Scholarly article on topic 'A World of Plural and Pluralist Civilizations'

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Academic research paper on topic "A World of Plural and Pluralist Civilizations"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 77 (2013) 15 - 19

Selected Papers of Beijing Forum 2009

A World of Plural and Pluralist Civilizations

Peter Joachim Katzenstein

President, the American Political Science Association Professor, Cornell University

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Beijing Forum

The Prevalence of Unitary Views of Civilizations

In th/j/ bri/f r/markj I am making two basic points. Civilizations ar/ b/jt thought of as plural and pluralist. D/jpit/ th/ir firm conviction of b/ing unrivall/d in th/ir uniqu/n/jj, lik/ all oth/r major civilizations both China and Am/rica ar/ on this c/ntral point quit/ normal and un/xc/ptional. This pluralist p/rjp/ctiv/ ij in sharp disagr//m/ntj with both conj/rvativ/ and lib/ral argum/ntj advanc/d with gr/at j/lf-confid/nc/ and to gr/at acclaim in both East and W/jt. Sp/cifically, this pluralist p/rjp/ctiv/ diff/rj from conj/rvativ/ argum/ntj that think of civilizations as unitary cultural programs, organiz/d hi/rarchically around uncont/jt/d cor/ valu/j. And it diff/rj also from lib/ral vi/wj baj/d on th/ firm conviction of th/ /xijt/nc/ of unambiguous, uncont/jtabl/, lib/ral crit/ria for judging good, civiliz/d conduct.

Civilizations ar/ social forms of organization abov/ th/ l/v/l of th/ nation and b/low th/ global world. Historically civilizations ar/ baj/d on urban forms of lif/ and a division of labor by which urban /lit/j /xtract r/jourc/j from p/asantj. At th/ c/nt/r of civilizations w/ typically find r/ligiouj traditions which oft/n int/rmingl/ with j/cular, jp/cifically literary on/j.

Th/ unitary vi/w that informs conj/rvativ/ and lib/ral thought was a Europ/an inv/ntion of th/ 18th c/ntury. In th/ 19th c/ntury it was /njhrin/d in th/ b/li/f of th/ /xijt/nc/ of on/ standard of civilization. That standard was ground/d in rac/, /thnic affiliation, r/ligion and a firm conviction in th/ jup/riority of Europ/an civilization ov/r all oth/rj. Th/ distinction b/tw//n civiliz/d and unciviliz/d p/opl/j, how/v/r, ij not jp/cific to th/ Europ/an past. Today, it /njoyj broad support among many conj/rvativ/ supporters of Samu/l Huntington's Clash of Civilizations - a book that was tranjlat/d into 39 languag/j. It ij also h/ld by many lib/ralj who ar/ committ/d to improving th/ rul/ of law and global standards of good gov/rnanc/. Furth/rmor/, this unitary vi/w ij wid/ly popular in all of today's major civilizations -Am/rican, Chin/j/, Europ/an, Indian, Japan/j/, Russian and Islamic. Ev/rywh/r/ and at all tim/j jo-call/d barbarians ar/ b/li/v/d to hav/ knock/d on th/ doors of civilizations.

Huntington r/jtat/j thij old, unitary th/jij for our tim/j. Hij b/cam/ arguably th/ most influ/ntial book publijh/d on int/rnational r/lationj jinc/ th/ /nd of th/ Cold War. For Huntington civilizations ar/


1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Beijing Forum doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.03.057

coherent, consensual, invariant, and equipped with a state-like capacity to act. Huntington insists on a unitary conception of civilizations but accepts multiple standards of proper conduct in a world of numerous civilizations. The correct anticipation of 9/11 gave his book a claim to validity that helps account for its continued relevance. Less noticed in public than in academic discourse is the fact that Huntington greatly overstates his case. Numerous analyses have established beyond any reasonable doubt that clashes occur primarily within rather than between civilizations. Furthermore, the book's broad appeal has not been undermined by the failure of the second of its two main claims. Since the end of the Cold War, the relations between Sinic and American civilizations are summarized best by terms such as encounter or engagement rather than clash.

In comparison to Huntington, Liberals follow an inverse logic. Unlike Huntington, they are often more willing to acknowledge the existence of diverse cultural programs in a given civilization. And unlike Huntington, they have a difficult time letting go of the notion of a single standard of good intercivilizational conduct. This is illustrated by vigorous and extended debates over failing states, standards of good governance, property rights, and transparent markets. On all of these issues, and many others, liberal arguments often proceed from the unquestioned assumption of the existence of a single standard of proper conduct. In liberal American and European public discourse the West therefore is widely referred to in the singular: as a universal, substantive form of perfectibility that is integrating all parts of the world, based on the growth of Western reason.

