The dangerous intellectual fad of ‘civilisationism’

News: At present, the big nations are using civilisational rhetoric to rebrand the nations.

The leadership from India, China, Russia, Turkey, and Iran have made statements that their countries are civilisations and not nation-states.

In fact, the Russian President has stated that “Russia is not just a country, it’s really a separate civilisation”. It means the Russian world is not limited to the geographical borders of Russia and it refutes the claim of Ukraine being a real state.

About the Civilisationism

The civilisation-state is being presented as a balancing idea to the nation-state. It is expected that civilisationism to transcend nationalism.

What do these aspirational civilisation-states have in common?

The aspirational civilisation-states are those which are trying to find a middle ground on the Russo-Ukraine war. They are relatively large countries that are often described as middle powers, regional powers, or even would-be superpowers.

The territories of these countries were once home to ancient civilisations and great empires and kingdoms in the pre-colonial era. This is evident from the classical texts that have survived the onslaught of the Western conquest.

In terms of social practices, these countries have continuities with the pre-colonial as evident in the Americas as in countries of the Old World.

Issues in claiming of civilization identity

Smaller entities have also made claims of civilizational entities. For instance, the Naga leader asserted that Nagas peoples are not Indian. They have their own culture and civilization developed centuries ago, which has stood the test of time.

The civilizations are being utilised in the service of nationalism. The civilisational idea is being used as a higher order principle for judging the nation-state as a political form.

How civilisationism, like nationalism has its good and bad versions?

In a 1945 book, Hans Kohn, made a controversial distinction between Western and Eastern nationalisms. He argued only Western nationalism was connected to the Enlightenment’s legacy of the free individual. But the nationalisms of Central and Eastern Europe and Asia were not.

There are arguments that the European Union (EU) may be reconfigured as a civilisation-state. The people living in the EU have a specific value system which forms the foundation of Europe’s civilisational identity.

Now, the national-populist politicians have given different European civilisational rhetoric on the basis of the European Union (EU). The people live in the EU by a specific value system which forms the foundation of Europe’s civilisational identity. These leaders try to define their country’s borders in civilisational and effectively racial terms instead of on the lines of international law.

For example, the Europeans maintain a studied silence on race.

The Way Forward

In Kalki or the Future of Civilisation, Radhakrishnan wrote, “Before we can build a stable civilisation worthy of humanity as a whole it is necessary that each historical civilisation should become conscious of its limitations and its unworthiness to become the ideal civilisation of the world”.

When one compares the arrogant civilization talk of today against the state of our planet, Radhakrishnan’s appeal to humility becomes compelling. In 1929, when that book came out, Radhakrishnan had reasons to be optimistic about the future of the planet:

Today the earth is facing climate crisis, the ongoing death due the pandemic, and surge in the global and intra-country inequality.

Therefore, the civilisationism idea should be adopted and promoted in real sense and the world embraces a new, just, and peaceful form of planetary politics.

Source: The post is based on an article “The dangerous intellectual fad of civilisationism” published in the Indian Express on 04th June 2022.

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