Prof. Harry Redner was Reader at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, as well as visiting professor at Yale University, University of California-Berkeley and Harvard University. He postulates that the world is now transitioning to “beyond civilization” – a new and unprecedented condition in Human History known as globalization. This in turn has major implications for societies across the world, and in particular developed nations.
He is the author of several articles and fourteen books, including a tetralogy on civilization: “Beyond Civilization: Society, Culture, and the Individual in the Age of Globalization”, “Totalitarianism, Globalization, Colonialism: The Destruction of Civilization since 1914”, “The Tragedy of European Civilization: Towards an Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century” and “The Triumph and Tragedy of the Intellectuals: Evil, Enlightenment, and Death”.
PART I: GENERAL TRENDS AND THE END OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION
The political and economic issues broadly discussed in the media usually revolve around political cycles, terrorism, foreign policy, rising debt levels, sluggish economic performance, academic underachievement, environmental problems, ageing demographics and so forth.
In our view, this all ties into a major cycle of history that has been with us for some time, and which has been gaining traction since the 1990s: the end of Western Civilization and the transition towards a globalized society. There is some confusion between the two terms, where the latter is often perceived as the continuation of the former, but in reality the two have been in conflict for almost 100 years.
We are delighted to get Prof. Harry Redner’s views on this topic, which he has studied and written about extensively. The political, social and economic ramifications are likely to be life changing in the years to come. Politicians, investors and citizens all over the world should take note.
E. Tavares: Prof. Redner, thank you for being with us today. Let’s start with a basic yet difficult to define concept: what is civilization?
H. Redner: How and why it originated and how it developed further are extremely contentious issues, about which the views of specialists from at least half a dozen disciplines are frequently at odds. It has been debated for centuries and will continue so for the foreseeable future. My own views on these matters carry no special weight and everything I have to say can be disputed and, indeed, will be so, as there are no final conclusive answers to these ultimate questions. But for what they are worth, I will present a few of my provisional thoughts.
Civilization is a necessary and inevitable stage in human development. When human societies increase in number and productive capacity, when they become more integrated through communication, trade and authority systems and, above all, when higher cultures and mentalities above those of primitive shamanistic cults, spirit worship and fetishist symbolism arise, civilization takes off as the next stage of human development.
This happened at different times and places all over the globe, first along the river valleys of Mesopotamia and the Nile, later along those of the Indus and Yellow Rivers; later still, and completely autonomously, under different conditions in Mesoamerica and in the Andes. There is a syndrome of features, most of which these early civilizations display, more or less completely in each case, such as the rise of cities, the formation of states, class differentiations, the invention of methods of writing and organized religion, together with a mythological creed or pantheon.
However, my interest is not in these early civilizations but only in the later, more developed ones, those that survived until the start of the twentieth century. These are the so-called post-Axial Age civilizations. The idea of an Axial Age, which occurred approximately between 700 and 300 BC, was developed by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers to refer to this period when the first philosophies and universal religions arose that have persisted till now. It is a curious and still unexplained historical coincidence that many of the great thinkers and sages, such as Zoroaster, Pythagoras, deutero-Isaiah, the Buddha, Confucius and Lao-Tse all lived around 500BC in widely dispersed places. The post-Axial civilizations are based on their teachings.
In each case what was crucial for the rise and development of these civilizations was the construction of a higher form of literacy embodied in a set of canonical texts and, stemming from these, a higher form of ethical conduct. The figures of the philosopher, prophet, sage, saint, ascetic monk, scholar, rabbi and mandarin, as bearers of the highest values of literacy and ethics, arose respectively in each of the resulting civilizations. Invariably, but with some crucial exceptions, empires were founded by conquerors and rulers based on these values, which were given an organized form in schools of philosophy or law, monastic orders or churches or other types of scholarly or religious institutions. These have mostly lasted till our time. But since the start of the twentieth century at the very latest they were undermined and came under attack from many quarters in a general disruption of established traditions all over the world.
ET: Can you briefly summarize what makes Western Civilization different? Was the Greek classical tradition what made it take root across Europe, or was there something else at play?
HR: The term “Western Civilization” is used ambiguously in two somewhat different senses: it can refer to the whole development of civilization in the West from its Greek origin to its European culmination, or alternatively, it can refer only to the latter, namely to the civilization of Europe that began to flourish around 1000AD. This is a distinct form of civilization different from the Classical or Greco-Roman civilization based on the Mediterranean that lasted approximately till 500AD, as well as from the Byzantine civilization, located largely in what is now Turkey and the Balkans that followed. Clearly, there were strong historical, cultural and religious continuities between these three civilizational stages, which is the reason that they can be collectively called Western Civilization in the broad sense.
Western Civilization in the narrow sense, namely European civilization, had one of its roots in the Classical Greco-Roman tradition, but its other crucial root lay in Judaism, as developed and enlarged by Christianity. The key text of this civilization is and remains the Judaeo-Christian Bible, which is why it is often referred to as a Judaeo-Christian Civilization.
What made European civilization different was its capacity to absorb all earlier Western civilizational forms, which manifested itself in numerous Renaissances and Reformations. During the Renaissances, the first of which took place in the 12th century, it went back to its roots in classical civilization; during its Reformations and counter-Reformations it went back to its biblical roots, back to the prophets, the Gospels and the Church Fathers. Each time it gained renewed cultural vigor.
Politically, what made European Civilization so unusual was that it never unified into a single empire, as all the others had done at one time or another. But Europe always remained divided and resisted all attempts at imperial unification and domination. Instead of a single empire, it evolved politically into a system of kingdoms, principalities and semi-autonomous cities, together with a Church, also vying for power, which itself broke up during the Reformation. This meant that no single authority could ever maintain complete control over all of Europe and no single orthodoxy in respect of anything could prevail everywhere.
This is the secret source of European freedom and individualism. It gave rise to the conditions that fostered competition and contention that proved immensely conducive to creativity and innovation. Its dark obverse side was continual strife and wars which proved most damaging when they irrupted as religious wars and persecutions, and which eventually in the twentieth century turned into ideological wars that almost destroyed European Civilization.
ET: It can be said that Western Civilization reached its pinnacle just before the First World War. Clearly the subsequent loss of entire generations of would-be scientists, teachers, civil servants, doctors, priests, engineers, patriots, mothers, fathers and children in devastating conflicts was something the West never really recovered from. The peace and prosperity that Europeans have achieved since then masks this fact, certainly in relative terms. What are your thoughts here?
HR: Certainly the First World War was the proximal inciting cause for a process of civilizational destruction in Europe and the rest of the world that is still going on.
It was not so much the killing in itself, though that was bad enough – a large part of a generation of young men was sacrificed – as the demoralization and loss of faith in the enlightenment values of liberalism and democracy by which Europe had been guided in the nineteenth century and towards which most countries were moving.
This was particularly virulent in the countries on the losing side, beginning with Russia, where it led to the Bolshevik Revolution, which briefly spread to much of central Europe; and in Italy, which was on the winning side but in danger of a Bolshevik takeover, and where a Fascist reaction ensued. Soviet totalitarianism in Russia devastated its culture and society, in a process started by Lenin and Trotsky and concluded by Stalin. This upheaval might have been contained and stopped from spreading to the rest of Europe were it not for the Great Depression, which destroyed any hope for democracy and led almost inevitably to the Second World War with all its devastating consequences.
After that war, Europe lay prostrate and divided by the Cold War into two mutually closed off spheres. With American aid, Western Europe rebuilt itself materially remarkably quickly; in Eastern Europe under Soviet domination this happened much more slowly. However, there was no moral or cultural recovery. European Civilization did not rise like a phoenix from the ashes. It languished for a while and now seems to be petering out.
ET: As you argue persuasively in your books, totalitarianism ended up being a major force behind the destruction of European Civilization. However, the likes of Mussolini and Hitler rose to power by promising their nations that they would regain the commanding role in its progression – at the expense of others through the use of extreme violence. Are there inherent conflicts within Western Civilization or was totalitarianism an accident of history?
HR: Totalitarianism was an accident of history only to the extent that the First World War was an accident of history – a very tragic accident with calamitous consequences. There was nothing in European Civilization as such, or as it was developing during the nineteenth century, necessitating the First World War. On the contrary, everything seemed to point to the impossibility of such a war.
However, the war was no accident in so far as the disposition of the great power alliances was concerned. This was bound to lead to some kind of war, though not necessarily to the First World War, a war of great duration and unprecedented ferocity. The two sides were too evenly matched for either to quickly defeat the other. Had Germany won the war during the first or even second year there would have been no revolution in Russia and no totalitarianism there or in Italy. Europe would have been saved the worst, at least for a long while, though it would have fallen under German domination, but that would have been by far the lesser evil.
Hitler’s rise to power and Nazi totalitarianism was the direct consequence of the outcome of the First World War together with the Great Depression. In a sense, the latter, too, was the outcome of an accident of economic history, just like the Global Financial Crisis we have recently experienced. Nevertheless, there were robust historical causes behind both events. The idea of an “accident of history” is a relative one, for what is accidental in relation to one set of developments, generally of a broad type, is causally necessitated in relation to another set. There is no such thing as a “historical accident” in any absolute sense.
In the case of totalitarianism we cannot discount the role of individuals of exceptional ability, especially when this is conducive to evil, such as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao and others such as Mussolini and Franco to a lesser extent. Are they accidents of history or rather men that rise to great heights when history provides them with the opportunities for doing so? Do they make history or does history make them? These are the kinds of issues that need to be considered when accounting for so-called “accidents of history”.