A very similar, anti-Western counter-discourse, also steeped in Western reasoning, exists in Asia and is vigorously promoted by conservatives and liberals alike. The voices proclaiming the dawn of Asia's civilizational primacy may shift from yesterday's Japan, to today's China and tomorrow's India. But these voices are growing louder. Like "Orientalism," "Occidentalism" characterizes East and West in the singular. Despite the ideological and geographical diversity of those holding to a unitary conception of civilization, such a unitary view is intellectually misguided and politically dangerous.

Plural and Pluralist Civilizations: America and China

Civilizations, I argue here, are pluralist. The recent and distant history of the "West" invalidates the claim that it has been culturally cohesive with an unchanging collective identity. Recently, after World War II, the most determined enemy of the West, Germany, was firmly integrated into a coalition of "Western, civilized, democracies" that were seeking to stem the tide of "Eastern, uncivilized, autocracies." Furthermore, in the second half of the 20th century, despite the importance of the Anglo-American model, varieties of capitalist democracies have remained a distinctive feature of the West. In the distant past, Medieval Europe, according to Karl Deutsch, featured six separate civilizational strands: monastic Christianity around the Mediterranean; Latin Christendom in Western and Central Europe; and Byzantium in South-eastern Europe. These three major civilizations were connected by the Afro-Eurasian trade networks of Islam which for centuries took hold on the Iberian Peninsula, as well as elements of two other trading civilizations, Jews and Vikings. The West is undeniably pluralist.

What is true of the West is true of other civilizations. China, for example, does not cohere around uncontested Confucian or Asian values. Instead, just like America, China experiences conflicts over contested truths reflecting its internal pluralism and external context. Chinese Confucianism is as plastic and contested as American Liberalism. Discarded as an imperial institution since the late 19th century and hollowed out as a political ideology, the relevance of various incarnations of New Confucianism is now seen to lie in its humanism. Widely thought to have been a major factor for many of China's ills during the last century, in recent years the Chinese government has vigorously revived Confucianism. This ideology operates on the basis of hierarchical, reciprocal and morally based values. The political qualities that supposedly flow from these values - wisdom, morality, generosity, obligation to respect the interests of others - are now extolled as assets not liabilities.

The ethical and religious concerns of Confucian humanism remain relevant in seeking to address some of contemporary China's pressing problems. Tu Weiming's conceptualization is largely congruent with the writings of Shmuel Eisenstadt and the concept of multiple modernity. For Tu cultural China focuses on the meaning of being Chinese. It is not a geopolitical, linguistic or ethnic concept. Instead cultural China is defined by transnational relationships in Greater China and the fluid borders separating civilization from barbarism. Cultural China emerges from the dialogues within and between these different Chinese worlds, with the erstwhile peripheries of the Chinese world now thrust in the unaccustomed role of helping to civilize China. And outside of China, but in the Sinocentric sphere of cultural influence, contested and contestable traditions of Confucianism can also be found in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. In short in its various incarnations Confucianism is not an essential attribute of Chineseness, rooted in an empire, polity, or modern nation-state. It is instead a cultural resource mobilized primarily along the periphery of transnational Chinese networks.

Furthermore, inside mainland China the tradition of Confucianism is complemented by and competing with alternative traditions of Daoism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, popular religion, atheism and secularism. Perhaps even more striking is the regional revival of multiple cultural traditions. China is divided in five ways - east, west, north, south and center. Relying on overly schematic and simplifying terms for purpose of this lecture only, I would argue that the cosmopolitanism and economic dynamism of China's coastal areas and the patriotism and relative economic backwardness of China's heartland constitute multiple traditions that provide the fodder for vibrant debates and disagreements inside China's civilization. Other civilizations have a very large stake in these debates. Numerous dramatic transformations in contemporary China evoke the image of a very large man rolling over in a very small bathtub. In doing so that man creates some very big waves and cannot help but make a mess on the bathroom floor that may affect his neighbors.

