The seed of Huntington’s brilliant essay on the clash of civilizations which he penned in 1993 is contained in Solzhenitsyn’s no less brilliant talk that he delivered in Harvard in 1978. At America’s holiest of academic holies, Solzhenitsyn analyzed in unsparing language, what he saw America and Americans as representing – intellectual cowardice, decadence of all creative art, loss of spirituality, erosion of religion, absence of self-restraint, destructive individualism, overbearing arrogance and above all a national ego, bloated with complacency that can be caused only by the surfeit of material prosperity.
Solzhenitsyn’s searing Harvard analysis of the state of the American Union was a pre-emptive, extraordinary and visionary repudiation of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992. Solzhenitsyn in fact was negating Fukuyama’s premature blowing of the bugle triumphantly, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and after the collapse of communism to signal the ultimate victory of Western capitalism and liberal democracy, fourteen years before Fukuyama would even reach for the bugle and fifteen years before Samuel Huntington would negate Fukuyama with his essay The Clash of Civilizations in 1993 which he would later develop into the path-breaking book in 1996, The Clash of Civilizations and the Re-making of World Order.
Solzhenitsyn in 1978 was standing Fukuyama’s triumphalism in the dock for its blindness to and ignorance of other worlds and other worldviews where mere material prosperity and the delusory virtues of liberal democracy do not constitute the purpose of human birth and the ultimate goal of human endeavour.
Francis Fukuyama, born in 1952 and a third generation Japanese-American whose father was a minister in the Congregational Church in Chicago, had nothing of Japan and its ancient civilization in him except for his name when he sang hallelujahs to capitalism and to what in politics went by the name of liberal democracy. And unlike Huntington who may have been present in Harvard on that fateful day in 1978, Fukuyama failed to grapple with issues of nation, nationhood and nationalism presented acorn-like in Solzhenitsyn’s address.
But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that the vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems, which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented (by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction.
However, it is a conception which develops out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. (A World Split Apart, Solzhenitsyn, Harvard, 8 June, 1978)
Solzhenitsyn in 1978 was standing Fukuyama’s triumphalism in the dock for its blindness to and ignorance of other worlds and other worldviews where mere material prosperity and the delusory virtues of liberal democracy do not constitute the purpose of human birth and the ultimate goal of human endeavour. Fukuyama was scripting a beautiful American fairy-tale in which America the white Christian good guy killed the ugly anti-Christ bad guy called communist Soviet Union. And America’s victory, crowed Fukuyama, was the end of history.
As pointed put earlier, Japan’s ancient civilization no longer lived in Fukuyama. ‘End of history’ is a biblical theme; the Christian God works through events in history, leading the world in the direction of Jesus’ Second Coming when Christianity would triumph and history, as the world’s march towards this goal would have fulfilled itself, would come to a God-propelled end.
Fukuyama chose to ignore the history of North America, to ignore the Church’s bloody conquest of the New World accompanied by one of the worst genocides in Christian history, and equated America, the homeland of Native Americans with the White Church and the White Church with capitalism and material prosperity, liberal democracy and the rights of individuals. When Fukuyama chose to name his political theory about the ending of the cold war, ‘End of History’ he did so knowing exactly what it meant.
With the defeat of the Soviet Union and of communism, Fukuyama believed that there was nothing more that human endeavour could achieve; that all nations and all cultures would now march only towards this goal and the world would become one happy borderless market in which every individual shopped until he dropped or as far as his purse could stretch. While Fukuyama’s book stopped with celebrating the realization of the great American dream, Solzhenitsyn’s foresight described with sternness the effects of the hangover too.
What Solzhenitsyn did in Harvard in 1978 was hold up to Americans the mirror which showed them the face of what they had come to believe was their national identity; what Solzhenitsyn did in 1990 when he wrote Rebuilding Russia was holding up to Russians the mirror which showed them the face of their national identity – forgotten, blurred and tortured beyond recognition, but with the assurance that Russian national identity could be re-discovered and reinstated with national will.
With the defeat of the Soviet Union and of communism, Fukuyama believed that there was nothing more that human endeavour could achieve; that all nations and all cultures would now march only towards this goal and the world would become one happy borderless market in which every individual shopped until he dropped or as far as his purse could stretch.
Solzhenitsyn confronted the best minds in America in their den and showed them the face of America’s decadence; this he had to do not only to drive home the point that as a thinker-philosopher, he could not turn his face away from truth but also for his own people back home who, living in the unending nightmare called Stalinist Soviet Union, imagined the US to be the new Promised Land.
In all this churning, Solzhenitsyn maintained with passion that Russia had a distinct national character of her own –
Any ancient and deeply rooted, autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth’s surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this category China, India, the Muslim world, and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as compact units.
For one thousand years Russia belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of denying its autonomous character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity. It may be that in past years Japan has increasingly become a distant part of the West. (Solzhenitsyn in Harvard, 1978)
Huntington picked up the cue from Solzhenitsyn and rejected Fukuyama’s proposition that with the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Church had triumphed, the kingdom of God on earth had been established with capitalism and liberal democracy as presiding deities and therefore eschatology was here and now. Huntington pointed to a world that continued to exist beyond American borders, unmoved by eschatology and unimpressed by Christian millennial boundaries of Time.
Huntington warned America that world affairs or the new world order would now move towards a new phase – West versus the rest.
In Harvard, Solzhenitsyn pointed to great civilizations which had existed prior to and independent of Christianity and were still powerful forces to reckon with. Huntington enumerated seven broad civilisational blocs – Western, Islamic, Sinic (Chinese), Hindu, Orthodox, Japanese, and African. Huntington in 1996 believed that Japan was still a nation while Solzhenitsyn twenty years earlier, in 1978 correctly understood Japan as having become an extension of the West; not a colony, but an offspring.
Huntington carried forward Solzhenitsyn’s gentle reprimand and proposed in his theory, The Clash of Civilizations that if the western world, drunk with the victory over the fall of communism, steamrolled nations and civilizations to arrange their affairs to approximate to protestant and catholic principles of liberal democracy, the world would witness growing conflict and even bloody wars among civilizations fighting to survive and protect their national character and identity. Huntington warned America that world affairs or the new world order would now move towards a new phase – West versus the rest.
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based political analyst. She is also author and animal activist.