ET: You also talk about the role that some prominent European philosophers played in the formation of these destructive ideologies, something which is seldom discussed. Which ones do you believe made the biggest contribution to the development of European and Soviet totalitarianism?
HR: Totalitarianism could not have arisen without political ideologies; and such ideologies could not have emerged without philosophers and other types of intellectuals, some of them men of great genius. Behind Bolshevism there stands the great social theorist Marx and behind Nazism the almost as great thinker, Nietzsche. However, neither Marx nor Nietzsche is directly responsible for Bolshevism or Nazism; a long chain of mediating accessory figures had to be active in transitioning from the philosophical thought to the political ideology. These intermediaries were themselves intellectuals of a lesser kind, and there were literally hundreds of them.
Prior to the First World War, Marxism was being successfully adapted to the needs of democratic workers’ movements of socialist parties throughout Europe. Only in Czarist Russia, where the Marxist party was illegal, did a splinter movement of those calling themselves Bolsheviks arise under the leadership of Lenin, in opposition to the majority of moderate Marxists who called themselves Mensheviks. Lenin’s Bolshevik ideology was a far cry from classical Western Marxism being in large part inspired by Russian insurrectionist traditions.
Hitler’s Nazi ideology, based on virulent anti-Semitism and nationalistic imperialism, was also far removed from the classical German philosophies of Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, on which it based itself. But there were many German intellectuals who applied these philosophical ideas in ways which, at their most extreme and crudest, led to the Nazi ideology as Hitler enunciated it, and as the German people subsequently accepted it.
Again it needs to be stressed that this could not have happened were it not for the demoralizing effects of the First World War and the Great Depression that followed. The role of the intellectuals in these complex processes of creation, distortion and political application of theoretical ideas, I have studied in my latest publication entitled The Triumph and Tragedy of the Intellectuals.
ET: We are all familiar with the destructive results of revolutionary communism, particularly as it matured under full totalitarianism under Stalin and Mao. However, there were other political thinkers which advocated a much more subversive approach for the implementation of communism in the West, such as Gramsci for instance.
Shocked that during World War I workers ended up fighting other workers instead of the “maleficent” bourgeois, these thinkers reasoned that this was because Europeans were too conditioned by their own nationalism, families and religion – all of which broadly formed the basis of their civilization. So to achieve communism these institutions had to be eradicated from society, not necessarily by force like in Russia or China, but by progressive infiltration and ideological replacement of the media, education, politics, unions and even the religious institutions themselves.
However, European political elites post-Second World War also supported the replacement of these institutions in society by the state, or more specifically, the superstate which is now known as the European Union. So there was a curious confluence of interests in this process, all under the guise of eliminating the “evils” that supposedly led to the disasters of twentieth century Europe and creating a more egalitarian society. What are your thoughts here?
HR: Marxism is a very broad church which can accommodate a huge variety of thinkers, social movements and political parties. Some of these were close to the political ideology of Russian Bolshevism, whereas others were far removed from it and closer to the enlightenment ideas of Marx himself, at least in his early humanistic works. Where a thinker like Gramsci stands in this Marxist line-up is difficult to determine, because he wrote his works in the relative “freedom” of Mussolini’s jail, where he was not subject to the immediate Comintern pressure; but at the same time he had to write in code and could not express himself openly on all issues. Had he escaped to Moscow, as his colleague, the later Italian leader Togliatti did, he would have been compelled to become a Stalinist and could not have developed his ideas. Much later, Gramsci’s ideas became the basis of the Italian Communist Party, and thereby of Euro-Communism.
As Euro-Communism demonstrates, there is nothing in Marxism as such that precludes it from being tolerant and accepting towards religion, family and other such personal traditional values, even though in fact, most Marxists were atheists. However, some Christians were Marxists, including those within the Catholic Church itself who preached liberation ideology or took part in worker-priest movements. The relation between Marxism and Christianity is an extremely complex historical issue that went through many phases from outright hostility to mutual accommodation.
The role of the state in relation to traditional values, social institutions and culture in general is an overwhelming topic that can only be treated in a book-length work. By the state, we mean, of course, the nation-state, the prevalent European form. Prior to the First World War, the nation-state had by and large a positive social and cultural effect. It enabled new nations to flourish, particularly Germany and Italy, and led to national revivals throughout Europe, especially in the East. But at the same time, the nation state was a militaristic institution that led to the disasters of the First World War and what followed with the totalitarian states, the very worst manifestation of the nation-state.
Since the Second World War, the state in Western Europe has become increasingly a welfare state. It has had some remarkable successes but also incurred some failures. Its greatest achievement has been to bring about a considerable degree of economic social justice, especially in class-ridden societies like Britain. The kind of grinding poverty prevalent before the First World War is now no longer in evidence.
On the other hand, state education seems to have been largely a failure and has led to considerable miseducation in many respects: in the case of schools for the poor being barely able to instill the rudiments of the three Rs (“Reading”, “Writing” and “Arithmetic”). In Britain, private schools and the ancient universities are still the bulwarks of the class system. Of course, there are some European countries, generally the smaller ones, where state education has achieved a much better outcome.
The inception of the European Union has so far neither improved nor worsened this general condition to any great extent. Imposing a single model for all of Europe in some respects, such as in university education, is very likely a backward step. On the other hand, enabling regions with ethnic or cultural minorities to partially escape the iron grip of the nation-state is a positive step. Much more could be said about this of course.
ET: In addition to developing its own brand of destructive political philosophies, the West unleashed upon the world the Forces of Modernity, as you call them. These are generally perceived as an extension of Western Civilization, but you contend that they are now destroying it. Can you describe these forces and why they are problematic for civilization?
HR: By the term “Forces of Modernity” I mean the crucial economic, political, cognitive and technical respects, according to which nearly all societies in the world are now organized and managed, namely modern capitalism, the modern state, science and technology.
These arose unequivocally only in the European West from approximately 1500 onwards. There were other variants of these both in the Greco-Roman world and in other non-Western civilizations, particularly in China, but they do not approach what Europe achieved in these respects. The causes that made Europe alone to embark on this course, which during the nineteenth century was called “Progress”, are many and varied and are generally disputed among the major theorists on these matters, such as Marx, Weber and many subsequent thinkers. We no longer regard it as progress in any ameliorative sense, for we recognize its many drawbacks and consequences that are inimical to civilization.
During the nineteenth century up to the First World War, the Forces of Modernity were still largely in keeping with the main trends in Western Civilization, especially in America. But in non-Western societies they were having a disastrous effect on all the still surviving civilizations. Their introduction undermined traditional authorities, religions, cultures and values. They gradually prevailed all over the world, either being imposed by colonialism or through the desire to ward off colonialism by emulating the Western powers. America forced Japan to open its doors and accept the Forces of Modernity, and when the Japanese realized they had no choice about it they did so very successfully. It was a much more fraught and conflict-ridden matter in China and the Ottoman Empire.
In the West itself, the situation began to change drastically following the First World War. The nature of this war and all subsequent ones was the direct outcome of the development of the Forces of Modernity in all European societies during the nineteenth century. The huge expansion of the state power since the French Revolution, the introduction of universal conscription and a state sanctioned education system provided millions of trained and ideologically enthused soldiers ready to sacrifice themselves at the behest of their nation state. The vast expansion of mass production that capitalism brought about enabled such mass armies to be armed, equipped and supplied for many years. Science and technology invented new weapons for mass slaughter and new machines of war, some already developed before the war, but many arising out of war-time research itself. The world has made enormous progress in these respects since and it is possible that the latest discoveries and inventions will bring civilization to an end and perhaps wipe out humanity itself. It almost happened a number of times, and it was only sheer luck that saved us in the nick of time.
This is where the Forces of Modernity have brought us. But at the same time, humanity cannot do without them, for only the combination of capitalism, the state, science and technology can provide for, order, control and organize the mass of humanity, swollen to huge numbers, now inhabiting the world, without completely despoiling the natural environment and bringing disaster in another way. This is at least our hope and what we must endeavor to achieve.
ET: And the outcome of these forces is “globalization”? If they prevail, how does a post civilization world looks like?
HR: What we now call globalization is a condition where the Forces of Modernity are prevailing in all societies all over the world; they are becoming increasingly more integrated precisely through the prevalence of these forces. We are increasingly being faced with a uniform and homogenous world, in which all particularities and identities are gradually being eroded. This bodes ill for social relations, for cultures, for spiritual aspirations, for individuality, indeed for everything that civilizations offered in the past to make human life meaningful. There is still a long way to go before any such negative conditions might eventuate, for there is still much left of the old civilizations, especially Western Civilization and its cultural heritage. There is no inevitability about any outcome and much we can do to forestall the worst.
Nevertheless, we must now recognize that humanity is now entering a new and dangerous historical condition unlike any of those it ever encountered in the past. It is no longer a matter of one civilization falling, to be replaced by another, such as happened when Europe arose after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Now all civilizations are endangered and none can survive as autonomous, independent entities as in the past. It is in this sense that we are now moving to a historical stage that is beyond civilization.
This does not mean that we must abandon any further thought of civilization. On the contrary, we must do all we can to save what is left of civilization and prevent it from vanishing completely, as is now happening. This will require a coordinated human effort on the part of all major societies in the world. Whether this will ultimately succeed or fail or what the future holds for a globalized humanity is, of course, for us unpredictable.
Hence, I have no idea what a post-civilizational world will look like, except to surmise that unless some way is found to counter the worst of the present trends towards soulless uniformity, it will not be a world which I would like our children and grandchildren to inherit.
