Civilisation States…and the West

Over at Unherd, Aris Roussinos has written a provocative piece that strikes at the heart of the new world order. The future of global politics, he argues, is the civilisation-state, that nation state (like China, Russia, Turkey, India) which consciously describes itself as a distinctive civilisation and which is prepared to enter the international stage and strongly assert its cultural values and political institutions.

It isn’t central to his article, but I think Roussinos offers a good and necessary counter-balance to some of the exclusively parochial and national focus of post-liberalism (emphases which I think are much-needed, I should add, but which should not be asserted to the exclusion of robust international activity). The implication of Roussinos’s piece is that Western nations should take more seriously the need to act on the world stage. He points to Macron as an example of a Western leader who understands the future battle of civilisation-states, and the need for Western states to offer a strong cultural and political alternative.

For Britain’s part, we shouldn’t have to choose between national and international interests. Yet, in a post-Brexit Britain where the national will naturally come to greater prominence (as it should), we might be in danger of losing our sense of perspective on global affairs. 

I should stress that I think it best for us to act in cases where we are invited to act. There is no point banging on about how we demand national sovereignty if we are to run roughshod over the self-determination of others. But we can act on the international stage safely when invited and in ways that are appropriate to the situation and our own national interest (for instance, through trade sanctions). I developed some thoughts on this matter here, where I touched on events in Hong Kong and its citizens’ pleas for Western powers, including the UK, to take action against Chinese aggression. In short, we need not be labelled globalist neo-liberals/neo-conservatives if we take an active interest in the affairs of those who share common values with us around the world.

It is an open question, of course, as to whether there is such a thing as the West (I think there is) and whether we have altogether lost those values (the rule of law, self-determination, democratic elections, individual freedom, even the presence of an active Christian faith) either through a sense of embarrassment or fear that in asserting them, we appear superior, or, worse still, through an outright hostility towards our common heritage. Tom Holland’s recent book Dominion demonstrates that the very task of dismantling the Western heritage is driven by assumptions that are peculiar to the Western mind. When it comes to Christianity and the West, we can deny it as much as we want, but we are like goldfish swimming in the waters of Christianity.  

Roussinos concludes with the provocative hypothesis that, in the end, it is the West that will prove its own undoing. This certainly strikes a chord as we pull ourselves apart on issues that we have shown great, though necessarily incomplete, progress on. The most significant challenge to the West is coming from within the West. Looking beyond 2020 and further back to 2016, we might ask whether Brexit will contribute to this sense of malaise, indifference even, towards Europe, as part of the West? As someone who voted Remain but who has come to see a good number of positive elements to Brexit, I still have to admit to being nervous about the cultural breakdown of an ostensibly unified Europe.

I wonder, ultimately, if the deconstruction—and in some quarters, the outright hatred—of the West, is in fact the flip side of a myopic lack of awareness of the greater civilisational struggle that is going on? If we realistically faced the alternatives to a Western civilisation—in other words, those civilisation-states active on the world stage right now— might we not earnestly seek to protect what we have come to inherit?

Image Credit: Unherd

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