It’s been 20 years since Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations and the New World Order” appeared in the Foreign Affairs journal. Huntington postulated that the end of the Cold War shifted world conflict from a state-to-state battle of ideologies to a world where clashes will emerge between culturally distinct groups. Needless to say, the article and his book with the same argument generated quite a storm of controversy.
In an effort to take Huntington’s thesis out of context and reshape it for today’s news – allow me to put forward another version of this “clash of civilizations.” It seems increasingly apparent that the United States might include two distinct civilizations. The first believes government – however flawed – plays a role in maintaining a social contract with its citizens. The second believes government should not exist. Or, if government does exist its role should be severely limited. When I say government, I mean Federal government, of course.
I based these two categories on the rhetoric linked to the latest government shutdown. And the rhetoric flows from the people through their elected officials. Although, the politicians do possess the skill of putting a certain flourish on the less refined statements of their constituents.
If a civilization is largely defined by a cultural worldview…and if a worldview includes a set of beliefs on the role of government in society – then I’d say we’re close to having two civilizations in the United States. Of course, I’m being a wee bit provocative here…and I’m being rather loose with the precise definition of a “civilization.” But the broader point here deals with political philosophy. What does it mean to be a citizen?… and what does the citizen expect from government? The latter question speaks to how we deal with our collective interests…the former question reminds us that we do have duties. In a democracy, one of those duties is to participate in government – especially if you’re an elected official.
In any event, no one really cares.