ET: But by suppressing European identities, national democracies and centralizing political power, isn’t the European Union an offshoot of those Forces of Modernity? As such, do the British people have a point in saying that getting out in the recent referendum is a necessity to regain their country and even their culture back?
HR: I do not altogether agree that the European Union is “suppressing European identities, national democracies, and centralizing political power.” I hold that it is a far more limited undertaking made necessary by the collapse of Europe after the Second World War, the Cold War and since then, by the ever increasing economic competition from the new giants of Asia, first Japan, then China and now India emerging as a global power.
In response to such multiple pressures, and with the encouragement of America, Europe did move towards economic and, to a limited extent, political integration, starting with France and Germany and bringing in more and more countries, eventually after the fall of Communism also those of Eastern Europe. But how far it will proceed is not yet decided. Everything in Europe’s past speaks against a “United States of Europe”. But that need not forestall a very open European common market with considerable labor mobility. There are centripetal forces for unity and centrifugal forces for dispersion: how these opposed tendencies will work themselves out in the future is also impossible to predict.
Thus far, I believe, the benefits have been considerable and the adverse consequences as yet not disastrous. This could reverse itself if the Mediterranean countries in the Eurozone prove unable to escape the poverty trap of a strong currency that prevents them devaluing and trading their way out of trouble. Their present levels of unemployment, especially among the young, are unsustainable. On the other hand, incorporating and integrating the former communist countries of Eastern Europe has been an enormous achievement, but one that has also had some unintended bad consequences for other countries in Europe.
The free movement of labor that brought millions of Eastern Europeans, especially Poles, into Britain was undoubtedly one of the main causes for the working-class revolt and vote for Brexit. The open-borders policy that brought a million refugees from the civil wars in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as economic migrants from all parts of Africa and Asia in an uncoordinated and uncontrolled flow was obviously mismanaged. This gave many Europeans, including those who were less affected, a fright. It was such a concatenation of incidental factors that had unexpectedly arisen in the last few years that brought Brexit about, rather than any thought-through dissatisfaction with the European Union. Cameron should never have allowed the matter to be decided by one referendum. It was a political misjudgment on his part.
I predict – always a foolhardy matter – that the effects of Brexit will be far smaller than those who advocate it wish. Theresa May and Angela Merkel, two very astute politicians, will reach a deal whereby Britain will remain close to Europe and any disruptions minimized on both sides. This could easily go awry if there is a huge exodus of multinational firms from Britain sinking the British economy; if Scotland and Northern Ireland vote for independence; or if the Conservative Party and the Labor Party break up and some other more Right wing, or, less likely, more Left wing political party comes to power. All these are possible, but, I believe, unlikely from our present point of view.
ET: As mentioned above, the state has gradually replaced the role of traditional Western institutions, a tendency which has accelerated in recent decades. As a result, there is now a complete dependency on the state to care and provide for large segments of the population, which in turn requires enormous, ever growing resources to sustain.
A byproduct of all this is a huge incentive for the misallocation of resources and even corruption, since politicians now command huge portions of the economy and society. In a democracy votes can be bought by promising all sorts of free goodies to the electorate, who in turn will never vote for anyone that will change the system they depend on, even if it is demonstrably on an unsustainable trajectory.
Has the growth of the state along these lines further corroded European values and morals? As a result, can any European government be truly reformed at this point via the ballot box?
HR: It is true that dependence on the state is increasing in European countries and that states are consuming a considerable proportion of their society’s resources. But the reasons for this vary and are not the same everywhere. The two most contrasting countries are Sweden and Greece.
Sweden is the great success story of the Welfare State and its effects on society. A century ago, it was a poor country, but in the course of the twentieth century it has gone from strength to strength, economically, socially and politically. High taxation rates have not affected its productive capacity; its firms flourish as never before. Its political system is a byword for democracy and popular consultation. Corruption is minimal.
Greece is just the opposite in all these respects. Apart from exploiting its sunshine, beaches, and building hotels, it has failed to develop economically. Tax evasion is rife. The state has been completely mismanaged, as political parties vied with each other by bribing the electorate with borrowed funds. Corruption is rife. Now the country is bankrupt and will most probably never fully recover.
Most European countries are somewhere between these two extremes; generally the further north they lie the closer they are to the Swedish model; the further south, closer to the Greek one. For those in the south, how to achieve reforms so as to make the economy more productive, increase work participation and bring expenditure to affordable limits is the big problem. Resistance to reforms, as evidenced most recently in the strikes and riots in France, is fierce from those that wish to hold on to what they have and fear losing it.
These are the fundamental concerns that will determine whether the European Union survives or goes under. They are the kinds of issues that are prominent in every major capitalist society. America has to face analogous problems due to departure of industries, outsourcing and the influx of illegal migrant labor.
The backlash from the working class and sections of the middle class is what partly accounts for the popularity of Trump. Trumpery is the direct outcome of the degeneration of American Civilization and the decline of its political culture which is now all pervasive. Another recession would bring the overheated political situation to the boil with very dangerous consequences.
ET: The most advanced – or civilized – countries in the world have the lowest birthrates. In recent years Germany (along with other beacons of civilization like Japan and Singapore) has had birthrates even lower than China with its draconian one-child policy. Is civilization bad for babies, or is something else at play here?
HR: The truth of the matter is that high standards of living and female emancipation are responsible for low birth-rates. The more educated women become and the more economically independent, the fewer babies they tend to have. Hence, countries with high birth-rates, such as India, those of the Muslim world and Africa south of the Sahara urgently need to educate and emancipate their women, for otherwise the pressures of population growth will be too much for them to cope with in the long term.
It is only in highly developed countries, such as Europe, Japan, America, and now also China that low birth-rate is a problem. It is a measure of their productivity and success in managing the Forces of Modernity. It has nothing to do with civilization as such.
Various solutions will have to be tried in addressing this problem. Immigration from poorer, overpopulated areas was, until recently, the favored option, as this provided cheap labor power. But that is increasingly becoming less of an option, as recent events have demonstrated. Japan has refused to accept mass immigration all along and is taking the technological route to maintaining productivity. Raising the retirement age is another partial solution.
Lower birthrates might be bad for these countries in the present, but it is good for the world as a whole. Ultimately, the human population cannot just increase without limit; it must sooner or later reach its maximum possible level, and gradually begin to decline.
ET: As you point out, several European governments have opened their borders and welfare systems to mass immigration, particularly from the Third World. The hope is that they will help pay those burgeoning state bills over time. After a few decades these inflows now account for a sizeable percentage of their populations, and particularly so in the larger cities.
Some immigrant communities have brought very different cultures with them, and as their numbers grew this created many social tensions within European societies. Responses to this have differed by country, but a general tendency towards “multiculturalism” is now observable throughout much of the Old Continent. Sweden even made it part of its constitution.
But by definition multiculturalism means the dilution of a nation’s own culture. In fact, liberal Europeans can’t seem to get rid of it fast enough these days. Irrespective of any benefits associated with immigration, is this seemingly unstoppable migration wave and the resulting transformation of Europe’s cultures a symptom or cause of the present demise of Western Civilization?
HR: To answer the last part of this complex question first, the mass immigration of people, generally from the Muslim world, is neither a symptom nor a cause of the present plight of European civilization. It proceeds in the first place from factors internal to the Muslim world itself; from the failure of the Muslim world to modernize, that is, to introduce and institute the Forces of Modernity in a way that is acceptable to and consonant with their culture. Neither capitalism, nor the rational-legal state, nor science, nor technology functions at all well in Muslim countries, with very few partial exceptions. The inability of these countries to modernize, indeed, the opposition to modernization, has produced all the manifestations of lack of development, instability, corruption and civil war. This, coupled with a high birth rate, generates tens of millions, possibly as many as a hundred million, mainly young people who are eager to migrate to the developed world, and Europe is their nearest and easiest destination.
Until now, Europe has been willing to accept them for many reasons. The primary reason has been economic; a young workforce of immigrants was desirable when Europe was growing at a rapid rate. The other reasons had more to do with Europe’s post-Second World War adhesion to enlightened values of liberalism, anti-racism, providing refuge for victims of intolerance and ultimately a belief in multiculturalism, namely, in all the respects in which Europe had failed prior to the war.
The absorption of those who had already arrived over the past half century or so has not proved easy, especially in a climate of economic decline when jobs have become scarce. Apart from these factors, there has been a tendency among many of these new arrivals to settle in ghettoes, where they maintain their own cultural patterns, some of which are at odds with the prevailing host cultures, especially in such matters as the treatment of women. This has led to mutual misunderstanding and resentment. Given satisfactory economic conditions, the readiness of accommodation and compromise on both sides, such problems might in time be overcome. However of late the situation has become critical due to the rise of militant Islam and the resultant civil wars in most Muslim countries. This has generated hordes of refugees and even larger numbers of economic migrants who look to life in Europe as the only chance they will ever have, because they completely despair of their own societies. If Europe continues to practice uncontrolled entry, it will be overrun in no time, with all the adverse consequences of social unrest and illiberal regimes arising.
The only solution to this staggering global problem is two-fold. On the one hand, Europe will have to bite the bullet and adjust its liberal principles, so as to reduce immigration to numbers it can absorb, as my own country, Australia, has done. On the other hand, Europe will have to tackle the problem at its source – in the Muslim world itself. Pacification, development, a brake on corruption and general enlightenment are the fundamental measures Europe will have to promote and be willing to spend the resources necessary. In the long term, this will prove cheaper than letting the current situation fester.
ET: America has always been regarded as the great hope for Western Civilization – indeed, even its prime driving force post Second War War. But you argue that “Americanism” is destroying American civilization. What do you mean by this?
