Free Market Martyrdom?

Carlo Giuliani

Corpses have a funny way of clarifying things.

On July 20th, an Italian policeman shot and killed a man named Carlo Giuliani during a fierce scuffle between demonstrators and authorities at the Group of 8 summit in Genoa, attended by the leaders of the seven wealthiest nations, Russia, and, this year, 100,000 protestors.

Make that 99,999.

Giuliani was no saint—he’s said to have had various weapons charges on his record, and he went down hurling a fire extinguisher like a mortar shell at police—but his death promises to mark a turning point for the world-wide movement gathered under the catch-all banner of “anti-globalization.”

The ages of Giuliani and the policeman who shot him—23 and 20—remind us that both were mere foot soldiers in a much larger struggle. What was at stake in Genoa—and, since the Battle of Seattle two years ago, similar showdowns in Washington, Prague, Quebec, and a dozen other cities—isn’t simply the shape of economics. It’s the nature of belief in the new millennium.

Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman called those opposed to the expansion of globalization “flat-earthers” who don’t know which way the wind is blowing. In a strange mix of hubris and apparent resignation, Friedman and other globalizers insist that A) we now have the technology and the political wisdom to bring benign capitalism to everyone on the planet, with democracy following in its wake; and B) this transformation is a fact of life. Get used to it.

Like the globalists, the anti-globalists stake their cause on a blend of humanism with factors so incalculable they might as well be divine. They declare that globalization isn’t inevitable, but the result of a concerted effort by the wealthiest to distract everyone else with a few crumbs.

In exchange for opening all borders to corporations, for instance, the World Bank offers an indirect percentage of the profits to local governments in power. Let First World corporations do business, and we’ll help you afford their products; make way for McDonald’s, and we’ll buy you a burger.

But even with a dash of compassion laissez-faire economics won’t end poverty, argue anti-globalists—social justice will. No matter that “justice” is a vague and relative concept. The point is that it’s a work-in-progress, not a done deal. It can’t be planned so much as struggled for.

The differences in these worldviews are beyond compromise. Between the alleged logic of free market true believers and the passion of heretics in the street there exists not only a political disagreement but a fundamental theological divide.

On one hand we have the globalists and their high priests: bankers and diplomats executing nature’s plan, the process that can’t be stopped. On the other, the many prophets of anti-globalization: environmental druids, anarchist ninjas, union organizers, policy grinders, pacifists, political prisoners, poor people, and squatters like Carlo Giuliani—a vast array opposed for various reasons to the neo-liberal attempt to enclose all that is alive and mysterious in a set of trade agreements and holding corporations.

Globalists speak openly of inevitability, the manifest destiny of capitalism: “The future is now.” Anti-globalists respond with a chorus of uncertainty that ranges from hopeful to nihilist. The future, they say, is just that—something that awaits us, something we can help make, something still to come.

Both groups are at their core utopian. Globalists believe that capitalism has enabled them to seize the divine fire. Anti-globalists counter that genetically-altered tomatoes, dammed-up rivers, and a universal language called commerce won’t bring us any closer to heaven on earth.

Both groups call on the memory of dystopia. After a century of massive war and genocide, of communism and fascism, globalists claim that we’ve reached the “end of history.” The Berlin Wall has crumbled. Capitalism alone remains standing—the one true god. Anti-globalists, meanwhile, believe that the 20th century’s lesson is one of humility. They dream not of the brave new world preached by communists, fascists, or capitalists, but of many small worlds and a pantheon of deities, both supernatural and scientific.

Neither group speaks often of religion, but both use the rhetoric of faith—inevitability, the unknowable, the sacred (nature, in the broadest sense of the term, for the anti-globalists; the “invisible hand” for the globalists) and the profane (poverty, in the view of both groups).

Thus far, they’ve managed to avoid the language of martyrdom—which is bound to escalate the conflict to a degree frightening to pacifists on both sides. But now that will change. Men and women have died in the globalization struggle already, but the shot that killed Carlo Giuliani in Genoa seems to be the one heard around the world, echoing through the pages of newspapers all over the planet.

Last Friday, Giuliani fell outside a barricade erected to keep demonstrators away from the summit. On one side of his body were the G-8 leaders, certain that the future is theirs. On the other stood 99,999 angry demonstrators, sure of only one thing—the first fatality in a holy war lay before them.