In this book, Benjamin Barber describes two tendencies in the modern world. "Jihad" is the name he uses to include religious fundamentalism of all kinds, plus various types of politics with a nationalist or tribalist element. "McWorld" is the name he uses for the global consumerist culture dominated by transnational corporations and distributed by mass media.
Barber first describes both Jihad and McWorld separately, and then discusses their interaction with each other, using examples such as the changes in the former Eastern Bloc countries.
- "Jihad" emphasises loyalty to one's nation, clan, tribe or religious group. It engenders a sense of belonging, offering an antidote to the rootlessness of global McWorld culture. However, Jihad also uses elements of McWorld: for example, fascist rock bands.
- "McWorld" manufactures needs to sell products and services globally. It replaces ideology by the "videology" of the "infotainment telesector", the mass media whose ownership is becoming more and more concentrated via mergers. McWorld also uses elements of Jihad - for example, gangsta rap.
- Both Jihad and McWorld represent threats to democracy: Jihad with its strong leaders demanding total loyalty from fanatical foot-soldiers, and McWorld where the market is everything and citizens are reduced to passive consumers.
- To counter these threats we must re-build active citizenship and civic society. We can perhaps use some of McWorld's technologies such as the Internet to create new international democratic organs, such as networks of NGOs and link-ups between local communities in different parts of the world.
It must be emphasised that Barberís book was published five years before the events of September 11, 2001. Indeed, it was based on an essay in The Atlantic Monthly published in March 1992.