Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Clash of Civilizations" and the 10/40 Window, or, How Big is the West?

Over at "Eating Words" Jeremy is blogging Samuel Huntington's famous/notorious Clash of Civilizations book. I have never read the book, but only heard of it in seminars and papers, where Professor Huntington has done every graduate student a favor by giving them a popular thesis everyone in the academic world hates. Here's how it works:

"Let's see, I have no idea how to conclude this paper I'm giving on the economics of traditional music performance in Bangladesh. I mean it's so complicated, and I don't really have anything sexy to say about it. Hmm. I know! I'll say the fact that they sometimes use guitars disproves Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis! That's easy, and the guys on my dissertation committee will love it!"

So I'm really glad for the chance to get a bit more familiar with it in ways that are non-cartoonish. (Here's the series entries so far.) One of the excerpts Jeremy blogged seems right on target in many ways.

Huntington cites Ronald Dore’s “second-generation indigenization phenomenon” as the underlying cause of the reassertion of traditional culture in “modernizing” or “post-independent” non-Wests. The first generation receives its education in Western universities in a Western language. “Partly because they first go abroad as impressionable teenagers, their absorption of Western values and life-styles may well be profound.” The second generation, however, receives its education in local universities created by the first generation:

These universities “provide a much more diluted contact with metropolitan world culture” and “knowledge is indigenized by means of translations – usually of limited range and of poor quality.” The graduates of these universities resent the dominance of the earlier Western-trained generation and hence often “succumb to the appeals of nativist opposition movements.” As Western influence recedes, young aspiring leaders cannot look to the West to provide them with power and wealth. They have to find the means of success within their own society, and hence they have to accommodate to the values and culture of that society.

Yup, that happened in China I can say, around the 1930s and 1940s. And yup, that same phenomenon is happening in Mongolia too, although with a different twist.

But although it works nicely for some areas it doesn't really work with all of the "non-Western" civilizations. For example, let's take Brazil, Kenya, and Russia. By Huntington's handling of the thesis, they would be Latin American, African, and Orthodox, right? Different civilizations?

By Huntington's book then they ought to evince the following features:

1) contrast between Western-educated and non-Western educated generations
2) Problems with poor translations
3) Ethnic, nationalist, and religious appeals will be anti-Western.

This seems to work more or less poorly with the cases I've mentioned.

1) Brazil and Russia have been in contact with the West so long, that the transition of generations took place almost two centuries ago. With Kenya that would work.

2) Language: Obviously Brazilians have no more language problems understanding the Western tradition than Portuguese (and Mexicans no more than Spanish, etc.) As for Russians, the Western (i.e. Latin, Catholic, Protestant, Western European) traditions have already been thoroughly nativized. I doubt Russians educated all in Russia have any more serious problems understanding the Bible, Plato, or Kant than Americans do. And as for Kenya, the schooling is still in English -- Kikuyu or Maasai may be the home language, but English is the language of thought and political debate (as French is in Guinea or Congo, etc.). That makes some difference, but still the case is quite a bit different than it is for China, Iran, or Egypt.

3) Anti-Western appeals: In the case of Brazil, again, this works very poorly. Like most of Latin America, Brazil is multi-racial (and the largely mono-racial Latinos are often pure European; see Chile, Argentina, etc.). Racial appeals may have traction with part of the society, but not with all. And nationalism may be powerful in places like Mexico, for example, or Venezuela but it will be anti-American, not anti-Western. (On the other hand, Brazil has been traditionally pro-American and anti-British. Same principle, different sides.) And religious appeals will be mostly -- Catholic. Brazilian radicalism, is part of the radical tradition of the West. Outside the Andes (and even there its a stretch), few Latin countries have enough indigenous presence to sustain a really anti-Western nationalism.

Now with Russia, this works much better: Russian nationalist and Orthodox appeals do work to create a generalize us vs. them sense with the West.

With Kenya, there is the post-colonial African racial solidarity, but for that reason nationalism is weaker, and again, because most of the people are Christians, religious anti-Western arguments will fall on stony ground.

OK, where is this going? Mainly that I think Western Civ, in Huntington's sense, is much bigger than he thinks it is. Latin America is mostly part of Western Civ, Africa and Oceania largely, and even Russia pretty much. For much of these areas their Western civilizational identity is a complex post-colonial reality, full of resentment and memories of past grievances, but it is real: colonialism did the job well. For these areas, I think the usual analysis of economic and political resentment over poverty, exploitation, and dignity work better than a "clash of civs" argument. Castro is turns his back on much of Western Civ (the pluralist, religious, constitutional side) because he's enamored of the other (the revolutionary, utopian, dictatorial) side, one which is quite as Western as the other (think the Gracchi not the patricians, the Ranters not the Puritans, Hegel not Locke, Robespierre not Lafayette). I remember (very Sovietized) Mongols who'd been to Cuba and North Korea tell me, after hearing me mention them in the same breath, that they're not the same. "It's the culture," they'd say with a smile, "but Cubans just can't be Communists like the Koreans." Cubans reading Marx are radical Westerners; Koreans or Chinese reading Marx put it in a whole different civilizational context.

So . . .
If you track where intensive intellectual contact with the West was recent and has fallen off sharply in the post-colonial era, where higher education is largely in indigenous languages, where non-Western classics and scriptures powerfully shape viewpoints, where the elites move in a world that is basically centered outside the West, where the possibility of a really alternative non-Western and anti-Western politics does exist, well you do get a picture.

And it strangely it looks pretty much like the so-called 10/40 window that missiologists talk about. (Here's a good missions-oriented summary, and here's Wiki on it -- I think the Wiki writer's taking the exact latitude lines a bit too seriously. The best map is one from Time Magazine here.)

So much of what Huntington is saying seems drawn from precisely that region, the one in which the experience of colonialism was relatively brief, and was blunted by societies with relatively high powers of cultural resistance. Those are also the areas in which ties with former colonial powers are particularly weak -- few (but not none! Think India, Malaysia, etc.) have the amicable relation with former colonizers that the Carribean has with Britain, or most of Central and West Africa with France, or America with the Pacific Islands, etc.

So why does Samuel Huntington want to draw the West so small? That's the question I have.

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