PROGRESS AND GLOBAL POLITICS  (Fielding paper, April 1998)  p. 2 of 2


"Part I          For the first time in history global politics is both multipolar and multicivilizational; modernization is distinct from Westernization and is producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense nor the Westernization of non-Western societies." 

          In this section, the author devotes a great deal of print dispelling notions that sensible people don’t hold anyway. The emergence of multipolar and multicivilizational global politics is not in contention, nor should it be other than welcomed. US policies since World War II have been commendably focused upon increasing the economic status and political development of other nations through foreign assistance and influence in multinational bodies. It is true that since 1980, our national interest has become more narrowly defined, but to some extent that reflects the perceived growth of economic and political capacities in other parts of the world. 

          The modernization vs. Westernization issue is more complex. Huntington recognizes that the attitudes, values, knowledge, and culture of people in a modern society differ greatly form those in a traditional society.  As the first civilization to modernize, it is natural for some to assume that Western culture will become universal. Yet it is obvious that this is not the case. Japan, which received closer tutelage in modern institution building than any other country in history, retains a very strong and distinctive culture, as Huntington recognizes. The strength and distinctiveness of that culture is applauded, not just by Japanese nationalists, but by virtually anyone who values cultural diversity. The Japanese have devised their own management techniques, combining their culture with the experience of the West, and in so doing have taught us a few things about quality control and economies of the timely arrival of components of manufactures. 

          In fact, it could be argued that the strength of traditional Japanese culture is the main factor in the extraordinary pace of modernization of Japan. Some elements of a traditional culture will always resist modernization, so there is a constant tension between traditional and modern values in Japan and elsewhere, but this is very healthy. Out of this disparity can emerge a synthesis that is more efficacious than either of the contending forces. 

          The conflict between traditional and modern values doesn’t always have a favorable outcome, of course. In Egypt, Iran and Algeria, violent conflict continues between these forces. Japan may have been in some ways fortunate to have such an occupying power as tutor during much of this conflict of values. Turkey continues to struggle with the aftermath of the Ataturk reforms, having adopted the trappings of modernity before achieving the personal and institutional transformations of the modern state. 

          How are such transformations achieved? Professor Alex Inkeles, in Becoming Modern [Inkeles, 1974], identified a number of values, attitudes and beliefs that he found to change with modernization. His research in Pakistan and elsewhere found that factory employment, formal education, and exposure to mass media (the transistor radio), all had profound effects on the selected variables. His work of 30 years ago is seldom cited now, and the trail he blazed has fizzled out, but I believe we could learn a great deal about modernization in different cultural settings if we pursued further research along these lines. 

"Part II           The balance of power among civilizations is shifting: the West is declining in relative influence; Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military, and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures."         

          Goodness; Huntington sounds like the burghers of Vienna fearing the approach of Sulieman the Magnificent. Evidence of the fading of the West is found in statistics showing a decline in the territory under the political control of the West from 1900 to 1993 (what? We regret the end of colonialism?), the declining minority of the world’s population living in the West (open the frontiers; that would remedy that!), the improved health, income, and education of non-Westerners (all objectives of our foreign assistance program, whether or not it can claim the credit), and increasing shares of world manufacturing taking place in non-Western countries (Pat Buchanan laments the loss of industry; most of us prefer working in services such as the professions), and a diffusion of modern armaments throughout the world lessens the military advantage of the West (ask Saddam about that).  

          Huntington also cites a rise in indigenous cultures and the decline in the culture of the West, as evidenced by increasing rates of crime, single parent families, illegitimacy, teen-age pregnancy, drugs, etc.). These are separate issues. The increased pride in one’s own culture is surely to be applauded. The growth of indigenous universities and the consequent decline in the proportion of advanced education acquired abroad naturally leads to more vibrant local cultures.  

          An increase in the pride a society takes in its culture and traditions need not, as Huntington suggests, lead to militancy and aggressive behavior. Pride in culture took a devastating blow in Japan following the war, but its resurgence has not led to the militancy of the past. There may be a juvenile age where imperialism and aggression are likely to arise, such as America went through in its Manifest Destiny period. When a population reaches a certain level of maturity, it becomes more difficult to sell it on the glory of warfare and domination. 

