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The National Interest Fall 1997 n49 p23(7) Page 1

Four faces of global culture.


by Peter L. Berger

A cultural dimension exists in tandem with the phenomenon of increasing economic globalization.
Some people hope that a global civil society leading to a more peaceful world will eventually
result from the emergence and development of a global culture. Some fear cultural globalization
because of a perceived homogenization to which the world’s otherwise rich diversity of societies
could be reduced. It is hypothesized that there are at least four different processes of cultural
globalization which are simultaneously occurring, of which Protestant evangelicalism is the most
aggressive.

© COPYRIGHT 1997 The National Affairs, Inc. But there is also fear attached to the prospect of cultural
globalization, fear of a worldwide "airport culture" in which
The term "globalization" has become somewhat of a the rich diversity of human civilizations will be
cliche. It serves to explain everything from the woes of the homogenized and vulgarized. This fear has been vocalized
German coal industry to the sexual habits of Japanese in the rhetoric of "Asian values" that has attained a certain
teenagers. Most cliches have a degree of factual validity; political significance in recent years, as well as in the
so does this one. There can be no doubt about the fact of rhetoric of the various movements of Islamic resurgence.
an ever more interconnected global economy, with vast Similar fear, in less virulent form, can be observed
social and political implications, and there is no shortage of elsewhere, for example in the worries about cultural
thoughtful, if inconclusive, reflection about this great homogenization among Euroskeptics. One of the
transformation. It has also been noted that there is a arguments made by those who opposed Austria’s joining
cultural dimension, the obvious result of an immense the European Union was that Austrians would no longer be
increase in worldwide communication. If there is economic able to refer to potatoes as Erdapfel, a homey word that
globalization, there is also cultural globalization. To say was suddenly imbued with the genius of Austrian identity,
this, however, is only to raise the question of what such a but would have to use the High German word Kartoffeln.
phenomenon amounts to. Of course this was silly. But the desire to preserve distinct
cultural traditions and a distinct cultural identity in the
Again, there can be no doubt about some of the facts. One intense economic and political pressure cooker of the new
can watch CNN in an African safari lodge. German Europe is not silly at all. The fear, like the hope, is not
investors converse in English with Chinese apparatchiks. without foundation.
Peruvian social workers spout the rhetoric of American
feminism. Protestant preachers are active in India, while A more nuanced understanding of cultural globalization will
missionaries of the Hare Krishna movement return the have to take account of both the homogenizing forces and
compliment in Middle America. Both hope and fear attach the resistances to them. Benjamin Barber made a move
to these facts. toward such an understanding in his book Jihad vs.
McWorld (1995). Most recently, and in a more subtle way,
The hope is that a putative global culture will help to create Samuel Huntington has discussed the same issues in his
a more peaceful world. If a global culture is in the making, Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
then perhaps a global civil society might come into being. (1996), a book to which the present observations are
Ever since John Locke re-emerged from Eastern Europe greatly indebted. Huntington, whose view of the
speaking with a Polish accent, a great amount of hope has contemporary world cannot be accused of being overly
been invested in the notion of civil society, that optimistic, ends his book with a call to search for
agglomerate of intermediate institutions that Tocqueville commonalities between the contending civilizations, a
saw as the foundation of a vital democracy. Civil society dialogue of cultures. One need not agree with every
depends on a consensus on civic virtues, and that, after aspect of his analysis to agree with his conclusion. A
all, is what a culture is supposed to supply. The French dialogue between cultures, however, presupposes a
sociologist Daniele Hervieu-Leger (in her contribution to clearer understanding of all the processes at work, both
the forthcoming volume The Limits of Social Cohesion, those of cultural globalization and of resistance to it. It is
edited by me) speaks of an "ecumenism of human rights." proposed here that there are at least four distinct
The same idea is conveyed in a much cruder form by the processes of cultural globalization going on
advertisements of the Benetton company. Whether the simultaneously, relating in complex ways both to each
idea is couched in sophisticated or crude terms, it too has other and to the many indigenous cultures on which they
an evident factual basis. It is also reasonable to hope that impinge.
a world in which there would be a greater consensus on
human rights would also be a more peaceful world. Davos: From Boardroom to Bedroom
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Four faces of global culture.


