Choosing Sides over History

By Grenier, Richard | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 6, 1996 | Go to article overview

Choosing Sides over History


Grenier, Richard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Four years ago a book was published that threw America's scholarly circles into an uproar. It was Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History?" Mr. Fukuyama didn't of course mean that nothing more was ever going to happen, but that history had at last produced an optimum form of human government: "the universalization of Western liberal democracy." Some nations might wander off the path, some even drift backwards for a time, but the goal was in sight. History, as the quest for a form of governance capable of best gratifying most of the world's population, was over.

Such a bold, sweeping proclamation was bound to excite controversy, and Mr. Fukuyama's chief antagonist from the start has been Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington. While granting that American popular culture is still being enthusiastically gobbled up by other civilizations, Mr. Huntington holds that the emerging image of a homogeneous, universally Western world is "misguided, arrogant, false, and dangerous." In his new book, "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" (Simon and Schuster), he argues that the notion that the triumph of the West will eventually extinguish the world's other civilizations is almost "childish."

Modernization and Westernization, he argues (and here he's on shaky ground), are quite different things. He insists that Modernization, far from promoting Westernization, has fostered a resurgence of native cultures, often with an anti-Western and anti-Christian cast. In merely the last 15 years, an Islamic revival has come to the fore in every single Muslim country -in most of which it's had a deep political impact. And where Islamic forces have not profoundly shaped the government, they have dominated the opposition. All this, historically speaking, in the blink of an eye. And the powerful current of "indigenization" at work all over the globe, says Mr. Huntington, "makes a mockery of expectations that Western culture will become the culture of the whole world."

But does it? First, despite all, cultures have nowhere replaced nation-states as the primary actors in world politics. And, second, it requires some stretching to believe that Modernization and Westernization are connected only by chance, that modernity could as easily have been born in the Middle East or India. In the West alone the growth of free institutions liberated men from the confines of traditional authority, allowing them to pursue the mastery of science and politics in freedom.

The spectacular collapse of Communism strengthened the view in the West that the ideology of democratic liberalism has triumphed and is thus universally valid. The United States, where the missionary instinct is always strong, believes that non-Western people should embrace enthusiastically the Western values of democracy, free markets, limited government, separation of church and state, human rights, individualism, and the rule of law. But this isn't happening, says Mr. Huntington. Indeed, many non-Western states are going into reverse. …

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