          The increase in social maladies in the West, particularly in the United States, is indeed deplorable. Our society is placing increasing responsibilities and demands on people, and not everyone can meet the challenge, especially if they start off in an unhealthy environment in their infancy and childhood. Some of the ills cited by Huntington seem at the moment to be in decline, e.g. violent crime, but in general the social remedies we have sought to apply ignore the quality of the home environment of the infant, and the environmental requirements of the childhood and adolescent years when most basic human development normally takes place. Building more prisons is hardly likely to deal with the problems of people who are, as Kegan says, in over their heads. But that is the domestic policy side of the human development issue, and we are here focusing on the global. 

          Huntington notes that a religious revival is occurring in virtually each of his civilizations, but he seems particularly concerned about Islam. The Islamic Resurgence (his capitalization) he believes to be at least as significant as the American Revolution, French Revolution or Russian Revolution, and to be similar to and comparable to the Protestant Reformation. He suggests that the Islamic Resurgence is a product of and an effort to come to grips with modernization, and is characterized by urbanization, social mobilization, higher levels of literacy and education, intensified communication and media consumption, and expanded interaction with other cultures. 

          I have no problem with the notion that a revival of interest in Islam is underway, and that it is in response to the modernization process. There is, however, a distinction to be made between a revitalized Islam and the fundamentalist groups active in Algeria, Egypt and Iran. Like fundamentalists in the Christian religion, Islamic fundamentalists tend to believe in the literal truth of their holy book, a trait of people at the concrete operations level of development. The Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment that followed, involved acceptance by society of the symbolic but not the literal truth of the Bible. Although I once had a Lutheran minister attempt to explain to me how Jonah could have survived in the belly of a whale, most Western Christians, and most followers of Islam, no longer subscribe to such literal beliefs. The struggle between literal believers and symbolic believers can be viewed in human development terms. Literal belief in scriptures is typical at the concrete operational stage or below (magic/mythic). Belief in the symbolic value of scriptures is more characteristic of people at the late mythic and rational stages. (Some theologians also believe there are stages in the development of mature faith. [Fowler, 1976]) 

          This could account for the fact that the most ferocious conflicts of a religious nature are not between but within civilizations. Algeria and Egypt. Oklahoma City and Waco. 

"Part III          A civilization-based world order is emerging: societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other; efforts to shift societies from one civilization to another are unsuccessful; and countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilization." 

          Although it is demonstrably true that it is easier to cooperate with – visit, trade with, exchange students, confer – societies whose language and religion are close to one’s own, it is less certain that cultural kinship is strong enough to be the basis for a “world order,” or that the difficulties experienced by countries attempting to change alignments are primarily due to cultural issues. Huntington’s own examples, Bosnia, Turkey, and NAFTA are ambiguous. An alternative explanation may be found in stage theory.  

          In Bosnia, Huntington notes that Russia is sympathetic to fellow-Orthodox Serbs, Germany favors Christian Croat, and the Muslim states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia support the Muslim Bosnians. It is true that much popular sentiment flows along these lines, but in fact the Russians have supported UN efforts in Bosnia, the Germans have provided little material support to their co-religionists, and Muslim support for Bosnian Muslims has been mainly talk. It was largely the efforts of the United States that has so far prevented the dismemberment of Bosnia, and US backing of the Muslims in resisting the aggressions of the Serbs in particular has been crucial to the survival of the Bosnian state.  

          Huntington considers NATO to be a civilization-based alliance, and finds membership of Muslim Turkey and Orthodox Greece to be anomalies  He claims the European states are reluctant to have a Muslim state in the alliance, and especially hesitant to admit Turkey to the European Community. He fails to address, however, the reasons the Turks want to join the EC. It seems more likely that Turkish desire to join the EC is based upon their economic aspirations, and European reluctance is based upon a concern for the practice of human rights and observance of the rule of law in Turkey. Turkey is trying to make the transition into modern statehood, and the Europeans aren’t sure it has reached an acceptable level of institutional development. It is doubtful that religion enters into the calculations of either side, except at the popular level. 

          NAFTA is anathema to Huntington. He believes it to be a misguided attempt to bring a country from another civilization, the Spanish/Portuguese speaking Latin American, into the West as represented by the US and Canada. He doubts that it will work. It is an agreement favored by the political, economic and intellectual elites of the three countries, but it is neither understood nor welcomed by the common people in any of them.  

