Coming to terms with the awesome reality of time may well be mankind's foremost shared challenge. However, while time has been a universal given for humanity since "time immemorial," ways of responding to its challenge have always been infinitely various because mankind has never been just of "one" kind. Rather, having been divided into different races, ethnicities, language groups, and distributed among geographic environments, mankind came to consist of culturally diverse human segments. Each evolved its own religious beliefs, world views, art forms, and structures of social cohesion and political governance.
"Culture" or "civilization" has thus long been identified with the sum total of basic human persuasions, values, norms, institutions, and modes of thinking that bind successive generations together into a consolidated, purposeful society. This time-transcendent moral community precedes and conditions the formation of such political unions as the nation state. Indeed, international history richly documents the thesis that political systems are transient expedients on the surface of civilization, and that the destiny of the political system is ultimately dependent upon the integrity and survival of the primary ideas that had called it forth and that symbolize its continuity.
A civilization, then, is what holds the state together in time and space. It is this cultural infrastructure that determines the nation's collective mind-set and therewith its orientation to time. In short, a culture is all of a piece and requires careful study before scholars and statesmen can hope to understand and assess the nature of the diverse political systems with which theirs coexists in the multicultural world.
In the present context, it is important to bear in mind that the culture factor had been routinely ignored by American social scientists with interests in international relations research until it was suddenly sprung by some of them in the immediate aftermath of the 1989/90 European revolt against Sovietism as a revolutionary discovery in scholarship - one carrying special benefits for futurologists.
On the face of it, this was welcome news to other social scientists who may not qualify as futurologists but have specialized for decades in comparative culture studies. Since I belong to the latter group, I was naturally an interested reader of the articles that announced the discovery of culture, chief among them Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?" and "If not Civilization, What?" as well as excerpts from the first essay and the comments that advertised this academic event on the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
I was struck immediately by several lead phrases and formulations that bear on such themes as "cold wars of cultures and ideas"; "the invisible cultural frontier separating societies christianized by Rome from those christianized by Byzantium"; "East/West and North/South fault lines of civilizations." These were themes I had dealt extensively in my work, most recently in Strategic Intelligence and Statecraft.
The bedrock of Huntington's thesis is the conviction that human beings cannot think seriously, that is, abstractly, unless they are guided by paradigms. Following Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolution, he argues that intellectual and scientific advance is possible only if and when the paradigm that has become incapable of explaining new or newly discovered facts is displaced by yet another paradigm to account for those facts. In his view, students and practitioners of international relations had been incapable of thinking and acting effectively in the last forty years because their minds were instructed by "the cold war paradigm," that is, to think of the world as divided into three separate worlds: 1) the wealthy democratic societies led by the United States; 2) the somewhat poorer communist societies led by the Soviet Union; and 3) the third world composed of poor, recently independent, politically unstable countries that existed outside the two other worlds.
Huntington reports that the dramatic events of the past five years have reduced this paradigm to "intellectual history," and that it is, therefore, clearly necessary to find one that "will help us to order and to understand central developments in world politics. "Culture" recommended itself in this threatening vacuum of thought as "the best simple map of the cold war world." Civilizations are, in Huntington's reading of history, the natural successors to the three worlds of the cold war, and because, as he believes, the "clash of civilizations" perspective can in fact "account for everything of significance in world affairs during these past months." "Can any other paradigm do better? If not civilizations, what?"
The "civilizational model" for understanding and conducting international relations does not pretend to have anything to do with civilization per se. It was not derived from careful assessments and comparisons of different cultures. It is a paradigm that was fashioned by deconstructing culture as concept and reality - by draining it of all substantive meanings - while using its semantic shell as code word and carrier of the new mechanism for guided thought. As noted by Huntington papers, all this was done on the spur of the moment in 1989/90 when the "old" cold war paradigm was judged dysfunctional as a simple but accurate map of central developments in world affairs, thus threatening paralysis in social science theory building.
Just how functional is the new civilizational model? And if it is not functional, what next?
Before responding to the major challenges implicit in this paradigmatic methodology of coming to terms with world politics and American foreign policy making, it is appropriate to note certain flaws, or illogicisms, in the Huntington theory. For example, was the semantic shift from the cold war model to the civilization model really necessary? After all, the new map does not in any way disprove or replace the cold war map. References to "clashes of civilization" in conjunction with the long list of ongoing conventional and unconventional conflicts and wars make it clear that we are dealing with the same or closely similar "clashes" that have preoccupied us throughout the recent past. Further, "clashes of civilizations" are by definition "cold wars of cultures and ideas." The record justifies the view …