First is what Huntington nicely calls the "Davos culture" reports about the first meetings between young Israelis
(after the annual World Economic Summit that meets in and Palestinians leading up to the Oslo agreements.
that Swiss luxury resort). This culture is globalized as a Whether one is edified by this spectacle or not, it may be
direct accompaniment of global economic processes. Its that commonalities in taste make it easier to find common
carrier is international business. It has obvious behavioral ground politically.
aspects that are directly functional in economic terms,
behavior dictated by the accoutrements of contemporary While cultural globalization facilitates interaction between
business. Participants in this culture know how to deal with elites, it creates difficulties between these elites and the
computers, cellular phones, airline schedules, currency non-elite populations with whom they must deal. Many
exchange, and the like. But they also dress alike, exhibit moral and ideological conflicts in contemporary societies
the same amicable informality, relieve tensions by similar pit an elite culture against a resentful mass of culturally
attempts at humor, and of course most of them interact in accredited and economically underprivileged people. As
English. Since most of these cultural traits are of Western Huntington points out, these resentments may lead to the
(and mostly American) provenance, individuals coming emergence of a nationalist or religious counter-elite. Also,
from different backgrounds must go through a process of individuals who participate in the "Davos culture" with
socialization that will allow them to engage in this behavior reasonable success vary in their ability to balance this
with seemingly effortless spontaneity. This is not always participation with other parts of their lives. While some, as
easy. A growing number of consultants in "diversity previously pointed out, may allow yuppie behavior and
management" are making a good living advising values to inundate their private lives, others seek more
corporations on how to affect this sort of socialization as complicated compromises. On my last visit to Hong Kong I
smoothly as possible. happened to stray into a Buddhist temple and came upon
a truly graphic vignette: In front of an altar, facing a large
But it would be a mistake to think that the "Davos culture" statue of the Buddha, stood a middle-aged man wearing a
operates only in the offices, boardrooms, and hotel suites dark business suit over stocking feet. He was burning
in which international business is transacted. It carries incense and at the same time talking on his cellular phone.
over into the lifestyles and presumably also the values of
those who participate in it. Thus, for example, the frenetic Faculty Club International
pace of contemporary business is carried over into the
leisure activities and the family life of business people. Both critics and advocates of contemporary global
There is a yuppie style in the corporation, but also in the capitalism mainly think in terms of the "Davos culture" and
bodybuilding studio and in the bedroom. And notions of its ramifications in popular culture ("Davos" in interaction
costs, benefits, and maximization spill over from work into with "McWorld"). Yet there are at least two other quite
private life. different types of cultural globalization going on. One of
these is what one might call the "faculty club culture."
The "Davos culture" is a culture of the elite and (by way of Essentially, this is the internationalization of the Western
what sociologists call "anticipatory socialization") of those intelligentsia, its values and ideologies. To put it
aspiring to join the elite. Its principal social location is in graphically, if the "Davos culture" tries to sell computer
the business world, but since elites intermingle, it also systems in India, the "faculty club culture" tries to promote
affects at least the political elites. There is, as it were, a feminism or environmentalism there - a rather different
yuppie internationale. Some years ago, while the apartheid agenda.
regime was still in power in South Africa, a friend of mine
had lunch with a representative of the African National While this culture has also penetrated the business world
Congress at the United Nations. To my friend’s surprise, (and in turn has been penetrated by it), its principal carrier
this individual spent most of the lunch talking about is not business. Rather, it is carried by foundations,
apartment costs in Manhattan. While this yuppification of a academic networks, non-governmental organizations, and
representative of what then still understood itself as an some governmental and multinational agencies (such as
anti-capitalist revolutionary movement might have had an development agencies with social and cultural missions). It
ironic aspect, it was a cultural trait that turned out to be too is primarily an elite culture, though here again there
very useful a few years later. A number of people from are those who aspire to it from the lower echelons of
both sides have reported how, when they first met, young cultural enterprises (say, schoolteachers or social workers
ANC exiles and young Afrikaners were surprised by their who read the books and periodicals that reflect the views
similar lifestyle preferences and personal values. These emanating from the great cultural centers).
were certainly not derived from their respective historical
traditions; rather, they were, precisely, commonalities More importantly, the "faculty club culture" spreads its
rooted in the "Davos culture." There have been similar beliefs and values through the educational system, the