          Huntington’s view of NAFTA is quite defensible, but again there are alternative explanations, one of which can be based upon the notion of stages. The Mexican elites are very comfortable in their relations with the US and Canada, and they hope through closer association to reap economic gains which will benefit themselves and their people. US and Canadian elites similarly see economic and political gains to be made from NAFTA. The non-elites in all three countries are more likely to think of possible short-term disadvantages of the arrangement and be more reluctant to form a close association. The circle of empathy at the concrete operations stage is much narrower than at later stages. 

          Not everyone who opposes NAFTA is, of course, doing so out of ignorance or inadequate personal development. Pat Buchanan finds NAFTA a convenient target in rallying blue-collar political support. Labor unions and other workers fear the loss of jobs, and intellectuals in support of workers share that fear. They may be right about the adverse effects of NAFTA, but their reservations have more to do with ideology and class interests than with cultural animosity.  

          In this section Huntington also discusses the role of core states in civilizations. It is, he admits, sphere-of-influence politics warmed over. This is a particularly weak section in his argument because of the absence of core states in Africa, Islam, and Latin America. The core state issue does not seem to me one worth examining in more detail. 

"Part IV           The West’s universalist pretensions increasingly bring it into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China; at the local level fault line wars, largely between Muslims and non-Muslims, generate “kin-country rallying,” the threat of broader escalation, and hence efforts by core states to halt these wars." 

          Professor Huntington says the central problem in the relations between the West and other civilizations is “the West’s – particularly America’s – efforts to promote a universal Western culture and its declining ability to do so.” Three issues are cited for particular attention: 

·         The efforts of the West to maintain military superiority through policies of nonproliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and the means to deliver them;

·         Efforts to promote Western political values and institutions by pressing other societies to respect human rights as conceived in the West and to adopt Western-style democracy; and

·         Efforts to protect the cultural, social, and ethnic integrity of Western societies by restricting immigration from non-Western countries. 

          On these issues, I find myself in almost complete agreement with the author, although I’m sure I took a different road to get there. Agreement that these policies and postures on the part of the United States are irritating to non-Western countries does not necessarily mean that the policies are wrong. A strong stance against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would be admirable, if it were applied fairly and evenly around the world. When, however, the US takes military action against Iraq for violating UN resolutions concerning such weapons, and ignores Israel's defiance of UN resolutions and refusal to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, our stance becomes self-serving and hypocritical. 

          US attempts to promote democracy and our version of human rights in non-Western countries is a more complicated issue, even if the policies were applied indiscriminately. Two important considerations tend to be ignored: stage of development and cultural traditions.  In many countries of the world, it would be disastrous to introduce democracy and the freedoms incorporated in the Bill of Rights. The average person in these countries is not prepared by tradition or by individual maturation to exercise the franchise effectively. Voting becomes an expression of sectarian, religious, or tribal identity, tends to exacerbate social divisions, often is corrupted, and not infrequently leads to violence. Some means are needed to prevent oppression, particularly by one group over another, but the simplistic application of the one-person one-vote type of democracy is often not the answer. The Lebanese, despite their sorry recent experience, devised a form of democracy in which all sixteen major sects were proportionately represented. The system was carefully balanced, and could not adjust to the large influx of armed Palestinian refugees from Israel and Jordan in the early 1970s, but worked admirably before becoming unbalanced [Smock, 1975]. 

          Other countries, such as Singapore and Indonesia, have made remarkable progress in per capita income, education and health status, and popular participation in national affairs under the control of strong national leaders. Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew may by now have stayed around too long, but their historic accomplishments in raising the educational and income levels of their people will, I think, one day be recognized here as well as in their own countries. Singapore started from a higher base of human development than Indonesia, largely due to British rule, but the accomplishment of the economic and social policies in place there during the short two generations of independence should be the marvel of the world. Instead, we are more likely to carp about the absence of the freedom to spit on the sidewalk.  

