A Long Preamble to Our Present
In Jeffrey Sachs’ book, The Ages of Globalization, the entire history of globalization is traced from the Paleolithic Age up to our Digital Age in the twenty-first century. The challenges and possible solutions we face today are provided in the last two chapters. The book was published in 2020 and its subject falls in categories of world history, globalization, and because of its solutions provided, international affairs.
It was surprising that Sachs goes so far back in time to talk about globalization. Some books begin with the Age of Exploration and the subsequent European Colonialism as the launching point to talk about Globalization. Some books characterize World War I as the starting line; still others with the international order created after World War II. But Sachs takes the long view and examines the prehistorical eras that humanity has traveled—and how each age builds upon the next. Like the beginning of a James Michener novel, Sachs starts his book at the dawn of human history with our species hunting and gathering in Africa; then he proceeds with the great exodus out of Africa, and then the subsequent human dispersion across the globe. By going all the way back to the beginning, Sachs challenges the modern notion that globalization is a recent development. His thorough research and hyperopia imply to the reader that we cannot see our modern world without taking the distant past into consideration. Human history is on a trajectory and we must look at the past—even the past from 10,000 years ago. From this vantage point, Sachs’ book reminds me of Jared Diamond’s best seller, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Sachs organizes his material by categorizing world history into seven ages. These are: Paleolithic, Neolithic, Equestrian, Classical, Ocean, Industrial, and finally our present-day age, Digital. As with all categorizing of world history, the demarcation lines can be fuzzy. He does a great job of characterizing each age so the reader can follow his reasoning and understand how each age was an outgrowth of what came before. He contends, “Humanity has always been globalized, since the dispersals of modern humans from Africa some seventy thousand years ago” (p. 1).
At the centrum of each age, Sachs examines the factors that shape and propel humanity forward. “Understanding the interplay of geography, technology, and institutions is fundamental to understanding human history” (p. 1). At the onset, I was dubious that going as far back as the Paleolithic Age to discuss our modern, globalized world is necessary and Sachs was stretching the idea of globalization. But he puts forth a convincing argument when he discusses the nature of language and how that brings people together or pushes them apart. The development of sophisticated language, coupled with the spreading out of homo sapiens across all continents is rightfully called the dawn of globalization.
The Neolithic Age can likewise be explained in terms of furthering the idea of globalization. The technology that makes agriculture possible and the sharing of that information among people groups assisted in the success and continued spreading of human civilization. In the Equestrian Age Sachs examines the political organization of villages and the first states. This creates powerful cultures that can dominate other people groups. This was also the advent of written language becoming accessible for the masses. Along with metallurgy and the domestication of the horse, writing propelled the move forward towards globalization.
In the Classical Age, we find the pace increasing: roads, trade, sailing, increased political organization, and most crucially, military activity on a scale that has not yet been seen. The Ocean Age, covers the time period of 1500-1800 and the pace of development, population growth, and innovation continues to quicken. Sachs succinctly touches on all the high points in each of these ages. Among the achievements of this era was the advent of capitalism and its ability to lift people out of poverty.
The Industrial Age picks up next and he touches on energy (fossil fuel), communication (telegraph, telephone), warfare sophistication, agriculture innovations, the list goes on as the pace increases. Finally, we arrive at the Digital Age and the world becomes familiar to me. I know this history well but Sachs continues his economical yet accurate explanations of important developments.
After all these history lessons, Sachs points a way forward to help our present-day world navigate the problems we face. The last chapter of the book is entitled, Guiding Globalization in the Twenty-First Century and three challenges are outlined. These are: rising inequality, environmental degradation, and geopolitical upheaval. I would have placed more emphasis on the geopolitical factors than Sachs did. His treatment felt like a cursory glance instead of an in-depth analysis. His five solutions also sounded a little hollow: sustainable development, social-democratic ethos, subsidiarity, a reformed United Nations, and diversity. All five of these solutions involve the political sphere and more emphasis on this would have been appropriate.
Another book we read this semester that speaks to this subject of globalization is Western and Garcia’s, Global Leadership Perspectives. Both books take a step back and look at the complexities of our world and try to help the reader find clarity. Even, The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell sheds light on globalization for us.
When God spoke to Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:4), Job had no answer for God. But with all of human history laid out for us neatly in books like this, we can better see God’s hand in human history than Job ever could. We can see the arc of humanity’s development and God’s plan for creation better now than any generation that has come before. It is a high privilege just to be alive today and to understand the things we can know just by a google search or reading a book like this one provided by Jeffrey Sachs: “The successive ages of globalization have expanded out outlook and our interdependence. We have learned to think globally” (p. 31).
6 responses to “A Long Preamble to Our Present”
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Troy, I enjoyed reading your blog. You particularly appreciated the historical perspective of globalization that Sachs helps us to appreciate. You have quoted his words, “The successive ages of globalization have expanded our outlook and interdependence. We have learned to think globally.” Do you foresee a situation where his prescriptive globalization dream of shared prosperity can be attained?
What an excellent assessment of the book. As you noted, the book lacked a certain depth. What would you wish he would expand on if he gave this another shot?
Troy, this is such a detailed summary of the book. Great job. Let me ask you a question based on this sentence you wrote: “I would have placed more emphasis on the geopolitical factors than Sachs did.” Can you say more about this? What geopolitical issues do you believe to outweigh the other issues Sachs presents?
thank you for your post. I’m actually going through book of Job in my sermon series these days. I liked your concluding connections to global leadership and quotes from Job. Can you elaborate further in how Job’s inability to answer before God’s almighty power is connected to understaning God through history and learning to think wider as a global leader? How does Job’s transformation relevant in our 21st century?
Troy, thank you so very much for your excellent summary of Sachs’ book and critical analysis of both its strengths and shortfalls. It seemed to me so much of his case for productively moving forward rested on our human capacity for reasoned and rational thought and collaborative decision-making. What value do you think his understanding of globalization offers to the geopolitical challenges facing our globe even since the writing of his book?
Troy thank you for your summary. However, what I enjoyed the most was your title! 🙂
As you consider his lack of unpacking his 5 solutions, how do those sound in the current context of possible de-globalization?