Jihad vs.

McWorld
BENJAMIN R. BARBER

The author compares and contrasts two countervailing sources of social change:
Jihad and McWorld. Jihad is a traditionalist, anti-modern worldview (now
especially familiar because of the post-9 111 social and political context).
McWorld, on the other hand, is a world increasingly driven by market values and
the commercialization of all forms of life. Though they seem like opposites, Barber
shows how they produce each other and result from common forces of social change.

[A] nyone who reads the daily papers carefully, taking in the front
page accounts of civil carnage as well as the business page stories
on the mechanics of the information superhighway and the economics of
communication mergers, anyone who turns deliberately to take in the whole 360-
degree horizon, knows that our world and our lives are caught between what
William Butler Yeats called the two eternities of race and soul: that of race
reflecting the tribal past, that of soul anticipating the cosmopolitan future. Our
secular eternities are corrupted, however, race reduced to an insignia of resent
ment, and soul sized down to fit the demanding body by which it now measures
its needs. Neither race nor soul offers us a future that is other than bleak, neither
promises a polity that is remotely democratic.
The first scenario rooted in race holds out the grim prospect of a retribaliza
tion of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened bal
kanization of nation-states in which culture is pitted against culture, people

SOURCE: jihad vs. Me World, by Benjamin R. Barber, 3-20. Copyright© 1995
by Benjamin R. Barber. Used with permission of Times Books, a division of
Random House, Inc.

while fundamentalists plot virtual conspiracies on the Internet . Hangzhou. . every kind of artificial social cooperation and mutuality: against technology. a busy portrait of onrushing economic. entertainment. technological. information. and commerce. and McDonald's pressing nations into one homogenous global theme park. in history's twisting maze. even as it struggles to renew the ancient faith. is that the tendencies of both Jihad and MeW orld are at work. complaining about the thousand newly sundered "peoples" who prefer to address their neighbors with sniper rifles and mortars. . against pop culture. exclaiming "It's a small world after all!" Both are right. or a return to the past's most fractious and demoralizing discord. squeezed between their opposing forces. Jihad not only revolts against but abets MeWorld. against modernity itself as well as the future in which modernity issues. the world has been sent spinning out of control. It is not Jihad and MeWorld but the relationship between them that most interests me. has entered a joint venture with Cali fornia businessmen to bottle and sell natural waters under the rubric Saint Springs Water Company. Can it be that what Jihad and MeW orld have in common is anarchy: the absence of common will and that conscious and collec tive human control under the guidance of law we call democracy? Progress moves in steps that sometimes lurch backwards. and against integrated nurkets. Pandemonium. the planet is falling precipitously apart and coming reluctantly together at the very same moment. . a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence. while MeWorld not . Orthodox Hasids and brooding neo-Nazis have both turned to rock music to get their traditional messages out to the new generation. Iranian zealots keep one ear tuned to the mullahs urging holy war and the other cocked to Rupert Murdoch's Star television beaming in Dynasty. Some stunned observers notice only Babel. to "the menace of global anarchy. Donahue and The Simpsons from hovering satellites. others zealots in Disneyland seize on futurological platitudes and the promise of virtuality. For. Macintosh. and Xian where twenty-eight outlets serve over 100." to Milton's capital of hell. fast computers. tribe against tribe. Chinese entrepreneurs vie for the attention of party cadres in Beijing and simultaneously pursue KFC franchises in cities like Nanjing. which speaks to the paradox at the core of this argument. and ecological forces that denund integration and uniformity and that mesmerize peoples everywhere with fast music. one McWorld tied together by communications. both visible sometimes in the same country at the very same instant. Serbian assassins wear Adidas sneakers and listen to Madonna on Walkman headphones as they take aim through their gunscopes at scurrying Sarajevo civilians looking to fill family watercans. The Russian Orthodox church. The second paints that future in shimmering pastels. and fast food MTV. Caught between Babel and Disneyland. but how can that be? We are compelled to choose between what passes as "the twilight of sovereignty" and an entropic end of all history.000 customers a day." The apparent truth.against people. to a world totally "out of control.

. some set of common personal attributes to hold out against the numbing and neutering uniformities of industrial modernization and the colonizing culture of MeWorld . it betokens religious struggle on behalf of faith. the other by uni versalizing markets. Such governments." If the traditional conservators of freedom were democratic constitutions and Bills of Rights. Jihad and MeWorld operate with equal strength in opposite directions. intimi dated by market ideology. In its mildest form. capitalism and modernity.while for many Muslims it may signifY only ardor in the name of a religion that can properly be regarded as universalizing (if not quite ecumenical). . neither seeks alternative democratic institutions." . I borrow its meaning from those militants who make the slaughter of the "other" a higher duty. . I use the term in its militant construction to suggest dogmatic and violent particularism of a kind known to Christians no less than Muslims. They are nervous and greedy. to Germans and Hindis as well as to Arabs.Jihad is then a rabid response to colonialism and imperialism and their economic children. communities that slight democracy in favor of tyrannical paternalism or consensual tribalism. . a strong term. leaving to an untrustworthy. Each eschews civil society and belittles democratic citizenship. Their common thread is indifference to civil liberty.. Justice yields to markets.. . invisible hand issues of public interest and common good that once might have been nurtured by demo cratic citizenries and their watchful governments. even though. it means bloody holy war on behalf of partisan identity that is metaphysically defined and fanatically defended. Jihad forges communities ofblood rooted in exclusion and hatred. but what they reward is not always our preferred form of democracy. Yet Jihad and MeWorld have this in common: they both make war on the sovereign nation- state and thus undermine the nation-state's democratic institutions.What ends as Jihad may begin as a simple search for a local identity. a kind of Islamic zeal. if not altogether fictitious. are actually pulling back at the very moment they ought to be aggressively intervening.. They produce their contraries and need one another. it is diversity run amok. "will be McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken." George Steiner suggests. the one re-creating ancient subnational and ethnic borders from within. What then does it mean in concrete terms to view Jihad and MeWorld dialectically when the tendencies of the two sets of forces initially appear so intractably antithetical? Mter all.What was once understood as protecting the public interest is now excoriated as heavy-handed regulatory browbeat ing. They look for stability and transparency.. . Jihad is. I recognize. The phenomena to which I apply the phrase have innocent enough beginnings: identity politics and multicultural diversity can represent strategies of a free society trying to give expression to its diversity.. In its strongest political manifestation. the one driven by parochial hatreds. "the new temples to liberty. the other making national borders porous from without.. as Felix Rohatyn has bluntly confessed.only imperils but re-creates and reinforces Jihad. McWorld forges global markets rooted in consumption and profit. "there is a brutal Darwinian logic to these markets.Thus.