US attempts to impose a Western definition of human rights is also problematic. Asian countries often have the peculiar notion that an adequate diet and access to education are more important rights than the freedom of intellectuals to express their diverse opinions. In contrast to the individualism of the Western culture, Asian are typically more group-oriented. They do not admire our freedoms when they see them accompanied by a decline in the family unit and the rise in social ills such as crime and drug use. Incidentally, our vaunted individualism has come under questions by some of our own intellectuals. They question whether individualism, when carried to the point of disregard for the welfare of others, is a trait of which we should be quite so proud. 

The United States was once much more admired than it is today. Immediately following World War II, the US was in a pre-eminent position economically and militarily, much as it is today. US leadership in that era produced the Marshall Plan, NATO, the US-Japan security treaty, the IMF, the World Bank, GATT, an historical attempt to end colonialism and assist Third World countries to develop, and, to a large extent, the agencies of the United Nations. In contrast, the US now finds itself dragging its feet on global environmental issues, refusing to sign the Law of the Sea treaty, and neglecting even its financial obligations to the UN. 

The causes of this decline in stature and respect internationally are doubtless multiple. One may observe, however, that the relative increase in the power of Congress in foreign affairs is an important factor. Congress typically reverses the Sierra Club’s slogan and thinks locally while acting globally. The distortions congressional actions produce in our foreign policy, from Cuba to the Middle East and beyond, are monstrous. On many issues, Congress is not merely responding to powerful lobbies, it is also framing international issues in such a way as to appeal to those of their constituents whose grasp of international issues can be expressed on bumper stickers. 

"Part V           The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique, not universal, and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multicivilizational character of global politics." 

Here we come to Huntington’s conclusions and recommendations, and begin to realize why he went to such lengths to make reality conform to his theory. He is a firm believer in the biological model of civilizations; i.e., that they begin, grow, flower, decline and disappear. He cites Carroll Quigley’s seven phases of the evolution of civilizations – mixture, gestation, expansion, age of conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion, in Evolution of Civilization [Quigley, 1979];Melko’s Nature of Civilization [Melko, 1979]; and Toynbee’s Study of History [Toynbee, 1969]; all of which see civilizations evolving through a time of troubles or conflict to a universal state to decay and disintegration. Further, Huntington believes that signs of decay are already evident in the West, and particularly in America. 

He find the signs of decay largely in manifestations of moral decline, such as 

·         increasing antisocial behavior such as crime, drug use and violence;

·         family decay: increasing divorce rates, illegitimacy, teen pregnancy, and single parent families;

·         decline in voluntary associations promoting general welfare;

·         weakening of the work ethic; and decreasing commitment to learning and intellectual activity. 

Internationally, Huntington decries efforts by what he calls a small but influential minority to dilute American identity by weakening ties to Europe and strengthening other ties to Asia and other civilizations economically, politically and culturally. He believes the West, without the United States as leading member, will inevitably decline, and the United States, without firm sense of European kinship, cannot survive as a coherent society. 

          In short, Professor Huntington abhors multiculturalism and moral relativism. He believes the Clinton administration policy of celebrating diversity rather than stressing unity is defying the wishes of the founding fathers. The result can only be a democracy of groups rather than one of individuals, a sort of quota democracy. Similarly, he fears active US engagement in Pacific Rim activities will lead to a dilution of our Western identity to the detriment of Europe as well as the US. These policies are, he believes, based upon the mistaken belief that a universal culture, not unlike our own, is emerging in the world. 

          Some of the policy mistakes, for which he blames both the Bush and the Clinton administrations, are the following: 

·         Support for the unity of the multicivilizational Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and Russia, in vain efforts to halt the powerful ethnic and cultural forces pushing for disunion;

·         Promotion of multicivilizational economic integration plans which are meaningless, as with APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), or involve major unanticipated economic and political costs, as with NAFTA and Mexico.

·         Attempts to develop “global partnerships” with Russia or “constructive engagement” with China, despite natural conflicts of interest between the US and those states;

·         Supported the subjection of Muslims (in Chechnya) to Orthodox (Russian) rule;

·         Refusal to recognize the fundamental divide between Western Christendom and the Orthodox and Muslim areas in Eastern Europe; and

·         Pursuing outdated and unrealizable goals with respect to trade, human rights, nuclear proliferation, and other multicivilizational issues. 

