Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Schizophrenia Issue

I have been pondering a question which I believe is one of the paramount issues facing the West today, if not the single most important one. It is a question which affects the entire West, but the U.S. in particular, and it affects everything from nuclear proliferation to trade policy to immigration policy and the Fort Hood terrorist.

Simply stated, the question is: “Is the historically non-Western world Westernizing or not?” In my view, the question can be restated as follows: “Is the United States the universal state of the historical West or of the entire world?” The West, including most importantly the U.S., is of two conflicting minds on this question. The U.S. in particular seems to want to be the leader of the world political system and is utterly confounded when some other country decides to march to its own tune. Therefore, I refer to the problem as the Schizophrenia Issue.

The Schizophrenia Issue is an old problem which was considered by Spengler. Predictably pessimistic, Spengler feared that the besotted, post-industrial West would be overcome by the non-Western “coloured races” once they mastered Western technology. Thus, Spengler’s view was essentially that the West was the historical West (Europe from the Atlantic to Poland and the Baltic countries, the Americas, and Australia-New Zealand), and that the rest of the world could and would adopt Western technology without Westernizing.

Toynbee, of course, was more optimistic. He believed that it was clear that the entire world was Westernizing along the lines of Japan. As late as 1962 Toynbee stated: “So far, at any rate, the non-Western peoples have used their recovered political freedom not to repudiate the Western way of life, but to embrace it.” (America and the World Revolution, p. 37).

Integrally related to the Schizophrenia Issue is the question “What does Westernization mean?” At one level it might mean that the rest of the world would need to become ethnically European and religiously Latin Christian. The more accepting, culturally less defined view asserted by Toynbee is that Westernization means something like using Western political processes and modernizing.

In The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington went to great lengths to show that societies are in fact modernizing while refusing to Westernize. Huntington also seriously doubted whether nations could switch their civilizational membership, which view presumes that such nations are already established members of civilizations.

In my view, the West is old and decrepit; and it is questionable whether the West is robust enough to assimilate---or even to want to assimilate---all peoples or nations, even those still emerging from what Toynbee referred to as "barbarism."

So who was right? Should we fear the vengeful “coloured races” becoming technologically adept a la Spengler, or should we buy the world a Coke, hold hands, and sing “Kumbaya”, a la Toynbee? One’s mindset regarding the Schizophrenia Issue has far-reaching implications. Consider the following examples:

1) Russia. Whether Russia has been part of the West or not for the last two hundred or so years was a question considered by both Spengler and Toynbee. If the fall of communism means that Russia is Westernizing or continuing her Westernization, then we have little to fear from a militarily resurgent Russia, because Russia will be fully integrated (or re-integrated) into Europe. However, if Russia intends to lead an Orthodox Christian Civilization separate and distinct from the West, we can expect conflicts along the lines of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

2) China. Why worry about the Chinese making everything, including a nuclear-armed navy, and controlling the U.S. national debt if the Chinese communists are going to become upstanding members of Western Society? So, grant China MFN status, let her join the WTO, return Hong Kong, etc.

3) Immigration. Implicit in Western acceptance of mass non-Western immigration is that the immigrants intend to and are able to Westernize, a view which is increasingly being called into question, especially but not exclusively with regard to Muslim immigrants. But if the whole world is Western, these concerns are ill-founded.

4) Islam. One would think that the West’s present conflict with radical Islam is the archetypical “Clash of Civilizations” which would have thrown a wrench into the gears of the minds of those who think that the whole world is Westernizing. On the other hand, Toynbee said that the world was Westernizing, not that there would not be setbacks and not that it would happen overnight.

One could go on with many more examples, but the point is that the Schizophrenia Issue affects one’s entire worldview. My own view is that the non-Western peoples of the world will act in what they believe are their own respective interests, which undoubtedly in some cases will mean cooperating with a dying but militarily still powerful West. It does not mean that the rest of the world will Westernize.

Therefore, we Westerners had better view the world realistically and objectively, cast off our hubris, accept that there are other peoples and cultures that are not going to Westernize, and act accordingly in our relations with them, including in matters of immigration and defense.

By W. Reed Smith

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