Thursday, January 1, 2009

clash of civilizations

A fundamental and vastly telling theme is this: is there in the West, the developed World, an imperialist-like imperative to impose its will, civilizationally, on a different civilization? I try to take the question one step further and visit the difference between ideology and philosophy. The former is a self answering, closed system of thought; the latter is an open ended, provisional view of the world, which takes into account evidence, changes its mind in conformity to the evidence, and can find an analogue in its ideal of deliberation in the methods of science.

Theocracy, dictatorship, totalitarianism—even understanding Arendt’s distinction between those latter two—and oligarchy typify ideology; liberal democracy typifies an anti-ideological open mindedness, which tries to balance tradition and self questioning—the double mindedness of liberalism which at once believes and doubts—and which is, ideally, open to a better argument or to what the evidence tells it.

I fail to understand equivalence between liberal democracy seeking to extend itself—which makes that as an imperial enterprise oxymoronic—and an ideological fanaticism wanting what: to communize the world, in days gone by, or to caliphate the world, or some less apocalyptic version of either. An answer to charge of American exceptionalism and to the tension between Wilsonian- come NeoCon-come Bush Democratic idealism and self interested, utilitarian/pragmatic realism is the alignment, where it occurs—Iraq is a highly debatable example—of national interest with the possibility of planting democracy.

That is not a clash of civilizations initiated by America. That, rather, is the laudable and self interested desire to put some more of the world, where other events make it a possibility, (and this is one difference between Iraq and Afghanistan), on a defensible beneficent footing. This is part of a defensible argument for the rightness of the U.S. going into Iraq. (Another is that going into Iraq was a rational application of the Bush doctrine after 9/11: to fold pre-emption, in a proper case, into prevention.) (History has yet to tell us what it will make of George W. Bush. Outcomes in Iraq will affect history’s judgment. I think history will be kinder to Bush than present sentiment allows.)

A final point about modernity: the identification by some of technological prowess with modernity is to conflate a strong arm with the entire body. I say, indifferent to whatever technological advancement exists, a society, for one example , that dehumanizes and oppresses women, or that, for another, does not fence off religion from statehood, cannot claim “modernity”.

Itzik Basman

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