Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Year Question: Antipathy to Western Civilization and Pax Americana

The year 2007 ended with a nightmarish terrorist attack in Pakistan, murdering Benazir Bhutto. Backlashes against Western civilization in the Islamic world will be a critical issue this year. This is a grave challenge to American leadership in the world. On NPR radio, Peter Beinart, Editor at Large of New Republic, said Pakistan will be a serious test for the Bush administration’s commitment to promote democracy.

Islam is not the only actors against the supremacy of Western civilization. As I mentioned in a previous post, China is exploring another world order of Confucius values, in order to rival the United States. Also, Russia is behaving more and more assertively, due to successful economy under the Putin administration.

Now, I have questions. Why are they so reluctant to accept Western enlightenmentism, and stick to Dark Age authoritarianism? What kind of negative impact will they have on the liberal world order?

I do not have objections to multiculturalism, as long as it does not disturb social cohesion in one country and contributes to further development of the liberal world order. As Professor Yan Xuetong at Tsinga University in Beijing insists, the rise of Oriental values could enrich world civilization.

The problem is, however, those who advocate resurgence of their national civilizations often make use of this, simply in order to reject enlightenment and defend Dark Age authoritarianism. During 1990s when South East Asian economies rose rapidly, leaders such as Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad boasted success of Asian values until miserable economic failure in the Asian Financial Crisis. Both of them were vocal critic to Western enlightenment as leaders of China, Russia, and radical Moslems are today.

Also, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that the West has gone through self criticism to its own civilization (“Selling out Moderate Islam”; Weekly Standard; February 20, 2006).

Islamic civilization may yet produce its Edward Gibbon, a sincere religious voyager who ends up scrutinizing the foundations of his civilization with a skeptical, cynical, and, at times, profoundly unfair irreligious eye.

Actually other civilizations, including China, Russia, and the rest of Asia, have yet to produce their own Edward Gibbon as well. Nations mentioned here enjoy rapid rise in the economy these days. Will they contribute to the progress of the global society, or simply end up being malcontents to Western civilization and the American world order? Until they produce their Gibbon, rising economies are likely to remain being malcontents.

The West was savage in the Middle Age. The Occidental world had been under feudal order, ecclesiastical authority, and uncivilized superstitions throughout this period. It was revitalization of Greek and Roman civilizations which disentangled the West from the Dark Age. Western enlightenment has achieved spectacular success in Japan and Turkey. It was successful until the notorious revolution against the Pahlavi modernization in Iran.

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that ecclesiastical dominance in the Dark Age led to the modern era.

Universities were founded and the search for knowledge began, a belief in technology arose, and individualism was invented.

It is difficult to know whether the Protestant religion with its belief in individual connections between man and God to arise or whether that belief in individuality caused Protestant religion to develop, nut in any case the belief in individuality did arise. (The Future of Capitalism, Lester Thurow, p.268)

Despite growing economy, Russia, China, and the rest of Asia are still in the Dark Age. Will they produce some values to step up themselves as the West did during the Middle Age? If not, they will remain nothing else but malcontents to Western enlightenment and the American world order.

For further discussion, I would like to talk about Japan and Western civilization on another occasion, because Japan is exceptional to succeed in disentangling itself from Asian backwardness to join the Western Great Powers Club.