Today's date:
Fall 2003


Two Wests

This conversation between Samuel Huntington of Harvard University and Anthony Giddens of the London School of Economics took place under the auspices of the Aspen Institute Italia in late Spring.

Samuel Huntington | The central division in the West is one which so many people have focused on: the difference in power between the United States and Europe. This division naturally gives rise to antagonisms, and, at times, conflicts, and certainly to differences in perspective and interest.

This is not a relationship, however, which is limited to the US and Europe. It is basically, I believe, a product of the global structure of power. During the Cold War we had two superpowers who inevitably had to compete with each other. We now have one superpower and several major regional powers, and their interests necessarily conflict at times. The US, as a global superpower, has interests in every part of the world and it tends to promote those interests in every part of the world.

On the other hand, what I call "major regional powers," such as the European Union, or Russia, or China, or India, or Brazil, have interests in their regions. They quite appropriately and understandably think that they ought to be able to shape what goes on on their turf. These differences in perspectives and interests inevitably, in many cases, lead to conflict.

There are also, within every region, countries that are not the major regional power and that, by and large, don't want to be dominated by their stronger and more powerful neighbor. At times, as we have seen, they turn to the US, on the one hand, and the secondary regional powers on the other. If you look back over the past decade, you will see that the relations between the US and many of these secondary powers have grown much closer. We saw a manifestation of that this winter when they lined up in the United Nations Security Council.

Anthony Giddens | To reinforce your point, I would say that the issue of transatlantic divisions, to my mind anyway, doesn't come primarily from disagreements about Iraq. Rather, this disagreement about Iraq-this tremendous fissure-came primarily from unresolved problems which we haven't thought through and which are essentially left over from the Cold War period. I would call these the residual problems of 1989. I think we have only gradually come to realize how thoroughly the Cold War defined our institutions. There are three such residual problems which I consider the biggest: first, the meaning of the West; second, the identity of Europe (because Europe developed essentially in some part as a Cold War formation and now has to face up to a massive process of globalization); third, US military power in relation to Europe.

Now I think that there are two senses of the West which I would separate: I'll call these West One and West Two. In the first sense, the West refers to a constitutional, juridical system, a set of individual rights, the rule of impersonal law, civil liberties and so on. I believe passionately that in this sense, the West is still the West. I believe passionately that the principles which have emerged in Western democratic systems are generalizable systems to the rest of the world, and I believe that you can show that these principles can spread to most societies throughout the world.

West Two, however, is what most discussions about divisions concentrate on. West Two is a geopolitical formation, and here there are serious problems. I still think they are mainly ex-Cold War problems, rather than specific problems about the recent turn of events, but there remain important issues to come to terms with-starting with the fact that Europeans must acknowledge the nature of the new threats, and this has yet to be done sufficiently.

There is a major difference between the kinds of terrorism which we are familiar with here in Europe (local, reasonably confined, with the objective of forming national identities), and the new geopolitical terrorism. This new terrorism leverages the power of civil society. The Cultural gap and the role of religion

Huntington | This perfectly illustrates my further point: the second significant division, in the West, is a cultural one. Obviously Europe and the West share a great deal, but there is one difference which is really significant: The US is a profoundly religious country, European countries are secular. The American settlements in the 17th and 18th centuries were created largely for religious reasons. The religiosity of Americans has struck almost every European visitor to the US since Tocqueville. We are still one of the most religious people in the world and quite exceptional among industrialized societies. And religion and nationalism on a global basis tend to go together: People who are more religious also tend to be more nationalistic. Americans are generally deeply committed to both God and country, and, overall, Europeans seem to have rather weak commitments to both.

In addition, the founding religion in the US was dissenting Protestantism and this has introduced a deeply moralistic strain in American culture. We do tend to define issues in terms of good and evil-more than Europeans-and this tendency has certainly reached a peak in the current administration. This clearly contributes to differences between the American and Europeans.

Giddens | This issue of religion is very interesting, but I'm not convinced that there is a massive difference between Europe and the US. In the US there is a very strong degree of in-church secularization: religion has always had a different function in the wider society than it has in Europe. The difference between Europe and the US is not a straightforward religious one, but one of politicization, the politicizing of the religious right in particular.

Huntington | The results of a series of polls on the extent of belief in 17 countries graded them on their degree of religiosity: the US came out a clear first with the rating 1.7, then, among European countries, Ireland was 4.1, Poland 5.2, Italy 5.9, Britain 11.6, and then Germany, where a distinction was made between West Germany and East Germany. West Germany was 12.1 and East Germany was last with 16.3.

One should note that there is a global resurgence of religion. This is taking place just about everywhere except, possibly, in Western Europe. Religion is becoming more and more important in the way in which countries define their national identity-in the way in which governments try to establish legitimacy-as well as an important element in communal conflicts. As far as America is concerned, it is more religious now than it was 20 or 30 years ago-and there is a lot of evidence on this. America has traditionally gone through what I call "great awakenings," beginning with the first "great awakening" in the 1730s and the 1740s-which prepared the way for the American Revolution-and leading to what I think is a new "great awakening" now. Is religion being politicized in the US? Yes. It is becoming very political. In 2000, each candidate running for top office-with the exception of Joe Lieberman-had to proclaim his belief in Jesus Christ. That has never happened before in American politics. Democracy and Islam

Giddens | Let me go back, for a moment, to West One. There are four times as many democratic systems in the world today as there were 25 years ago-even taking into account the fact that there are more states in absolute terms. There is a structural reason for this, I think. We are living in something like a global information society: People are no longer passive citizens, they want to be much more active with regards to their own lives. That is one of the reasons why I think discussion on democratization in Iraq is different from discussion on democratization in other countries even 10 to 15 years ago. Comparisons with post-war Germany and Japan are not very accurate either. Current discussion must be in terms of the wider spread of democratic systems, which make previously non-existent forms of leverage possible.

