Intercivilizational Conflict: Some Guidelines and Some Fault Lines

Intercivilizational conflict has prospered in public and academic discourse since Samuel P. Huntington’s 1993 essay, “The Clash of Civilizations?” which gave new currency to a far older theme. It spread independent wings as fundamentalist Islam, and the fear thereof, peaked on and after September 11, 2001. This article offers several points of order. It examines the historical semantics of both “culture" and “civilization,” tracing the conceptual tension between them in the history of European thought. Along the way, it dwells on philosophers, social theorists and novelists from the eighteenth century to the present. It then proposes a reconsideration of the early 19th-century distinction between culture and civilization, associating the merits and tensions of distinctiveness with the former and allotting universal values to the latter. Finally, it considers contemporary problems weighing on the useful distinction between––and desirable cohabitation of––cultural pluralism and civil universalism.

It is 1873. The place: a village in the heart of a forest, somewhere in the Indian subcontinent. The participants: an English gentleman, Mr. Phileas Fogg; his French valet, Monsieur Passepartout; the European-bred, young and beautiful Parsi widow of the old Rajah of Bundelkund The extras: a crowd of traditional Indian villagers. The event: the dramatic rescue of the young widow from the suttee pyre, where she is about to be burned alive together with her husband’s corpse. The result: the Asian beauty will marry her English rescuer, and they will live happily ever after, in London. The book, of course, is Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Here is the key sentence: “‘Oh, the scoundrels!’ cried Passepartout, who could not repress his indignation. While Phileas Fogg, his voice betraying not the least emotion, asked: ‘Is it possible that these barbarous customs still exist in India, and that the English have been unable to put a stop to them?’” (Verne 1873/1995: 60–61). But wait. Here is a different way to begin:“O, Europe corrupted with vice and misguidance and drawn far from the religion of Jesus!… You have bestowed this hell-like state on the human spirit with your blind genius… The only remedy you have found for this disease are the fantasies of entertainment and amusement and anodyne diversions which serve to temporarily numb the senses… You hold a diseased and misguided philosophy in your right hand and a harmful and corrupt civilization in your left, and claim, ‘Mankind's happiness is with these two!’ May your two hands be broken and may these two filthy presents of yours be the death of you!… And so they shall be!” (Nursi 1996, 17th Flash, 5th Note). The quotation, from Risale-i Nur, a 6,000-page commentary on the holy Quran, was written during the second quarter of the 20th century by the Turkish-born Islamic preacher (of Kurdish descent), Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, born in 1873, three years after Jules Verne sent his triumphalist pair of European voyagers, armed with their “diseased and misguided philosophy” of rationalism and secularism, to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. Bediuzzaman, who died in 1960, had a complex attitude towards Europe and certainly not all his disciples adopted his sharp condemnation of European civilization. At the same time, his writings marked the future battleground: 41 years after his death, Osama Bin Laden sent his 19 Islamic fighters, armed with the Quran and with modern anti-Western thought, to blow up the Twin Towers in New York and the White House and the Pentagon in Washington within the course of one half hour. That, in a nutshell, is the subject of our discussion. Intercivilizational conflict has prospered in public and academic discourse since Samuel P. Huntington’s essay, “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, and Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996).