HR: America escaped the civilization-destroying onslaught of totalitarianism that ravaged Europe, Russia, China and other parts of the world. In fact, America profited from the self-inflicted destruction of Europe to emerge as the leading world power in all respects. However, America has not escaped the civilization-reducing propensity of the Forces of Modernity, which it had itself developed and brought to a pitch of perfection.
Thus, American capitalism has been a tremendous success in terms of production, the generation of wealth and the rise of the standard of living of its own people, as well as all those, such as Europeans, where the American-promoted global market operated. There is no known economic system that leads to greater and more rapid GDP growth than American capitalism. China has had to learn this painful lesson after Mao.
However, there has been a high cost to pay in cultural and social terms for this tremendous economic success. American capitalism is the goose that lays the golden egg, but in the process it generates plenty of crap that somehow has to be cleaned up. This has been so in America itself, as well as in the rest of the world where American capitalism has operated, eventually almost everywhere after the Second World War.
Most of the social and cultural problems that America has had to face, especially after the Second World War, can be traced directly or indirectly to its economic success. For example, the social integrity and cultural cohesion of its cities was destroyed by the huge influx of rural migrants when its industries were booming, especially during and after the Second World War. This, in turn, led after the war to the exodus of the middle class from the cities to the burgeoning suburbs, which completely hollowed out city centers. When industries declined, this produced inner-city impoverishment and, even worse, the creation of racial ghettoes. The social problems that these ups and downs of capitalism caused are now all but insuperable.
Culturally, much damage was done by the huge advertising industry that was a necessary adjunct to mass production. It promoted a hedonistic life-style of envy, exhibitionism, status flaunting and other kinds of behaviors, which were formerly considered vices, or at least bad manners. Thus, the moral fiber of American people was weakened and in extreme cases, such as in respect of the Protestant work ethic, it was corrupted.
The Culture Industry dispensing mass entertainment and the media in the hands of big moguls, whose only interest was profit and nothing else, also played a role in the stupefaction of the American public. How this was achieved through free-to-air television is something that a number of major studies have demonstrated. Little wonder that the TV set was referred to in common parlance as the idiot box. One could continue this catalogue of adverse consequences of capitalism almost indefinitely.
This is how “Americanism”, of which capitalism is a most prominent part, is destroying American civilization. One could similarly study other aspects of “Americanism”.
ET: Like their European counterparts, Americans are also becoming increasingly dependent on the state. US government spending is projected to reach stratospheric levels in the not too distant future driven by primarily by healthcare and social expenditures. Federal debt has doubled in each of the last two administrations, and is now over 100% of GDP. Is this also a symptom of civilizational decay?
HR: The rise of the federal debt to over 100% of GDP is due to many causes, most of which are a combination of economics and politics, which has little to do with civilizational decay. However, even if these problems were overcome and expenditure reduced to more tolerable levels this may not necessarily matter to civilization, which is largely a cultural issue.
The main factor driving the federal debt is the diminution of the tax base due to the rapid erosion of American industry, which in the past generated well-paid full-time employment. Now the poor, even when they have work, pay little or no tax. The very rich have also found ways, legal, semi-legal and illegal, of avoiding tax. Hence, the tax burden is being born increasingly by a shrinking middle class. Wholesale tax reform is mandatory, but that cannot be carried through for political reasons. Vested interests of all kinds have a stranglehold on Congress and the major parties are usually in deadlock on this matter.
It is also the case that social expenditure is growing, because casual jobs and low minimum wages can no longer afford a living for poor people without aid from the state. Healthcare expenditure is also growing, because people live longer and because modern medicine is becoming increasingly more costly.
I do not believe that all these major difficulties are insoluble, given decisive political leadership. This is, however, lacking at present for reasons that I cannot go into in this context. Hence, though the burden need not be left to future generations to bear, given things are as they are at present, it most probably will be.
ET: What role do declining education standards play in all this? The US strikingly lags the developed world in academic achievement below the graduate level. And it’s their young who will end up footing the bill for all that government largesse.
HR: The declining education standards in America are, indeed, both a symptom and a cause of the decline of American Civilization. Before the Second World War, American schools and universities were among the best in the world. They continued to function extremely well for a period after the Second World War. Then the schools began to fail and some decades later, so, too, did the universities.
The rot in the schools began with the so-called “life adjustment movement” based very loosely on the educational philosophy of Dewey. From then on, for a majority of American youth, schooling became at best a social and not a learning experience. As the social critic, Richard Hofstadter in his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, published in 1963, pointed out: what this approach aims to do (and here I quote from memory) is not for students “to become a disciplined part of the world of production and competition, ambition and vocation, creativity and analytic thought, but to teach them the ways of the world of consumption and hobbies, of enjoyment and social compliance – to adapt to the passive and hedonist style summed up by the significant term adjustment”. At the same time, what was taking place in the blackboard jungles of the inner city schools was much worse than that. All this was aggravated by the poor salaries of teachers relative to other professions and the lack of respect for the work they were doing. This made teaching a last resort as a career choice, into which mainly women were pushed.
In the universities, things did not begin to go bad until the late 1970s. Having poorly prepared students to work with, much of university courses had to be devoted to remedial teaching. The student insurrections of the previous period made university teaching something of a hazardous profession, and teachers naturally preferred to placate students rather than challenge them intellectually. High grades became the norm. The effect of this was felt much more severely in the humanities and social sciences than the natural sciences and the professional faculties. Increasingly fewer students chose to study humanities and social science subjects. Many of these were undermined by the “radical” theoretical fashions and the rise of various kinds of “critical” studies that catered to narrow self-selected groups, made up of those whose mind was closed and no longer open to real critical debate.
All these deleterious intellectual developments are apart from the sheer economic fact that universities charge increasingly high fees, especially the elite schools, which only the very rich can afford. But the bulk of that extra income is being spent not on teaching and research, but on administrative costs, as students are being provided with all kinds of life-style services, and as the general bureaucratization of the university grows in leaps and bounds. Officials now outnumber professors.
Nevertheless, the good American universities are still the best in the world. They are attracting the wealthiest, though not necessarily the best students from all over the world. But for how long this situation will continue remains to be seen.
ET: Technology appears to play a role here as well. For instance social media, instant messaging and all the rest create an environment where we feel we are much less effective and productive. We can only imagine how young students struggle to concentrate on learning anything these days.
This reminds of how the use of lead in plumbing and all types daily artifacts poisoned many Roman leaders, to the point of where perhaps they completely made the wrong decisions on where their society should be heading. Could technology be the twenty first century equivalent? This might explain some of the seemingly irrational decisions of Western societies of late…
HR: The parallel you draw between lead plumbing in the Roman world and modern technology is a good one, except that lead poisoning was probably not as prevalent as some of the poisonous effects of some modern technologies. One of the most beneficial technologies in our societies has, indeed been plumbing, largely introduced in the nineteenth century. It is likely that plumbers and sanitation workers have done more for human health and well-being than doctors. This is evident in Third World countries, where the building of drains and toilets should be given higher priority than the building of hospitals.
In short, some technologies, often very simple ones, have been extraordinarily beneficial. But this is not true of all technologies. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to distinguish between good and bad technologies before they have been introduced. Every technology that is taken up on a large scale serves as a social experiment; it transforms the whole of society in ways that are unpredictable in advance, for it always has unintended consequences either good or bad that cannot be foreseen.
We have learnt this lesson in nearly every case and even more so with advanced technologies. The introduction of the private motorcar on a mass scale gave people unparalleled freedom of mobility, but it also had all kinds of far from desirable consequences. It polluted the air. It destroyed public transportation. It enabled people to desert the cities, which became hollowed out shells, and so on for countless other effects, among which, moral puritans will argue, was the loss of sexual restraint among the young. How one balances the good and bad consequences is an extremely difficult issue of judgment. But it is now too late to do much about it, as the car is here to stay.
It is similar, though perhaps even more complex, with the new information technologies. This, too, is a massive social experiment, the results of which might not be known for a few generations. The benefits of computers, the Internet, social media, etc. are obvious and are being touted by all those with a vested interest in the matter: by the computer and software manufacturers, by their advertisers, the media and by state agencies, including by many education authorities who should not have been as eager to embrace these new technologies. This has been going on for nearly a generation. And already some adverse unintended consequences are becoming apparent, especially among children.
Perhaps the most dangerous of these are changes in brain function starting to appear among children who are heavy computer users. These children and youth are still too young to make any “of the irrational decisions of Western society”, but one day they will be in a position to do so. What future generations of children brought up on computers will do as adults cannot be now predicted. But we should be careful how we handle the social changes which will ensue.
It is evident even now that computers have not fulfilled their promise in education, for there are strong indications that they have been detrimental to some kinds of learning. If this can be conclusively demonstrated, then the removal of computers from schools, or their restriction to special technical centers might be one drastic move to be contemplated. This is obviously a huge issue, which will continue to be debated for the remainder of this century as more of the long-term effects become apparent.
ET: Looking at the bigger picture now, so what if Western Civilization is going the way of the dodo? We have had peace and progress over the last five decades. The nefarious Soviet Union was vanquished in the interim. And globalization and technology have brought new opportunities and interactions. Investors seem to believe in that, given that the US stock market is at record highs while global bond yields near record lows. It seems all is good…
HR: It is true, human life continues regardless of the state of human civilization. It might even be said that life is becoming better and better for greater numbers than ever before. Standards of living are rising and will continue to improve for people in their billions all over the world. The Chinese have lifted themselves out of poverty. Now it is the turn of the Indians, after that there will be others as well. The world is at peace as never before. I am not unduly troubled by the few incidents of terrorism that are so exaggerated by the media, or even by the few sputtering civil wars. So who needs civilization? Isn’t life better off without it?
