PART II: THE WEST AND THE REST
E. Tavares: In Part I we discussed the ongoing decline of Western Civilization. In this Part we will talk about other major civilizations, or better put their successors, and how they relate to that process. We say successors because as you point out they have all collapsed.
Muslim Civilization disappeared with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Russian Civilization was obliterated by communist totalitarianism and the resulting millions of casualties. Likewise, the Chinese communist revolution obliterated that nation’s millennial traditions and customs by design. And Indian Civilization did not resist successive Muslim invasions.
Since all four follow a similar pattern of collapse, turmoil, transition and picking up the pieces, let’s use it to analyze each one in turn, starting with the Islamic world.
Talking about its collapse may actually sound nonsensical here since it is the fastest growing religion on the planet (by demographics, not actual conversions), we have seen the emergence of very conservative versions across many Muslim countries, including the once strongly secular Turkey, it touches Western, Russian and Chinese borders (not always peacefully) and it is a topic of robust political discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. So how can the Islamic Civilization be dead?
H. Redner: What you assert is largely true - Islam is expanding both demographically in terms of numbers and geographically in respect of the exodus of Muslims to other areas of the world beyond their countries of origin; but, at the same time, it is also the case that an Islamic civilization is no longer functioning as an autonomous entity, and if not completely dead, it is dying, as is also the case with other civilizations. This is a paradox on which Samuel Huntington floundered with his theory of a “war of civilizations”, which has been mindlessly echoed ever since his book was published twenty years ago. There is no “war of civilizations”; that which he took to be such is a very different phenomenon, which has partly to do with the paradox to which you allude. The upsurge of Jihadist movements in Muslim countries and the terrorism this has generated all over the world is an internal revolution peculiar to the people of what was once an Islamic civilization.
Islamic radical militancy has arisen because of the huge expansion of population and failure of all attempts at development, particularly economic development, in most of the Muslim sphere over the last half century, and even further back since the First World War. Jihadism is an act of desperation that many Muslims resort to in the face of constant failure and defeat. “Islam is the answer to all problems” is their motto, whereas the truth is that Islam, insofar as it holds back development, is itself part of the problem. In fact, Jihadism is sure to make the Muslim predicament worse and lead to further failures and defeats; it is a self-defeating suicidal prescription. One can only hope that Muslims abandon it and learn to face their difficulties in the modern global world more realistically and rationally.
To return on a more theoretical level to the paradox you raise, it is necessary first of all to distinguish between religion and civilization. Huntington failed to do this and largely identified the two with all the resultant confusions to which this led him. That religion is distinct from, and not to be simplistically identified with civilization, is obvious from two widespread occurrences in history: firstly, the survival of a religion where the civilization that gave birth to it has been destroyed; and secondly, the spread of a religion beyond its original civilization to various other civilizations, which is particularly the case with the so-called universal religions. Examples of the first phenomenon are such obvious cases as the survival of Hinduism when the autonomous Indian civilization was overrun by Muslim invaders over a period of almost a thousand years; or, analogously, the persistence of Greek Orthodox Christianity in the Balkans after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1454. It is true that these religions retain something from their civilizational origins, but this amounts to no more than popular culture, traditions and ceremonial practices which fall far short of constituting a coherent civilization. An example of the second phenomenon was the spread of Buddhism from India to China, Japan and most of East Asia, where very different civilizations prevailed. Christianity is an even more salient instance of a religion that at one time or another existed in almost all civilizations and is still prevalent worldwide. In the form of Nestorianism, it was present through most of Asia among different civilizations and peoples. Even the barbarians who invaded and destroyed the Christian Roman Empire were themselves Christians of the Arian heresy.