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The Greeks and Romans enjoyed it in the past (p. This article does not offer yet another discussion of Huntington’s thesis. “new distempers break forth. Dixon 1928:3. Most strikingly. 230). Internet-bloated. does not dovetail with each and every historical experience. This definition suits our purposes. and even to happiness” (p. and new remedies are applied” (p. Ferguson had a clear notion of civilization as a process that might happen to any people in the world. Shaw 1932. 256) and politeness (p. Instead. French and German. Four elements constitute it: economic provision. Williams 1958:16). even though they are frequently employed as synonyms (see. that such a people. or at least the first widely read theorist. and linked to the growth of commerce (p. “sprouts up in follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture” (Addison 1711). More widely.” Joseph Addison wrote. to use the term “civilization” in its modern . as our reference point: “Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation. political organization. Will Durant. Huntington’s thesis. in after ages. with a sophisticated political structure. the Europeans do at the present time.Initially launched as polemics against Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992). and the descriptions which are now given by travellers. its usage often displayed a metaphorical adaptation of the agricultural sense of the original Latin cultura. Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn. but the species itself from rudeness to civilization” (Ferguson 1767/1995:1). Though both derive from Latin. Only at the beginning of the 19th century did European scholars begin using the word “culture” in its modern context. 80). “In the progress of civilization. 75.” so that different cultures may be present within the sphere of one civilization. and it is handy for some of the considerations that will follow. 2001 and proceeded with a stream of violent attacks and challenges to freedom of speech in Europe and beyond. Both concepts have countless definitions. An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767) Ferguson coined what his readers must have appreciated as a shiny new idiom. 89). like all other taxonomies. may best collect the accounts of their origin (p. it may be from the relations of the present times. of “civilization. civilization was perceived as a complex and advanced human society. 236). for example. Although this taxonomy. And again: “[L]uxury[…] is sometimes employed to signify a manner of life which we think necessary to civilization. By the early 19th century. The Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson may have been the first modern writer. The concept “civilization” developed out of “civil society. 231). “Not only the individual advances from infancy to manhood. Let us take a classical one offered by the historian of ideas. in the representations they have given of ours: and if ever an Arab clan shall become a civilized nation. politically impassioned (and impatient) field of discourse and debate. or fruit. In his successful book. spread independent wings as the rise of fundamentalist Islam peaked on September 11.” its main meaning being the antithesis of savageness and barbarism.” he wrote. 193). it nevertheless reflects a good deal of theoretical scholarship. they were shaped in the linguistic sphere of modern English. quasi-academic. yet who knows what the future holds? The Romans might have found an image of their own ancestors. and employing the word “civilization” as a new derivative of an ancient root. it makes several suggestions toward tidying up what has become a messy. because it presents “culture” as an element. Beginning with some historical semantics. as it came to be known. or any American tribe escape the poison which is administered by our traders of Europe. In the 18th century. The meaning of this new exciting word was further clarified by Ferguson’s pointed contrast of the “extremes of civilization and rudeness” (p. moral traditions and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts” (Durant 1935). it is not superfluous to note that civilization and culture are not the same things. “The mind that lies fallow but a single day. Culture was a different neologism.

was in the context of analyzing the disparate manners and mores of the world’s diverse ethnic groups (Geuss ibid.” which often appear to be everyone but the beautiful. as it perceived itself at the peak of its self-assurance at the end of the 19th century. a farcical field of tension is drawn between the fastidious. both remain steadfast when faced with the widow-burning Hindis. Unless we hate what we are not. it was the 19th century that established the modern paradigm of conflict between civilizations. Both are very severe and full of contempt.” Nineteenth century philosophy––that of Schopenhauer. see Williams 1983:87– 93). Both are refined and polite. Hegel and Nietzsche––sharpened the conception of the individual as being in opposition to the subject outside himself: not-I is my enemy. and concrete methods of expression and creation. In postmodern language. it is a dichotomy as old as Cain and Abel. we cannot love what we are” (Huntington 1996: Ch. in the Indian subcontinent’s rainforests. Culture was thus ancient as well as modern. In a comparable way. Both are faithful representatives of Western European civilization. In his book. culture was mostly perceived as social order predating civilization. that. philosophically. many 19th-century historians believed that Rome imposed civilization. a dichotomy. The most significant. as Geuss himself acknowledged. But. Huntington sympathetically presents the following quotation from a novel by Michael Dibdin: “There can be no true friends without true enemies. in particular towards “barbarians” and “savages. it suffices to take a look at Fogg and his valet. Around the World in Eighty Days. Jules Verne. In a known sense. aristocratic women. If we want to understand how intercultural fields of tension differ from intercivilizational conflict. So. Both tour the globe in colonial pith helmets. The intercivilizational confrontational discourse of our times adopts this distinction as its own.Addison’s metaphor sprouted into an independent idiom of the human sciences. a loyal progeny of French culture and European civilization. