Goodbye to “Globalization”

FLORENCE – The term “globalization” first swept the world in the 1990’s and reached its highpoint of popularity in 2000 and 2001. In 2001, for instance, Le Monde contained more than 3,500 references to mondialisation. But then the figure steadily fell – more than 80% by 2006. Since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007, the word’s usage in major newspapers such as the New York Times and the Financial Times has fallen still further. Globalization is on its way out.

A brief history of the concept, and a comparison with another term that also became discredited by overuse, helps to explain what happened.

The twentieth century’s two most important conceptual innovations, “totalitarianism” and “globalization,” were originally Italian. The first term defined the tumultuous middle of the twentieth century, the latter its benign ending. “Totalitarianism” finally disintegrated in 1989, and globalization prevailed.

Both terms originated as criticisms that were supposed to undermine and subvert the political tendencies they described. But both ended up being just as frequently and enthusiastically used by the respective tendencies’ proponents.