The 20th century is usually referred to as a century of “war and revolution” that brought unprecedented bloodshed and misery. While this is true, the description is not sufficiently accurate. During the religious wars of the 17th century, for example, Germany, as the main battlefield, lost an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of its population as a result of wars among states coupled with religious ideological conflicts. In contrast, the World War II death toll for the Soviet Union, which suffered the most fatalities, represented about 10 percent of the country’s total population.
What was unprecedented about the 20th century is that it saw “world” wars and “world” revolutions. Not only the two world wars but the Cold War too was a global confrontation. In addition, the West viewed the many revolutions as a challenge from “world” communism. In the 20th century we had already entered the age of “globalization” through war and revolution.
But because the century was characterized by division and confrontation brought on by the wars and revolutions, it was perceived to consist of “Two Worlds,” “Two Blocs” and “Two Universal Ideologies.” In reality, people were confronting each other globally over their perceptions of what the world should be like.
It is therefore only natural that people began talking about a unitary “new world order” and one-dimensional “globalization” after the end of the Cold War in 1989. In the following decade, a transitional period set in, serving as a prelude for the 21st century. During this period, characteristics of the new century began taking shape.
The question now is whether “One World” will be realized in the 21st century. It is impossible for me to see beyond the coming 20 or 30 years. But I can at least say that the age of “One World” is far from nearing. Further, the very dynamics that work to create “One World” also work to produce divisions and fragmentation.
First, the dynamics of the market economy, while turning the world into one unit and enhancing global productivity, have at the same time globally increased the gap between the rich and the poor. According to a United Nations Development Program report, inequality among countries has increased, and “the income gap between the fifth of the world’s people living in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest was 74 to 1 in 1997, up from 60 to 1 in 1990.”
In many countries, the internal gap has also been expanding. This trend has become all the more conspicuous as globalization of the market economy has caused a rapid increase in the number of unskilled workers emigrating from the South to the North. The North-South gap, which in the past referred to the gap between the developed and developing countries, has quickly permeated the developed countries. “Globalization of the North-South gap” now cuts across each country and has brought a new division to the world.
Second, while the dynamics of scientific and technological development, closely linked with the development of the market economy, are spreading their benefits globally, they are at the same time intensifying world divisions.
Information technology, a representative example of such development, has not only brought unprecedented convenience by tearing down national boundaries and joining the world via cyberspace, but has also created a global digital divide. The development of biotechnology can offer a medical means to maintain the health of humankind and prolong life expectancies. But it also carries the danger of creating a man-made “racial divide” by producing a “superior race” gifted with extremely high IQs and capabilities.
Military technology, which has made possible global annihilation through development of nuclear weapons and missiles, has contributed to creating a sense of crisis among humankind based on its shared identity as humankind. But at the same time, it has brought about a disparity between nuclear and nonnuclear states. The attempt by nonnuclear states to seek parity with nuclear states has led to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. To counter these moves, the nuclear powers among the developed countries are trying to maintain their strategic superiority by pushing development of advanced weapons systems such as high-technology weapons, national missile defense systems and theater missile defense systems.
Third, global economic development has also caused global environmental disruption. Scientific experiments and analyses, which serve as the foundation for scientific and technological development, are based on dissection and decomposition of nature. Although the dangers of global nuclear war, which would cause instantaneous mass destruction of the world, have decreased, continuous and incessant mass destruction of nature is intensifying day by day.
Despite the clear fact that the Earth is a closed system and that development of the market economy and that of science and technology are reaching an ecological limit, the countries of the North are competing for advantageous positions to promote their individual self-interests, as shown by their attitudes toward the issue of global warming. They are also trying to maintain disparity with the South to protect their vested interests. On the other hand, the powers holders of the South tend to focus on criticizing the inequalities imposed by the North while turning a blind eye to environmental disruption in their own countries, which is occurring hand-in-hand with inequality and poverty. There is a great danger that the conflict over disparity and inequality will intensify on a global scale because of the limitedness of natural resources and the closed nature of the environment.
Fourth, there is another force in globalization — universalization of equal human rights and democracy — that diametrically opposes the other dynamics of the market economy, science and technology and environmental disruption, the latter swaying the fate of all humankind and causing global inequality and disparity.
The end of the Cold War, which, with two opposing ideologies, divided the world, has led to democratization in many countries in Asia and Latin America and has accelerated transformation of the apartheid system of South Africa. But it must be remembered that the end of the Cold War in itself was the result of democratization in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In other words, the end of the Cold War was the result of universalization of democracy, not the cause of it.
This shows that control of or overcoming inequalities and inequities through democratization within each country is a necessary condition, if not the sufficient condition, for ensuring long-lasting world detente and peace. As we enter into the 21st century, the world is confronted with the task of overcoming inequalities and inequities caused by the market economy, science and technology and environmental disruption from the perspective of human rights and democracy. In this sense, the end of the Cold War is not the “end of history” but the “beginning of history,” in the struggle of democracy against the above-mentioned inequalities and inequities.