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Significantly.” is probably as old as human consciousness. the grammatic first person and second person are. 19th-century German thinkers applied the new term Kultur in several distinguishable ways. Its pioneer. is timeless. for our purpose. This Englishman is a figment of the imagination of the French writer. which came into being alongside the new prominence of the concept of “culture. Anthropology.” placed an emphasis on lifestyle. published his two-volume opus Primitive Culture in 1871. . having a narrower ethno-geographical applicability.). Yet. a conflict repeatedly kindled by differences of faith and culture? The distinction between “I” and “you. civilization progressed. Sir Edward Burnett Tylor. does not the modern-day war between civilizations have ancient parallels. “us” is opposed to “the Other. such as the Persian Wars between Greece and Persia in the fifth century BCE? Or such as the ancient Israelites’ fight against the Philistines. and allotted to numerous ethnic groups. Passepartout. Throughout all of Verne’s novel. Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization (1865). which comprised many cultures. But. in particular to beautiful aristocratic women. This assertion. as members of one civilization. He could not possibly have replaced “culture” with “civilization” in this title. on the ancient world (For a more complex discussion of “culture” than the present context allows. It was used by numerous authors in so many contexts.” or between “us” and “them. civilization was a broad forward flow. There. as Raymond Geuss pointed out: “The attempt to say anything both general and useful about the concept of “culture” might seem doomed from the very start” (Geuss 1995:151). upright British gentleman and the resilient. sharp-tongued French valet. 1). as is obvious from his use of “civilization” in the name of an earlier book. the cultural difference between the European with the top hat and the one with the beret is of no significance. arts and crafts. as Huntington acknowledges. Culture was. Let us return to Phileas Fogg.

which apparently was the first link in a long chain of modern theories of race. Our topic. is a summary of human history (Russell 1932). also from Göttingen. During the last 150 years. It is. the distance is short to the assumption that confrontation among the races is inevitable. and that its results will be dictated by the location of the races on the scale of innate traits. Outline of the History of Humanity. Georg Friedrich Hegel and Arnold Toynbee. as in the Greek and Roman feelings of superiority to the “barbarians”? How do they differ from the older cyclical and . including Oswald Spengler (1918/1922) and Arnold Toynbee (1934). He even dubbed the Mongolian races “sub-races” (Unterassen). describing its physiological characteristics and attributing spiritual baseness to it (Zantop 1997:66-80). As Meiners viewed it. and in the 20th century it was immortalized in fiction. Christoph Meiners. the war of civilizations is an invention of the 18th century. nations. Marx adapted it to the history of the war of the classes. His innovative book. so he wrote. the Mongolians at the bottom. and that. In one of his poems. Marx. Meiners was among the first. Mazlish 1966). contemporary perceptions of conflict among civilizations as a symptom of the modern era. Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote of “War. to coin the concept “race” (rasse) in its modern sense. is today considered the father of the modern theories of race. that do not share a common ancestor. The rise of one is regularly accompanied by the noise of the other’s collapse. this paradigm was so strong in Western tradition that it was adopted by both Right and Left. notably in George Orwell’s 1984 and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s great fantasy on clashing civilizations. Hegel. a professor at the University of Göttingen. the human species is divided into two essential branches. A rather less philosophical generation. lost no time in adapting their master’s theory to the Jewish race (whose inferiority Meiners noted only briefly). too. is not conflict. some of these races are inherently superior and others inferior: the Caucasians are at the top of the scale. it runs like a leitmotif through the thinking of the German and Scottish Enlightenment philosophers. struggle. however. Toynbee and others in the 19th century followed. is a fixed element in the history of mankind. and possibly the very first. human history is a ceaseless dynamics of the rise and fall of empires. Avineri 1961. the Caucasian and the Mongolian. in whose path Hegel. in particular. Meiners’ colleagues and disciples. Physical traits alone do not differentiate between the superior and inferior races––they are also distinguished by cultural and spiritual capacities. the Lord of the Rings trilogy. cultures and civilizations.War. It was reworked and greatly enhanced by post-Enlightenment historians and thinkers such as Johann Gottfried von Herder. As a modern idea. These branches are divided into races. or war as a perennial human attribute. such as the anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. while British philosopher Bertrand Russell noted that children are beaten at school by the older pupils and beat the younger ones. attributed a conflictual.” Amichai 1977). while the European nationalists adapted it to the history of national communities (Talmon 1952. violent character to these civilizational vicissitudes. the insatiable” (“Sabbath Night Song. According to the German thinker Johann Gottfried von Herder. in fact. Which elements in these theories are essentially modern? How do they differ from ancient conceptions on the superiority and inferiority of peoples. And. By the way. focused on intercivilizational conflict as the central theme of world history. rather. was published in the heydey of the German Enlightenment (Meiners 1785). From Meiners’ book. Huntington did not invent anything new: he just inserted modern actors into a 300-year-old model. Yet Hegel and Marx were primarily interested in historical processes as reflecting human reason and culminating in universal freedom.