Thus the paradox dissolves itself: the spread of Islam as a religion both demographically and geographically has nothing to do with civilization and does not indicate any resurgence of Islamic civilization, which is largely defunct. Thus, Jihadi militancy and its terrorist attacks in the West are not part of any war of civilizations, but rather an outlandish tactic in an ongoing civil war within the Muslim world. It is a battle for power waged by religious ideologues who have utilized aspects of the Muslim religion, particularly those drawn from its most rigid and authoritarian sects, in order to concoct a modern political reactionary ideology, in the name of which they hope to seize power. They aim to turn the masses against their Westernizing as well as more traditionalist opponents. Terrorist outrages in Western countries are part of a propaganda campaign, what the anarchists used to call the “propaganda of the deed”, intended to win over the faithful to their cause. It is, in effect, a form of advertising, in which the Western media are utilized at no cost to spread the message. All this is part of an extremely confused struggle within Muslim societies for the hearts and minds of the masses by a number of not clearly distinguishable contenders for authoritarian power. It is not unlike what went on in Europe between the two world wars, when in many countries fundamentalist Catholic ideologies were formulated by reactionary parties in opposition to the more liberal or socialistic ones and they did succeed in seizing power in numerous Catholic countries, Spain and Portugal among others. Of course, this is only an analogy, not a complete likeness, for there are great differences between the two types of religious ideologies.
ET: Historically, Islam adopted key traits of the civilizations it has conquered over the centuries, with the Byzantine and the Persian being particular salient examples. Given the evolving demographic picture in Europe it seems likely that many societies will adopt a more Islamic political character as their Muslim populations continue to grow strongly. Could European Civilization provide a new framework for Islam to develop around, or are the two fundamentally incompatible? And where will this leave native Europeans at that point?
HR: It is true that Islamic civilization, a very late one in history, was a very mixed case, which successfully combined characteristics from a number of preceding civilizations, Byzantine and Persian in particular. Islam as a religion also modeled itself on and borrowed from many of the previously existing religions in the Middle East, especially Judaism, Christianity and Manichaeism, as well as retaining older Arabian polytheistic practices. This is, of course, firmly denied by fundamentalist Muslims who hold it as an article of faith that their religion was a divine revelation vouchsafed at one time to one man, Muhammad. Comparative religious scholarship is of a different opinion not compatible with such orthodoxy. The battle between scripture and scholarship that Christianity had to confront in the nineteenth century will most probably take place in Islam in the twenty first and twenty second centuries.
Theoretically considered, there is no reason why Islam cannot adapt itself to Modernity in the way that most Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, apart from certain fundamentalist sects in both cases, have already done so. Islam is not doomed to fundamentalism forever after; it is not an inalienable feature of the religion as such. However, in practice it has proved extremely difficult to overcome Islamic fundamentalism, because of the intolerance of the religious establishment to any departures from the authorized interpretation of the creed. The fact that many Muslims are now resident in Europe, where presumed heretics or apostates cannot be dealt with as summarily or violently as they are in Muslim countries, makes no real difference at present. Most imams and sheikhs in mosques come from Muslim countries and are trained there in the traditional orthodox way. They are not likely to allow any liberalizing departures, especially so as many mosques are funded by Saudi Arabia. If imams were educated in Western universities this might make a difference, but very few are so at present.
Western societies will not, as you put it, "adopt a more Islamic political character as their Muslim populations continue to grow", despite doomsayers such as the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, because that would mean abandoning everything we stand for, the whole tradition of the Enlightenment. On the contrary, it is Islam which has to come to terms with the Enlightenment and its liberal developments. I do not believe that Islam and Western Enlightenment are in principle opposed, but how they are to be made compatible in practice, and what changes Islam is at present prepared to undergo to this end, is not something on which I am in a position to venture an opinion.
ET: Why do you say it is very difficult to reform Islam? European Muslims for one could threaten to “walk out” en masse if nothing changes. Even French and German political leaders have advocated developing their own domestic versions, specifically addressing some of the issues you outlined. Is this not a workable solution?
HR: Islam never experienced a Reformation or counter-Reformation such as Christianity undertook centuries ago. It never went through the Enlightenment. It has more or less remained unchanged for over a thousand years, perhaps even since the main split between the Shia and Sunnis arose. The idea that some French or German leaders might have of developing “their own domestic versions of the religion” are surely mere wishful thinking.
Changes in Islam will have to come from within Islam. And they will not emerge from the scattered diaspora communities in Europe or elsewhere, they must come from the Muslim heartland. How and when this might happen nobody can now predict. It could take centuries. It cannot even begin until there is stability and peace in the Muslim lands, and that is still a long way off.
