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The Global and the Universal

G l o b a l i z a t i o n a n d universality d o n o t g o t o g e t h e r . I n d e e d , t h e y m i g h t b e said t o b e
m u t u a l l y exclusive. G l o b a l i z a t i o n i s t h e g l o b a l i z a t i o n o f t e c h n o l o g i e s , t h e m a r k e t ,
t o u r i s m a n d i n f o r m a t i o n . U n i v e r s a l i t y i s t h e universality o f values, h u m a n r i g h t s ,
f r e e d o m s , c u l t u r e a n d d e m o c r a c y . G l o b a l i z a t i o n s e e m s irreversible; t h e universal
m i g h t be said, by c o n t r a s t , to be d i s a p p e a r i n g . At least as c o n s t i t u t e d as a s y s t e m of
values a t t h e level o f W e s t e r n m o d e r n i t y , w h i c h i s s o m e t h i n g t h a t has n o e q u i v a l e n t
i n any o t h e r c u l t u r e . E v e n a living, c o n t e m p o r a r y c u l t u r e like t h e J a p a n e s e has n o
t e r m for it. N o w o r d t o refer t o a system o f values w h i c h regards itself a s a t t u n e d
t o all c u l t u r e s a n d t h e i r difference b u t w h i c h , paradoxically, d o e s n o t c o n c e i v e itself
as relative, a n d aspires, in all i n g e n u o u s n e s s , to be t h e ideal t r a n s c e n d e n c e [depassetnent] o f all t h e o t h e r s . W e d o n o t i m a g i n e for a m o m e n t t h a t t h e universal m i g h t
m e r e l y b e t h e p a r t i c u l a r style o f t h i n k i n g o f t h e W e s t , its specific p r o d u c t - a n
original one, admittedly, but in the end no m o r e exportable than any h o m e - g r o w n
p r o d u c t . A n d yet, this is h o w t h e J a p a n e s e see it, as a specific, W e s t e r n feature; a n d ,
far f r o m s i g n i n g up to an abstract c o n c e p t , they, by a s t r a n g e twist, relativize o u r
universal a n d i n c o r p o r a t e i t i n t o t h e i r singularity.

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E v e r y c u l t u r e w o r t h y o f t h e n a m e c o m e s t o g r i e f i n t h e universal. E v e r y c u l t u r e
w h i c h universalizes itself loses its s i n g u l a r i t y a n d dies away. T h i s is h o w it is w i t h
t h o s e we h a v e d e s t r o y e d by t h e i r e n f o r c e d assimilation, b u t it is also h o w it is w i t h
o u r s i n its p r e t e n s i o n t o universality. T h e difference i s that t h e o t h e r s d i e d o f t h e i r
singularity, w h i c h is a fine d e a t h ; w h e r e a s we are d y i n g f r o m t h e loss of all s i n g u larity, f r o m t h e e x t e r m i n a t i o n o f all o u r values, w h i c h i s a n i g n o b l e d e a t h . W e
b e l i e v e t h e fate o f e v e r y value i s t o b e elevated t o universality, w i t h o u t g a u g i n g t h e
m o r t a l d a n g e r that p r o m o t i o n r e p r e s e n t s : far r a t h e r t h a n a n e l e v a t i o n , t h a t process
r e p r e s e n t s a r e d u c t i o n or, alternatively, a n e l e v a t i o n t o t h e d e g r e e z e r o o f value. I n
E n l i g h t e n m e n t times, universalization o c c u r r e d at the top, by an u p w a r d progress i o n . Today, i t h a p p e n s a t t h e b o t t o m , b y a n e u t r a l i z a t i o n o f values d u e t o t h e i r
p r o l i f e r a t i o n a n d indefinite e x t e n s i o n . T h i s i s h o w i t i s w i t h h u m a n r i g h t s , d e m o c racy, e t c . T h e i r e x p a n s i o n c o r r e s p o n d s t o t h e i r w e a k e s t d e f i n i t i o n , t h e i r m a x i m u m
e n t r o p y . D e g r e e X e r o x o f value. I n fact, t h e universal p e r i s h e s i n g l o b a l i z a t i o n .
O n c e it is t u r n e d i n t o a reality, t h e d y n a m i c of t h e universal as t r a n s c e n d e n c e , as
ideal g o a l , as Utopia, ceases to exist as s u c h . T h e g l o b a l i z a t i o n of t r a d e p u t s an e n d
to t h e universality of values. It is t h e t r i u m p h of la pensee unique o v e r universal
thought.

3 2

W h a t first b e c o m e s globalized is t h e m a r k e t , t h e p r o m i s c u i t y of all e x c h a n g e s a n d


p r o d u c t s , t h e p e r p e t u a l flow of m o n e y . In c u l t u r a l t e r m s , it is t h e p r o m i s c u i t y of all
signs a n d values or, i n o t h e r w o r d s , p o r n o g r a p h y . F o r t h e w o r l d w i d e b r o a d c a s t i n g
32.