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Four faces of global culture.


legal system, various therapeutic institutions, think tanks, The recent women’s conference in Beijing pitted mostly
and at least some of the media of mass communication. If Western feminists against an odd alliance of Islamists and
this culture internationalizes the Western intelligentsia, it the Vatican. Most significant politically, the
also internationalizes the conflicts in which this Western-centered human rights community is meeting with
intelligentsia has been engaged on its home territories. strong opposition in a sizable number of non-Western
James Hunter has written very insightfully about the countries.
American "culture wars" (first in his 1991 book with that
title). These conflicts can now be observed worldwide, The McWorld Culture
though always of course subject to local modifications.
Third, of course, is popular culture. Here Barber’s term
A good example of this second process of cultural "McWorld" fits best. And it is this culture that is most
globalization is the anti-smoking movement, arguably one credibly subsumed under the category of Westernization,
of the most successful movements in developed societies since virtually all of it is of Western, and more specifically
over the last twenty years or so. Before then it was a American, provenance. Young people throughout the
small, marginal sect, hardly noticed in public discourse; world dance to American music, wiggling their behinds in
today, especially in North America and Western Europe, it American jeans and wearing T-shirts with messages (often
has largely achieved the goal proclaimed early on by one misspelled) about American universities and other
of its spokesmen - to make smoking an activity engaged in consumer items. Older people watch American sitcoms on
privately by consenting adults. The reasons for this television and go to American movies. Everyone, young
stunning success need not concern us here. The point is and old, grows taller and fatter on American fast foods.
that this movement, clearly a product of Western Here indeed is a case of cultural hegemony, and it is not
intellectuals, was disseminated worldwide by an alliance of surprising that others, such as French ministers of culture
governmental and non-governmental organizations. In a and Iranian mullahs (not to mention the now defunct Soviet
series of conferences, the World Health Organization Komsomol functionaries), greatly resent the fact.
propagated the anti-smoking cause internationally. At one
of the early conferences the travel expenses of all These critics of "cultural imperialism" also understand that
participants from developing societies were paid by the the diffusion of popular culture is not just a matter of
Scandinavian development agencies (the conference was outward behavior. It carries a significant freight of beliefs
held in Stockholm). These participants, mostly from health and values. Take the case of rock music. Its attraction is
and education ministries, came from countries with not just due to a particular preference for loud, rhythmic
horrendous health problems and the campaign against sound and dangerously athletic dancing. Rock music also
smoking was not high on their list of priorities. As was to symbolizes a whole cluster of cultural values - concerning
be expected, they re-ordered their priorities given the self-expression, spontaneity, released sexuality, and,
incentives to do so. Ironically, the concepts of net-Marxist perhaps most importantly, defiance of the alleged
dependency theory, which have not been very good at stodginess of tradition. The consumption of American
interpreting the transformations of advanced capitalism, fit popular culture has, as it were, sacramental character.
rather well in the globalization of the "faculty club culture." Paraphrasing the Book of Common Prayer, these items of
Here there is overwhelming "dependency", with an consumption are visible signs of an invisible grace - or
indigenous "comprador class" carrying out the agendas curse. The hegemony becomes clear by the asymmetry of
devised in the cultural centers of the "metropolis." consumption. Mexicans eat hamburguesas, Americans eat
tacos. But the Mexicans are consuming whole chunks of
There are obvious tensions between the first and second American values "in, with, and under" the American
processes of cultural globalization. Clearly, the hamburgers; the Americans are certainly not absorbing
anti-smoking movement collides with the interests of the non-culinary aspects of Mexican culture by eating tacos.
tobacco industry. More generally, both feminism and
environmentalism collide with notions of economic A couple of years ago, I met a representative of Hallmark
efficiency held by the international economic elite. At this greeting cards for the Chinese province of Guandong (a
time, the most visible conflict is between the "ecumenism market of some sixty million people). He was happy to
of human rights", carried out by a multitude of report that his product was selling very well. When asked
nongovernmental organizations, and the belief of the which greeting cards were most popular, he said Valentine
"Davos culture" that all good things, including human cards. "You see, young Chinese men are quite shy with
rights, will eventually result from the global establishment members of the opposite sex. It is difficult for them to
of successful market economies. And of course there are express their feelings. It is much easier to send a
also tensions between the "faculty club culture" and Valentine card." I did not know what to say to this and
various indigenous movements of cultural revitalization. mumbled something about how there must be a lot of work