ET: In one of your books you talk about a 100 million people “time bomb” that could go off in the Middle East, Europe, or both. What do you mean? Are European political leaders, especially on the liberal/progressive side, consciously aware of this risk?
HR: As long as there is ongoing turmoil in the whole Muslim sphere from Nigeria to Indonesia there will be millions of refugees escaping from the violence and even more economic migrants fleeing the poverty, especially in Africa. Many Muslim countries are failed states whose whole populations of tens of millions are in danger of mass starvation without extensive food aid. This is the case in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and large parts of Syria and Iraq. In such places, all those who can muster the money to pay people smugglers are on their way to Europe. People smuggling is a multi-billion dollar industry.
The number of 100 million you quote is only a rough estimate of all those who would wish to escape their countries’ troubles. Most of them at present cannot afford the huge expense involved and many are afraid to risk the hazards of the passage. But as long as Europe maintains open borders and is prepared to accept those who reach their shores, then the flow will continue. At the moment it has ceased from Turkey because of the agreement that Angela Merkel reached with Erdogan. But this could break down at any moment if the Turks make blackmailing demands. With Libya in chaos, there is no way of stopping those who cross the Mediterranean to Italy.
European political leaders did not foresee this eventuality, though there were plenty of warnings, nor did they make provisions to meet it. The danger they now face in the immediate present is not so much from the immigrants themselves, though there is some infiltration of terrorists, as from their own populations. There is bound to be a strong reaction, especially in those countries already suffering from large levels of unemployment. This could bring xenophobic far-Right parties to power, who would then proceed to stop all immigration and make life difficult for those who have already arrived. This must be prevented even at the cost of stinting on humanitarian principles which were not designed for such eventualities of mass exodus.
Migration into Europe will have to be limited and controlled through legal channels. And much more attention will have to be given to addressing the causes that bring it about. European leaders cannot afford the luxury of a hands-off attitude to what is going on in the Muslim world. They will have to intervene both with money and manpower to help alleviate the situation there. They have been far too slow and ineffective in reacting to the rise of ISIS and other such terrorist movements. They leave the main burden to the Americans to bear, and America under President Obama, who went against the advice of most of his leading officials, has let them down by not doing anything until it was too late. This has been the greatest failure of American foreign policy during the Obama reign, but the Europeans, too, must bear part of the blame for their unconcern. In their EU paradise they thought they were immune from the troubles of the rest of the world.
ET: Let’s look at Russia now. While the transition post the fall of the Berlin Wall was extremely turbulent, it seems that the old oligarchal structure largely remained in place by simply changing names. In fact one notable feature of post-Communist regimes is how the former leaders avoided justice for the crimes that had been committed, with the exception of Cambodia. To what effect has that turbulence continued to shape the political and economic landscapes in Russia to this day? Corruption for one appears to remain problematic across many levels of government.
HR: Russia is a near neighbor of Europe, so what is going on there should also be of great concern to Europeans, and, in fact, it is. However, there is not much outside powers can do about what are largely internal developments in Russia. Obviously, it would be very dangerous to meddle in the internal affairs of a nuclear superpower.
Russia has transitioned from the post-Communist chaos of the incompetence of the Yeltsin years to the authoritarian order and stability of Putin. The early post-Communist hopes for a functioning democracy and an efficient free-market economy have not been realized. Russia is not going to become a Western society, even such as it was starting to be before the First World War. The clock cannot be turned back; too much as happened over the last century to disturb and disrupt Russian society, above, all the extermination of its elites.
Putin's Russia is an amalgamation of features from all the period of Russia's twentieth century history. There are elements both of democracy and autocratic rule from the Czarist period. The Russian Orthodox Church is also once again asserting its spiritual and temporal power. But at the same time aspects of a highly bureaucratic and controlling totalitarian state have survived from the Stalinist period. The secret service agencies, of which Putin was once a member, exercise complete surveillance over society. They are not above using strong-arm tactics, including murder, where necessary. The economy has largely fallen into the hands of oligarchs who can keep their ill-gotten gains, provided they are compliant with Putin's demands and in no way threaten his hold on power. This worked reasonably well as long as the price of oil and gas, the main export industries, was high. But now that it has fallen precipitously, this is bound to lead to a financial crisis for the state. How the Russian people will react to growing shortages remains to be seen, but they have usually been docile in such circumstances and stoically bear the penury that they take to be their fate.
