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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of the Old Year: "Clash of Civilizations"

As the former new year draws to a close and we remember those who have died, let us recall Samuel Huntington and his 15 year old essay "Clash of Civilizations":
WORLD POLITICS IS entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be -- the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
On both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations. The West's "next confrontation," observes M. J. Akbar, an Indian Muslim author, "is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Meghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin." Bernard Lewis comes to a regular conclusion:
We are facing a need and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations -- the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.
While you are at it, General Victor Krulak's 1969 speech to the U.S. Naval Institute has some pith to it -“What in the hell has happened to the United States of America?” he asks.
Something is certainly wrong. We're a nation with resources beyond measure and form of government that has brought us to historic eminence. But we're a nation in trouble. What has happened to the United States of America? We see thousands of citizens whose stock in trade is disunity and lawlessness, thousands who preach hatred for our government system and clamor for free speech for themselves, and thousands who insist that their country owes them a living.
What has become of the United States of America?

Men who cry out for black power or white power or brown power, with never a word about truth power or the power of a free nation. Elementary school teachers appear to be far more obsessed with sex education but are quite willing to send on youngsters who don't know the difference between the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution or the Bill of Rights and who don't care.
National legislators, professors and students who condemn our forces fighting for their lives in combat for fighting too hard; who insist that the route to greatness is somehow to be found in surrender; who are prepared to risk our Nation's destiny on the Utopian gamble that by weakening ourselves we can somehow enhance the likelihood of peace around the world.
...What is wrong with the United States of America?

Let me give you my judgment. I believe it has to do with . . . a passive unwillingness on the part of the vast bulk of our people to stand up and be counted; to fight for what is right and to correct what is wrong.
. . .Today we see an extraordinary lack of purpose and an even greater lack of resolution in our people. While the majority of Americans remain silent, we find vocal minorities of our people exerting inordinate - and often dangerous - influence on our country's affairs.

Having no visible frontiers to conquer, they grope around for emotional causes. They find satisfaction in deprecating our own progress, ignoring our own strength, attacking our own institutions, while giving inordinate respect to the philosophy and conduct of our potential enemies. And they are being allowed to get away with it by a passive majority.

The fact is, this is a great country. Our system . . . is a good system. It's the success story of the modern age. Nowhere, in all the nooks and crannies of history, is there a record of anything better. anything as good, let alone better.
What is needed - what is needed desperately today - is for the great mass of silent America to come out of its shell and acknowledge publicly and openly what they already know - that ours is a great, a dynamic and a successful country, that the ragings of those who condemn our system are just plain false.

Now, above all, is no time for people whose work has brought our country to greatness to be silent or uncertain.

Over a generation ago, Calvin Coolidge said, "Doubters do not achieve, skeptics do not contribute, cynics do no create."

The 20th century is certainly a battlefield. Of this there can be no doubt. And to win the battle of the 20th century, our country can afford no doubters, can afford no skeptics, and no cynics.
While in his speech, General Krulak was referring to the threat posed by totalitarian states and he had not seen yet the fall of the Soviet Union nor China's "new way", his call to defend American/Western values sounds the same warning bell that Professor Huntington was ringing.
And the same warning perhaps urged by Burke,
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

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