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Four faces of global culture.


translating the texts into Chinese. "Oh no", he said, "they the Islamic resurgence. While the latter has been limited to
want the cards to be in English." countries that have always been Muslim and to Muslim
diaspora communities, Evangelical Protestantism has
The people in charge of the globalization of popular culture been exploding in parts of the world to which this religious
are, of course, members or aspiring members of the tradition has always been alien, indeed, mostly unknown.
"Davos" elite. The aforementioned Hallmark representative The most dramatic explosion has occurred in Latin
evinced all the characteristics of a successful, with-it America (it was magisterially described in David Martin’s
yuppie. But the consumers of these cultural exports are a 1990 book, Tongues of Fire). But the same variety of
vastly broader population. The indigenous reactions once Protestantism has been rapidly growing in East Asia (with
again vary from complete acceptance to complete the notable exception of Japan), in all the Chinese
rejection, with many degrees of compromise in between. societies (including, despite repression, the People’s
Complete acceptance generally leads to a conflict between Republic), in the Philippines, the South Pacific, and
the generations, and presumably an important motive for throughout sub-Saharan Africa. There are recent, as yet
such acceptance among young people is to outrage one’s vague, accounts of an incipient growth in Eastern Europe.
parents. Complete rejection is difficult, even under And while the origins of this religion are in the United
repressive regimes (the Komsomol functionaries, after States (the "metropolis"), its new incarnations are
trying repression, finally had to compromise by inventing thoroughly indigenized and independent of foreign
something they would call "Soviet rock"). There are many missionaries or financial support.
and complex degrees of compromise, some of them
puzzling to the outsider. Evangelical Protestantism brings about a cultural
revolution in its new territories (in that respect it is very
A few years ago I visited the Meiji Grand Shrine in Tokyo. I different from its social function on its American
was in the company of my hosts, who were pious homeground). It brings about radical changes in the
adherents of Shinto. When inviting me to go to the Shrine relations between men and women, in the upbringing and
with them, they asked me solicitously whether my religious education of children, in the attitudes toward traditional
feelings would be offended by their venerating the Meiji hierarchies. Most importantly, it inculcates precisely that
Emperor; I replied courteously (and perhaps rashly) that "Protestant ethic" that Max Weber analyzed as an
this would be quite all right. I then stood with them, holding important ingredient in the genesis of modern capitalism -
incense sticks in my hands and bowing to the deafening a disciplined, frugal, and rationally oriented approach to
accompaniment of drums being beaten by a row of Shinto work. Thus, despite its indigenization (converts in Mexico
priests lined up behind us. I re-emerged from the Shrine and Guatemala sing American gospel songs in Mayan
somewhat dazed, reflecting that I had just been praying to translation), Evangelical Protestantism is the carrier of a
a dead Japanese potentate. Outside the Shrine was a pluralistic and modernizing culture whose original location
large park filled with hundreds of young people, fervently is in the North Atlantic societies.
dancing to rock music blaring from numerous portable
radios. I had noticed some young people inside the Shrine It is not clear at this point how this startlingly new
and wondered whether they were now joining the crowd in phenomenon relates to the previously enumerated
the park. I asked my hosts whether they saw any processes of cultural globalization. It certainly enters into
contradiction between what was going on inside and conflicts with indigenous cultures. Most of the persecution
outside the Shrine. They were actually puzzled by my of Christians recently publicized by human rights
question. Certainly not, they replied after a moment of organizations - notably in China, in the Islamic world, and
reflection, "Japanese culture has always been successful (sporadically) in Latin America - has been directed against
in integrating elements coming from abroad." One of the Evangelical Protestants. What is clear is that this type of
most interesting questions about contemporary Japan is Protestantism is creating a new international culture,
whether my hosts were correct in their sanguine view increasingly self-conscious as such (here the relation to
about the absorptive capacity of Japanese culture. American Evangelicals is relevant), with vast social,
economic, and political ramifications. While the new
Evangelical Protestantism Protestantism should not be misunderstood as a
movement of social protest or reform (its motives are
Fourthly (though perhaps not finally), a distinctive process overwhelmingly personal and religious), it has large and
of globalization is provided by Evangelical Protestantism, unintended consequences. These are decidedly favorable
especially in its Pentecostal version (which accounts for to pluralism, to the market economy, and to democracy. It
something like 80 percent of its worldwide growth). Its should be observed here that there may be other
globalizing force is best seen by comparing it with the globalizing popular movements, but Evangelicalism is
other dynamic religious phenomenon of our time, that of clearly the most dynamic.