One feature of this passivity has been the complete failure to bring to account any of those responsible for the mass crimes of the Stalin period. Even the victims who perished have by now been largely forgotten or remain un-memorialized and unremembered. For a while during the Yeltsin period there were organizations in Russia dedicated to the commemoration of the millions whose lives were taken, such as Pamyat and various other local groups. Under Putin these were discouraged, if not outright repressed. Stalin is once again hailed as one of the great rulers of Russia.
The effect has been a kind of pervasive demoralization that allows locally elected strong-men to dominate the lives of their fellow citizens and line their own pockets at their expense. This is graphically demonstrated in the 2014 Russian film “Leviathan” made by Andrey Zvyagintsev. One must assume that such corruption, both on the local and national level, in low and high places, is rife everywhere. However, the mere fact that such a film could be produced in Russia gives one some hope for the possibility of improvement.
ET: You mentioned Orthodox Christianity. It appears that it is making a comeback in the military and civil life, at least nominally. There is also a renewed emphasis on education, especially in the hard sciences. There was even talk of bringing back the descendants of the Russian czars to play some role in society. Can these efforts be successful in resuscitating traditional Russian values and culture?
HR: As the film by Zvyagintsev makes clear, the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church is fully complicit in the rule of Putin and perhaps even locally in the corruption that results. This was also the nub of the protest by the girl punk-band “Pussyriot” in a Moscow cathedral, for which misdemeanor they were given harsh prison sentences. But the restoration of the Church in Russia must be seen from a more long-term cultural perspective. It will not restore Russian civilization which is now defunct, but it might bring back genuine religious values, which are sorely lacking in Russia, as in the West. To many Russians it will give solace and religious meaning to their lives, such as Communism tried to extirpate, and this is a value in itself.
It is good if traditions of all kinds are being revived in Russia, but not if this merely serves as a cover for Putin’s autocracy, which is in some ways far worse than that of the previous czars. Hence, I doubt whether these efforts will resuscitate traditional Russian values and culture. The culture of Russia from before the First World War is beyond recovery. At that time Russia was in the forefront of most European cultural and religious endeavors. Its literature was the foremost in Europe with at least a dozen major writers whose names are known to all literate people throughout the world. It is perhaps less known that their theologians were also highly creative and influential, names such as Berdyaev, Soloviov and Shestov are perhaps still remembered, and there were many more.
Education in the hard sciences or any other purely academic discipline is not going to restore that kind of a culture. Nevertheless, basic levels of education have always been high in Russia even in Stalin’s time. I do not have sufficient knowledge to be able to comment on the direction that education is taking under Putin. I do not know to what extent Russians are still producing significant scientific work, but it is a long time since the Nobel Prize went to a Russian, so I have my doubts about that.
ET: There is a centuries’ old debate on whether Russia is European, Asian or a unique combination of the two. Could a renewed Russian culture finally make a choice and absorb traditional elements of Western Civilization, as it withers away in Europe and elsewhere? Or will it also succumb to the Forces of Modernity as you alluded to in our prior discussion, or worse, the reemergence of political totalitarianism / authoritarianism?
HR: Russia is a mixed civilization. Its basis is Byzantine, of which it was the sole survivor after the Ottoman conquests. During the long medieval period of Mongol overlordship it also absorbed Asian elements, especially features of oriental despotism in its form of government and administration. However, at least since the reign of Peter the Great early in the eighteenth century, it has steadily been Europeanising. By the early nineteenth century its aristocratic ruling class was fully European in all respects. During the nineteenth century it developed a European-style intelligentsia. By the twentieth century prior to the First World War, Russia had become an integral part of European civilization, even though its peasant masses were still barely educated. Then the Bolshevik revolution brought this whole civilizational development to an end.
The Bolsheviks, especially under Stalin, furthered two contradictory courses. On the one hand, they were intent on education in the Western style, though focused narrowly on the sciences, and they did succeed in making basic literacy almost universal. However, as opposed to this, they also promoted a cult of the ruler, Stalin, that was almost oriental in its obeisance. This was combined with Russian xenophobia at its most intense. Both these courses were destructive of civilization, as this had flourished prior to the Revolution.