Unfortunately, things are not as rosy when we look at the global situation as a whole. Many of the major problems of humanity are no nearer to being solved. The issue of nuclear annihilation still hangs in the balance; we could still destroy ourselves through some political miscalculation or some technical error. A clash of interests between the major powers could still bring on a global war. Our present peace is still precarious.
Global warming and all the other environmental problems are far from being solved. It is possible they will not be overcome, unless a majority of human beings change their way of life and cease to strive for ever greater levels of affluence and the possession of material goods. A new ethical orientation might be called for, drawing on the values of past civilizations, as adapted to contemporary conditions.
In brief, human life based on material considerations alone might not be sustainable in the long run. Man does not live by bread alone – not even by bread and circuses in their latest electronic form. Masses of people crammed into huge metropolises that cities are now becoming all over the world is hardly a pleasant prospect to contemplate for the future of humanity. Without civilization we are faced with the kind of brave new world scenario, outlined long ago by Huxley.
This is the reason we must strive to maintain as much of our various civilizations and their cultures as are still viable. Cultural conservation is as crucial as conservation of Nature. Indeed it is hard to envisage how the one can work without the other, as I have explained in my books.
ET: If Western Civilization is so important, what are investors missing given how far up asset prices have gone in recent years? Are they just too myopic?
HR: As far as investors go, it is not Western Civilization as a whole that is important, what is crucial for them is that the minimal norms of international affairs governing economic activity should obtain, above all, the rule of law and the security of contracts, because without that none of their investments are safe. As for human rights, that is important in so far as they do not wish to profit from slave labor or any other grossly exploitative conditions. If they are more ethically minded than that, as they should be, they should also insist that individual rights are implemented before they undertake business dealings in any country. Whether they should also insist on other freedoms is a moot point, unless they wish to be ethical investors and are prepared to forego some profit opportunities.
ET: What about the unique contributions of Western Civilization to human rights, rule of law, democracy, healthcare and general progress. Can these not be sustained and indeed enhanced with globalization?
HR: Western Civilization is the one that brought about the present conditions of humanity. It is, therefore the one most responsible for its problems and drawbacks, and the one charged with the task of remedying them. Indeed, it is the only one at present that has the capacity for doing so. The Forces of Modernity – capitalism, the state, science and technology – arose out of Western civilization, and the difficulties for humanity that they have brought about can be best understood and addressed within the context of that civilization.
An example of this fact is that it is the West that is forging the universal standards, which the whole of humanity can accept, and on the basis of which all civilizations can coexist, regardless of how they differ in other respects. The United Nations and its various agencies, the World Bank and many other such organizations, indeed the whole system of cooperating, as well as peacefully competing states, was the creation of Western Civilization, based primarily on its principles and values.
These organizations mandate a minimum of norms of international behavior that all states, regardless of their origins, must now accept, if relations between them and even meaningful communication are to be maintained. What this minimum of necessary norms is to be is the subject of interminable disputes. Americans tend to see it in the maximalist terms of their own traditions, as well as their national interests, and press for full democratization, as well as free market liberalism; other nations with other traditions and interests have naturally resisted this. Some basic human rights and the rule of law, no matter how interpreted, seem to be such basic minimal provisions for belonging to the international order. Democracy, healthcare and general progress is perhaps asking too much of many societies, which are unwilling or incapable of entertaining such things. Whether further globalization will alter this is dubious. We see this in the case of China, which has globalized at a rapid rate, but is no nearer to democracy or liberalism in most respects.
ET: In Part II of our discussion we will look at what is happening in the Chinese, Islamic, Indian and Russian spheres, and how they fit within the aforementioned trends. Anything else you would like to add before we conclude this part of our discussion?
HR: I would like to stress that my general theoretical analysis of the state of civilization and humanity be distinguished and separated from my detailed diagnosis of specific conditions and problems or my proposals for dealing with them. I stick to my theories, which I believe are correct. I am far less sure of my practical analyses. Someone agreeing with my general point of view might easily offer quite different accounts of things or solutions to problems than the ones that I suggest. I am quite prepared for such disagreements, for theory and practice do not necessarily entail each other.
Indeed, I welcome debate on the theoretical, practical and evaluative aspects of everything I have said here, or written in my books. I am sure I have made many errors and contravened many other worthy thinkers, present or past and expect that these sins will, in time, be exposed. But this can only happen if my views are subjected to the acid test of stringent criticism. Hence, I hope that it will be said of me, as was once said of another notorious writer: “his sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”
ET: Thank you very much.
PART II: THE WEST AND THE REST
E. Tavares: In Part I we discussed the ongoing decline of Western Civilization. In this Part we will talk about other major civilizations, or better put their successors, and how they relate to that process. We say successors because as you point out they have all collapsed.
Muslim Civilization disappeared with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Russian Civilization was obliterated by communist totalitarianism and the resulting millions of casualties. Likewise, the Chinese communist revolution obliterated that nation’s millennial traditions and customs by design. And Indian Civilization did not resist successive Muslim invasions.
Since all four follow a similar pattern of collapse, turmoil, transition and picking up the pieces, let’s use it to analyze each one in turn, starting with the Islamic world.
Talking about its collapse may actually sound nonsensical here since it is the fastest growing religion on the planet (by demographics, not actual conversions), we have seen the emergence of very conservative versions across many Muslim countries, including the once strongly secular Turkey, it touches Western, Russian and Chinese borders (not always peacefully) and it is a topic of robust political discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. So how can the Islamic Civilization be dead?
H. Redner: What you assert is largely true – Islam is expanding both demographically in terms of numbers and geographically in respect of the exodus of Muslims to other areas of the world beyond their countries of origin; but, at the same time, it is also the case that an Islamic civilization is no longer functioning as an autonomous entity, and if not completely dead, it is dying, as is also the case with other civilizations. This is a paradox on which Samuel Huntington floundered with his theory of a “war of civilizations”, which has been mindlessly echoed ever since his book was published twenty years ago. There is no “war of civilizations”; that which he took to be such is a very different phenomenon, which has partly to do with the paradox to which you allude. The upsurge of Jihadist movements in Muslim countries and the terrorism this has generated all over the world is an internal revolution peculiar to the people of what was once an Islamic civilization.
Islamic radical militancy has arisen because of the huge expansion of population and failure of all attempts at development, particularly economic development, in most of the Muslim sphere over the last half century, and even further back since the First World War. Jihadism is an act of desperation that many Muslims resort to in the face of constant failure and defeat. “Islam is the answer to all problems” is their motto, whereas the truth is that Islam, insofar as it holds back development, is itself part of the problem. In fact, Jihadism is sure to make the Muslim predicament worse and lead to further failures and defeats; it is a self-defeating suicidal prescription. One can only hope that Muslims abandon it and learn to face their difficulties in the modern global world more realistically and rationally.
To return on a more theoretical level to the paradox you raise, it is necessary first of all to distinguish between religion and civilization. Huntington failed to do this and largely identified the two with all the resultant confusions to which this led him. That religion is distinct from, and not to be simplistically identified with civilization, is obvious from two widespread occurrences in history: firstly, the survival of a religion where the civilization that gave birth to it has been destroyed; and secondly, the spread of a religion beyond its original civilization to various other civilizations, which is particularly the case with the so-called universal religions. Examples of the first phenomenon are such obvious cases as the survival of Hinduism when the autonomous Indian civilization was overrun by Muslim invaders over a period of almost a thousand years; or, analogously, the persistence of Greek Orthodox Christianity in the Balkans after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1454. It is true that these religions retain something from their civilizational origins, but this amounts to no more than popular culture, traditions and ceremonial practices which fall far short of constituting a coherent civilization. An example of the second phenomenon was the spread of Buddhism from India to China, Japan and most of East Asia, where very different civilizations prevailed. Christianity is an even more salient instance of a religion that at one time or another existed in almost all civilizations and is still prevalent worldwide. In the form of Nestorianism, it was present through most of Asia among different civilizations and peoples. Even the barbarians who invaded and destroyed the Christian Roman Empire were themselves Christians of the Arian heresy.
Thus the paradox dissolves itself: the spread of Islam as a religion both demographically and geographically has nothing to do with civilization and does not indicate any resurgence of Islamic civilization, which is largely defunct. Thus, Jihadi militancy and its terrorist attacks in the West are not part of any war of civilizations, but rather an outlandish tactic in an ongoing civil war within the Muslim world. It is a battle for power waged by religious ideologues who have utilized aspects of the Muslim religion, particularly those drawn from its most rigid and authoritarian sects, in order to concoct a modern political reactionary ideology, in the name of which they hope to seize power. They aim to turn the masses against their Westernizing as well as more traditionalist opponents. Terrorist outrages in Western countries are part of a propaganda campaign, what the anarchists used to call the “propaganda of the deed”, intended to win over the faithful to their cause. It is, in effect, a form of advertising, in which the Western media are utilized at no cost to spread the message. All this is part of an extremely confused struggle within Muslim societies for the hearts and minds of the masses by a number of not clearly distinguishable contenders for authoritarian power. It is not unlike what went on in Europe between the two world wars, when in many countries fundamentalist Catholic ideologies were formulated by reactionary parties in opposition to the more liberal or socialistic ones and they did succeed in seizing power in numerous Catholic countries, Spain and Portugal among others. Of course, this is only an analogy, not a complete likeness, for there are great differences between the two types of religious ideologies.
