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Philosophy and Civil Society

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ISSUE TWO: Western Culture and the Clash of Civilizations

         Assume for a moment that the global order emerging in the post-Cold War era will eventually look something more like Huntington's* picture of it than not. What sort of cultural tasks would such a global political and economic order impose on the West?
         In a world order shaped by the clash of civilizations, one thing is certain. The universalism of Western Enlightenment culture will be obsolete and irrelevant. During the period of the West's virtually unchallenged ascendancy in the world, it seemed that mastery of the vocabulary of modernist Western rationalism and naturalism was one of the necessary conditions for economic and technological progress.
          But that is no longer the case. Japan, India, and China have proven that thoroughly modern strategies of economic and technological progress can be adapted to and supported by non-Western cultural traditions.
         The question is, can the West adapt to, come to terms with, the full realization of the cultural particularism of the values underlying its own social, economic, and political institutions after centuries of representing those values to the world at large as universally valid, as grounded in the nature of things?
         The universalism and essentialism of Enlightenment culture systematically discouraged systematic reflection about and active fostering of civic culture -- i.e., the particularistic form of culture required for the support of liberal democracy. This negligence is becoming increasingly costly to and dangerous for the West in the post-Cold War world. The cultural task imposed on the West in the era of the clash of civilizations, then, is to rethink liberal moral ideals as specifically particularistic cultural ideals, with the aim of discovering new resources for their perpetuation and renewal.

* See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996)

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