As intimated previously, Russia cannot simply go back a century to before everything went wrong. Under Putin, it is restoring various aspects of its authoritarian past, both Czarist and Communist, and this is obviously the wrong course for it to take. How long Putin will continue in power and who might take over after him is unpredictable. Another leader could change course and begin to move Russia out of its current malaise, but that, if it ever eventuates, might be a long way off.
ET: With what’s going on in the Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and elsewhere relations between the West and Russia appear to be at a post-Cold War low. It seems that Western leaders have given up fostering deeper commercial, political and social ties that could eventually accelerate that cultural transition, and instead are stepping up defenses against a more resurgent Russia. What outcome do you see here? Are we at the onset of a new Cold War?
HR: All this is a power play in which Russia has gained some minor advantages, for which it will pay dearly in the future. Its forays into the Ukraine, particularly the seizure of the Crimea, have the consequence that it will have a permanent enemy on its border – that is, provided the West ensures that the Ukraine does not collapse, and in this respect the Europeans have a major role to play. Its incursion into Syria was made possible by President Obama’s refusal, against the advice of most of his leading officials, to lend a hand to the rebels before ISIS emerged, which would have almost certainly unseated Assad. The Russians have ensured that Assad will stay in power, but they cannot enable him to recover the whole country. Hence the civil war will go on till both sides are utterly spent and exhausted and then a ceasefire will ensure in a divided land to which peace will never return. The Russians do not stand to gain much out of that, but they will keep their bases on the Mediterranean.
The idea of a new Cold War is far-fetched. Russian is not the old Soviet Union with all its satellites as part of a worldwide Communist movement. It is a poor country reliant on oil and gas exports to the West, which it cannot afford to forfeit. Nevertheless, it must not be pushed back to the brink for it still is the second nuclear power. The West must also beware of pushing it into the arms of China in some kind of Eurasian league that China is now promoting with its Silk Road economic development scheme in Central Asia and adjacent regions. This is where the greater danger lies for the West, for China could eventually become the dominant power throughout much of Asia and be in a position to challenge America elsewhere in the world. But this is still a long way off and does not necessarily mean that a new Cold War is bound to ensue.
ET: China’s transition was much smoother than Russia’s. You describe it as having reached a post totalitarian state. What do you mean by this?
HR: China’s transition out of totalitarianism was certainly much better managed than Russia’s. To spell out the reason for that would call for a lengthy comparative analysis of the two, which I am in no position to undertake here. A few brief points can be mentioned however. China remained unified and did not disintegrate as the Soviet empire did. China did not attempt to achieve both free market capitalism and democracy at once; in fact, it never aimed for democracy at all. China remained under one party rule with sound political leadership which was a great advantage in managing the economic transitions. Deng Xiao Ping was no drunken oaf like Yeltsin, and neither were the subsequent Chinese leaders pugilists like Putin.
Totalitarianism is over in both China and Russia, though authoritarianism is rampant. China, of course, always remained a one-party state and under the current leadership of Xi Jinping the degree of authoritarianism is increasing. But there are crucial differences between authoritarianism and totalitarianism, the latter is based on revolutionary ideologies that seek to transform all of society and to conquer the world, which is not the case with the former. After Mao, China ceased to be totalitarian and it is unlikely that it will ever return to totalitarianism again. Nobody in China still believes in the official Communist ideology, which remains purely as a ceremonial element. The same argument holds for Russia as well.
ET: Mao was hugely successful in destroying traditional Chinese culture, to the point where it seems unlikely that it could ever make a real comeback. Still current leaders are advocating a return to Confucian values, especially as a way to counter endemic corruption and also deal with the loss of identity brought about by rapid social and economic changes. More skeptical commentators however claim that this is merely a ploy to consolidate power. What do you make of this?