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Four faces of global culture.


Four faces of globalization: each is distinctive, each relates puts it, in "a world made in English", and he points out that
to the other three in complex ways. Yet they have no other language appears to be a viable successor to
important common features. The two perhaps most English in the foreseeable future. By now there are very
important features have already been mentioned - their straightforward practical reasons for this hegemony of the
Western, principally American, provenance, and related to English language. However much this may enrage
this, their relation to the English language. intellectuals in certain places (France, for example, or
Quebec), English has become the medium of international
The Western provenance of these processes has given economic, technological, and scientific communication.
credibility to the frequent charge that they are part and The millions of people learning English all over the world
parcel of Western imperialism, with the United States do so in order to participate in this global communication,
being the core of this malevolent phenomenon. The not (with few exceptions) because they want to read
charge will not hold up. The "Davos culture" is today fully Shakespeare or Melville in the original. However, one does
internationalized. It is centered as much in Tokyo and not use a language innocently. Every language carries a
Singapore as it is in New York and London. One could freight of values, of sensibilities, of approaches to reality,
more plausibly speak of an imperialism of the global all of which insinuate themselves into the consciousness of
capitalist system, but that is simply to attach a pejorative those who speak it. It makes sense to assume that the
term to the fact of an immensely powerful global reality. attractiveness of English, especially in its American form,
The concepts of neo-Marxist theory simply do not fit it. As is due at least in part to its capacity to express the
already mentioned, those concepts are somewhat more sensibilities of a dynamic, pluralistic, and rationally
apt in describing the globalization of the "faculty club innovative world. This is even true of Evangelical
culture." Feminist or environmentalist agitators in Protestantism, which mostly expresses itself in languages
Bangladesh can indeed be described as agents of a other than English, but whose leaders and young people
Western-based "cultural imperialism", but it is difficult to learn English in order to be in touch with the Evangelical
see how their activity benefits global capitalism. centers in the United States. In doing so, they may get
Multinational corporations do indeed make large profits more than they bargained for. The road from the Christian
from the distribution of popular culture, but there is no Broadcasting Network to Oprah Winfrey is disturbingly
coercion involved in their success. No one is forcing straight.
Japanese teenagers to enjoy rock music or young men in
China to express their emotions in terms derived from The picture I have sketched is huge and exceedingly
American romanticism. complex. There are many aspects of it that are not yet fully
understood. There is a very large research agenda here.
Claudio Veliz (in his 1994 book The New World of the But one conclusion can be ventured: If one is to heed
Gothic Fox) has made this point very tellingly in his Huntington’s call for a dialogue between cultures, one
description of the collapse of Latin American tradition must pay as much attention to the manner in which the
before the onslaught of "Anglo-Saxon" values and different processes of cultural globalization relate to each
lifestyles, notably those connected with a pluralistic other as to their relation with many indigenous cultures.
society. He has used a good metaphor to denote this This then will not just be a dialogue between "the West
process, proposing that "Anglo-Saxon" culture is now in its and the rest", but a considerably more complicated
"Hellenistic" phase. That is, it is no longer diffused by enterprise.
means of imperial power, British or American; rather, it has
become a cultural force in itself, with large numbers of Peter L. Berger is professor of sociology and director of
people clamoring to share it. As to Evangelical the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston
Protestantism, both leftist intellectuals and Roman Catholic University.
bishops have portrayed it as a gigantic CIA plot, especially
in Latin America, but a look at the empirical evidence
presents a very different picture, one of a vital,
autonomous movement no longer dependent on support
from the outside.

If cultural globalization today represents the "Hellenistic"


phase of a civilization originating in the northern parts of
Europe and America, the English language is its koine (the
"basic Greek" that served as the lingua franca of late
classical antiquity and that, among other things, became
the language of the New Testament). We live, as Veliz

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