Today’s world order is influenced by globalization, an international concept that integrates societies and economies into a unified system. This system has created new challenges and opportunities which demand that we reformulate answers to how we approach diversity. It allows more actors to interact and achieve their goals. A company in New Jersey now can employ people from China to manufacture goods that are then sold on the global markets. Likewise, a Chinese company may access investments from overseas and build new plants or improve domestic infrastructure. While globalization makes it increasingly easier for actors to participate in shared economic activities, it also creates problems such as clashing of worldviews. Moreover, globalization effects are experienced differently by various countries. On the one hand, countries with strong economies, such as the U.S., which is seen to represent the Western civilization, strengthen their dominance along with expanding their economies. On the other hand, the non-Western countries with a slow economic growth face increasing challenges as they need to both compete in the new economic order and defend their cultural preeminence. In his book’s chapter “The West and the Rest: Intercivilizational Issues,” Samuel Huntington claims that the post-Cold War influence of the West is declining, and non-Western civilizations oppose economic globalization and may form coalitions to make their own civilizations dominant. In his New York Times article as of November 23, 2001, “A World not Neatly Divided,” Amartya Sen claims that the concept of civilizations is not relevant in the global sense and proposes to view humanity as connected on the ground of solidarity. While these authors’ opposing perspectives support the claim that humanity is divided and differences between societies are emphasized by globalization, they differ on where the “clash” lines occur. A question is raised in this essay: is the concept of civilizations applicable to the world undergoing integration? An inquiry into the literature on globalization and cultural integration leads to the conclusion that civilizations do not clash; thus, the concept is not relevant. Instead, solidarities and common interests are prevalent.
Civilizations’ Approach: The West Versus the Non-West
The concept of solidarity as central to globalization was proposed by Sen in his article “A World not Neatly Divided,” arguing that the civilizational view divides societies by very broad categories and should be discarded (2001). Sen maintains that there are nuances to the view of the world as being Western versus the non-Western and illustrates numerous instances of diversity both within civilizations and across countries. In addition to uniting on the basis of languages and jobs, which as Sen argues is a much better way to view global society since it does not spur conflict, people act when they share solidarity. A vivid example of solidarity is presented by the anti-globalization movement (“A World not Neatly Divided”).
Although Sen’s position may seem immediately appealing to anyone who is not interested in making the world a more conflict-ridden place, it is not suitable for country-states, as Huntigton argues in his book’s chapter “The West and the Rest: Intercivilizational Issues” (2007). Huntington establishes that global divisions occur within the international context of changing power balances and that the power of the West is declining (184). In his view, if any civilization is responsible for promoting a universal culture, it must be the Western civilization, mainly America. Moreover, the Western values are a point of current and future contentions between the Western and non-Western civilizations such as China and Islamic states (Huntington 183).
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The liberal democratic ideology that stands at the core of the Western civilization is in opposition to value systems existent in the non-West (Huntington 183). Irrespective of whether it is an interest of the West alone or non-Western countries as well, the liberal democratic values became defined by many countries as the “interest of the world community” (Huntington 184). This caused the opposition from non-Western country-states since the liberal values went along as part of the globalization system (Huntington 184). Consequently, the West was criticized by non-Western countries for gaps between the Western values and actions, and its economic, cultural, and military domination was opposed (Huntington 184). Huntington further raises the implication of declining influence of the West: future value systems could be shaped by non-Western civilizations (185). Islamic states and China, which the author considers as rivaling powers, could define the 21st century’s global values as their common interest is in opposition to that of the West (Huntington 185).
While many countries are readily adopting the Western values of liberalism as central to their new economic and political systems, this fact would not persuade Huntigton that the clash lines are not along the civilizations. Yet, if the concept of civilizations is used by non-Western countries in the way it is utilized by the West, its meaning to them is clearly different. Sen argues that while values such as tolerance and freedom are present in the Western civilizations, they are also common in non-Western countries (“A World not Neatly Divided”). Diversity and tolerance were present in India in the 16th century already. Moreover, numerous Islamic states favor some liberalism and freedom (“A World not Neatly Divided”). Interestingly, the non-Westerners often view the European history, which is the cradle of the Western civilization, as rich in examples of non-tolerance. Sen mentions that the West was far behind the Indian civilization in instilling liberal values: while inquisitions were rampant in Rome, tolerance was already practiced in India (“A World not Neatly Divided”).
Sen further argues that the concept of “self-conception” is central to every individual (“A World not Neatly Divided”). Therefore, he would maintain that individual differences spur conflicts occurring in the context of globalization. His view, opposite to Huntington’s stance on civilizations as central to conflict, could be a reflection of personal experience of someone who grew in India, a country known for democracy on par with the rest of the West. Yet, Sen also illustrates other sources of international conflict. As many individuals are similar in their poverty, they form alliances on the basis of the shared poverty. Sen brings to attention the anti-globalization movement and claims that it “goes firmly against religious, national, or “civilizational” lines of division” (“A World not Neatly Divided”).
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Arjun Appadurai’s article “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy” describes globalization-spurred alliances built on common interests (1990). These interests are actualized within “scapes” of people, ideas, technology, media, and finances (Appadurai 2). Appadurai says that considerable tensions accompany the movements of people, ideas, technology, media (that is part of culture), and finances (3). These tensions are rooted in political, economic, and cultural reasons (Appadurai 3). For example, on the political grounds, country-states adopt conventions, regulations, and narratives to influence the movements within the “scapes” (Appadurai 3). Appadurai shows that the interests of countries and companies are defended. On the other hand, interests of individuals are not defended. If Appadurai was asked to assess the civilizational dimension of globalization, he would argue that civilizations were now irrelevant. According to his article, differences have shifted from the “core-periphery” (the West and the non-West) to places where movements of people, ideas, technology, media, and finances encounter political or other forms of opposition (“Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”).
Freedman provides a vivid example of the use of the Internet to promote a good end goal by founding an international law (“Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11”). He describes how Ody Williams networked with individuals located in various places of the world to form a treaty on land mines, which was opposed only by a few global superpowers (“Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11”). Still, this proves that given a cause that is supported by the majority, an individual can be “super-empowered” to achieve desired goals.
While Huntinton’s book chapter is persuasive in its tone, it is based on many assumptions about the present and future world order. The author does not provide concrete evidence or examples of how Islamic states and China could form an anti-Western coalition. In fact, events following the release of his book “The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order” prove that civilizations are not the place of clashing interests. The Arab Spring is one example of the new kinds of tensions. Also, people increasingly utilize technologies, including the Internet, to join groups with which they most affiliate, hire people from abroad, and form political, social, and even religious associations that have a global reach. Therefore, solidarity and common interests are a better way to view differences and resolve challenges that accompany globalization.
The article by Appadurai is the most persuasive in its claim that the core-periphery debate is not relevant anymore. Appadurai illustrates how various interest spheres, which he termed “scapes,” serve to unite people, while country-states’ actions are often in opposition to the universal interests within the spheres of ideas, technology, etc. Therefore, the concept of civilizations is not useful if utilized without considering other concepts such as solidarity. This conclusion raises a need to answer further questions. To which extent is the concept of solidarity useful for all global actors, including country-states? What is it for the societies that interact? Further research needs to be conducted to answer these inquiries. Finally, if civilizations are less relevant in today’s world, non-Western societies may become more tolerant of other cultures, including the Western cultures.