ET: Historically, Islam adopted key traits of the civilizations it has conquered over the centuries, with the Byzantine and the Persian being particular salient examples. Given the evolving demographic picture in Europe it seems likely that many societies will adopt a more Islamic political character as their Muslim populations continue to grow strongly. Could European Civilization provide a new framework for Islam to develop around, or are the two fundamentally incompatible? And where will this leave native Europeans at that point?
HR: It is true that Islamic civilization, a very late one in history, was a very mixed case, which successfully combined characteristics from a number of preceding civilizations, Byzantine and Persian in particular. Islam as a religion also modeled itself on and borrowed from many of the previously existing religions in the Middle East, especially Judaism, Christianity and Manichaeism, as well as retaining older Arabian polytheistic practices. This is, of course, firmly denied by fundamentalist Muslims who hold it as an article of faith that their religion was a divine revelation vouchsafed at one time to one man, Muhammad. Comparative religious scholarship is of a different opinion not compatible with such orthodoxy. The battle between scripture and scholarship that Christianity had to confront in the nineteenth century will most probably take place in Islam in the twenty first and twenty second centuries.
Theoretically considered, there is no reason why Islam cannot adapt itself to Modernity in the way that most Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, apart from certain fundamentalist sects in both cases, have already done so. Islam is not doomed to fundamentalism forever after; it is not an inalienable feature of the religion as such. However, in practice it has proved extremely difficult to overcome Islamic fundamentalism, because of the intolerance of the religious establishment to any departures from the authorized interpretation of the creed. The fact that many Muslims are now resident in Europe, where presumed heretics or apostates cannot be dealt with as summarily or violently as they are in Muslim countries, makes no real difference at present. Most imams and sheikhs in mosques come from Muslim countries and are trained there in the traditional orthodox way. They are not likely to allow any liberalizing departures, especially so as many mosques are funded by Saudi Arabia. If imams were educated in Western universities this might make a difference, but very few are so at present.
Western societies will not, as you put it, “adopt a more Islamic political character as their Muslim populations continue to grow”, despite doomsayers such as the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, because that would mean abandoning everything we stand for, the whole tradition of the Enlightenment. On the contrary, it is Islam which has to come to terms with the Enlightenment and its liberal developments. I do not believe that Islam and Western Enlightenment are in principle opposed, but how they are to be made compatible in practice, and what changes Islam is at present prepared to undergo to this end, is not something on which I am in a position to venture an opinion.
ET: Why do you say it is very difficult to reform Islam? European Muslims for one could threaten to “walk out” en masse if nothing changes. Even French and German political leaders have advocated developing their own domestic versions, specifically addressing some of the issues you outlined. Is this not a workable solution?
HR: Islam never experienced a Reformation or counter-Reformation such as Christianity undertook centuries ago. It never went through the Enlightenment. It has more or less remained unchanged for over a thousand years, perhaps even since the main split between the Shia and Sunnis arose. The idea that some French or German leaders might have of developing “their own domestic versions of the religion” are surely mere wishful thinking.
Changes in Islam will have to come from within Islam. And they will not emerge from the scattered diaspora communities in Europe or elsewhere, they must come from the Muslim heartland. How and when this might happen nobody can now predict. It could take centuries. It cannot even begin until there is stability and peace in the Muslim lands, and that is still a long way off.
ET: In one of your books you talk about a 100 million people “time bomb” that could go off in the Middle East, Europe, or both. What do you mean? Are European political leaders, especially on the liberal/progressive side, consciously aware of this risk?
HR: As long as there is ongoing turmoil in the whole Muslim sphere from Nigeria to Indonesia there will be millions of refugees escaping from the violence and even more economic migrants fleeing the poverty, especially in Africa. Many Muslim countries are failed states whose whole populations of tens of millions are in danger of mass starvation without extensive food aid. This is the case in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and large parts of Syria and Iraq. In such places, all those who can muster the money to pay people smugglers are on their way to Europe. People smuggling is a multi-billion dollar industry.
The number of 100 million you quote is only a rough estimate of all those who would wish to escape their countries’ troubles. Most of them at present cannot afford the huge expense involved and many are afraid to risk the hazards of the passage. But as long as Europe maintains open borders and is prepared to accept those who reach their shores, then the flow will continue. At the moment it has ceased from Turkey because of the agreement that Angela Merkel reached with Erdogan. But this could break down at any moment if the Turks make blackmailing demands. With Libya in chaos, there is no way of stopping those who cross the Mediterranean to Italy.
European political leaders did not foresee this eventuality, though there were plenty of warnings, nor did they make provisions to meet it. The danger they now face in the immediate present is not so much from the immigrants themselves, though there is some infiltration of terrorists, as from their own populations. There is bound to be a strong reaction, especially in those countries already suffering from large levels of unemployment. This could bring xenophobic far-Right parties to power, who would then proceed to stop all immigration and make life difficult for those who have already arrived. This must be prevented even at the cost of stinting on humanitarian principles which were not designed for such eventualities of mass exodus.
Migration into Europe will have to be limited and controlled through legal channels. And much more attention will have to be given to addressing the causes that bring it about. European leaders cannot afford the luxury of a hands-off attitude to what is going on in the Muslim world. They will have to intervene both with money and manpower to help alleviate the situation there. They have been far too slow and ineffective in reacting to the rise of ISIS and other such terrorist movements. They leave the main burden to the Americans to bear, and America under President Obama, who went against the advice of most of his leading officials, has let them down by not doing anything until it was too late. This has been the greatest failure of American foreign policy during the Obama reign, but the Europeans, too, must bear part of the blame for their unconcern. In their EU paradise they thought they were immune from the troubles of the rest of the world.
ET: Let’s look at Russia now. While the transition post the fall of the Berlin Wall was extremely turbulent, it seems that the old oligarchal structure largely remained in place by simply changing names. In fact one notable feature of post-Communist regimes is how the former leaders avoided justice for the crimes that had been committed, with the exception of Cambodia. To what effect has that turbulence continued to shape the political and economic landscapes in Russia to this day? Corruption for one appears to remain problematic across many levels of government.
HR: Russia is a near neighbor of Europe, so what is going on there should also be of great concern to Europeans, and, in fact, it is. However, there is not much outside powers can do about what are largely internal developments in Russia. Obviously, it would be very dangerous to meddle in the internal affairs of a nuclear superpower.
Russia has transitioned from the post-Communist chaos of the incompetence of the Yeltsin years to the authoritarian order and stability of Putin. The early post-Communist hopes for a functioning democracy and an efficient free-market economy have not been realized. Russia is not going to become a Western society, even such as it was starting to be before the First World War. The clock cannot be turned back; too much as happened over the last century to disturb and disrupt Russian society, above, all the extermination of its elites.
Putin’s Russia is an amalgamation of features from all the period of Russia’s twentieth century history. There are elements both of democracy and autocratic rule from the Czarist period. The Russian Orthodox Church is also once again asserting its spiritual and temporal power. But at the same time aspects of a highly bureaucratic and controlling totalitarian state have survived from the Stalinist period. The secret service agencies, of which Putin was once a member, exercise complete surveillance over society. They are not above using strong-arm tactics, including murder, where necessary. The economy has largely fallen into the hands of oligarchs who can keep their ill-gotten gains, provided they are compliant with Putin’s demands and in no way threaten his hold on power. This worked reasonably well as long as the price of oil and gas, the main export industries, was high. But now that it has fallen precipitously, this is bound to lead to a financial crisis for the state. How the Russian people will react to growing shortages remains to be seen, but they have usually been docile in such circumstances and stoically bear the penury that they take to be their fate.
One feature of this passivity has been the complete failure to bring to account any of those responsible for the mass crimes of the Stalin period. Even the victims who perished have by now been largely forgotten or remain un-memorialized and unremembered. For a while during the Yeltsin period there were organizations in Russia dedicated to the commemoration of the millions whose lives were taken, such as Pamyat and various other local groups. Under Putin these were discouraged, if not outright repressed. Stalin is once again hailed as one of the great rulers of Russia.
The effect has been a kind of pervasive demoralization that allows locally elected strong-men to dominate the lives of their fellow citizens and line their own pockets at their expense. This is graphically demonstrated in the 2014 Russian film “Leviathan” made by Andrey Zvyagintsev. One must assume that such corruption, both on the local and national level, in low and high places, is rife everywhere. However, the mere fact that such a film could be produced in Russia gives one some hope for the possibility of improvement.
ET: You mentioned Orthodox Christianity. It appears that it is making a comeback in the military and civil life, at least nominally. There is also a renewed emphasis on education, especially in the hard sciences. There was even talk of bringing back the descendants of the Russian czars to play some role in society. Can these efforts be successful in resuscitating traditional Russian values and culture?
HR: As the film by Zvyagintsev makes clear, the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church is fully complicit in the rule of Putin and perhaps even locally in the corruption that results. This was also the nub of the protest by the girl punk-band “Pussyriot” in a Moscow cathedral, for which misdemeanor they were given harsh prison sentences. But the restoration of the Church in Russia must be seen from a more long-term cultural perspective. It will not restore Russian civilization which is now defunct, but it might bring back genuine religious values, which are sorely lacking in Russia, as in the West. To many Russians it will give solace and religious meaning to their lives, such as Communism tried to extirpate, and this is a value in itself.
