History plays a very important role in the development and progress of humanity. Social, cultural and political religious factors play a crucial role in shaping a society. All these factors evolve in a particular way throughout the history to give the society or world a particular shape. The world of today has also experienced such historical evolution. The economy is becoming increasingly global, in which an idea of uniformity and global culture is embedded. But on the other hand, despite the increasing move or evolution towards uniformity, the extremism in the world is also increasing. The reason for that is hidden in the past events.
Hence in this paper, the importance of international history in understanding the world of today is put in question. The paper shall analyze the prevailing economic system especially globalization and the growing extremism in the world in the light of international history. Using Karl Marx’s study as main argument for understanding world economic system, it is analyzed that the increasing globalization is primarily because the economy is controlled by bourgeoisie. Similarly, with the help of Karen Armstrong’s arguments about the unfolding of historical events, the extremism in the world is analyzed.
We are living in a global world, but the question is what has led humanity towards globalization. The current economic system did not come about on its own. Certain historical factors unfolded in a certain manner which led to the world to capitalism, the prevailing economic system. To understand capitalism and its existence, understanding its history is essential. There are various interpretations to how and why capitalism became the dominant system of the world. Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels (1970) provide an in depth analysis about the matter.
Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels (1970) gave the idea of a materialist conception based on a procedural approach for understanding history, economy and the society at large. This understanding is generally named as historical materialism (Princeton.edu n.d). They argue that history of humankind is basically a history of class struggles (Harmon 1964). Human society has always been divided into different classes, usually two significant opposing classes. And this is what has determined the nature of their relationships from inter-individuals to inter-countries relations. The classes that are identified based on their relationship to the means of production remain in conflict with each other (Harmon 1964). Hence, one class becomes rulers and the other, subjects. In the light of this struggle, the historical evolution of humanity, according to Karl Marx, has been as follows: in the beginning, people lived freely without any form of laws, boundaries, class divide and so on (Marx and Engels 1970).
However, as society grew and many families got together, they formed a tribal structure. There were no societal classes at this level, but familial as the work between men and women got divided (Marx and Engels 1970). It led to a primitive form of communism where everybody played its role and helped each other as a whole (Marx and Engels 1970). However, as the society further grew, developments took place and more work started, people needed help. Thus, people of countries who used to lose in wars would become slaves of the winning nation. This is from where the slavery began. Occupying other countries not only brought slaves but also gave right our land. This brought in the idea of private property. And when slavery is joined with that, it led to another phase of human society which is named as feudal system (Marx and Engels 1970). Feudal lords used to have the ownership of the land and thus at this level a clear class divide came up with feudal lords on one side and surfs or workers on the other side.
The history view point mentioned above is primarily a remote cause of prevailing conditions of the society and hence, might make little sense. However, what happened during and after feudal system is, what becomes the proximate cause of current capitalistic global economic system, a system dominant in the international world today. What happened during the feudal times, according to Marx and Engels (1970), a group of people started to rise independent of the feudal lords. These were the class of bourgeoisie (Marx and Engels 1970). The independence, strength and significance of bourgeoisie class rose because of the technological developments especially the train and other fast travelling advancements. It grew the networks of trading class all over the world in a very strong manner. This is what led to the foundations of a global world. Thus, soon after bourgeoisie gained enough strength to overthrow the Feudal system, which they did in American and French revolutions, a capitalistic system came about that was based on capital and commerce (Marx and Engels 1970). This is the system in which the world lives today.
It is a system in which the class divide is between bourgeoisie and proletariats. And the way this system works is by a worker or laborer selling his labor power (Marx and Engels 1970). It fleeces people by making them imagine that they are free and free market forces decide the wage and standards of labor skills. However, it is actually a deception because in reality, the laborer is selling his or her labor power which means he never gets to rise above the level of being a laborer, but remains completely dependent on the will of the capitalist owner (Felluga 2011). Thus, in the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat, three things are happening: globalization of world economy, production of enough resources for feeding whole humanity, however, so much dependency and exploitation of workers in the hands of capitalists that inequality between the two groups and poverty is ever increasing.
Since the bourgeoisie’s trading strength and connections increased with technological developments, it has led to the globalization of the economy of the world. Unlike previous times, now two countries cannot live independent of each other. They inter-countries’ trade has increased so much that countries are now dependent on each other. For example, China and India, although do not have worth appreciating political relations, but the economic ties between the two countries are very strong. The trade between them in 2012 was $66.57 billion (Indianembassy.org.cn n.d). Therefore, the current economic system has made even hostile countries dependent on each other because of billions of trade. All this has led to a global culture, global ethics, global society, global rules; in short, a global economy based world.
