Activists demonstrate against free trade agreements between the EU and the US in Bulgaria. Sofia, October 2016. (Credit: Belish/Bigstock)
Activists demonstrate against free trade agreements between the EU and the US in Bulgaria. Sofia, October 2016. (Credit: Belish/Bigstock)

What does the term ‘glocalism’ mean? Obviously, it is composed of two words, localism and globalism. But one should note how the words are combined. Glocalism does not imply an indiscriminate fusion, a bland synthesis of local and global concerns. Nor does it mean that the two concerns are strictly separate or apart.  Rather, the expression indicates that the two dimensions closely belong together in their difference.

When considering dialogue among civilisations, we are specifically concerned with relationships among civilisations. We do not assume that there is only one civilisation, a universal civilisation where all cultures are fused. Nor do we assume that the different civilisations are radically separated or incommensurable. Rather, we assume that they are held together in their difference and potentially reconciled through dialogue and understanding.

A further point is that dialogue is always territorially located. Berlin, for example, is located in Germany, one of the heartlands of Europe. This has implications for any dialogue that occurs there. Dialogue is not located in the globe or the universe or in outer space – but in a particular place. However, although clearly localised, dialogue should be open to and not separated from the rest of the world. This leads me back to glocalism.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger once said about human beings (Dasein) that they are ecstatic beings, that is, they are ‘standing out’, into the open, from a given place. He used this metaphor: human beings, he said, are like a tree whose trunk is firmly rooted in the ground or the earth, but whose branches reach out in many directions and ultimately toward the sky or heaven. Put differently: We are rooted in finite space, but capable of reaching out to others, to the globe, to the sky, to infinity. Thus, there is here a linkage –without merger – of the here and there, of the close-by and the distant, of the present and the trans-temporal, of immanence and transcendence. The French philosopher Merleau-Ponty spoke in a similar vein of correlation between the visible and the invisible.

What this philosophical background means for dialogue practitioners is as follows. Some say they are or could be everywhere. In New York, Moscow, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, or wherever. What this suggests is that they are somehow extra-territorial, extra-temporal, and thus purely global or universal. But this is clearly false and potentially damaging and destructive.

It is false, or at least deceptive because dialogue is always practised somewhere, in a specific place. It is also damaging and debilitating because without space or location there is no perspective, no orientation, no intelligible meaning. Put simply, meaning always exists for someone in a given time and context. To assume otherwise is the conceit of the so-called free-floating ego, of the view from nowhere.

The mistake is that of an abstract universalism, a detached globalism or internationalism. It is not only a mental error but has practical and political implications. There is presently no such thing as global citizenship (only what Richard Falk has called citizen pilgrims); in the absence of a super-Leviathan, there cannot be any such citizenship. Most importantly, detached globalism is destructive of local commitments and practices.

This point has been clearly recognised by social theorists Zygmunt Bauman and Carlo Bordoni in their book, State of Crisis, where they speak of a “new politics” of our time – a politics “completely removed from the citizens and implicitly delegated to the top-level executives of global power that have no face.”  In this new politics, they add, ordinary citizens “can only have responsibility for a local politics which has no significant sphere of action and is limited to routine matters” (like garbage collection). At another place in the same text, Bauman has this to say: “Our times are striking for the gathering evidence that agencies [of a truly public kind] are no longer in existence, and most certainly not to be found in their previous usual places. … At the bottom of all the crises in which our times abound lies the crisis of agencies and instruments of effective action—and its derivative: the vexing, demeaning and infuriating feeling of having been sentenced to loneliness in the face of shared dangers.”

Does this mean that these authors are willing to retreat into a narrow localism, a myopic parochialism, perhaps a bellicose and populist nationalism? By no means. As they write at another point, the separation of local agency and global power is “lethal” for modern politics – especially for a democratic state “whose constitution has promised its citizens to let them take part in common decisions.” Thus, Bauman and Bordoni clearly do not give up on the promise of democracy.

However, one does get an inkling here of the resentments and frustrations animating so-called anti-globalisers and their activities. A democratic deficit surely does exist.

Still, no matter how serious local frustrations may be, one cannot fail to note that, taken in a radical sense, pure localism or anti-globalism is also both false and potentially harmful or destructive.

