To put it simply, the great world civilizations, which used to have detached and separate identities, now have increasingly overlapping areas of commonality. Most people around the world now have the same aspirations as the Western middle classes: they want their children to get good educations, land good jobs, and live happy, productive lives as members of stable, peaceful communities.
Instead of feeling depressed, the West should be celebrating its phenomenal success at injecting the key elements of its worldview into other great civilizations. The march of reason, triggered in the West by the Enlightenment, is spreading globally, leading to the emergence of pragmatic problem-solving cultures in every region and making it possible to envisage the emergence of a stable and sustainable rules-based order.
There is every reason to believe, moreover, that the next few decades can be even better for humanity than the last few—so long as the West does not lose confidence in its core values and retreat from global engagement. The greatest danger of the current pessimism, therefore, is that it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to fear and withdrawal rather than attempts to reinvigorate the existing global system. No other civilization can take credit for giving birth to modernity. This was not done with some benign intent to uplift humanity in general; there were many problems along the way, and the explosion of Western power across the globe had some terrible consequences for other cultures and regions.
As recently as half a century ago, for example, there was a global clash of economic ideologies. Nikita Khrushchev, the former leader of the Soviet Union, could claim that the state was better at delivering basic goods to citizens than free markets were, but today such a view would be laughed at. Societies now accept the simple fact that workers need material incentives to be productive, which has led to increased dignity and self-worth. Around half of the adults in the world own a smartphone, and there are now more connected mobile devices in total than there are people on the planet.
The spread of science and technology, meanwhile, has also improved human dignity and well-being. Most people used to experience lives that were nasty, brutish, and short. Today, life expectancy has increased by leaps and bounds virtually everywhere. Infant and maternal mortality have dropped sharply, thanks in part to the spread of clear hygiene standards and the construction of modern hospitals.
Aside from among the Taliban and a few pockets of upscale communities in the United States, the virtues of vaccines are accepted by all, part of a general consensus on the virtues of Western science and technology. And reason is replacing superstition more generally. People around the world now routinely do basic cost-benefit analyses when looking for solutions to problems, leading to a gradual improvement in outcomes everywhere, from agriculture and construction to social and political life.
This helps explain the dramatic long-term decline in the rates of most kinds of conflict and violence that the Harvard scholar Steven Pinker has documented. After slavery and imprisonment, the most degrading condition a human being can experience is poverty. That goal was far exceeded, and the U. National Intelligence Council has predicted that extreme poverty will be reduced even further by —which would constitute one of the most remarkable developments in human history. The global middle class, meanwhile, is projected to rise from 1.
This translates into more than four million fewer infant deaths each year.
Instead of optimism based on this recent progress, however, these days in the West, one more often encounters pessimism related to three current challenges: turbulence in the Islamic world, the rise of China, and intra-Western economic and political sclerosis. But the pessimism is unwarranted, because none of these three challenges is insurmountable.
The Fusion of Civilizations | Larry Summers
The Islamic world, from Morocco to Indonesia, comprises 1. The vast majority of them share the common global aspirations to modernize their societies, achieve middle-class living standards, and lead peaceful, productive, and fulfilling lives. Contrary to what some assert, Islam is fully compatible with modernization.
When Malaysia built the Petronas Towers and Dubai built Burj Khalifa, they were not just erecting physical structures but also sending a metaphysical message: we want to be part of the modern world in all dimensions.
The Muslim population in the EU is mainly linked to migration dynamics
Many Islamic societies have educated their women. In Malaysian universities, the women outnumber the men 65 percent to 35 percent. Even some Islamic countries that were initially reluctant to embrace modernization have begun to do so. One reason for the shift is that the experience of other regions, such as Asia, has shown that modernization does not simply equal westernization—that it is possible to pursue, say, economic and social development while still retaining distinctive cultural characteristics.
It is true that a certain number of young Muslims will continue to choose rebellion against the modern world rather than integration into it, joining radical Islamist groups and trying to wreak havoc where they can. But however much they constitute a major global security problem, they are dwarfed by, say, the million nonradical Muslims who live peacefully in Indonesia alone. The real challenge, therefore, is not the Islamic world per se but figuring out how to bolster the pro-modernization trends in that world while containing the radical trend.
In retrospect, it was a mistake for the West to have remained silent when Saudi funding dramatically increased the number of radical madrasahs around the world. A comparable investment today in building a good modern school next to each radical one would create a contest for legitimacy that would likely spread Enlightenment values far and wide.
The second great challenge many worry about is the rise of China. There [is] therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.
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Even as Chinese society has accepted modernity with great enthusiasm, however, it has not abandoned its Chinese cultural roots. The Chinese look at their modern Chinese civilization and emphasize its Chineseness, seeing no contradiction. Indeed, China is now experiencing its own cultural renaissance, fueled by its new affluence. The Nixon administration eagerly sought better relations with China under Mao, and when Deng Xiaoping doubled down by opening up the country, the West applauded the change.
The United States generously accepted Chinese products into its markets, allowed massive trade surpluses, welcomed China into the World Trade Organization in , and kept global sea-lanes open so that China could trade freely. The United States also generously allowed more than a million Chinese students to study in its universities. Yet the rise of China has also led to deep fears.
China continues to be run by a communist party that has no desire to embrace liberal democracy. China has displayed a belligerent side in some of its dealings with Japan and some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations over territorial disputes in the East China and South China Seas. But we have come a vast distance since the days when Mao openly talked about the possibility of winning a nuclear war, and Chinese history suggests that Beijing will ultimately prefer to join, rather than replace or reject, the current rules-based order that the West has created.
This might lead to heavy-handed efforts to preserve order domestically, but it should lead Beijing to support a rules-based order at the global level as well. Undoubtedly, as China grows more powerful, it will become more assertive. This has happened. But since China needs a few more decades of peace to complete its modernization, it has strong reasons to restrain itself militarily and avoid a conflict.
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A Convergence of Civilizations
Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Emmanuel Todd. George A. Holoch Jr. The demographics of the West remain sluggish, while the population of the Muslim world explodes, widening the cultural gap and all but guaranteeing the outbreak of war. Leaving aside the media's sound and fury on this issue, measured analysis shows another reality taking shape: rapprochement between these two civilizations, benefiting from a universal movement with roots in the Enlightenment.
The historical and geographical sweep of this book discredits the notion of a specific Islamic demography. The range of fertility among Muslim women, for example, is as varied as religious behavior among Muslims in general. Whether agnostics, fundamentalist Salafis, or al-Qaeda activists, Muslims are a diverse group that prove the variety and individuality of Islam. Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd consider different degrees of literacy, patriarchy, and defensive reactions among minority Muslim populations, underscoring the spread of massive secularization throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
In this regard, they argue, there is very little to distinguish the evolution of Islam from the history of Christianity, especially with Muslims now entering a global modernity.
Sensitive to demographic variables and their reflection of personal and social truths, Courbage and Todd upend a dangerous meme: that we live in a fractured world close to crisis, struggling with an epidemic of closed cultures and minds made different by religion. Get A Copy.
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