It is good if traditions of all kinds are being revived in Russia, but not if this merely serves as a cover for Putin’s autocracy, which is in some ways far worse than that of the previous czars. Hence, I doubt whether these efforts will resuscitate traditional Russian values and culture. The culture of Russia from before the First World War is beyond recovery. At that time Russia was in the forefront of most European cultural and religious endeavors. Its literature was the foremost in Europe with at least a dozen major writers whose names are known to all literate people throughout the world. It is perhaps less known that their theologians were also highly creative and influential, names such as Berdyaev, Soloviov and Shestov are perhaps still remembered, and there were many more.
Education in the hard sciences or any other purely academic discipline is not going to restore that kind of a culture. Nevertheless, basic levels of education have always been high in Russia even in Stalin’s time. I do not have sufficient knowledge to be able to comment on the direction that education is taking under Putin. I do not know to what extent Russians are still producing significant scientific work, but it is a long time since the Nobel Prize went to a Russian, so I have my doubts about that.
ET: There is a centuries’ old debate on whether Russia is European, Asian or a unique combination of the two. Could a renewed Russian culture finally make a choice and absorb traditional elements of Western Civilization, as it withers away in Europe and elsewhere? Or will it also succumb to the Forces of Modernity as you alluded to in our prior discussion, or worse, the reemergence of political totalitarianism / authoritarianism?
HR: Russia is a mixed civilization. Its basis is Byzantine, of which it was the sole survivor after the Ottoman conquests. During the long medieval period of Mongol overlordship it also absorbed Asian elements, especially features of oriental despotism in its form of government and administration. However, at least since the reign of Peter the Great early in the eighteenth century, it has steadily been Europeanising. By the early nineteenth century its aristocratic ruling class was fully European in all respects. During the nineteenth century it developed a European-style intelligentsia. By the twentieth century prior to the First World War, Russia had become an integral part of European civilization, even though its peasant masses were still barely educated. Then the Bolshevik revolution brought this whole civilizational development to an end.
The Bolsheviks, especially under Stalin, furthered two contradictory courses. On the one hand, they were intent on education in the Western style, though focused narrowly on the sciences, and they did succeed in making basic literacy almost universal. However, as opposed to this, they also promoted a cult of the ruler, Stalin, that was almost oriental in its obeisance. This was combined with Russian xenophobia at its most intense. Both these courses were destructive of civilization, as this had flourished prior to the Revolution.
As intimated previously, Russia cannot simply go back a century to before everything went wrong. Under Putin, it is restoring various aspects of its authoritarian past, both Czarist and Communist, and this is obviously the wrong course for it to take. How long Putin will continue in power and who might take over after him is unpredictable. Another leader could change course and begin to move Russia out of its current malaise, but that, if it ever eventuates, might be a long way off.
ET: With what’s going on in the Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and elsewhere relations between the West and Russia appear to be at a post-Cold War low. It seems that Western leaders have given up fostering deeper commercial, political and social ties that could eventually accelerate that cultural transition, and instead are stepping up defenses against a more resurgent Russia. What outcome do you see here? Are we at the onset of a new Cold War?
HR: All this is a power play in which Russia has gained some minor advantages, for which it will pay dearly in the future. Its forays into the Ukraine, particularly the seizure of the Crimea, have the consequence that it will have a permanent enemy on its border – that is, provided the West ensures that the Ukraine does not collapse, and in this respect the Europeans have a major role to play. Its incursion into Syria was made possible by President Obama’s refusal, against the advice of most of his leading officials, to lend a hand to the rebels before ISIS emerged, which would have almost certainly unseated Assad. The Russians have ensured that Assad will stay in power, but they cannot enable him to recover the whole country. Hence the civil war will go on till both sides are utterly spent and exhausted and then a ceasefire will ensure in a divided land to which peace will never return. The Russians do not stand to gain much out of that, but they will keep their bases on the Mediterranean.
The idea of a new Cold War is far-fetched. Russian is not the old Soviet Union with all its satellites as part of a worldwide Communist movement. It is a poor country reliant on oil and gas exports to the West, which it cannot afford to forfeit. Nevertheless, it must not be pushed back to the brink for it still is the second nuclear power. The West must also beware of pushing it into the arms of China in some kind of Eurasian league that China is now promoting with its Silk Road economic development scheme in Central Asia and adjacent regions. This is where the greater danger lies for the West, for China could eventually become the dominant power throughout much of Asia and be in a position to challenge America elsewhere in the world. But this is still a long way off and does not necessarily mean that a new Cold War is bound to ensue.
ET: China’s transition was much smoother than Russia’s. You describe it as having reached a post totalitarian state. What do you mean by this?
HR: China’s transition out of totalitarianism was certainly much better managed than Russia’s. To spell out the reason for that would call for a lengthy comparative analysis of the two, which I am in no position to undertake here. A few brief points can be mentioned however. China remained unified and did not disintegrate as the Soviet empire did. China did not attempt to achieve both free market capitalism and democracy at once; in fact, it never aimed for democracy at all. China remained under one party rule with sound political leadership which was a great advantage in managing the economic transitions. Deng Xiao Ping was no drunken oaf like Yeltsin, and neither were the subsequent Chinese leaders pugilists like Putin.
Totalitarianism is over in both China and Russia, though authoritarianism is rampant. China, of course, always remained a one-party state and under the current leadership of Xi Jinping the degree of authoritarianism is increasing. But there are crucial differences between authoritarianism and totalitarianism, the latter is based on revolutionary ideologies that seek to transform all of society and to conquer the world, which is not the case with the former. After Mao, China ceased to be totalitarian and it is unlikely that it will ever return to totalitarianism again. Nobody in China still believes in the official Communist ideology, which remains purely as a ceremonial element. The same argument holds for Russia as well.
ET: Mao was hugely successful in destroying traditional Chinese culture, to the point where it seems unlikely that it could ever make a real comeback. Still current leaders are advocating a return to Confucian values, especially as a way to counter endemic corruption and also deal with the loss of identity brought about by rapid social and economic changes. More skeptical commentators however claim that this is merely a ploy to consolidate power. What do you make of this?
HR: The revival of Confucian values and the general restoration of religious traditions in China is not just “a ploy to consolidate power”, it is much more than that, though it does to some extent legitimate the rule of the party and the position of its leader as a kind of secular emperor. Its main purpose is to repair the damage Maoism caused to society, especially during the so-called Cultural Revolution. As well as that, it is also intended to prevent China lapsing into a purely market society where people are only intent on material well-being and wealth, as is at present the case in Hong Kong. Deng Xiao Ping said, “it is glorious to be wealthy”, but subsequent leaders realized that the pursuit of wealth alone will lead to an atomized and demoralized society. Hence, they encouraged the revival of nearly extinct Chinese cultural traditions and every kind of religion, provided that it is under government control. Those that threatened to escape their control, such as the Falun Gong sect, they banned and ruthlessly suppressed. This is more or less the policy that will continue in China.
The problem of widespread corruption is one of the most serious that China has to face. I believe that it is doubtful whether it can be eliminated by purely authoritarian measures and condign punishments such as Xi Jinping is introducing, though it will be temporarily lessened. At the same time, he is using the anti-corruption campaign to remove rivals to his power, which tend to breed cynicism as to his ultimate aim. I doubt whether much can be done about corruption short of allowing an independent judicial system free of government interference to operate and at least some degree of freedom of speech to enable a free press that can expose blatant abuses of power by officials. Short of that minimum of reform, corruption will continue to fester and limit China’s capacity to develop to a level where it can equal the West.
ET: Some Western values seem to be penetrating China, but in a rather unexpected manner: through religion. Christianity is rapidly gaining Chinese converts. They already attend church services in greater numbers than in most of Europe, and by 2030 could even overtake the US. Prof. Niall Ferguson of Harvard University believes that this is yet another confirmation of China’s ascendancy this century, as it absorbs values – in this case the Christian/Protestant work ethic – that had made the West so successful. However, unlike in Russia Chinese leaders are rather uncomfortable with this fact. What do you think will emerge out of all this?
HR: As I have previously argued, religion is not the same as civilization. The mere fact that more Chinese are becoming Christians does not mean that China is Westernizing. Christianity in China is functioning in a Chinese manner and is not like Christianity in the West. The socio-cultural context in which a church finds itself makes a huge difference to how it operates. Chinese Christians must abide by the terms set for them in China; they cannot make demands or work for the conditions of the West. If they were to step out of line and do so, they would be harshly dealt with by the authorities and incur the hatred of other Chinese. Their bishops and pastors know this and tend to tread very warily.
Hence, sheer demographic facts about the numbers of Christians in China means little about what difference this will make to China. It certainly does not mean that China will absorb other Western values or culture in general. In any case, China does not need a Protestant work ethic to make its capitalism function and neither does any other country. Weber postulated the causal role of the Protestant work ethic only in the origination of the modern capitalist system. But once such a system has come into being and shown itself to be so extremely productive, it can be copied by others without the need for any Protestant work ethic. All kinds of other means can be used to make workers work efficiently and encourage capitalists invest productively. The Japanese, Koreans, overseas Chinese and finally the mainland Chinese en masse have shown how this can be done. Now the Indians are getting in on the act and repeating the same performance also without the benefit of Protestantism.
ET: China has an odd relationship with the West. It is a major commercial partner with a substantial amount of student and population exchanges. And yet it seems like the mad rush to regain its former glory through mercantilism puts it at odds with much of the West, especially the US. Is some type of confrontation inevitable under current trends? How will Russia fit into all of this?
HR: In answering these questions much hangs on one’s willingness to make predictions about the future course of events, which neither history nor sociology can substantiate. These are not predictive sciences. Nevertheless, one can make some prognostications with a certain degree of assurance based on an analysis of the present situation and how this is likely to develop in the immediate future. To say anything about the distant future is to indulge in sheer soothsaying or prophecy or what amounts to mere guesswork.
