“Civilizations & Democracy”

“Civilizations & Democracy”

In 1992, Samuel Huntington developed the idea of the “Clash of Civilizations” that argued fundamental differences within civilizations will eventually lead to various tensions and conflicts.  This controversial viewpoint has been debated by academics and it has even been used by the American Republican Party to justify the ongoing “War on terror”.  In addition, the idea of cultural differences and perceived roots of democracy in Western civilization has been used to examine whether the non-Western world is compatible with democracy or not.  Huntington and his supporters believe that non-Western cultures cannot accept democracy under the assumption that civilizations are univocal, democracies are formed under unique founding conditions, and a separation between church and state is required in a democracy.

In the “Clash of Civilizations,” Huntington believes that non-Western cultures are incompatible with democratic political systems. He asserts non-Western cultures cannot accept democratic values because of cultural differences and suggests that all the different civilizations are univocal.  Huntington cites conflicts between Islamic cultures and the Western cultures over ideology as an example to these differences and suggests that Islam is the problem because their culture is not compatible with democratic values.  Berger reaffirms this view by arguing in his article that only western Christianity has promoted democratic values because the Bible has passages that discuss secularism and that Christianity has always promoted democratic values.  These views suggest that non-Western cultures cannot successfully adopt democracy because of their inherent differences and united attitudes towards western values.

Nonetheless, it appears both Huntington and Berger’s assertions are flawed because civilizations are actually multivocal rather than being univocal.  In “Religion, Democracy, and the ‘Twin Tolerations’”, Alfred Stepan argues that the so-called civilizations are multivocal because the various “kin countries” within a civilization tend to have differing views.  This can be seen with the opposing views between Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew, who believes that democracy conflicts with “Asian values” and South Korea’s Kim Daejung, who argues that democracy is a part of Asian values as an example of multivocality within a civilization.  In addition, in response to Berger, Stepan’s article points out that multivocality has also existed in Western Christianity and argues that at different points in time, both the Catholic Church and the protestant sects have opposed democracy, individualism and secularism.  This suggests that Christianity, despite having passages that support democratic values, is also multivocal and potentially anti-democratic.  Additionally, based on Berger’s article, each Christian sect has also used different methods in promoting democratic values, which can also be perceived as another example of multivocality within a civilization.  Moreover, Fish’s research found that there was no correlation between diversity and democracy, which suggests that neither a homogenous nor a heterogeneous culture will affect a country’s ability to develop a democratic government.

The belief of unique founding conditions for democracy is another point used to argue why democracy is incompatible with non-Western cultures.  This assumption believes that a democracy will only develop under if the same conditions that helped it grow were recreated.  This belief has led Huntington to argue that democratic values, such as individualism, liberalism, secularism have little or no appeal to non-Western cultures because modern democracy was developed in the west, suggesting that democracy is not feasible for non-Western cultures because it is a western idea that was developed under unique circumstances.  In addition, he suggests that countries may have a chance in achieving democracy if they modified their culture to be compatible with the West, such as Japan, or if they change their civilization’s identity and are accepted by the receiving civilization.  Additionally, Berger again reaffirms this notion because he argues that western Christianity shaped modern democracy, improved countries whose populations have converted to Christianity and played a role in democracy movements in countries, such as East Germany in the 1980s.

Even so, Stepan believes that the assumption of unique founding conditions is flawed because countries can develop their own form of democracy without recreating the same conditions in Western democracies.  Examples of non-Western states developing new democracies are in South Korea and Taiwan, who have been able to adopt ideas of secularism, individualism, and democracy into their culture despite their western origins with almost little or no conflict with their own cultures.  Although these countries are classified as part of the “Confucian” civilization, they were still able to develop democratic governments under their own terms and without the influence of western Christianity, but rather on little-known democratic values within Confucianism itself.  Additionally, Stepan suggests that any country, regardless of culture can develop a democracy so long as Dahl’s eight requirements are fulfilled along with mechanisms to promote open competition.  This suggests that the belief in unique founding conditions is flawed because non-Western cultures can form a democratic government so long as it complies with Dahl’s requirements.  In addition, Fish’s research would also disprove Berger’s views on the impact of religion since his data finds that there is no correlation between religion and democracy, with the exception of some Islamic states.  However, these results occur in Islamic states that either do not have any twin tolerations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, or have corrupt, power-hungry rulers, such as Pakistan and Egypt.

The separation of church and state or removing religion from the political agenda is also an assumption on why democracy has succeeded in the west.  In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Huntington believes that the separation of church and state is the West’s strongest trait because it does not appear to exist in other cultures because, “In Islam, God is Caesar; in [Confucianism,] Caesar is God; in Orthodoxy, God is Caesar’s junior partner”.  This suggests that Islam is a nondemocratic religion, Confucianism is a philosophy that supports authoritarianism, and Orthodox Christianity is subservient to the state, which suggests that non-Western cultures with these religions will have trouble democratizing.  Berger would again support this assertion because claims the Bible has always supported secularism and because he believes Protestantism promoted individuality through the scriptures, secularism with the belief of universal priesthood, and it had an emphasis on education.  In addition, Berger, like Huntington, argues that the west was able to democratize because the church gradually allowed for religious pluralism and the state began to take over their ideological “dome”.

Unlike Huntington, Stepan argues that there is no true separation of church and state, but rather twin tolerations between the church and state and religion does not have to be removed to have a democracy.  Stepan disproves Huntington’s assumption that there is a true separation of church and state because several of the European Union members had established churches until recently.  Moreover, Western countries were able to take religion away from the political sphere through agreements that reaffirm the twin tolerations such as the Lateran Accords, which allowed the Vatican to exist as a separate state in return for its recognition of the Italy’s republican government, rather than having the state take over the church’s ideological “dome” as Berger discussed.  Moreover, contrary to Huntington’s views, Stepan points out that Islamic states such as Bangladesh and Indonesia are able to develop secular, working democracies with Islamic political parties that work within the system despite having Muslim roots.  Additionally, as stated before, Fish’s statistical analysis had already proven that religion has no influence on the state’s ability to develop a democracy.

In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Huntington suggested that the non-Western cultures are incompatible with democratic political systems.  This assertion was made under assumption that civilizations are univocal, democracy has unique founding conditions, and secularization is required.  Berger in his article has reaffirmed much of Huntington’s views by praising the superiority of Christianity in promoting democracy and improving countries that have embraced it.  In contrast, Stepan disproves Huntington’s views by pointing out that civilizations are multivocal with differing views; non-Western countries can develop their own version of democracy; and full secularization is not necessary to develop a democratic system,.  Therefore, non-Western cultures can develop democracies so long as they promote twin tolerations between the church and state, develop diverse viewpoints, strive to develop democratic values and fulfill Dahl’s eight requirements.


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