2002 October 20 Sunday
Stanley Kurtz on Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington

Recently in my access logs I noticed a lot of referrals from a blogger (Vinod) I hadn't heard of before and went to look at his blog. Lucky that, because Vinod has recently posted about a very interesting Stanley Kurtz article The Future Of History comparing the historical interpretations of Francis Fukuyama and Samuel P. Huntington. The Kurtz article came out in the June 2002 issue of Policy Review. Francis Fukuyama wrote a rather famous and much debated book published in 1992 called The End of History and the Last Man. Samuel P. Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order published in 1996. Kurtz's essay compares and contrasts the Fukuyama and Huntington interpretations and adds some views of his own.

From the Kurtz article The Future Of History:

In the end, the most fundamental issue separating Fukuyama and Huntington receives only very passing treatment from either thinker. Ultimately, it is impossible to adjudicate the Fukuyama-Huntington debate without a well-grounded theory of modernization. In the absence of a clear conception of how, why, and when modernization blends, or fails to blend, with particular social forms, there is simply no basis for making decisions about the relative long-term prescience of either man. And while both Huntington and Fukuyama touch on these underlying social-structural questions, neither explores them in anything like systematic fashion.

As noted, Huntington does put forward a very nice account of the social roots of Islamic fundamentalism. Yet that account only begs the question of the long-term effects of modernization. Huntington rightly notes that the tendency of modernization to break traditional social bonds has actually stimulated an identity-preserving return to Islam. Yet if the forces of modernization continue to disrupt the older social solidarities, a long-term cultural shift toward individualism is entirely conceivable, and that is a possibility Huntington does not entertain. In an effort to distinguish between modernization and Westernization, Huntington rightly points out that the West’s cultural individualism predates modernity and cannot be treated as entirely synonymous with it. Yet that does not preclude the possibility that the long-term effect of technological and economic modernization might be to dissolve traditional social forms and thereby generate exactly the sort of cultural individualism long familiar to us in the West.

This is precisely Fukuyama’s claim, yet he does not substantiate it so much as assume it. Fukuyama does show how urbanization and bureaucratization served to undercut traditional social ties in the West, thereby leading to an individualist world of capitalism and democracy. Unfortunately, he simply presumes that this pattern will hold for the non-Western world. That is too simple.

The important question that needs to be answered with some precision is this: What exactly is meant by "traditional social bonds"? The answer at least in part is extended family bonds of loyalty and obligation that are built via marriage between already related families. The various regions of the world differ enormously in the rate at which people marry close relatives (eg marrying cousins) and, in Kurtz's view, the high amount of consanguinity in most Muslim countries goes a long way to explain their failure to modernize and their hostility toward the West. If you haven't already done so go to this post and read the Stanley Kurtz articles and other links on consanguinity. If Kurtz's argument is correct (and I believe it is) then attempts to change a defeated and militarily occupied Iraq or other Middle Eastern countries into something resembling secular Western liberal democracies are bound to take decades at best. The challenge is not just to convert the political culture. It will not be possible to develop effective civil institutions that would exist independent both governmental and religious institutions as long as extended families play such central roles in the lives of Muslims.

The greatest question perhaps may be whether modernization must inevitably cause a culture to place greater emphasis on individualism and individual rights. A popular interpretation of Western history is that industrialization created the conditions that led the rise of individualism. This may be a false reading of history. The concept of individual human rights predates industrialization and modernization in Western Civilization by many centuries. Today while Muslim societies possess far more technology than Americans of two centuries ago those Muslim societies of today place less emphasis on human rights than American culture then. In his article on the Crusades John Derbyshire argues that the Western concept of individual rights was already beginning to show up in the Middle Ages:

Above and beyond this, if we are to take sides on the Crusades after all these centuries, we should acknowledge that, for all their many crimes, the Crusaders were our spiritual kin. I do not mean only in religion, though that of course is not a negligible connection: I mean in their understanding of society, and of the individual’s place in it. Time and again, when you read the histories of this period, you are struck by sentences like these, which I have taken more or less at random from Sir Steven Runciman’s History of the Crusades: “[Queen Melisande’s] action was regarded as perfectly constitutional and was endorsed by the council.” “Trial by peers was an essential feature of Frankish custom.” “The King ranked with his tenant-in-chief as primus inter pares, their president but not their master.”

