Saturday, October 12, 2013
The character of a civilization
The character of a civilization
A modernity phase like our present can be handled in very different ways and thus develop in different ways. In one end the internally wise and peaceful Sung Dynasty in China (960-1279), which nevertheless died because of a very unwise external policy. In the other end we saw the extremely violent Warring States period in old China and the corresponding period in the 2. Mesopotamian civilization with the brutal onslaughts of the Assyrians. Or the chaotic circumstances in the Hellenistic World from Alexander to Caesar.
The way in which each civilization or country in a civilization handles its modernity or any other phase in its history of course depends on wisdom of the involved politicians, on geographic circumstances and on the homogeneity of the population and of course on pure luck. But it also and crucially depends on the character and style of the civilization. It is his last factor we will look a bit into today.
If we take areas which used to constitute older civilizations, but are now part of the globalized Western world, I have earlier argued that they are now a part of the Western civilization except for parts of the Middle East, which are still fighting westernization.
An investigation into the path in time of such older civilizations into the Western modernity, shows that they go through 3 phases:
1. The first part of the colonial time. Here the colonial rulers are simply substituted into the position of the local rulers with no effect on the culture.
2. The old culture awakes and rises against the western civilization. Examples are the Boxer and Sepoy risings and parts of the Middle East now.
3. Westernization. Like China and India and other parts of the Middle East now.
But even though I have argued against a present clash of civilizations saying that most old civilizations are now part of the West, it is not so that in the westernized old civilizations all signs of the old culture have seized to exist. Very old patterns of political socialization and traditions are not easily extinguished.
These traits from an older civilization can become a determining factor in the present. It can determine who will surpass the other, and who will be left behind.
So the handling of the western modernity with its potential chaos will n the West itself be decided partly by wisdom etc. and partly by the political style and whole character of the Western civilization.
The handling of the present phase on the soil of the incorporated older civilizations will depend on the same. But it will also be decided by the traditions from the older civilizations. This is a part of the answers to questions like the following: Why has India with its many peoples and cults been a stable democracy while Pakistan has gone from coup to coup? Why are Japan and China so successful and Africa so slow in rising GDP?
I will now look into a few of the cases to see the influence from the style of older civilizations. And I will end with the West to see how our style is both a gain and a hindrance.
In the following are examples. Not much of it has not already been said by others. The purpose is just to point to the importance of older patterns for the present.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Because the West often has difficulties understanding the Middle East, I will say more about this case and only a little about India and China.
Causality in the Western sense in which an event 1 inside the world causes a later event 2 in the world, is in the Middle Eastern or Oriental culture often not seen this way. Rather God is the causal force which from outside the world causes both event 1 and 2. The two events are not connected.
Another distinctive mark of this civilization is the fact that religion and politics or state are not separated.
Further, except from periods in the Oriental modernity around 750-1100 God is not obliged to do things that reason or man judge as good. He arbitrarily does what he wants. The only cause is His will.
"Had Allah so willed, He would have made you all one single community. However, He lets go astray whomsoever He wills and shows the Right Way to whomsoever He wills. Surely you will be called to account regarding what you did." (Holy Quran 16,93).
In this culture God really works in mysterious ways!
As politics is a part of religion the politicians are not causes, but tools used by God. They see themselves as being or claim to be carrying out God's will. As the following of other gods is shirk, and politics is a religious matter, then the following of other politicians and parties is also shirk.
And if God's decisions are changed without causal reasons in the World and are not bound by worldly considerations it follows that who is His tool today, can tomorrow be replaced by another tool. A new politician, ruler or party.
Seen this way the chaotic political history in some countries in the Oriental civilization from the christians in the Balkans and Greece to the moslems in Pakistan and Afghanistan are easier to understand.
All this does not mean however, that stability and pluralistic democracy are not possible in this part of the world. A basis for a stable democracy could be a development and generalization of the old principle that nations of different ethnicity and religion have lived side by side for centuries. But this can also lead to problems, see Ethnic Cleansing in the Arab world.
The mentioned view of rationality from the Oriental modernity could return in the frame of the Western modernity now being adopted. God and thus politics being obliged to do what is best for human beings.
Another basis for Middle Eastern democracy could be the often mentioned concept idjma, consensus, based on quotes like this typically used from the Prophet:
"My followers will never agree upon an error or what is wrong."
Islam should certainly not be seen as an enemy of good politics! It can also be an aid. It is the destabilizing intrusion of Western modernity which necessitates the adaptions.
A bit like in the Orient we see a tendency for religion and politics to flow together. Mahatma Gandhi was also seen as a guru. So was Indira Gandhi though to a much lesser extent. But in India there is no shirk. All religions can be incorporated into Hinduism as different ways to the same God. This can also be applied to politics, where there has been a tolerance to other ways of thinking. But this tolerated pluralism in cults, cultures, politicians and parties is also the inherent weakness. Parties, politicians, local power bases and interests all must be taken into consideration. This in combination with an enormous bureaucracy and rigid inequality makes efficient politics difficult.
Much has been written and said about the confucian meritocracy. The best rulers have a right to rule, a right recognized by the population. As long as good rule leads to good results for the people they have the right to rule. And there is also a certain patience. People wait to see if wrong policies are corrected. This of course gives a stable political system and a good social control, but only under good rules. The present rulers in China have caused an unprecedented period of growth on prosperity and opening. As long as this continues China will be a wealthy, strong and stable power.
The West is the civilization of the strong individual wills. In the Middle East the ultimate cause is Gods will. Here it is the will of the I. And generalized the will of organizations, parties and nations.
Another characteristic is the planning ahead out of a strong historical consciousness and foundation. This trait is shared with old Egypt and China and is very unlike the Greco-Roman world, which had only little planning ahead. In the West the planning is potentially disturbed by the strong wills.
In a modernity phase there is in all civilizations internal and external revolutionary chaos and wars touching the countries to a varying extent. There is also increasing individualization, which in the already individualistic West reaches (perhaps too) high levels. And there is increased rationality. A belief that everything can be understood, all problems be solved by reason. This last phenomenon of course strengthens the Western ability to plan ahead.
The stronger individuality and the revolutionary tendencies makes strong political institutions and constitutions necessary, not least in the West. Democracy in reality becomes a playground for politicians and parties with strong wills. They exchange government between each other, which can obstruct the necessary planning. Therefore the institutions and technocrats must be strong enough to secure a continuance in politics. When then as now the decline of politics sets in, the respect for institutions is falling. Then as said often in this blog, a stronger executive must take over to avoid chaos.
This is why the present problems with government in the USA are so important. As said China has a stability and social control or we could say respect for the government, that gives large advantages over more unstable countries.
But the USA has more raw power and will to power. And there is more tension in the country. A tension that can be used outwards as expansion in global power instead of being used within as a destructive force.
But this will take lots of political skill. It could potentially be ugly for us in the rest of the World. In old Rome the tension led to both internal chaos and external expansion, the last carried out by single personal legion owners like Marius, Pompejus and Caesar.
But this was only because of the weakness of the other countries in the Mediterranean. For the Americans the perils of internal strife are far bigger. The other players in the World cannot be controlled by a dissolving USA.
Therefore a China with less raw power can still win over a USA in internal political chaos. The more stable political system and better social control in East Asia could be the decisive point.