is not a conventional, chronological narrative of the rise of Empire. It is rather a series of essays on a selection of topics, covering the period from Augustus to Commodus, that is, from around 30 BC to about AD 190. These excursions through aspects of the subject are concerned almost as much with how history is rewritten and reinterpreted as it is with the actual facts of history. There is an emphasis on architecture, particularly as an expression of social status and political ideology, an emphasis that will suit the taste of some readers more than others. The prose is clear and very readable, with the occasional topical, colloquial flourish ("The Empire writes back", "Through the keyhole") which can seem somewhat forced. Authoritative and illuminating, this little book is an essential addition to the reading list of anyone interested in ancient history.
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