'La pensee unique' has in recent years b e c o m e o n e of the watchwords of French political dis-

cussion. It implies a single-track t h i n k i n g of the kind o n c e referred to in Britain by the acronym


T I N A ('There is no alternative'). T h e editor of Le Monde diplomatique has defined it as 'the translation into ideological terms . . . of the interests of a set of e c o n o m i c forces, in particular those of
international capital' (Ignacio R a m o n e t , 'La pensee u n i q u e ' , Le Monde diplomatique, no. 490, January
1995).

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a n d p a r a d i n g o f a n y t h i n g a n d e v e r y t h i n g over t h e n e t w o r k s i s p o r n o g r a p h y . N o
n e e d for sexual o b s c e n i t y ; this i n t e r a c t i v e c o p u l a t i o n suffices. A t t h e e n d o f this
process t h e r e i s n o l o n g e r any difference b e t w e e n t h e global a n d t h e universal. T h e
universal itself i s g l o b a l i z e d : d e m o c r a c y a n d h u m a n r i g h t s circulate like a n y o t h e r
global p r o d u c t - like oil or capital.
G i v e n all this, w e m a y ask o u r s e l v e s w h e t h e r t h e universal has n o t already s u c c u m b e d t o its o w n critical mass, a n d i f i t has ever h a d a n y t h i n g b u t l i p - s e r v i c e p a i d
t o it, o r b e e n h o n o u r e d a n y w h e r e b u t i n official m o r a l i t i e s . A t any rate, for u s t h e
m i r r o r of t h e u n i v e r s a l is s h a t t e r e d (we c a n , in fact, see in this s o m e t h i n g like t h e
m i r r o r - s t a g e of h u m a n i t y ) . B u t p e r h a p s this is f o r t u n a t e , for, in t h e fragments of this
b r o k e n m i r r o r , all t h e singularities r e - e m e r g e . T h e o n e s w e t h o u g h t t h r e a t e n e d s u r vive, t h e o n e s w e t h o u g h t h a d d i s a p p e a r e d revive. T h e case o f J a p a n is, o n c e again,
q u i t e r e m a r k a b l e i n this c o n n e c t i o n . J a p a n has a c h i e v e d its (technical, e c o n o m i c a n d
financial) g l o b a l i z a t i o n b e t t e r t h a n a n y o t h e r c o u n t r y , b u t has d o n e so without passing through the universal (the succession of b o u r g e o i s ideologies a n d f o r m s of political
e c o n o m y ) a n d w i t h o u t l o s i n g a n y t h i n g o f its singularity, d e s p i t e w h a t i s said. W e
m a y e v e n s u p p o s e t h a t i t was a s a result o f n o t b e i n g e n c u m b e r e d b y t h e universal
t h a t i t has h a d s u c h global, t e c h n i c a l success, directly c o m b i n i n g t h e singular (the
p o w e r o f ritual) w i t h t h e global (virtual p o w e r ) .
T h e increasingly intense resistances to globalization social a n d political resistances,
w h i c h m a y s e e m like an archaic r e j e c t i o n of m o d e r n i t y at all costs - have to be seen
as h a r b o u r i n g an o r i g i n a l defiant r e a c t i o n to t h e sway of t h e universal. S o m e t h i n g
w h i c h goes b e y o n d t h e e c o n o m i c a n d t h e political. A k i n d o f painful revisionism i n
respect of t h e established positions of m o d e r n i t y , in respect of t h e idea of progress a n d
history - a k i n d of rejection n o t o n l y of t h e f a m o u s global t e c h n o s t r u c t u r e , b u t of t h e
m e n t a l s t r u c t u r e of t h e identification of all cultures a n d all c o n t i n e n t s in t h e c o n c e p t
of t h e universal. T h i s r e s u r g e n c e or e v e n i n s u r r e c t i o n of singularity m a y assume