Anti-globalism is misleading because, whatever our preferences, today we inevitably live in a globally interconnected world, not only economically, but also practically, and in our thoughts and dreams. This means that global concerns penetrate everywhere into local life-worlds, and global images saturate local awareness and imagination. In a different vein, one might say that local identities are shaped and even co-constituted by global narratives and events, in a way that confuses the traditional boundary between centre and periphery.

Furthermore, we know how destructive a bellicose local populism or aggressive nationalism can be. And, given the widespread upsurge of populism both in Europe and in the wider world, we do not have to be reminded of this. Wherever we look today, we notice the rise of chauvinism and xenophobic sentiments and policies.

Thus, we seem to live today in a juggernaut. We have on one side a detached, irresponsible, democratically defective, and illegitimate globalism; and on the other side, the growth of chauvinistic movements, fuelled (in some places) by an avalanche of hate groups, militias, and private armies. This is clearly a very volatile and highly dangerous combination. We seem to live in a situation approximating a global civil war (in the sense of a Hobbesian state of nature).

A genuine commitment to democracy, or at least to the ‘promise’ of democracy, is lacking on all sides. What we find instead is a hankering for Bonapartism, that is, a desire for strong autocrats among global and national elites. In this situation, we need two things: firstly, a re-commitment to the spirit of democracy, which, according to Montesquieu, is a spirit and love of equality (and not autocracy); and secondly, closely connected with the first, a strong attachment to civility and peace, which according to Thomas Hobbes, is the exit route from civil warfare (pax est quaerenda).

To return now to the practice of dialogue, clearly, to advocate dialogue among civilisations is to opt against exceptionalism, against the superiority of some over others, and especially against the imperial imposition of one culture on others. True dialogue opts against the autocratic rule of strong men both locally and globally. This means it is bound to honour in some way the spirit of democracy both locally and globally. And those espousing dialogue are also thus committed to civility, peace, and the peaceful resolution of disputes worldwide.

At the same time, to practice dialogue is not to be an abstract globalist. As I said at the beginning, we are always located in space and time.

Returning to the example of Germany, although not a global power on the scale of the United States, Russia, or China, Germany’s contribution to the strengthening of democracy and the pursuit of peace may be furthered precisely because of its lack of relative weight.

In a world of big-power, big-money politics, a world threatened as never before by a nuclear holocaust, Germany may offer a place of alternative hopes and visions. Having been the scene of two horrible world wars, Germany is in a position to say, persuasively, “never again, enough is enough!”

Returning to the question of what Germany can contribute to the strengthening of democracy and the pursuit of peace, the answer must be nothing by way of autocracy and military force, but a much in the way of education and a good example. The reconciliation between Germany and France, after centuries of warfare, is surely an achievement worth pondering. And regarding the democratic deficit mentioned previously, maybe the European Union can offer an example of the redistribution of responsibilities between national and supra-national institutions – thus lessening the tensions troubling glocalism.

The philosopher with whom I began these reflections, Heidegger, ponders at one point the significance – or rather the still hidden meaning – of the West or Occident. Retrieving the old German term, Abendland (evening land), he wonders whether that land – marked by mindfulness and sobriety resulting from long-suffering and endurance – might not be able to bring relief and shelter to a tormented and broken-down world. Un-coopted by great power politics, he writes, maybe this Abendland may herald the dawn of a new world epoch, an emerging epoch of new beginnings.

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Fred Dallmayr
Fred Dallmayr is a well-known political theorist specialising in modern and contemporary European thought with an additional interest in comparative or cross-cultural philosophy. He has published over 40 books and more than 200 professional papers; his publications include: The Other Heidegger, Beyond Orientalism: Essays On Cross-Cultural Encounters, Achieving Our World: Toward a Global and Plural Democracy, Dialogue Among Civilizations: Some Exemplary Voices, Hegel: Modernity And Politics. Fred Dallmayr holds a Doctor of Law degree from the University of Munich and a Ph.D. in political science from Duke University. He has served as president of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy (SACP). He is co-chairman of WPF Dialogue of Civilizations, Packey J. Dee Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, member of the International Coordinating Committee of World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations, and of the Scientific Committee of RESET – Dialogues on Civilizations.