At present it looks as if the close integration between China and the West will continue for as long as one can see ahead. Both sides have too much to gain from this relationship to break it off. Even if Trump were elected to the presidency, he could not exercise his threat to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods for that would be suicidal to the American economy and to the economy of the whole world. Nobody wants another tariff war leading to a Great Depression.
The Chinese, too, are intent on continuing their relation with the West and will do nothing to risk it for their whole course of development depends on it. They are not yet strong or advanced enough in any key respect to be able to make do without the West. Their leaders, who are no Trumps, are astute enough to know this and do not seem to be displaying any suicidal impulses. Whether China will ever attain such a massive advantage that it will be able to ditch the West is an unanswerable question about which it would be idle to speculate.
Hence, on every conceivable ground one must assume that the partnership between China and the West will continue, though the balance of power between them will gradually change. America will have to accept and adjust to the fact that as China grows stronger it will make greater demands for its share of influence and prestige in the world. It will require great foreign policy nous from American leaders to judge when and how to resist such ambitions or to accede to them. Mutual accommodation will be the name of the game.
There is no necessity or any inevitability of any ultimate confrontation between America and China, which could inaugurate a Third World War. The situation would become much more dangerous if Russia were to enter into a close alliance with China, for it is much more likely to become the loose cannon in international affairs. One can only hope that the Chinese leadership will be too wary of any such close embrace with such an unstable partner. But all this is mere speculation looking far ahead.
ET: And finally, India, touted to be the next great economic miracle. The civilizational picture there seems to be much more complex, as the country had to deal with foreign invasions (both Asian and European) over centuries, inherent difficulties in preserving its oral traditions, the loss of a substantial part of its historical territories after the formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh, rapid population growth and related environmental problems and persistent tensions with its major neighbors. How is India faring today after going through all these events?
HR: India, as American leaders are belatedly coming to realize, has a crucial part to play in balancing the growing thrust of China in Asia. But India’s growth has been very slow, partly due to bad policies and poor leadership, so it is still way behind China. It is now growing at a much faster rate, yet it will take a long time before it becomes a major power on par with the others, possibly not before mid-century.
India is an old civilization repeatedly occupied by foreign powers, at first Muslims from Afghanistan, then Muslims from Central Asia and Persia, finally the British, after they had ousted the French. It was not fully occupied and administered by the British till after the Indian Mutiny in 1857. It then became the centerpiece of the British colonial empire. It prospered under the British more than most other colonial possessions, and then, after the Second World War, it had a smooth and easy path to independence, except for its self-induced partition and the resultant wars with Pakistan. It should have done much better in its subsequent development and has lagged behind East Asia for complex reasons both social and religious, amongst which the caste system is a prominent factor.
ET: Here we can also see a political movement seeking to reestablish traditions and cultural values, particularly with regard to Hinduism. However, in the case of India you see this as being particularly problematic. Why is that?
HR: The reassertion of “Hindutva” or nationalistic Hinduism has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, it is bringing about a reinvigoration of Indian religious and cultural life, which is always a good thing in any society subject to the forces of globalization. But on the negative side, it brings with it the dangers of xenophobia and risks stirring up communal violence against India’s large Muslim and other minorities.
The recent accession of Narendra Modi at the head of the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, made many Indians and Western observers apprehensive that policies of Hindu exclusivity would prevail. But this has not happened. Modi has proved himself as competent an economic manager for all of India as he had previously demonstrated for the state of Gujarat when he was governor there. Indian growth has reached 7%, a record level for India, which had long languished in the 3% or 4% margin, and is now the highest in the world. One can only hope that this will last and that social peace, which is a basic precondition of development, can be maintained.
ET: Western values also appear to have made little inroads there, beyond the legacy of European colonialism and more recently India’s highly successful academic institutions. The knowledge of English should have been an important asset in facilitating that transfer, arguably to a much larger extent. What factors in its society have contributed to this situation?
HR: Except for a very small elite, India was never Westernized under the British. However, the British did establish some highly effective Western-style institutions, the foremost among these being a parliamentary democratic political system, a civil service bureaucracy and a small, exclusive educational establishment. Subsequent Indian regimes have maintained these, but have not succeeded in enlarging them to take in more of the nation. Democracy was preserved, but it took on dynastic features. The civil service was politicized during Indira Ghandi’s rule. A great number of new universities were created, but these were of a very low standard.
Much more widespread among the Indian masses was the English game of cricket and the English tongue. In both of these the Indians have excelled. Their mastery of English is the basis for their IT industry with its call centers in Bangalore, its publishing services and many other language-based industries. There is great room for expansion in these, especially as the Indians face little competition from the Chinese or other Asians in this respect.
ET: Perhaps with the exception of the Islamic world, which seem much more preoccupied with religious considerations than all the other ancillary civilizational aspects, leaders in all these countries are making conscious efforts to reintroduce some elements of their original culture and values. Is this an endorsement of the importance you attribute to our civilizational values and why we should preserve them?
HR: The importance of all local cultures is undeniable in the face of the threat of bland cultural uniformity emanating from the global media, from largely American produced global culture and from a globalization in general. This is especially the case where the preservation of the remnants of once flourishing civilizations is at stake. Cultural conservation in general is as important as the conservation of Nature, and both are now seriously imperiled. This is much more evident to most people in respect of Nature for they can see how the very conditions for a healthy life are being degraded. It is more difficult to see how the quality of life is being reduced, for that is not so much a physical as a moral and spiritual matter. This is the reason that ecological movements are much more active around the world than cultural movements.
What I have sought to show in my numerous books on the subject is that both are equally important, and that the one cannot succeed without the other. I will expand on that view in Part III.
ET: Well, the West appears to be in some type of tension, if not conflict, with the successors of all these civilizations. Is this more a product of it discarding its own traditional values or the emergence of a multipolar world? As the West becomes more global it expects – even demands – the same of others, at a time when they are endeavoring to reassert their cultural heritage in some shape or form, how do you see that playing out in the years ahead?
HR: The West as a civilization is not in conflict with any other civilization or its successors. It is only the West as the source of the so-called Forces of Modernity, namely, capitalism, the state, science and technology which is in tension with all civilizations, including its own Western Civilization. The world, as I have argued at length in my works, is moving towards a state beyond civilization, and that represents a great impoverishment of human life as we have known it throughout the ages. This is the real meaning of what is now called globalisation. It is a force destructive of all civilization, Western as much as any other.
At the same time, as I have also insisted, the world cannot do without the Forces of Modernity or the globalization that is ancillary to these. And there lies the peculiar paradox of humanity at present: the Forces of Modernity cannot be abandoned nor can they be unthinkingly embraced. How to deal with this paradox, how to utilize the Forces of Modernity without succumbing to them, is the problem that humanity has to work out in its future history. I do not have the answers to this conundrum and neither, I think, does anybody else. However, I do believe that I have made a small contribution to the definition of the problem.
ET: For those looking at this from an investor’s vantage point, what factors do you believe will ultimately determine the success of these four blocks in the economic sphere? Here one can certainly make the case that the absorption of some if not all of core Western civilizational aspects would be a strong plus to create future prosperity.
HR: Throughout the world, what is most conducive to economic success is internal stability. It is up to investors to determine for themselves which of the four blocks – the Muslim world, Russia, China or India – are the ones where a greater degree of internal cohesion and order will prevail in the immediate future. I have given some indication of what my own choices are, but other people might judge otherwise. Next to order, law, that is, a predictable and firmly enforced legal system, is the prerequisite for ensuring the safety and security of investments and the right to repatriate profits. Third in order of importance is the prevailing level of corruption, which can be quite high even where there is law and order.
In general, Western countries are superior in all three respects to most other non-Western ones with the exception of such places as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and a few others. However, as all investors know, where there is maximum security there is minimum profitability. To gain higher returns, investors have to take greater risks. In order to judge the degree of risk, the investors have to acquire detailed knowledge of the countries where they wish to invest and keep abreast of changing developments, which can alter drastically with great rapidity. This is particularly true of countries within the Muslim block. Turkey used to be a very safe haven to invest in, but might not be so for much longer. On the other hand, there might now be better opportunities to invest in Egypt.
Certainly, the absorption of some basic Western civilizational values would be of great benefit to all countries that wish to practice a free market economic system efficiently, for, above all, this calls for an independent judiciary and some respect for basic human rights. This need not go against local civilisational values or conflict with non-Western ethical principles, despite the demurrals of some Asian statesmen. The global economic system as a whole requires agreement on some such minimal provisions that facilitate trade and protect the rights of investors. No country can now afford to go it alone and revert to autarchy or even to mercantilist practices. If major countries were to attempt any such regressive moves, this would destroy the global economy and bring ruination to all, with all the predictable political and military consequences such as we saw in the 1930s.
ET: Thank you very much for another insightful discussion. In the third and last part we will talk about possible remedies for the West’s cultural issues and how major nations could lead the creation of a more consensual world order that can fully incorporate identities and civilizational aspirations.
This interview was first published as two separate posts by Erico Tavares on Linkedin Pulse and is republished with permission. You may not use, copy, distribute, publish, syndicate, sub-license and transmit the whole or any part of such material in any manner and in any format and/or media without the permission of the original publisher.
Link to Part 1: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/autism-interview-dr-guoping-feng-erico-matias-tavares/.
Link to Part 2: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/post-western-world-interview-prof-harry-redner-part-ii-tavares/.
Image attribution: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / /