esmaspäev, veebruar 09, 2009

belated obit

Samuel Huntington, the highly influential thinker who authored The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, died on Dec. 24 on Martha's Vineyard -- of all places, not a bad place to go.

One of the first books I read about Estonia was Marju Lauristin and Peeter Vihalemm's Return to the Western World: Cultural and Political Perspectives on the Estonian Post-Communist Transition (1997).

Return to the West lays out Estonia's historical narrative for inclusion in the nordic and European community. The book heavily references Huntington's theory, and the authors are quite pleased to reprint his map with a thick border running through the middle of Lake Peipsi separating Orthodox Russia from Western Estonia. The differences are not merely about interpretations of history; these two countries sit on different civilizational tectonic plates.

Is this just smart geopolitical repositioning? Partially. Estonia's political leaders at that time passionately used such civilizational rhetoric. To President Lennart Meri, for example, Estonia was not "FSU" but "FSE" -- former Swedish empire. But even in the Soviet era, Estonia was a different kind of Soviet country. Magazine articles from the 1950s and 60s talk of a similar kind of limboland, where Soviet power was apparent but eastern civilization was not.

The genius of Huntington's work, like the best theories, was that it confirmed something we already intrinsically knew. What is interesting is how it continues to drive Western policies. At the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn last year, I listened late at night as an older British diplomat explained his country's support for Baltic EU and NATO inclusion. "Tallinn could be Copenhagen," he said. "Riga could be Lübeck, Vilnius could be Krakow. This is the West!"

But Kiev? Tbilisi? The Western thinkers know not what to do. The strength of their convictions atrophies in the civilizational confusion that ensues whenever big questions over the future of Ukraine and Georgia are raised. As Peter Millar wrote in the Times in August. "For [David] Cameron to equate Estonia and Ukraine, as he did last week, is stupidity. Estonia’s history, language and culture are markedly separate."

That was a civilizational argument underpinning a contemporary foreign policy. And here you can begin to see why Huntington is still controversial and his theory is not loved in certain quarters.

21 kommentaari:

Johh ütles ...

I think you might mean
"separating western Russia from eastern Estonia."
Cheers!

Giustino ütles ...

I meant western as in, well, Western. Maybe caps will clear up the confusion?

Giustino ütles ...

Huntington uses "Orthodox" and "Western" in his book, so I have now changed the piece to reflect this.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I have never been that enthusiastic about his quite illiberal thesis. There are many other possible categorizations and by far the two most destructive wars in the history of humanity were fought quite across the civilizational boundaries. One wonders why if they are so crucial.

Giustino ütles ...

It's just an influential theory. Interestingly, much of its influence has been in the discussion over the clash between radical Islam and the West, not Europe and Russia. My question is about its uniqueness: Have these thinkers merely been influenced by Huntington, or have we previously viewed the world this way?

Puu ütles ...

Yo... I've been down these paths and I would warn against it. I was kinda crazy for a long time and this type of examination of history didn't help.... You're better at sticking to something really simple like the history of Estonian beer.

Giustino ütles ...

I am not endorsing the theory, sõprad, I am just saying that it's influential, especially in Estonia, and the gentleman who came up with it died recently.

Lingüista ütles ...

I feel it is one of the 'theories of differences' (like Toynbee's "various independent civilizstions" as subjects of History) that end up stressing polarization and perhaps increasing hard feelings between the parts that are separated. Russia's history is full of the "are we Europeans or are we Asians?" theme (slavophiles against westernizers, etc.), and I'm worried of the nationalistic-like overtones that such theories tend to generate.

Interesting that Estonia should feel this 'northern kinship'; it seems Latvia, though it went through similar phases (German knights, Swedish rule, Russian Empire, Independence, German Occupation, Russian Occupation, Independence again), certainly does not feel the same way. Could it be the feeling of kinship with the Finns that pulls the Estonians northward, as compared to the Latvians? (By the way, what about the Estonian identity as 'Finno-Ugrian', rather than as Nordic/Scandinavian? Don't the Estonians feel kinship with the Finns, Hungarians, and all those smaller peoples in the Russian federation -- Maris, Erzyans, Mokshans, Udmurts, Komi, Saami, etc.? Does that pull them away from a simple 'Scandinavian' identity?)

Giustino ütles ...

Lingüista,

Estonians probably see themselves as perfect. Everyone else, therefore, would be imperfect.

puolimieli ütles ...

Huntington's thesis is very useful, and it has helped me explain things I did not understand before like the differing trajectories of various ex-communist countries. The main objection to it does not seem to be that it does not make sense or fit the facts (it does), but the fact that it is in conflict with Western liberal universalism, i.e. the thesis that all nations could and should be like the West (recently, a faction of Western liberals called neocons failed to make this happen in Iraq). This is what stockholm slender refers to when he says that Huntington's thesis is illiberal.

Andres ütles ...

Western liberals that call themselves "neoconservatives"? Oxymoron? No?

Lingüista ütles ...

Puolimieli, does Huttington help you understand, say, Poland as opposed to Ukraine?

Lingüista ütles ...

Giustino, shouldn't the title of this post be "belated orbit" instead of "obit"?

puolimieli ütles ...

Andres, I mean liberalism in the wide sense, not in the narrow American sense. Liberalism means eternal "progress", such as the promotion of democracy, free markets and human rights. This definition certainly encompasses the neocons who wanted to bring liberal democracy to Iraq.

Lingüista, yes, very much. Poland as a Western nation has, since the fall of communism, rather smoothly re-integrated itself with the West, becoming an EU member with a functioning democracy. In contrast, Ukraine's post-communist development has been more like that of Russia. Poland's GDP per capita is several times larger than Ukraine's.

In Huntington's book, the border between Western and Orthodox civilizations runs right through Western Ukraine. The relevance of this old religious boundary has been demostrated in Ukraine's domestic politics where pro-EU and pro-Moscow sentiments divide the electorate.

Puu ütles ...

Yeah, but the potential fall-out is the latest Economist cover... "The rise of Economic Nationalism'... And economic nationalism tends to get a little out of hand.. Or perhaps not? What does the public think... Talk among yourselves...

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, puolimieli, true enough in the sense that I don't believe in cultural determinism. The West itself was long primitive, barbarous and illiberal culture. Cultures change. This is not to claim that any country on earth could be Sweden or Holland in three days - or in three centuries. Also, on a more practical level conflicts often take cross cultural shape - the most liberal part of the West was allied with Russia in two world wars against Central Europe, with Japan first in the Anglo-Saxon camp and on the second time allied with Germany. In fact grand cultural and civilizational conflicts are relatively rare. Perhaps because cultures and civilizations are huge, complex and diverse entities with diverse and conflicting interests. So Huntington himself had a very monolithic and simplified approach to hugely complex processes and his followers have often grossly simplified even his grossly simplified original point...

Doris ütles ...

no, it's obit. as isn obituary - something you write or say when someone dies. Not an orbit - the path of something going around something else, in most cases determined by gravity (like the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth)

puolimieli ütles ...

stockholm slender, civil wars are often the bloodiest of wars. The world wars were about hegemony in Europe. The inter-civilizational nature of conflict is clear in the case of Islam, which is at war with other civilizations in China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Middle East, Africa, Russia, Europe and the US.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Reminder: Chinese civilization? Asian values?
What about Taiwan then? It is the Westerners who have diplomatic ties with communist China.

Lingüista ütles ...

Culture certainly influences development, and cultural factors cannot be left out if one is to understand how certain countries advanced faster than others. We may still be surprised by what Ukraine or even Russia will achieve. There certainly are individuals that could lead them away from their current politico-economic swamps.

plasma-jack ütles ...

On Wednesday, the first volume of a new French translation of "Tõde ja õigus" was presented. The presentation took place in the Nordic Library in Paris (: