The new Age of Globalization that followed the end of the Cold War (which was marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991) began on a note of exhilarating optimism for many English-speaking people – sustained by an unprecedented decade-long digital-revolution-fueled economic expansion in the U.S. in the 1990s – that a so-called “Washington consensus” centering around the model of free market capitalism had universally triumphed. Democracy, which was popularly (though mistakenly) assumed to be almost synonymous with capitalism, was spreading globally, and it was even predicted that “the end of history” had been reached, as liberal democracy and free market capitalism promised to become the final stage of human development.
Such predictions may still prove correct in the long term, but the Great Recession of 2008–2009 and growing economic inequality in the developed world have somewhat dampened enthusiasm. Russia is again today led by a strongman, and threatening military expansion. The upsurge of global terrorism since the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York has chilled the world climate, and may even lead to increased restrictions on travel across national borders, reversing the recent trend towards greater international openness. Meanwhile, economic globalization sometimes benefits multinational corporations and technocratic multinational organizations that are not necessarily directly answerable to democratic electorates, while the looming rise of China – even though it was made possible in the first place by the preexisting international order and in some senses validates its triumph – still poses a challenge to the “Washington consensus,” not least because the People's Republic of China remains politically an unreformed Leninist system that shows no sign of embracing multi-party democracy. In addition, the world also now confronts troubling environmental challenges that cast doubt upon the sustainability of prevailing patterns of behavior. It may be that the Age of Globalization will end, and the next historical “age” may prove considerably less attractive.
But the future is unknowable. In many ways, the world today really is more culturally and economically integrated and homogeneous than ever before in history, and the lives of many people are materially much richer. Despite all the globalization and generic modernization, however, multiple layers of culture and identity still continue to coexist, with or without open contradiction.