HR: The revival of Confucian values and the general restoration of religious traditions in China is not just “a ploy to consolidate power”, it is much more than that, though it does to some extent legitimate the rule of the party and the position of its leader as a kind of secular emperor. Its main purpose is to repair the damage Maoism caused to society, especially during the so-called Cultural Revolution. As well as that, it is also intended to prevent China lapsing into a purely market society where people are only intent on material well-being and wealth, as is at present the case in Hong Kong. Deng Xiao Ping said, “it is glorious to be wealthy”, but subsequent leaders realized that the pursuit of wealth alone will lead to an atomized and demoralized society. Hence, they encouraged the revival of nearly extinct Chinese cultural traditions and every kind of religion, provided that it is under government control. Those that threatened to escape their control, such as the Falun Gong sect, they banned and ruthlessly suppressed. This is more or less the policy that will continue in China.
The problem of widespread corruption is one of the most serious that China has to face. I believe that it is doubtful whether it can be eliminated by purely authoritarian measures and condign punishments such as Xi Jinping is introducing, though it will be temporarily lessened. At the same time, he is using the anti-corruption campaign to remove rivals to his power, which tend to breed cynicism as to his ultimate aim. I doubt whether much can be done about corruption short of allowing an independent judicial system free of government interference to operate and at least some degree of freedom of speech to enable a free press that can expose blatant abuses of power by officials. Short of that minimum of reform, corruption will continue to fester and limit China’s capacity to develop to a level where it can equal the West.
ET: Some Western values seem to be penetrating China, but in a rather unexpected manner: through religion. Christianity is rapidly gaining Chinese converts. They already attend church services in greater numbers than in most of Europe, and by 2030 could even overtake the US. Prof. Niall Ferguson of Harvard University believes that this is yet another confirmation of China’s ascendancy this century, as it absorbs values – in this case the Christian/Protestant work ethic – that had made the West so successful. However, unlike in Russia Chinese leaders are rather uncomfortable with this fact. What do you think will emerge out of all this?
HR: As I have previously argued, religion is not the same as civilization. The mere fact that more Chinese are becoming Christians does not mean that China is Westernizing. Christianity in China is functioning in a Chinese manner and is not like Christianity in the West. The socio-cultural context in which a church finds itself makes a huge difference to how it operates. Chinese Christians must abide by the terms set for them in China; they cannot make demands or work for the conditions of the West. If they were to step out of line and do so, they would be harshly dealt with by the authorities and incur the hatred of other Chinese. Their bishops and pastors know this and tend to tread very warily.
Hence, sheer demographic facts about the numbers of Christians in China means little about what difference this will make to China. It certainly does not mean that China will absorb other Western values or culture in general. In any case, China does not need a Protestant work ethic to make its capitalism function and neither does any other country. Weber postulated the causal role of the Protestant work ethic only in the origination of the modern capitalist system. But once such a system has come into being and shown itself to be so extremely productive, it can be copied by others without the need for any Protestant work ethic. All kinds of other means can be used to make workers work efficiently and encourage capitalists invest productively. The Japanese, Koreans, overseas Chinese and finally the mainland Chinese en masse have shown how this can be done. Now the Indians are getting in on the act and repeating the same performance also without the benefit of Protestantism.
ET: China has an odd relationship with the West. It is a major commercial partner with a substantial amount of student and population exchanges. And yet it seems like the mad rush to regain its former glory through mercantilism puts it at odds with much of the West, especially the US. Is some type of confrontation inevitable under current trends? How will Russia fit into all of this?
HR: In answering these questions much hangs on one’s willingness to make predictions about the future course of events, which neither history nor sociology can substantiate. These are not predictive sciences. Nevertheless, one can make some prognostications with a certain degree of assurance based on an analysis of the present situation and how this is likely to develop in the immediate future. To say anything about the distant future is to indulge in sheer soothsaying or prophecy or what amounts to mere guesswork.
At present it looks as if the close integration between China and the West will continue for as long as one can see ahead. Both sides have too much to gain from this relationship to break it off. Even if Trump were elected to the presidency, he could not exercise his threat to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods for that would be suicidal to the American economy and to the economy of the whole world. Nobody wants another tariff war leading to a Great Depression.
The Chinese, too, are intent on continuing their relation with the West and will do nothing to risk it for their whole course of development depends on it. They are not yet strong or advanced enough in any key respect to be able to make do without the West. Their leaders, who are no Trumps, are astute enough to know this and do not seem to be displaying any suicidal impulses. Whether China will ever attain such a massive advantage that it will be able to ditch the West is an unanswerable question about which it would be idle to speculate.
Hence, on every conceivable ground one must assume that the partnership between China and the West will continue, though the balance of power between them will gradually change. America will have to accept and adjust to the fact that as China grows stronger it will make greater demands for its share of influence and prestige in the world. It will require great foreign policy nous from American leaders to judge when and how to resist such ambitions or to accede to them. Mutual accommodation will be the name of the game.
There is no necessity or any inevitability of any ultimate confrontation between America and China, which could inaugurate a Third World War. The situation would become much more dangerous if Russia were to enter into a close alliance with China, for it is much more likely to become the loose cannon in international affairs. One can only hope that the Chinese leadership will be too wary of any such close embrace with such an unstable partner. But all this is mere speculation looking far ahead.
ET: And finally, India, touted to be the next great economic miracle. The civilizational picture there seems to be much more complex, as the country had to deal with foreign invasions (both Asian and European) over centuries, inherent difficulties in preserving its oral traditions, the loss of a substantial part of its historical territories after the formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh, rapid population growth and related environmental problems and persistent tensions with its major neighbors. How is India faring today after going through all these events?
HR: India, as American leaders are belatedly coming to realize, has a crucial part to play in balancing the growing thrust of China in Asia. But India’s growth has been very slow, partly due to bad policies and poor leadership, so it is still way behind China. It is now growing at a much faster rate, yet it will take a long time before it becomes a major power on par with the others, possibly not before mid-century.
India is an old civilization repeatedly occupied by foreign powers, at first Muslims from Afghanistan, then Muslims from Central Asia and Persia, finally the British, after they had ousted the French. It was not fully occupied and administered by the British till after the Indian Mutiny in 1857. It then became the centerpiece of the British colonial empire. It prospered under the British more than most other colonial possessions, and then, after the Second World War, it had a smooth and easy path to independence, except for its self-induced partition and the resultant wars with Pakistan. It should have done much better in its subsequent development and has lagged behind East Asia for complex reasons both social and religious, amongst which the caste system is a prominent factor.
ET: Here we can also see a political movement seeking to reestablish traditions and cultural values, particularly with regard to Hinduism. However, in the case of India you see this as being particularly problematic. Why is that?
HR: The reassertion of “Hindutva” or nationalistic Hinduism has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, it is bringing about a reinvigoration of Indian religious and cultural life, which is always a good thing in any society subject to the forces of globalization. But on the negative side, it brings with it the dangers of xenophobia and risks stirring up communal violence against India’s large Muslim and other minorities.
The recent accession of Narendra Modi at the head of the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, made many Indians and Western observers apprehensive that policies of Hindu exclusivity would prevail. But this has not happened. Modi has proved himself as competent an economic manager for all of India as he had previously demonstrated for the state of Gujarat when he was governor there. Indian growth has reached 7%, a record level for India, which had long languished in the 3% or 4% margin, and is now the highest in the world. One can only hope that this will last and that social peace, which is a basic precondition of development, can be maintained.
ET: Western values also appear to have made little inroads there, beyond the legacy of European colonialism and more recently India’s highly successful academic institutions. The knowledge of English should have been an important asset in facilitating that transfer, arguably to a much larger extent. What factors in its society have contributed to this situation?
HR: Except for a very small elite, India was never Westernized under the British. However, the British did establish some highly effective Western-style institutions, the foremost among these being a parliamentary democratic political system, a civil service bureaucracy and a small, exclusive educational establishment. Subsequent Indian regimes have maintained these, but have not succeeded in enlarging them to take in more of the nation. Democracy was preserved, but it took on dynastic features. The civil service was politicized during Indira Ghandi’s rule. A great number of new universities were created, but these were of a very low standard.
Much more widespread among the Indian masses was the English game of cricket and the English tongue. In both of these the Indians have excelled. Their mastery of English is the basis for their IT industry with its call centers in Bangalore, its publishing services and many other language-based industries. There is great room for expansion in these, especially as the Indians face little competition from the Chinese or other Asians in this respect.
ET: Perhaps with the exception of the Islamic world, which seem much more preoccupied with religious considerations than all the other ancillary civilizational aspects, leaders in all these countries are making conscious efforts to reintroduce some elements of their original culture and values. Is this an endorsement of the importance you attribute to our civilizational values and why we should preserve them?