As an American speaking in Beijing, I have chosen American and Chinese civilizations as two examples for the thesis that civilizations are plural and pluralist and that in this central respect China, like America, is a perfectly normal and unexceptional civilization. In a book published this past summer under the title Civilizations in World Politics I have made the analogous case for all of the world's other major civilizations. Concepts like "East" and "West" have never been able to describe accurately our past. They do not describe accurately our present. And they will never describe accurately our future. These categories create a make-believe world in which intellectuals who are trying to gain fame and fortune can wage their intellectual battles and in which politicians who attempt to gain or consolidate power can mislead their publics into unnecessary and risky political adventures or military confrontations.

By their mere existence, civilizations undercut both the conservative confidence in the superiority of military power and the liberal presumption that universalistic secular liberal norms are inherently superior to all others. "How many divisions has the Pope?" Josef Stalin asked derisively, a few decades before a charismatic Polish leader of the Catholic Church pushed the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history. And if the values of secular liberalism were naturally overwhelmingly attractive, then there would be no need to cultivate that attraction as liberals have so assiduously tried to do during the last 200 years. Attraction would be rooted instead in the unquestioned acceptance of the universal standard that secular liberalism provides. The politics of civilizations deserve our attention because they both undercut prevalent conservative and liberal preconceptions and undermine cherished notions in the social sciences and humanities.

As is true of all other major civilizations, in both the American and the Chinese cases the internal pluralism of civilizations is reinforced by the larger context in which they are embedded. That context is not the international state system or international markets, frequently deployed concepts that suffer from excessive sparseness and abstraction. It is instead a global ecumene - a concept that describes a universal system of knowledge and practices. This global ecumene expresses not a common standard, but a loose sense of shared values entailing often contradictory notions of diversity in a common humanity. This loose sense of shared values centers on the material and psychological well-being of all humans. "Well-

b/ing" and th/ rights of all "humans" ar/ no long/r th/ pr/rogativ/ or product of any on/ civilization or const/llation of civilizations or political structures or id/ologi/s. Inst/ad, technology s/rving human w/ll-b/ing and norms of human rights ar/ proc/ss/s that hav/ tak/n on a lif/ of th/ir own and provid/ th/ script for all civilizations. This /cum/n/ do/s not sp/cify th/ political rout/ toward impl/m/ntation. It do/s off/r a script, often not adh/r/d to, that provid/s in all of today's civilizations th/ basis for political authority and l/gitimacy. All states, politi/s and /mpir/s claim to s/rv/ th/ w/ll-b/ing of individuals. And all individuals ar/ acknowl/dg/d to hav/ inh/r/nt rights. Th/ /xist/nc/ of th/s/ proc/ss/s /nhanc/s th/ pluralism that inh/r/s in civilizations. Th/y und/rcut both th/ int/ll/ctual and political imp/rialism of imposing on/ singl/ standard on a div/rs/ world all as w/ll as a valu/ relativism that would comp/l us to acc/pt any and all political practic/s. Th/s/ two proc/ss/s charact/riz/ th/ civilization of mod/rnity that /ncompass/s all major civilizations. Th/y und/rmin/ th/ political capacity to dictate. And th/y /rod/ th/ moral basis to abus/.

Civilizational Processes

Civilization is not a condition but a proc/ss cr/at/d by human practic/s. Thos/ who think of th/ms/lv/s as civiliz/d w/r/, at an /arli/r tim/, unciviliz/d and ar/ always at risk of b/coming so in th/ future. Th/s/ practic/s sum, in th/ aggregate, to civilizational proc/ss/s such as Am/ricanization or Sinicization. Th/y ar/ producing and r/producing b/havioral and symbolic boundari/s. In today's world th/s/ proc/ss/s ar/ n/st/d in on/ global civilization of mod/rnity.

W/ can trac/ transcivilizational /ngag/m/nts and int/rcivilizational /ncount/rs in a vari/ty of diff/r/nt practic/s. In th/ir internal and /xt/rnal r/lations, civilizations ar/ mark/d by d/bat/ and disagr//m/nts. Cont/station g/n/rat/s diff/r/nt proc/ss/s and outcom/s. On/ such outcom/, cultural imp/rialism, d/scrib/s th/ unilateral imposition of th/ norms and practic/s of on/ civilization upon local norms and practic/s that it s//ks to displac/ or d/stroy. A s/cond outcom/ d/scrib/s th/ whol/sal/ adoption by local actors of th/ format but not th/ cont/nt of imported cultural products and practic/s. Finally, a third outcom/, and th/ on/ that is most typical in th/ r/lations among major civilizations, d/scrib/s a world of hybridization in which local norms and practic/s ar/ alt/r/d by s/l/ctiv/ly appropriating import/d practic/s. This is th/ giv/ and tak/ that d/fin/s civilizational proc/ss/s, th/ /xchang/ of cultural mat/rial -information, id/as, valu/s, norms, and id/ntiti/s. It highlights shifting balanc/s of practic/s (rath/r than balanc/s of pow/r) within and b/tw//n diff/r/nt civilizations.