which are. similar to the ancient theological fight of the children of light against the children of darkness. Rome. It is. But the modern theme involves either the war of the advanced peoples against the primitives or. tribe.linear models of the history of the nations. Secondly. It is an 18th-century idea. attributed to each “national group” its own physiology. decadent ones. or its later. which has a moment of birth. of the war of the healthy and mature against the declining and the decadent.” The person who said this was none other than civil rights leader Martin Luther King (King 1963). for the inevitable attack by the savages on the outside. there is a notably modern element in the idea––much in the spirit of Charles Darwin. That is George Orwell’s version. for example. often made use of this model of thought. The South African writer J. in several versions. Even . Modern Americans. Coetzee wrote about the state of mind underlying this concept. Many Internet sites attribute to the bitingly witty Oscar Wilde the assertion that “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between. it contains an atavistic element carved by German Romanticism: the organism is “authentic. This organism’s age of maturity and ripeness is the age of civilization. or perhaps even seven. such as Aristotle’s cycles of regime types and the Christian concept of the millennium? A marked modern element is the biological conception of civilization. though preoccupation with it predated him by several decades––that different civilizations engage in wars of survival among themselves. the entity at war is not a mere human group. which often grew from a metaphor into a full-fledged historical-ontological belief. The best of the human species. the inhabitants of a tiny frontier garrison town. civilizations. Modern philosophy and historiography thus added two quasi-scientific elements to the ancient conception of “insatiable war. In it. Rather. mobilized to explain the fall of ancient civilizations such as Egypt. or three.” wait in terror. Waiting for the Barbarians (Coetzee 1980). According to the second version. A great number of 18th.” First. * Note the two separate versions of the motive of the civilizational struggle for survival. is seen as a quasi-human organism. or people. a childhood and youth. conscious of being members of a young nation and deeply familiar with Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment historical theories. at the edge of “civilization.” that is. in somewhat inferior English and without the novelist’s flair. actually or potentially. decline and death. at war with one another. it is a “civilization. According to the first version. “A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” What is more. and later Hegel and Marx. Herder.” and may even have influenced Darwin himself.” “pure.M. This conception indeed predated the decidedly Darwinian principle of the “survival of the fittest. a nation or nations in full blossom.” close to the source of life and to the fountainhead of collective human energy. having reached full blossom.” “healthy. the world has only “one civilization. Greece and. A hundred years later. besieged conception of superiority in his novel. hidden behind their walls. in some ways. in particular. which thinkers such as Herder. examining the still-victorious race’s unhappy. the world has two. civilizational warring is a “scientifically” diagnosable fight for survival. maturity. barbaric stages.” and the barbarians are preparing to attack it. is Huntington’s version in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. And that. in his book. this concept was already a cliché. sick.and 19th-century thinkers utilized this model. Though the organic metaphor is taken from the science of biology. fights those who represent its earlier. or a cluster of nations. A nation. 1984 (Orwell 1949).

