Staunton, October 22 – Samuel Huntington’s fundamental insight that in a post-ideological world, the international community will be divided ever more profoundly in a clash of civilizations, appears set to be confirmed in a way that neither he nor most of his followers anticipated.
The late Harvard University political scientist’s idea, offered in a Foreign Affairs article in 1993 shortly after the collapse of the Soviet project, was taken up by those who believed that there would soon be an inevitable clash between the world of Islam and Western civilization. That was no surprise especially given that Huntington himself had talked so much about that.
But the distinguished scholar said far less about a civilizational divide that has existed for a millennium and that may prove at least as fateful as that between Christianity and Islam. That is the divide between Orthodox Christianity and Western Christendom, two fundamentally different cultures.
The caesaro-papist commitment of the former has contributed to authoritarianism while the struggle between church and state opened a civic space that allowed democracy to grow. Few wanted to focus on this in the 1990s because people were focusing on the clash with Islam and because they hoped that Orthodox Europe could overcome its past and move to democracy.
Now, a senior Moscow commentator, Aleksandr Bartosh, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, has openly proclaimed that this clash of civilizations is going to define the new cold war (svpressa.ru/politic/article/279317/).
“If the former cold war was bult on the basis of an ideological conflict, now, this is a civilizational conflict,” the security specialist says. He and others say all the blame for this new sharpening of relations lies with the West which has refused to defer to Moscow on territories it considers to be part of its droit de regarde.
From his perspective, the West must simply recognize that Russia and other Orthodox countries are different and not try to change them in any way, even though the millenarianism of Orthodoxy drives Moscow to claim the right to intervene anywhere it wants to far more than a very different millenarianism of Western Christianity.
Speaking at the Valdai Club this week, Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin leader who has put traditional Russian values at the center of his political vision, made a remark that extends this analysis: He suggested that the world today was suffering from the shared moral values and a collective sense of responsibility for the entire earth and the people on it (svpressa.ru/society/news/279325/).
The implication of course is that Russia is regaining its vision while the West has gone off course and that this divergence is about more than some relatively superficial ideological construct than about fundamental and fundamentally different civilizational values that cannot be compromised.
More than three decades ago, many declared the Cold War over when Mikhail Gorbachev began to speak about the need for common human values, something that people in the former Soviet bloc and the West saw as a rejection of Marxist-Leninist ideology and the opening of a possibility for a better and shared future.
Tragically, that brief hope was shattered, not by the West as Bartosh argues but by leaders like Putin who reject any common metric for measuring behavior. But more than it, this new division reflects a far deeper one than the ideological clash for the first cold war and one that will not be overcome by political leaders or diplomats.
Working out a relationship in which two sides root their positions in civilizational principles rather than a more superficial ideology will be far more difficult. Discarding an ideological construct so obviously at odds with the facts is one thing; giving up on one’s own identity rooted in civilization is something else entirely.