Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

In the Name of Progress and Peace: The "Standard of Civilization" and the Universalizing Project

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

In the Name of Progress and Peace: The "Standard of Civilization" and the Universalizing Project

Article excerpt

Robert Wright has written that "the more closely we examine the drift of biological evolution and, especially, the drift of human history, the more there seems to be a point to it all." In explaining "the arrow of the history of life, from the primordial soup to the World Wide Web," he argues, "Globalization ... has been in the cards not just since the invention of the telegraph or the steamship, or even the written word or the wheel, but since the invention of life." (1) This bold claim is reminiscent of Francis Fukuyama's assertion that the end of the cold war marked not just "the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." (2)

The evolutionary logic that Wright, Fukuyama, and others see as a natural and inevitable turn of events actually reflects a concerted effort to impose a particular ideological rationale to the passage of history. That is to say, certain forces in international politics have a clear-cut vision of the form of international society they hope to see materialize. These architects of international society continue to be informed by a belief in the Enlightenment ideal of progress and humankind's universal linear march toward modernity--a modernity that is both liberal, globalized, and cosmopolitan in appearance. As John Gray argues, "it is not too difficult to discern ... [a core] project in the central Enlightenment thinkers, and to detect its presence in the new liberals"--the intellectual descendants of Kantianism such as "[John] Rawls and his disciples"--who "unreflectively subscribed to a version of the Enlightenment philosophy of history in which universal convergence on a cosmopolitan and rationalist civilization ... was taken for granted as the telos of the species." In essence, the philosophical anthropology of the Enlightenment held that different "cultural identities, along with their constitutive histories, were like streams, whose destiny was to flow irresistibly into the great ocean of universal humanity." (3)

Underpinning attempts to realize the vision of an interconnected cosmopolitan world order are three interrelated propositions that constitute what Fukuyama calls the "democratic syllogism"; (4) a syllogism that has become the cornerstone of international public policy in the ongoing endeavor to "civilize" international society. Furthermore, one of the primary tools used to shape this liberal cosmopolitan world order is the reinvigoration of a "standard of civilization" in international society.

According to Hedley Bull, a "society of states (or international society) exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions." (5) With the expansion of Europe from the fifteenth century and the export of the European states system established by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, by the time of the postcolonial twentieth century, international society was increasingly identified as universal in scope. (6) That is to say that values and norms that are widely thought of as having their roots in the European Enlightenment--such as human rights, democracy, and the efficacy of science and technology--are now thought to be embraced by, or are at least aspirations of, a large majority of humanity.

In referring to the international political arena more generally, Norbert Elias has observed that the pacification of domestic societies--"the relatively peaceful life of large masses of people"--is "in good part based on" the state's monopolization of violence. Adding that "if the reduction of mutual physical danger or increased pacification is considered a decisive criterion for determining the degree of civilization," Elias says humankind can be said "to have reached a higher level of civilization within domestic affairs than on the international plane. …

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