          I think a case can be made for each of these points, although he should recognize that power relationships often determine policy. For example, the Administration had nothing to gain and a lot to lose if it were to back the Chechnyans against Russia. I don’t agree with him on many of these points, such as attempts to formalize relations with Russia and China, and the NAFTA and APEC initiatives, but these disagreements are not at the core of my differences with the author; differences I will try to elucidate in the next section. 


          The crux of my differences with Huntington lies in his adherence to a biological model of civilizations and my belief in the possibility of progress. Historically, the evidence is heavily on his side as his citation of the heavies in the field demonstrates. My belief in the possibility, but not the inevitability, of progress is based upon the evidence that human beings can and do improve in a measurable sense; that the modal individuals in modern societies have improved markedly in the last century; that this unparalleled improvement is made sustainable by technological advance; and that organizations and societies can and do improve in association with individual and technological advances. 

Most people would accept the idea of human improvement, and of organizational improvement, but many would still deny the notion of progress. Progress implies improvement towards a goal or a more desirable state. Not very long ago, perhaps through the decade of the 1960’s, the notion of progress was quite widely accepted. Then doubts began to emerge, heralded by books like Limits to Growth [Meadows, 1974], which pointed out that continuing in the directions we were headed would lead to environmental catastrophe and resource depletion. Food shortages were thought to be inevitable, pollution would foul the habitat. Most of the “limits” cited by the authors have been expanded by technological advance or policy changes, but the Malthusian threat to our existence, or at least to our quality of life, remains. 

At the present time, probably more people believe that a biological model of birth, development, maturity and decline better represents the course of civilizations than believe in a progress model. Only an extreme optimist could believe in a linear and inevitable progress for the human condition. Yet without a vision of where we are or should be heading, we wander about in pursuit of the trivial, or drop into the comforting arms of some antiquated religion. 

          The observation that individuals and groups can, and do, improve would seem a commonplace, but in fact it is consistently denied by many of our cherished beliefs. The founding national belief that all men are created equal has come to mean that they remain in that happy state. Democracy is based upon individual rights without regard to achievement, status, education or wisdom. Some multiculturalists now deny even the relevance of standards, citing differences of race, national origin, and culture as leveling factors. Comparisons among societies, as among people, run the risk of exceeding the boundaries of politically correct opinion. (There are, of course, sound reasons for being intolerant of intolerance. Previous practices of identifying the good with one’s own particular attributes fragmented our society into hierarchical groupings that denied our egalitarian notions and our preference for meritocracy.) 

          Given widespread skepticism about the concept of progress, it is necessary not only to demonstrate its possibility, but to suggest the sort of goals we might aspire to progress towards. Accepting that no one can know, at my personal stage of development at least, precisely what goal we as a species should seek, it is still possible to hazard some modest guesses as to desirable directions. At this point in the history of humankind it seems that the short-term goal, for at least the next century, should be to find a way to reach an acceptable equilibrium with our habitat. That means finding ways to limit the destruction or degradation of the earth’s environment, and of limiting our rate of reproduction. We are, it seems to me, in a long-term species crisis that threatens not only the quality of our lives, but our very existence. 

          If that is the case, we must move beyond the sort of motivations of power and influence in the conduct of foreign policy that Huntington is using in his paradigm. The threat to our societies comes not from petty aggressors, or even mega-destroyers like Hitler and Stalin, but from our own habits of reproduction, consumption and production. 

          Soedjatmoko, the late Indonesian sage who for a time headed the UN University, once said that rich nations and poor nations are equally, though in different ways, unprepared for the future [Soedjatmoko, 1980]. I believe he is right in this, in that both rich and poor are, in different ways, damaging the habitat. 

          I also believe that to counter current trends successfully, we and others will need to advance as individuals and as societies to the point where we can comprehend the danger to our species and cooperate in combating it effectively. That implies that the pursuit of comparative advantage will need to give way to the pursuit of species advantage. We have a larger enemy than each other, and we will need to cooperate to defeat it. 

          The transformation into a cooperative world will not, of course, happen overnight. But rather than set forth measures of the amount of territory we control and the abundance of our riches and military might with other civilizations, we need to be thinking of what we need to do to prepare for the future, what global institutions may be needed, what policies we should pursue, and what technologies we should seek to develop. With a clearer vision of the task ahead than we currently possess, our position as the world’s only superpower could be used to benefit our species, rather than our interest groups.


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