” which every nation is called on to join. by definition. later on. a few days earlier. Bush said. he also associated with the war in Afghanistan. 2001. peerless. as early as 1867.” an expression which. mocking civilization. defining the American fight against world terrorism as a “crusade. which paradigm is the conclusive one––that of Orwell-Huntington. unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them … [from] barbaric and atavistic forces” (Churchill 1941:46). According to the value key. a matter of “the fight of civilization. Its enemies. non-discriminating technological progress and general justice can prevail in the world. The Enlightenment analyzed. Bush continued. This ethical claim works far beyond the simple “I versus Other. the misunderstandings and the arbitrary actions are removed.if the tale takes place in the distant past or in a supra-historic sphere. viewed the human species as a moral and rational totality. “We” are “worshippers of the Creator.” “We” are right and “they” are wrong. Winston Churchill openly expressed what Coetzee implicitly challenged. it’s all of it home-brewed” (Act 2. in somewhat flatter English again. And home-brewed. Scene 6). Bush had made a serious slip of the tongue.” he said in a speech in 1938. “freedom will not survive. * So. facing the barbarians (and hence the place where all thinking people belong. However. This resounding equation of the grammatic first-person-plural with the ethical Right was lampooned. and others in different though interconnected ways. In other words. to wander alone. the main matter is. “We” must be “right. Hume. And so on and so forth. in the increasingly nationalist and colonialist world of Phileas Fogg. let us consider a third aspect of the modernity of the struggle of civilizations: the concept of “values”––in the sense of a clear ethical code––as the key to cultural superiority. by Henrik Ibsen in his play Peer Gynt (Ibsen 1867). or that of Churchill. including “our many Muslim friends” and “our many Arab friends” (Bush 2001). The Troll king forces Peer. It is of interest to follow Bush’s involuntary semantic wanderings. all in the name of national pride and the inherent superiority of the local: “The cow gives cakes and the bullock mead. Bush. they lick the dust.” We soar high. and you mustn’t forget it. pondered by Coetzee and shakily embraced by Bush? Before we attempt to reply. It underlies the enormous moral energy. In a vein similar to Churchill’s.” while “they” are “corrupt. “we” are “pure. and civilization as universal. the indefatigable sense of justice of the historical and fictitious heroes referred to at the beginning of this article––both Phileas Fogg and his creator. It was. who is after his daughter and crown. explained and celebrated the universality of human values.” He flees the Troll’s kingdom and his native Norway. peace will not be kept. their body is unclean and they live in clay houses. were “a collection of loosely affiliated terror organizations” (ibid. without distinction of religion). Jules Verne. there is only one civilization.” “Us and Enemy” dichotomies we have mentioned above. Once the prejudices and historical wrongs. universal rationality. Voltaire. Rousseau. ask not if its taste be sour or sweet. . Several decades earlier. which cross the problematic line between the two versions referred to above: civilization versus civilization (the crusade). Our soul is true and houses our vitality. and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and his disciples. to accept and even like the abonimable Troll cuisine and dress. United States President George W. its topical context did not go unnoticed by Coetzee’s readers.” But Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. “Civilisation will not last. It is precisely the American president’s wavering that exposes the duality implicit in more sophisticated texts.” while “they” are “slaves of Satan. cannot become part of any “we. is good. especially by his fellow countrymen. Kant.). addressed a joint session of Congress following September 11. the ultimate individualist.

” while his “they” are corrupt priests. This anti-Universalist current. and to its English-speaking offspring. assigning them to bourgeois. Should. were left to answer a new set of questions: did a society with different values belong to a foreign civilization? Or.Voltaire’s “we” are. all human beings. Nineteenth-century and later Western thinkers frequently abandoned the hope for. in his great book. One extreme progeny of the liberal tradition that turned individualistic and shifted into libertarianism is of special interest for me. but controversy is rife over the sinister outcome of economic globalization and the merits and demerits of the metaphorical flattening of the Earth. share such values as democracy. In Western theory and literature since the 18th century. human dreams of grandeur have been known to cross civilizations before. sensitive Westerners harbored respect––mingled with some degree of ignorance and worship of the exotic––for certain distant cultures. and could. Unlike Voltaire and Kant. However. finesse and manners were venerated as the basic traits of civilized man. who reject progress and humanity. Rand-style. It is no surprise that the war of civilizations. barbarism? Or. not based upon libertarian philosophy but upon the perennial belief that certain individuals–– mentors and actors––are far wiser than the rest. either for positive or for normative reasons. equality. the American novelist and philosopher. there is a second Western conception that. while Montesquieu. polish. the French enthused about Chinese culture. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. because it refused to acknowledge the existence of foreign value systems? Current views are scattered on a broad spectrum. ruled by the laws of his tribe. seeking to impose their own unique superiority on a worthless global mass. and pretension to. Thus wrote Ayn Rand. also originated in the Enlightenment: it received its final form in later ideologies. they no longer tried to persuade the entire human species of the justice and rationality of basic human values. The Fountainhead (Rand 1943:715). in all societies. There may even be individuals. The German Romantic thinkers discovered and worshipped India. I am no authority on Muslim conceptions that may parallel these Western ideas. civil manner. the rule of law. potentially. universality. It rejected the hope of these values ever belonging to all human beings. Persian Letters (1721) examined and criticized France through fictitious Persian eyes. After all. It also denied the need and necessity of their belonging to all human beings. There are moderate combinations.” George Bernard Shaw is quoted as having said. or liberal. Rand-style. The savage’s whole existence is public. localized Enlightenment values. indeed. could it be that it was not a civilization at all but. modern tyrants and worshippers of the past. As long as finesse was a criterion for civility. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe tried to combine . “all human beings. in the era of Enlightenment.” according to the hero of her book. Europe. could it be that the West was the aggressor and the atavist. “We veneer civilization by doing unkind things in a kind way. is led by individuals imbued with a sense of greatness and utter disregard for the wretched masses. It would not surprise me to find that current Islamic debates on civilizational questions reflect some of the tensions discussed here. in several different ways. Even unkind deeds were done in a refined. trying to apply a small number of universal values to a world of disparate cultures and mores. Thus. rather. One may suspect that a comparable sentiment is reflected in anti-Western creeds today. and gives absolute priority to specifically Western values. because it brought up the specter of single actors manipulating societies and playing out against the masses in the name of a higher civilizational creed. Global community is increasingly presented as a beneficent roof over diverse cultures. who advocated extreme individualism: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. human solidarity and communal responsibility with Western cultures? Those who gave a negative answer.

disappointment at the rejection of those principles by large expanses of humankind: the Muslim world still refuses to acknowledge that women are equal to men. adopts or rejects values such as freedom of expression. West-Eastern Divan (1814–1819) The 20th-century retreat from the romantic worship of foreign civilizations was partially prompted by intellectuals such as Edward Saïd. as long as the core values of each––those core values on the strength of which we are capable of relating to them as “civilizations”––are on a collision course. as. they are barbarous entities in the Churchillian sense. Alternatively. an acknowledgment of the fact that some basic Western values must be universal and. Rather. as a whole and in general. whose reproach against Western “Orientalism” was grounded in his biography and based on his study of 19th-century European literature. from artistic enchantment to moral critique. Civil values overshadow it. is diversified and multifaceted. If so. the sole and global civilization. or a provocation intended to serve as a pretext for a war of civilizations. or do we have to be on our guard not to lapse into one? Many of those shrinking from the Huntingtonian conception of the war of civilizations retort that civilizations are not monolithic. to an actual field of battle. David Remnick wrote in The New Yorker several weeks after the assaults (Remnick 2001)? Are we in the midst of such a war. for example. Thus. as a whole and in general. But decades before Saïd and post-colonialist critique. According to this approach. The global community is increasingly asserting the universal validity of core political and civil values. This reflects. the West. But were the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center a result of a “war of civilizations. as well as equality before the law. The question is not whether it includes diversified human and social positions––which of course it does––but rather whether it. On the contrary. “Asian societies and Muslim societies are increasingly resentful of our efforts [“our”––that is. Or does it. while China has not yet adopted democracy and freedom of speech. if there is more than one civilization in the world. as Western Muslim intellectuals such as Edward Saïd and Fouad Ajami have repeatedly emphasized. on the one hand. namely individuals and non- . on the other. F. freedom of expression and free universal suffrage. then the West. Present-day debates may thus benefit from a reconsideration of the early 19th-century distinction between culture and civilization. 