Huntington | You have very appropriately pointed to the tremendous spread of democracy throughout the world; however, most of the countries to which democracy has spread were either countries that had cultures quite similar to those around the North Atlantic-that is Latin American countries or Central European countries-or were the result of long American influence-like South Korea and Taiwan. I am not saying that it is universal, but still, the cultural factor would seem important. As Joe LaPalombara has said, "to democratize means to Westernize." I wish this were true, but the fact of the matter is-at least in the Muslim world where elections have been held-it is the fundamentalists groups that come out ahead. Even in France, where they had an election for the Islamic Council established by the government, or in Pakistan or other Muslim countries, it's the fundamentalists who tend to win. They represent to a very large extent popular opinion. If we organize elections anytime soon in Iraq I would be willing to bet it will be the more extreme Shiite and Sunni fundamentalists who will come out ahead. So while we are all in favor of democracy, we might want to restrain ourselves in persuading some countries to become democratic.

Giddens | In relation to the Muslim world, countries like Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey and Indonesia are emerging democracies. It is not at all clear that their outlook here is necessarily incompatible with the West. There is clearly a division between problems in the Arab world and the large range of problems in the "greater Middle East." I think the struggle of our age is not one between civilizations-though your thesis on the "clash" is one of the most brilliant to be found in the recent history of political science-but a struggle between cosmopolitanism on the one hand and fundamentalism on the other.

Cosmopolitanism is at the core of the West, in the sense of West One: universalizable principles which allow people of different cultures to relate to one another and to live alongside one another. Fundamentalism is any kind of fundamentalism-not just Islamic, not just religious, but ethnic and nationalist, too. To me, the fundamentalist is someone who says there's only one way of life and everyone else better get out of the way. In this sense, I would claim very, very strongly-passionately even-that the West is still the West.

Huntington | Yes, but the West has a legitimacy problem. To be more precise: the world faces the problem of gap between power and legitimacy. Effective, authoritative governance can only exist when the two go together. At present, the US has the power but, in the eyes of most of the world, it lacks the legitimacy.

The global community faces the basic problem of how to bring power and legitimacy together: exercising power without legitimacy can in the long run have very deleterious effects. If I had one message to send to the Bush White House it would be the one framed so well by Rousseau: "The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master unless he turns might into right and obedience into duty."

Bringing together legitimacy and power is a crucial issue whether it involves developing ways of giving greater legitimacy to US power, or greater power to UN legitimacy. Either the UN should be reformed, or the US should try more than it has recently to act in a multilateral fashion and through international organizations, and thus gain legitimacy.

Giddens | How do you achieve legitimacy in the international system? Well, I think, quite simply, through rules: impersonal rules which are observed by everybody. That's why the WTO is particularly important. It is a rule-bound organization, and the fact that the Chinese have signed up, that Taiwan has signed up, that Russia signals its wish to do so, is extremely important.

Huntington | Yes, but are there institutional remedies? Well, I can think of some-none of which, however, has any chance of being adopted. One, for instance, would be to simply restructure the UN Security Council, adding countries like India, Japan and Brazil as permanent members, and doing away with veto power for everyone except the US. That, it seems to me, would create a Security Council that more or less reflects the power structure in the world today.

In any case, divisions have existed between America and Europe in the past, most notably in the 19th century, and the current differences are mild. I think it is important to emphasize the common historical and cultural legacy that joins America and Europe-going back through the centuries of the Renaissance Reformation, Enlightenment, development of the Westphalian system and nation states, but, even more important, a division between spiritual and temporal authority, the rule of law, social pluralism, representative government, individual rights...These, it seems to me, constitute the basic features of Western civilization. They distinguish Europeans and Americans from other societies and cultures whether they are Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Muslim, Arab or other.

Giddens | I think Max Weber-the celebrated German sociologist and economist-got it right when he argued that the origin of the West is fundamentally to be traced to the rule of law, and especially the impersonal rule of law. No other cultures had the impersonal rule of law and it is from this that a great deal of civil liberties stem.

Huntington | The crucial difference now, of course, comes with the engagement of Western countries with Islam and this manifests itself on a whole variety of fronts. In Europe you have Muslim immigration: This poses serious social and cultural problems and questions of national identity which have come to the fore in European countries. It also, quite obviously, poses security problems in that so many of the terrorists have found a home in Western European countries. They are, of course, just part of a global, broader manifestation of militant Islam. We must distinguish between militant Islam and Islam in general, but militant Islam is clearly a threat to the West-through terrorists and rogue states that are trying to develop nuclear weapons, and through a variety of other ways.

The extent to which communal violence in today's world involves Muslims is striking: The Economist identified 32 major conflicts going on in the world in the year 2000, and if you look at those 32 conflicts more than two-thirds involve Muslims fighting other Muslims or Muslims fighting non-Muslims. Hence it seems to me a high priority for Europe and America is to recognize what they have in common and to try to work out a common strategy for dealing with the threats to their society and security from militant Islam.

I would add that a strategy which allows for preemptive war against urgent, immediate and serious threats is absolutely essential for the US and other Western powers in this period. Our enemies-primarily the militant Islam, but also other groups-cannot be deterred, that much is obvious, so it is essential-if they are preparing an attack against us-that we attack first.