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v i o l e n t , a n o m a l o u s , irrational aspects from t h e v i e w p o i n t o f ' e n l i g h t e n e d ' t h o u g h t it m a y take e t h n i c , religious or linguistic f o r m s , b u t also, at t h e individual level, m a y
find expression in character disorders or n e u r o s e s . B u t it w o u l d be a basic e r r o r (the
v e r y e r r o r o n e sees e m e r g i n g i n t h e m o r a l o r c h e s t r a t i o n o f t h e politically c o r r e c t disc o u r s e c o m m o n t o all t h e p o w e r s - t h a t - b e a n d t o m a n y 'intellectuals') t o c o n d e m n all
these u p s u r g e s o u t o f h a n d a s populist, archaic o r e v e n terroristic. E v e r y t h i n g w h i c h
constitutes an event t o d a y is d o n e against t h e universal, against t h a t abstract u n i v e r sality (and this includes t h e frantic a n t a g o n i s m of Islam to W e s t e r n values: it is because
it is t h e m o s t v e h e m e n t protest against this W e s t e r n globalization that Islam t o d a y is
public e n e m y n u m b e r o n e ) . I f w e will n o t u n d e r s t a n d this, t h e n w e will b e c a u g h t u p
in an endless a n d pointless w r a n g l e b e t w e e n a universal t h o u g h t assured of its p o w e r
a n d g o o d c o n s c i e n c e a n d a n ever greater n u m b e r o f implacable singularities. E v e n i n
o u r societies w h i c h are a c c u l t u r a t e d t o t h e universal, o n e can see t h a t n o n e o f w h a t
has b e e n sacrificed to this c o n c e p t has really disappeared. It has simply g o n e u n d e r g r o u n d . A n d w h a t i s n o w r u n n i n g b a c k w a r d s i s a w h o l e self-styled progressive
history, a w h o l e e v o l u t i o n i s m crystallized on its e n d - p o i n t an e n d - p o i n t w h i c h has,
in fact, b e e n lost sight of in t h e m e a n t i m e . T h a t Utopia has fallen apart t o d a y a n d its
deep-level dislocation is a d v a n c i n g e v e n m o r e q u i c k l y t h a n its c o n s o l i d a t i o n by force.
We have before us a c o m p l e x t h r e e - t e r m arrangement: there is the globalization
o f e x c h a n g e s , t h e universality o f values a n d t h e singularity o f f o r m s (languages, c u l t u r e s , i n d i v i d u a l s a n d c h a r a c t e r s , b u t also c h a n c e , a c c i d e n t , e t c . - all t h a t t h e
universal, i n k e e p i n g w i t h its law, i m p u g n s a s a n e x c e p t i o n o r a n o m a l y ) . N o w , a s
universal values lose s o m e o f t h e i r a u t h o r i t y a n d legitimacy, t h e s i t u a t i o n c h a n g e s
a n d b e c o m e s m o r e radical. S o l o n g a s t h e y c o u l d assert t h e m s e l v e s a s m e d i a t i n g
values, t h e y w e r e ( m o r e or less well) able to i n t e g r a t e t h e singularities as differences,
in a universal c u l t u r e of difference. H o w e v e r , as t r i u m p h a n t g l o b a l i z a t i o n s w e e p s
away all differences a n d all values, u s h e r i n g in a perfectly i n - d i f f e r e n t ( u n ) c u l t u r e ,

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t h e y can n o l o n g e r d o this. A n d o n c e t h e universal has disappeared, all t h a t r e m a i n s


i s t h e a l l - p o w e r f u l global t e c h n o s t r u c t u r e s t a n d i n g o v e r against t h e singularities
w h i c h h a v e r e v e r t e d t o t h e w i l d state a n d b e e n t h r o w n b a c k o n t h e i r o w n d e v i c e s .
T h e universal has h a d its h i s t o r i c a l c h a n c e . B u t today, c o n f r o n t e d w i t h a n e w
w o r l d order to w h i c h there is no alternative, w i t h an irrevocable globalization on
t h e o n e h a n d a n d t h e w a y w a r d drift o r t o o t h - a n d - n a i l revolt o f singularities o n t h e
o t h e r , t h e c o n c e p t s o f liberty, d e m o c r a c y a n d h u m a n r i g h t s c u t a v e r y p a l e figure
i n d e e d , b e i n g m e r e l y t h e p h a n t o m s o f a v a n i s h e d universal. A n d i t i s h a r d t o i m a g i n e t h e universal r i s i n g f r o m its ashes o r t o b e l i e v e t h a t t h i n g s can b e s o r t e d o u t
b y t h e m e r e play o f politics - this latter b e i n g c a u g h t u p i n t h e s a m e d e r e g u l a t i o n
a n d h a v i n g barely a n y m o r e s u b s t a n c e t o i t t h a n i n t e l l e c t u a l o r m o r a l p o w e r .
M a t t e r s are n o t , h o w e v e r , finally settled, e v e n if it is n o w all up w i t h universal
values. I n t h e v o i d left b y t h e universal, t h e stakes h a v e risen, a n d g l o b a l i z a t i o n isn't
certain t o b e t h e w i n n e r . I n t h e face o f its h o m o g e n i z i n g , solvent p o w e r , w e c a n see
h e t e r o g e n e o u s forces s p r i n g i n g u p all over, forces w h i c h are n o t o n l y different, b u t
antagonistic and irreducible.
18 March

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1996