Islam

My View of The West: Exploring the Causes and Consequences of Civilizational Politics

By Gregorio Bettiza

One of the major lines of my research has been motivated by a paradox. Why, despite the nearly universal critique of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis, his Foreign Affairs article and book remain among the most widely cited and read pieces of scholarly – or, better, ideological – work within the social sciences (see here for an effort at providing an explanation). Along the way, I’ve been fascinated by how Huntington’s thesis, and more broadly the view that we are in a world of multiple civilizations whose relations drive global peace and security, have not just been confined to academic books and university classrooms. But have also increasingly animated public debates and shaped international practices and institutions in novel and dramatic ways since the end of the Cold War. These developments constitute, in my view, the emergence of a particular type of politics, which I have come to define as civilizational politics.

Like most in this network, analytically I do not approach civilizations – whether it is ‘the West’ or any other civilizational entity – as objective, clearly identifiable, realities. Rather I view them as socially constructed identities. Importantly, these are not just discourses that are instrumentally deployed, but meaningful imagined communities and social imaginaries that many around the world – whether in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, Africa, or across South and East Asia – collectively hold and draw upon to interpret and define their realities. An important part of my research has been dedicated to investigating the causes and consequences of civilizational politics in our contemporary globalized international system. Over the years I’ve explored how US foreign policy has contributed to reifying – under both the Bush and Obama presidencies – the ‘Muslim world’ in international relations (here), how the Islamic State (ISIS) has represented ‘the West’ in its propaganda (here), how ideas of civilizational dialogues have reshaped international institutions (here and here), or why rising authoritarian powers like Russia and China are increasingly reconstructing their identities along civilizational lines in an effort to contest the liberal international order (here). 

Recently I’ve been intrigued by the growing contestation, emerging in the context of rising populism and far-right groups across Europe and the United States, around what constitutes the essence and boundary of ‘the West’. Namely, whether the West should be principally defined in racial terms (whiteness being its key attribute), linguistic-ethnic terms (a fragmented West of Anglophone, Germanic, Latin and possibly Slavic peoples), in cultural and religious terms (the Judeo-Christian West) or along secular ideological lines (the Liberal West). Which understanding prevails in the coming decades will have important repercussions on a host of issues, including: the transatlantic relation and membership in NATO, the future of the European Union, relations with Russia, the War on Terror, immigration policies, and many other aspects of international politics. These debates, and the scholarship unpacking them, are all finding their way in the reading list of my MA course The West, Civilizations and World Order.

My publication with David Lewis on rising powers and normative contestation is now out!

Dr Gregorio Bettiza

Photo source.

Dr Gregorio Bettiza is Senior Lecturer in International Relations. His research interests are in IR theory and in the role of ideas, norms and identities in international relations. I focus in particular on the complex interactions between liberal and non-liberal ideas, actors and practices in world politics.

My View of the West is a series of short posts by members of The West Network about their research or perspectives of ‘the West’.

 

 

All Quiet on the Western Front? No! Germany’s New Right is fighting for the West

By Ann-Judith Rabenschlag

Berlin, fall 2017. I am standing in front of the Library of Conservatism (Bibliothek des Konservatismus), a conservative think tank founded in 2012 and located in Fasanenstraße, one of the finest addresses in former West-Berlin. In order to get inside I need to ring a bell. The door opens, a young woman welcomes me politely, asks for my name and the reason I am coming for.

Quickly she hands me a paper. Maybe I would like to sign up for a membership in order to support the library financially? I get out of the slightly awkward situation by stating that I was just visiting from Stockholm for a couple of days. However, I had heard a lot about the library, so maybe I could just have a short look…? The woman nods and comes back with the head of the library, a man in his forties dressed like a member of a fraternity. A friendly handshake – so very nice that even researchers from abroad are interested in the ideas of German conservatism.

Would I like to see any specific part of the collection?  Anything related to the concept of the West, I respond. We start our tour along the bookshelves. There is a lot on military history. But also plenty of books by and on Carl Schmitt, Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck – key figures of Germany’s Conservative Revolution during the 1920s and 1930s.

– How is the library financed? I ask.

 Exclusively by private donations. Luckily there are enough people who have realized how important it is that German conservative thoughts are not forgotten.

Does the library have any political affiliations?

No, we are politically neutral. I know there are people considering us to be part of Germany’s New Right. But we are only making the writings of conservative intellectuals accessible.

We continue the tour. Eventually we stop and the chief librarian points at a couple of books. “Those might be interesting for you”, he states. “They all deal with the Abendland.”

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Here it is again – the antique concept Abendland, roughly to be translated with Occident. Oswald Spengler published his bestseller Untergang des Abendlandes about a century ago. In the English translation the book received the title The Decline of the West. The conservative-catholic Abendländische Bewegung (Occidential Movement) influenced public discourse in West Germany during the 1950s. After that, the term Abendland disappeared from public debates until it was revived only a couple of years ago.

In 2014, the xenophobic and islamophobic movement PEGIDA was founded in Dresden, claiming to represent “Patriotic Europeans fighting against the Islamisation of the Occident” (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung Des Abendlandes). Also the right wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), since 2017 represented in Germany’s national Parliament, uses the term Abendland as a synonym for the West. In its party program AfD talks about “the struggle of cultures between Occident and Islam already taking place in Europe.” It furthermore expresses the ambition to preserve “our occidental Christian culture”. (AfD-Party program 2017). Leading AfD-politicians have called Muslim immigration to be a threat to “our Western values” and to “our liberal Western system of values.”

So, is it “all quiet on the Western Front”? No, it is not. Germany’s New Right is trying to take over the concept of the West and to fill it with new meaning. At the beginning of the 20th century, German right wing intellectuals considered the West to be the enemy, presented by France, Great Britain and the detested ideas of 1789. Today right wing populists present themselves as defenders of the West – and as defenders of the Abendland, standing in clear opposition to foreign cultural influences, above all to Islam.

The author is a researcher and lecturer at the history department of the University of Stockholm, Sweden. She is currently conducting research on the concept of the West in postwar German debate.