2001 marked a fundamental transition from the 19th to the 21st century––the leap from a “war of civilizations” as a cultural metaphor. may seem to us to be universal values fit and appropriate for everyone belonging to “Civilization” in its exclusive signification. especially pertaining to political and legal culture. practice values contrary to these? According to the distinction I suggested above. free universal suffrage and equality before the law. the question is not whether the Muslim world is plural. leading to a conflictual field that Montesquieu and Goethe neither foresaw nor imagined. The criterion of finesse today seems outdated and ridiculous. outside of which only barbarians roam. They may be seen as the backbone of Civilization.” as Huntington and his followers would have diagnosed it. and those who share its core values. but rather whether it is pluralistic. intercivilizational collision of values. the Muslim world. will have to recognize the fact that we are talking here of a deep. encompassing the rule of order and the fight against corruption. the center of gravity had moved from aesthetics to ethics. Some thinkers argue that the course of this collision of values is inevitable. or as the subject for historic meta-theories. O-S] to induce them to adopt our values” (Gergen/Huntington 1997). societies exempting themselves from these rules are not part of Civilization. for example.and celebrate the best in Asian and European cultures in his cycle of poems. The problem here is that even a multifaceted civilization is liable to collide with another multifaceted civilization. September 11.

The brilliant Arab Aristotelian can neither comprehend these words. Or. corrupt. not even in the name of cultural diversity. taste and expression. we will not be rid of the evil specter of an actual or potential war of civilization(s). including many (though by no means all) Muslims. it is precisely because there are no Arab words for these terms. such as the rule of law and the fight against corruption. too. equality and the rule of law) will not be subjected to “cultural rights” opposing them. as Borges insinuates. And yet people everywhere are increasingly inspired by cultural plurality in matters relating to creativity and art. in its extreme form. hypocritical servants of the rule of capital. Third is extreme Islam. “La Busca de Averroës” (The Search of Averroës) (Borges 1949).” he wrote in an Afterward to the story. And while diverse cultures peacefully pursue their mutual inspiration and fermentation. Civilization will not undermine cultures. but its basic civil rights (freedom. “I felt that Averroës. in the East and West. At the height of the Muslim golden age in Spain. Just as Marxism mocked the separation of powers as a bourgeois invention. under comparable conditions. Jorge Luis Borges published a short story titled. which are attacked as the hidden. through honest dialogue and assertive purging of extremism. creative cultural pluralism. As long as the Satanic image of Western society is not disposed of. who are opposed to economic globalization. was no more absurd than I. nor translate them into Arabic. he wrestles with two concepts from Aristotle’s Poetics: Tragedy and Comedy. the great philosoher sits in his beautiful home and. However. this trend also targets values considered by many to be universal. The author. Second. viewing them as a cynical structure serving the interests of corporate control. Fundamentalism raises. which draws from both fundamentalism and anti-globalization. shallow. Much of their criticism is an expression of deep concern for social justice and a genuine desire for solidarity with the weak.government organizations and. in extreme cases. purse-lipped aspects of political correctness are hardly necessary to promote a genuinely multicultural and inter-cultural world. as well as for supervision and inspection of the strong players in the global market. * In 1949. “I felt that the work mocked me. Borges did not intend to insult Averroës or his culture. liberalism and legalism. In the story it seems . that Averroes cannot grasp them. and the wall separating Averroës from Borges. Those in the East. first and foremost. while his female slaves work and quarrel in the kitchen. thwarted me. the problem of authority. adulterous. foiled me. economic globalization and the opposition against it: socialists and anarchists view globalization as a victory of corrupt capitalism. trying to imagine what a play is without ever having suspected what a theater is. Borges’ short story is a brilliant etude on the intranslatability of ideas between languages and across civilizations. so do its modern-day successors attack the values of democracy. Universal civil principles will not survive in a world that is tossed among competing interpretations of three or four sacred books. Three trends complicate this necessary distinction between civil universalism and enriching. The dire. The first is religious fundamentalism in its numerous versions. And yet––could Borges be drawing the parallel tongue in cheek? He and his protagonist did not live in similar times. trying to imagine Averroës […]” (Borges 1949). seems to draw a clear parallel between the conceptual wall separating Aristotle from Averroës. an emerging global civilizational code will prohibit violence and denial of civil freedoms. rogue states. all of which reject the core values of a universal political culture. identify it with Western culture as a whole: materialistic.