Similarly, the technological developments and globalization, both hand in hand have given humanity enough resources that for the first time the whole world can be fed. Vivas (2010) explains that it is something that humanity has never experienced before. It is for the first time humankind is producing enough resources for removing poverty, malnutrition and hunger from the planet. However, the economic system is shaped people’s minds such that they are more concerned about profit maximization than about feeding the hungry and poor (Vivas 2010). However, still there is a billion people in the world, according to UN, who live below $2 per day wage and hence, live below poverty line (Worldbank.org 2014). This is primarily because the resources are being made, but not distributed among whole of societies. The rich class keeps the resources and produces profits from them while the working class remains awfully dependent on the elite and hence, keeps struggling. That is why, in this society, rich keeps getting richer while poor or workers keep getting poorer. An evidence of that is in the rich to poor ratio in Human Development Indexes. According to Human Development reports, in 1992, the ratio was 1 to 59 (hdr.undp.org 1992) while in 2012, it reached to 1 to 89 (hdr.undp.org 2013).
Similarly, the root causes of growing extremism in today’s world can only be understood and eliminated when analyzed through international history. Although, the idea of globalization is about promoting uniformity in the world, but there is something fundamentally wrong in the idea because rather than promoting uniformity it is giving rise to extremism and fundamentalism. Karen Armstrong (2011) has written in detail about the matter. She has analyzed the historical events that led to fundamentalism growth in the world. Karen Armstrong (2011) argues that the foundations or traces of fundamentalism’s roots go back to sixteenth century. According to her, it is the time when Western society experienced a shift in its structures, beliefs and other aspects of life. Lutherian Movement of the 16th century led by Martin Luther was an important milestone in the shift. Armstrong argues it was a shift from one type of civilization life to another (Armstrong 2011).
However, this shift was not as easy-going as one might expect. It involved a lot of violence, pain, struggles of many people. People at grass-root level were living in one form of civilization whereas a new form of civilization, irrespective of whether it was better or worse, was being imposed on them. And what was most radically different about this new civilization’s life style was the place and role of religion (Armstrong 2011). Modernity did not value religion whereas people were strongly connected to their religions. Hence, when modernity was imposed on them, they expressed antipathy and aversion towards that. The result for that was people started giving significance to religion, which modernity attempted to take away from them. However, since masses were never erudite about their respective religions. So they started giving new forms of expressions and interpretations to their religion and faith which seemingly fit into the new circumstances created by modernity (Armstrong 2011).
Religious fundamentalism, that we see prevalent in our world today, was one of the new forms or expressions that people gave to their religions. Thus, fundamentalism, according to Armstrong, is not stringent to one particular faith only, it is a phenomena that affected all religions existent on the world today. For example, Protestant fundamentalism is found in America 1890s onward, Jewish fundamentalism is found in Europe and then Israel 1920s onward while Islamic fundamentalism is significant in much of the Muslim world especially Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1960s (Armstrong 2011). These different forms of fundamentalism may or may not have much in common to each other. However, they all are a direct result of modernity.
Importantly, since fundamentalism is one of the ‘new’ forms of the religious expression, Karen Armstrong (2011) does not see it as something that leads back into the past, but something very innovative, complexly constructed and creatively adjusted according to the modern values. Hence, quite clearly, this innovation takes people away from religion rather than connecting them to the religion, which is a delusion. Moreover, fundamentalism may or may not be peaceful. And when it reaches its extreme i.e., modernity and fundamentalists confront each other in strict and stringent manner, fundamentalism turns into fanaticism where it takes support of violence and other extremist activities for successfully promoting what it believes in.
This is exactly what is seen prevalent in the world today. Christian Right in America, a fundamentalist group, seizes control majority of the voting patterns and thus, influence the American domestic and foreign policies (Noll 1990). That is why, even in apparently liberal society as America, President Bush even in the 21st century goes against gay marriage and pass anti-gay marriage bill in the senate (Rozell and Whitney 2007). Moreover, it is primarily the Christian fundamentalists’ influence that America is every now and then waging in wars especially against Muslims, whom they perceive as a threat (Rozell and Whitney 2007).
Similarly, in Israel, Jewish fundamentalism is at its peak. They consider Israel as their homeland and often holy land which, according to them, belongs to Jews but Muslims have illegally occupied it for centuries (Armstrong 2011). Furthermore, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Iranian revolution of 1979 are expressions of Muslim fundamentalism (Armstrong 2011). And the virus is spreading very quickly all and it is taking the whole world in its range.
But fundamentalism is still often misunderstood and wrongly dealt with. The only reason for that is that it is not comprehended in the light of historical events that led to its birth. Thus, this underscores the importance of international history in understanding, evaluating and dealing with the world today.
Therefore, in this paper, the economic system of the world and the extremism in the world has been analyzed and it has been evaluated that how important history is in understanding the present world. Karl Marx and Engels (1970) and Karen Armstrong’s (2011) studies were used for understanding economic system and extremism respectively. Understanding economic system without understanding the class struggle that Karl Marx and Engels point out is not possible. The reason why the world today has all the resources required but still keep a billion people hungry cannot be understood without understanding the idea of class struggles. It involves the idea that one class keeps other dependent on them. And the reason why it is worst in capitalist economic structure is because it does not buy the laborer but its labor power which makes him cripple, metaphorically. Similarly, fundamentalism is often understood as people having old ideas and beliefs of religions, but it is actually a new phenomena and not depicting the actual teachings of religions at all. In a nutshell, history is not only important in understanding the world today, but it is also essential in solving the problems of the world today.
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