I hav/ argu/d h/r/ for a vi/w that str/ss/s th/ pluralism and plurality of a world of civilizations - a world into which China and Am/rica fit comfortably as v/ry normal and un/xc/ptional cas/s. Far from b/ing uniqu/, both China and Am/rica ar/ comparabl/ to all oth/r major civilizations. Our world of civilizations is for th/ most part charact/riz/d by int/rcivilizational /ncount/rs and transcivilizational /ngag/m/nts, and only rarely by civilizational clash/s. Th/ last thr// d/cad/s in th/ r/lations b/tw//n Sinic and Am/rican civilizations provid/ ampl/ docum/ntation for this proposition. I thus hav/ argu/d in th/s/ remarks that common pr/conc/ptions shar/d alik/ by cons/rvativ/s and lib/rals in both W/st and East ar/ s/riously misguid/d. Rath/r than h/lping us build a b/tt/r, mor/ div/rs/ world in which all civilizations can t/ach and all can l/arn in a common cont/xt, th/s/ pr/conc/ptions risk building a world of f/ar and walls in which civilizations ar/ r/duc/d to d/liv/ring monologu/s of th/ on/ right way -yi/lding not /ngag/m/nts and /ncount/rs but clash/s.

Today w/ liv/ in hard tim/s. Only a y/ar ago th/ global /conomy was t//t/ring at th/ brink of collaps/, brought about by th/ /conomic s/lfishn/ss and r/ckl/ssn/ss of a small group of pow/rful individuals and institutions op/rating in th/ major Am/rican and Europ/an financial c/nt/rs. Massiv/ stat/ action pull/d global capitalism back from th/ brink. But it could not pr/v/nt th/ havoc wr/ak/d worldwid/ on t/ns of

millions of people. There is a striking similarity in the origins of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and America's financial crisis of 2008. Before 1997 easy money was flowing from Tokyo throughout Asia seeking returns higher than could be earned in Japan. Before 2008, Wall Street had invented and marketed globally new financial products which, it was thought erroneously, had solved the problem of economic risk. In both cases it was the pluralism of economic arrangements in different national economies, states and civilizations that prevented an enormous calamity to become catastrophic. Plural and pluralist civilizations legitimate varieties of institutions and practices. And there is virtue in variety. No one model of market economies - American, European, Indian, Islamic, Japanese or Chinese - embodies all that is efficient and good. Plural and pluralist civilizations thus act like shock absorbers for a world that is simply too complex to yield to a single economic logic. Coordination not clash characterizes this multicivilzational economic world.

In the future, we may, however, be heading toward a clash and potential violence of a different sort. It would implicate Toynbee's Civilization - spelled with a capital C and in the singular. All of humankind and many other species and ecosystems sharing planet Earth are confronting a variety of threats to Civilization's ongoing physical viability. In this formulation, the essentialism of Civilizational identity is physical rather than primordial, discursive, or dispositional. It may spur social and political movements for a common Civilizational community of fate, somewhat analogously to earlier national communities of fate. But even in this formulation of a different kind of Civilizational clash, politics (of science, social movement, education, and many other domains) will continue to be central. It remains an open question whether plural and pluralist civilizations harbor sufficient innovative potential and learning capacities to generate successful coping strategies for defending Civilization spelled with a capital C and in the singular.

The opening line of Rudyard Kipling's 1899 poem, "The Ballad of East and West," suggests that the two shall never meet. Kipling was wrong. Civilizations are most similar not in their cultural coherence, isolation or tendency toward clash, but in their pluralist differences, in their plurality, and in their encounters and engagements. We should resist the temptation of excessive simplification entailed in all binary distinctions. Instead, we should embrace the intellectual and political opportunities of what one scholar has called the "contaminated cosmopolitanism" of our civilizational world. This concept captures nicely the messy co-occurrence of sameness and difference that is the defining trait of a world of plural and pluralist civilizations.

Thank you.