What conditions, then, must be satisfied to control and overcome the various problems caused by globalization?
First, it is clearly impossible to accomplish this task within the framework of each single nation. Two dynamics are at work in the process of globalization: the horizontal
spread of various human activities beyond national boundaries and the vertical deepening of political participation to include the people at the bottom of society. Thus, states in the 21st century must be restructured within the context of two powerful, basic trends — internationalization and equalization.
In the process of globalization, those actors such as multinational corporations and high-tech engineers who possess capital and skills as a means of reaping benefits from transnational activities become the first players. Therefore, globalization inevitably leads to unequal global development. This, in turn, often causes disadvantaged and marginalized sectors to regress into nationalism or fundamentalism.
If this is the case, democracy must be strengthened and deepened within each nation so that globalization can become a process that promotes equality and equity. But reinforcing democracy within the framework of a single nation is not sufficient. Civil society, which serves as the foundation for democratization, must go beyond national boundaries and strengthen across a horizontal network.
In other words, each nation must become a “civic state” accountable to active civil society, and civic states must become internationalized, especially through regional unions. Civil society must also undergo transnationalization, whereby actors in civil society such as nongovernmental organizations form subterranean stem-like networks beyond national boundaries and apply pressure on governments to strengthen cooperation among nations to realize a more equitable world and region. What is described here should be the model for a political community of the 21st century.
It is true that strengthening of the United Nations through democratization is necessary. But in the decades to come, regional unions as I outline above would have higher efficacy. This model has been realized to some extent in the European Union. To build peace based on equality and equity, other regions would have no choice but to eventually take a similar path, although each region has its own unique conditions.
Second, to bring desirable changes to the state and society, individuals must reconstruct and doubly relativize their identities. In the 21st century, the state and society will inevitably grow more multiethnic and multicultural. The concept of a state made up of a single nation based on the 19th century principle of self-determination of peoples is a political myth. No such nations exist in reality. Increasing multiethnicity will become the norm in each nation. What is important is that each citizen accepts the differences and equality of others.
There is reason for marginalized people to stress ethnic, racial or gender differences and to say “no” to dominant values. But to stress differences while ignoring equality carries the danger of justifying reverse-discrimination and mutual discrimination. It is precisely because people share basic values as members of humankind that they can mutually accept others’ differences. To relativize one’s identity in this sense is necessary and also possible.
Third, loyalty and identification must become multilayered. Under the modern sovereign state, it is taken for granted that loyalty to the state takes precedence over identification with one’s family or a minority race to which one belongs, which ranks below the nation, or loyalty to law or a religious organization, which are above the nation. But these days, identification and loyalty are becoming multilayered: People identify as citizens of the Earth from the standpoint of protecting the global environment; they also maintain regional identification as, for example, members of Europe and local identification as members of their community. It is true that loyalty to the nation is still strong.
But it is important to consider the kind of transformation that is happening to identification with the nation and whether stressing anew the immutability of identification with the nation does not rather reflect a change in the position of the nation-state. In doing so, one must, with a perspective to the future in the 21st century, accurately analyze and understand the historical meaning of these changes.
A world in which one must relativize one’s identity amid the emergence of a multicultural and multilayered society may be taken as an uneasy world in which identity is shaky, compared with the period when identity was securely defined through association with the sovereign state. If we consider how much bloodshed and misery was inflicted by nation-states, which were basically exclusivist, and by modern states, which were basically built on pyramid-like hierarchies, it is clear that to relativize one’s identity and consolidate multiple loyalty is indispensable for building a world of durable peace in the 21st century.
The disturbance and confusion in identity is not taking place today only in relation to the transformation of the nation-state. The impact of science and technology, which will be the strongest driving force in changing the face of the world in the 21st century, is profound. In the 20th century, the leading science was physics. In the 21st
century, information science and life science will be the leading force. Unlike physics, both information technology and biotechnology focus on humans — the former on their brains and the latter on their lives. And both are being developed in close links with the market economy.
As a result, fierce competition is being fought globally, centering around the goals of how to manipulate people’s mind, how to manipulate people’s physical lives and how to commercialize the manipulative technology dealing with information and physical lives.
In the midst of the flood of information and the mass production and consumption of virtual reality, a person’s internal subject, which serves as the most important basis for freedom, is becoming the target of manipulation by information technology. At the same time, life and death, which give the most fundamental meaning to a person’s dignity, is becoming the target of engineering in various forms, ranging from artificial fertilization and cloning to euthanasia and suicide at the terminal stage of disease.
We cannot make light of the danger that under the shadow of science and technology, which are infinitely turning us into things, identity as human beings becomes infinitely indiscernible and the internal and social norms of human beings lose certitude. This pathology seems to be expressing itself in some of the violence we see committed by youths, whose character was not seen in the past.
If 21st century citizens make incessant efforts to answer the eternal question of what we are and what the meaning of life and death is for human beings, by overcoming unprecedented, complex anomies, which reflect the process of profound transformation, this would serve as a foundation in the deepest sense for establishing peace in the 21st century.