John M. but of obtaining formal education for her and her daughters and introducing them to civil rights. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. This must not be ignored. that they keep their sense of humor afloat. in the end. At our best. power and hate––and we will not cover them up with sweet talk about conflicting values and cultural gaps. who are just a brief (but sly) aside in Borges’ story? As we know. remain insatiable for a long time to come. between Civilization and those outside of it––may well be growing deeper. Dixon. arrogant colonialist. we will also learn to acknowledge which pretexts for war are in no way whatsoever connected to a “war of civilizations”––the ancient pretexts. may have been the secret crucial ingredient of this lineage of political culture. http://www. For comedy. Futuristic movies present us with a famous cliché: should the villains. Hebrews and Romans started laughing at themselves in public.” Today. in particular. some people think we are approaching the fulfillment of that prophecy taken from second-rate Hollywood scripts. and to the global economy. * I tried to propose that we refrain from generalizations but also from sanctimoniousness. Bush. comedy? Or perhaps. Roland B. it would be “the end of civilization as we know it. what Nursi dubbed “[Europe’s] fantasies of entertainment and amusement” has been a hallmark of civility and of freedom ever since Greeks. sweat. the crazy professors. Borges.P.whitehouse. primarily their own. 1941. These may not suffice. War may. Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people. S. in which they should take part. Ha-zman. it is doomed because of those female slaves. even more than tragedy. Jorge Luis. In Blood. appropriate to conclude by wishing latter-day Phileas Foggs. 1928. Coetzee. 1949. confrontation between civilizations––or. The building of cultures.” and. dare I suggest. But at our best. September 20. but they must be tried. Civilization. we will pursue this confrontation peacefully but assertively. Not to this day. Primary among them are the relationships between men and women in different cultures. territory and resources. 1977. but the challenge that Verne bequeathed us is firm and valid today. the defenders of the walls and those “waiting for the barbarians. Spanish: El Aleph. The Spectator 10. Amichai. never allowed to read philosophy. through targeted support and open dialogue. Waiting for the barbarians. George. This cannot be flaunted in multicultural rhetoric. REFERENCES Addison. London: Secker and Warburg. 1961. Relativism ends here: a culture that humiliates women lies outside the boundaries of civilization. they were never freed. Erma Bombeck: “When humor goes. we will also have to approach the philosophical and ethical differences. Today. never emancipated. Shlomo. because it cannot fathom the meaning of theater. Phileas Fogg may have been an unpleasant. or the green creatures from Mars manage to carry out their evil schemes. New York: G. Personally.that shadows are gathering around the great philosopher. I prefer another version. already in its 12th-century prime. drama.html Churchill. The problem of war in Hegel’s thought. the knights of civilization. all the Armageddon theorists. Joseph. Winston. indeed. Yehuda. After all. 1711. 2001. therefore. there goes civilization. if you prefer. 1980. tragedy. However. that of the late American humorist. and tried hard: it is no longer a matter of saving the widow from the pyre. The Aleph and other stories. Journal of the History of Ideas 22(4):463–474. too. and tears. the scoundrels. Putnam’s Sons: 45– W. [Hebrew] Avineri. and may well be based on conflicting values.” It is. can the great Islamic civilization of Spain be doomed. And it may yet prove to be stronger than it looks to its humorless foes. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Schocken. .

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