apparel as ideology. whose personal appearances are the key to the wildly popular inter national cafe chain Planet Hollywood. and theme parks-the new churches of a commercial civilization in which malls are the public squares and suburbs the neighborless neighborhoods-are all constructed as image exports creating a common world taste around common logos.. brand names. and trademarks. Its symbols are Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Cadillac motorcars hoisted from the roadways.. books. video. in no small part as a reaction to MeWorld . however unified internally. trade associations. where they once represented a mode of transporta tion. transnational lobbies like OPEC. must nonetheless operate in an increasingly multicultural global environment. world news services like CNN and the BBC.Within their expansive and permeable domains.. its form style. Every demarcated national economy and every kind of public good is today vulnerable to the inroads of transnational commerce. you feel their vibes and rock to the images they conjure up from old movies and new celebrities.. Its goods are as much images as material. Its template is American. currencies are convertible. Hard power yields to soft..multiculturalism turned cancerous so that the cells keep dividing long after their division has ceased to serve the healthy corpus. trumping the laws of legis latures and courts.Videology is fuzzier and less dogmatic than traditional political ideology: it may as a consequence be far more successful in instilling the novel values required for global markets to succeed. THE SMALLING WORLD OF MCWORLD . Ironically.. adver tising slogans. an aesthetic as well as a product line.. access to banking is open. It is about culture as commodity.. In Europe.You don't drive them. and the Americas such markets have already eroded national sovereignty and given birth to a new class of institutions international banks. Asia. interests are private. The rising economic and communica tions interdependence of the world means that such nations. songs. contracts are enforceable (the state's sole legitimate economic function). stars. and multinational corporations-institu tions that lack distinctive national identities and neither reflect nor respect nationhood as an organizing or a regulative principle . Music. a world that is coming together pop cultur ally and commercially is a world whose discrete subnational ethnic and religious and racial parts are also far more in evidence. while ideology is transmuted into a kind of videology that works through sound bites and film clips. and the laws of production and consumption are sovereign. trade is free. jingles. MeWorld is a product of popular culture driven by expansionist commerce. theater. . to the marquees of global market cafes like Harley-Davidson's and the Hard Rock where they become icons oflifestyle. Even traditionally homogenous integral nations have reason to feel anxious about the prospect of Jihad.. Markets abhor frontiers as nature abhors a vacuum.

while the Pandoras await nihilism and a world in Pandemonium. Japan has. modern history then leans both ways: toward the meretricious inevitability of MeWorld. communication. Antithetical in every detail. in Bosnia.. The Panglossians bank on Euro-Disney and Microsoft. Jihad's microwars will hold the headlines well into the next century. and bigoted-is likely also to be terminally postdemocratic. The dynamics of the Jihad-MeWorld linkage are deeply dialectical. the number one restaurant in Japan measured by volume of customers was McDonald's. Yet McWorld and Jihad do not really force a choice between such polarized scenarios. the epoch on whose threshold we stand-postcommunist. the forces of MeWodd are the forces underlying the slow certain thrust of Western civilization and as such may be unstoppable.. But in the long run. fol lowed in the number-two spot by the Colonel's Kentucky Fried Chicken . in India. and entertain ment ultimate (if inadvertent) control over human destiny. heaving to and fro and giving heart both to the Panglos sians and the Pandoras. in Japan. In Russia. Unless we can offer an alternative to the struggle between Jihad and MeWorld. sometimes for the very same reasons. fearful. noisier and more obviously nihilistic than those of MeWorld. making predictions of the end of history look terminally dumb. for example. postindustrial.. Jihad and McWorld nonetheless conspire to undermine our hard-won (if only half won) civil liberties and the possibility of a global democratic future. they are likely to produce some stifling amalgam of the two suspended in chaos. but also into Jihad's stiff winds. are likely to dominate the near future.Together. In the short run the forces of Jihad. In 1992. etching small stories of local tragedy and regional genocide on the face of our times and creating a climate of instability marked by multimicrowars inimical to global integration. What does Barber mean when he says that what Jihad and MeW odd may have in common is anarchy? 2. But McWorld's homogenization is likely to establish a macropeace that favors the triumph of commerce and its markets and to give to those who control information. and in France too. yet sectarian. postnational. KEY CONCEPTS consumerism modernization DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Why does Barber conclude that modern history leans both toward Jihad and MeWorld and what does he see as the potential implications of this? . become more culturally insistent on its own traditions in recent years even as its people seek an ever greater purchase on MeWorld.