Globalisation studies – an eschatological discipline?

My recent review of Olaf Bach’s „Die Erfindung der Globalisierung“ (Frankfurt & New York 2013) in the journal „Contributions to the history of concepts“ (01/2014)finished with the following, somewhat daring statement:

„Bach concludes his study by pointing to the fact that the concept of globalization continues to be charged with a lot of promise and a forward-looking vision. However, this vision may never become reality, but remains a vision to be fulfilled (237). Within theology such a concept would be discussed in the discipline of eschatology, the study of the last things (death, judgment, etc.). Globalization can be understood as a quasi-eschatological concept within political and social language. It cannot simply be surpassed without speaking of something far-fetched such as interplanetary politics. The concept will never refer to a concrete experience of (secular) fulfilment.“

What d0 I mean by this Statement? The answer is twofold:

‚Globalisation‘ refers to a process. This process can be historically analysed both in terms of  ‚Realgeschichte‘ and terms of ‚Begriffsgeschichte‘. It is possible to identify certain crucial steps in the history of globalisation such as increased overseas trade, sophisticated map drawing, colonialism, acceleration of transport and communication through technical Innovation and conceptual transformations etc.

In addition, we may describe the globalisation process in mere descriptive terms, as historians and also some political scientists tend to do. Their first aim is to know what was and is going on. They want to understand and analyse. But we can also approach globalisation with a more normative gesture, framing it in terms of (in-)justice and (in-)equality or – contrary to this approach – framing it in terms of positive innovation and progress. This normative framing is the work of political philosophers. Obviously, one and the same person can be all three simultaneously: analytical historian or political scientist and normative philosopher.

Globalisation, however, is also a „Grenzbegriff“ ( I. Kant) and as such it refers to a Point on the fringe of our experience and at the edge of our spatial and temporal world. ‚Globalisation‘ cannot be surpassed by any other concept. And globalisation can also not be surpassed by any other experience, unless we radically expand our human capacities to communicate into outer space or into other, yet unknown spatial or temporal dimensions. If we were to find someone to communicate with in outer space or elsewhere, of course.

Eschatology deals with all those concepts and images which lie on the fringe of our human experience. ‚Fringe‘ does not mean that we do not know anything about these concepts and images. ‚Fringe‘ means that we only know one side, but as mortal humans will never know the other side, the beyond.

The „Kingdom of God“ is one well known eschatological Image within Christian theology. In the Bible the „Kingdom of God“ is usually referred to as both a process and a „Grenzbegriff“. For example in Mark 1. 15 which recalls one of Jesus‘ sayings at the beginning of his ministry: „The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel“ (KJV). Jesus asks his followers to change their lives because of the approaching kingdom of God. But an approaching kingdom is something different to a present kingdom. Followers of Jesus may work on ist approach, but they will never be able to implement the final fulfilment of the kingdom. This is beyond their reach, beyond the fringe.

The same is true for globalsation. It makes sense to talk about the process of globalisation both analytically and normativly. As soon as we are tempted to talk about globalisation as being fulfilled, we realise that the concept as such gives way and disappears. ‚Globalisation‘ will, however, never reveal the other side of the fringe, its beyond to any living human creature.

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2 Gedanken zu “Globalisation studies – an eschatological discipline?

  1. Globalization in the context of Eschatology
    Global effects are noticeable when we look at developments in economy, science and technology during the last 100 years. The world has become „smaller“ due to faster transportation and due to communication technologies. In consequence also financial markets were more and more globalised. And cheap communication methods including mass media led to a global society. This had positive as well as negative effects. Mass media can be used for the good or for the bad, as well as financial markets. Whatever we make out of those new chances our man-made „eschatology“ might be optimistic or pessimistic.
    In this context I recommend the book by John Gray „False dawn – the delusions of global capitalism“(1998, UK).
    And yet it is worthwhile to work for the Kingdom of God (City of God) in the midst of the globalised world.
    But Christian eschatology is more than that. Our world is limited and only „on the way“. Mineral resources of our planet are not endless, and after all, the universe is not eternal.
    St. Augustine was a realist, a politician later a bishop. I also presume he was a married man.
    He described well the development of the Roman Imperium. He also described the Civitas Dei with its two dimensions, the pilgrimage on Earth, and the eternal dimension which will not be man-made. Civitas Dei is not identical with a special state, a nation or a special government in the world. And Augustine is very reluctant to describe the end, he prays before he dares to take up eschatology.
    But he found poetic words for it. After the end of times, and after the end of civitas terrena (the kingdom of selfishness and evil), there will be a day to rest, a Sabbat for us and for God. By the end of this 7th day, evening does not come, darkness does not fall, but the 8th day will bring eternity, in the Civitas Dei in its fullness in heaven. (Civ.22)
    Elisabeth Vondrous, Vienna

    • Danke!
      Das „schon“ und „noch nicht“, von dem Sie in Ihrem Kommentar sprechen, ist auch im Begriff der ‚Globalisierung‘ angelegt: Die Globalisierung ist schon da, in guten wie in weniger guten Prozessen, die man detailreich und historisch beschreiben kann. Aber sie ist noch nicht vollendet und wird, streng genommen, auch nie vollendet sein.

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