HR: The importance of all local cultures is undeniable in the face of the threat of bland cultural uniformity emanating from the global media, from largely American produced global culture and from a globalization in general. This is especially the case where the preservation of the remnants of once flourishing civilizations is at stake. Cultural conservation in general is as important as the conservation of Nature, and both are now seriously imperiled. This is much more evident to most people in respect of Nature for they can see how the very conditions for a healthy life are being degraded. It is more difficult to see how the quality of life is being reduced, for that is not so much a physical as a moral and spiritual matter. This is the reason that ecological movements are much more active around the world than cultural movements.
What I have sought to show in my numerous books on the subject is that both are equally important, and that the one cannot succeed without the other. I will expand on that view in Part III.
ET: Well, the West appears to be in some type of tension, if not conflict, with the successors of all these civilizations. Is this more a product of it discarding its own traditional values or the emergence of a multipolar world? As the West becomes more global it expects – even demands – the same of others, at a time when they are endeavoring to reassert their cultural heritage in some shape or form, how do you see that playing out in the years ahead?
HR: The West as a civilization is not in conflict with any other civilization or its successors. It is only the West as the source of the so-called Forces of Modernity, namely, capitalism, the state, science and technology which is in tension with all civilizations, including its own Western Civilization. The world, as I have argued at length in my works, is moving towards a state beyond civilization, and that represents a great impoverishment of human life as we have known it throughout the ages. This is the real meaning of what is now called globalisation. It is a force destructive of all civilization, Western as much as any other.
At the same time, as I have also insisted, the world cannot do without the Forces of Modernity or the globalization that is ancillary to these. And there lies the peculiar paradox of humanity at present: the Forces of Modernity cannot be abandoned nor can they be unthinkingly embraced. How to deal with this paradox, how to utilize the Forces of Modernity without succumbing to them, is the problem that humanity has to work out in its future history. I do not have the answers to this conundrum and neither, I think, does anybody else. However, I do believe that I have made a small contribution to the definition of the problem.
ET: For those looking at this from an investor’s vantage point, what factors do you believe will ultimately determine the success of these four blocks in the economic sphere? Here one can certainly make the case that the absorption of some if not all of core Western civilizational aspects would be a strong plus to create future prosperity.
HR: Throughout the world, what is most conducive to economic success is internal stability. It is up to investors to determine for themselves which of the four blocks – the Muslim world, Russia, China or India – are the ones where a greater degree of internal cohesion and order will prevail in the immediate future. I have given some indication of what my own choices are, but other people might judge otherwise. Next to order, law, that is, a predictable and firmly enforced legal system, is the prerequisite for ensuring the safety and security of investments and the right to repatriate profits. Third in order of importance is the prevailing level of corruption, which can be quite high even where there is law and order.
In general, Western countries are superior in all three respects to most other non-Western ones with the exception of such places as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and a few others. However, as all investors know, where there is maximum security there is minimum profitability. To gain higher returns, investors have to take greater risks. In order to judge the degree of risk, the investors have to acquire detailed knowledge of the countries where they wish to invest and keep abreast of changing developments, which can alter drastically with great rapidity. This is particularly true of countries within the Muslim block. Turkey used to be a very safe haven to invest in, but might not be so for much longer. On the other hand, there might now be better opportunities to invest in Egypt.
Certainly, the absorption of some basic Western civilizational values would be of great benefit to all countries that wish to practice a free market economic system efficiently, for, above all, this calls for an independent judiciary and some respect for basic human rights. This need not go against local civilisational values or conflict with non-Western ethical principles, despite the demurrals of some Asian statesmen. The global economic system as a whole requires agreement on some such minimal provisions that facilitate trade and protect the rights of investors. No country can now afford to go it alone and revert to autarchy or even to mercantilist practices. If major countries were to attempt any such regressive moves, this would destroy the global economy and bring ruination to all, with all the predictable political and military consequences such as we saw in the 1930s.
ET: Thank you very much for another insightful discussion. In the third and last part we will talk about possible remedies for the West’s cultural issues and how major nations could lead the creation of a more consensual world order that can fully incorporate identities and civilizational aspirations.