If we look behind the cruelty, treachery, and folly, and try to divine what the Crusaders actually said and thought, we see, dimly but unmistakably, the early flickering light of the modern West, with its ideals of liberty, justice, and individual worth.

If the development of a rights-based society and individualism started tat far back then the development unfolded very slowly. We in the West are now in conflict with another civilization which, while it has been in contact with Western Civilization for many centuries, has failed to go through this development. Are we to believe that it can race thru stages of development that Western Civilization spent centuries going thru?

You can find the original Huntington Foreign Affairs article that he later expanded into the book here or here.

Chapter 12 of the Huntington Clash of Civilizations book can be found here. The most discussed and disputed Huntington argument is about conflicts between civilizations. However, another argument Huntington makes is about the possibility of decline and decay within Western Civilization:

A more immediate and dangerous challenge exists in the United States. Historically American national identity has been defined culturally by the heritage of Western civilization and politically by the principles of the American Creed on which Americans overwhelmingly agree: liberty, democracy, individualism, equality before the law, constitutionalism, private property. In the late twentieth century both components of American identity have come under concentrated and sustained onslaught from a small but influential number of intellectuals and publicists. In the name of multiculturalism they have attacked the identification of the United States with Western civilization, denied the existence of a common American culture, and promoted racial, ethnic, and other subnational cultural identities and groupings. They have denounced, in the words of one of their reports, the "systematic bias toward European culture and its derivatives" in education and "the dominance of the European-American monocultural perspective." The multiculturalists are, as Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., said, "very often ethnocentric separatists who see little in the Western heritage other than Western crimes." Their "mood is one of divesting Americans of the sinful European inheritance and seeking redemptive infusions from non-Western cultures."7

The multicultural trend was also manifested in a variety of legislation that followed the civil rights acts of the 1960s, and in the 1990s the Clinton administration made the encouragement of diversity one of its major goals. The contrast with the past is striking. The Founding Fathers saw diversity as a reality and as a problem: hence the national motto, e pluribus unum, chosen by a committee of the Continental Congress consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Later political leaders who also were fearful of the dangers of racial, sectional, ethnic, economic, and cultural diversity (which, indeed, produced the largest war of the century between 1815 and 1914), responded to the call of "bring us together," and made the promotion of national unity their central responsibility. "The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing as a nation at all," warned Theodore Roosevelt, "would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities."8 In the 1990s, however, the leaders of the United States have not only permitted that but assiduously promoted the diversity rather than the unity of the people they govern.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 20 01:45 AM  Civilizations Clash Of

will said at June 6, 2005 7:36 AM:

i think that we aren't entering into a new phase of the "clash of civilizations" but instead will still see war mongering leaders greedy for money, land, or commodities. As long as there are "citizens" willing to fight for their leader we will see death. I think that a new king pin has emerged after the depression(the u.s) but just like Rome or Greese its altimate demise is eminent. Just like colonial Britain its time will end. Don't be fooled, another will come along as long as the apathy of the world remains the majority. However the weapons have chaged and the fight evolved but that doesn't mean that "cultures" will re-unite and put aside their differences and old rivalries to fight a common enemy. Most importantly propa ganda has entered a new phase where you can't listen to the news without knowing consciously that the facts aren't there. You can't trust your leader and hope he won't put you into combat without a just cause. But then again could you in Roman times? The world has not changed.

Mark said at November 23, 2008 1:48 PM:

I would answer the Huntington-Fukuyama debate with a question.

Will capitalistic sources of recognition command the ideals of the last form of government keeping the wealth and power of the elite in tact?

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