The Real Clash

September 1, 1994 Topic: Society Tags: Islamism

The Real Clash


The transformation from industrial to post-industrial economy: At the most obvious level, this means the replacement of industrial production with service processes. These changes have been noted and discussed for more than a generation, at least since Daniel Bell published his seminal The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973). It will prove useful for our purposes, however, to emphasize one dimension of this transformation--that of gender.

The agricultural economy was one that employed both men and women. They were, it is true, employed at different tasks, but they worked at the same place, the farm, which was also the home. The industrial economy largely employed men. They worked both at different tasks from those of women and at a different place, the factory, which was away from the home. The service economy is like the agricultural economy in that it employs both men and women. But it employs them at much the same tasks and at the same place, the office. Like the industrial economy, that place is away from the home. These simple differences in tasks and place have had and will continue to have enormous consequences for society.

The greatest movement of the second half of the nineteenth century was the movement of men from the farm to the factory. Out of that movement arose many of the political movements that shaped the history of the time--socialism and anti-socialism, revolutions, and civil wars. The full consequences of this movement from the farm to the factory culminated in the first half of the twentieth century with the Communist revolution in Russia, the National Socialist reaction in Germany, and the Second World War that included the great struggle between the two.

The greatest movement of the second half of the twentieth century has been the movement of women from the home to the office. Out of that movement there have already arisen political movements that are beginning to shape the history of our own time. One is feminism, with its political demands ranging from equal opportunity to academic deconstructionism to abortion rights. Feminism has in turn produced a new form of conservatism. These new conservatives speak of "family values;" their adversaries call them "the religious right."

The full consequences of this movement from the home to the office will only culminate in the first half of the twenty-first century. They may not take the form of revolutions, civil wars, and world wars, as did the earlier movement of men from the farm to the factory. Feminists have constructed elaborate theories about how women are far less violent than men. But there are other factors at work.

The movement from farm to factory in large measure brought about the replacement of the extended family with the nuclear family. The movement from home to office is carrying this process one step further. It separates the parents from the children, as well as enabling the wife to separate herself from the husband. By splitting the nuclear family, it is helping to bring about the replacement of the nuclear family with the non-family ("non-traditional" family, as seen by feminists; no family at all, as seen by conservatives). The splitting of the family's nucleus, like the splitting of the atom's nucleus, will release an enormous amount of energy (which feminists see as liberating and conservatives see as simply destructive).

Some indication of that energy, and its direction, may be gleaned from the behavior of the children of split families or single-parent families, especially where they have reached a critical mass forming more than half the population, as in the large cities of America. In such locales, there is not much evidence of "Western civilization" or even of civility. For thousands of years, the city was the source of civilization. In contemporary America, however, it has become the source of barbarism.

The transformation of the international economy into a global one: At the most obvious level, this means the replacement of national production that is engaged in international trade with global production that is engaged in a world-wide market in trade, investment, and technology. These changes too have been noted and discussed for a generation, ever since Raymond Vernon published his seminal Sovereignty at Bay (1971). But their maturity has only come in the past decade, as Vernon has recently discussed in his Defense and Dependence in the Global Economy (1992). We will only note one of these aspects. The globalization of production means the relocation of industrial production from high-wage and high-skill advanced-industrial countries to low-wage but high-skill newly-industrial countries (NICs). This is the de-industrialization of the advanced countries, the dark half of the post-industrial transformation that we discussed above. The two transformations--from industrial to post-industrial and from international to global--are intimately connected.

The conjunction of two processes--the de-industrialization of the advanced countries and the industrialization of the less-advanced countries--means that the most advanced countries are becoming less modern (i.e. post-modern), while the less advanced countries are becoming more modern. Or, viewing it from a civilizational perspective, the West is becoming less modern and the rest, especially Confucian civilization, are becoming more modern.

Americanization vs. Multiculturalism

THE MOST SIGNIFICANT development for Western civilization, however, has occurred within its leading power, which was once its "defender of the faith." Increasingly, the political and intellectual elites of the United States no longer think of America as the leader, or even a member, of Western civilization. Western civilization means nothing to many of them. And in the academic world, Western civilization is seen as an oppressive hegemony that should be overturned.

The American political and intellectual class instead thinks of America as a multicultural society. The preferred cultures are those of African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans. These cultures are derived from the African, Latin American, Confucian, and Islamic civilizations rather than from the Western one. Together, they form a sort of series of beachheads or even colonies of these civilizations on the North American continent, and are now contesting the hegemony there of Western civilization.

The United States, however, has always had a large African American population, and it has long had a large Latino American one. Conversely, although the U.S. Asian American population has more than doubled since the changes brought by the immigration law of 1965, Asian Americans still represent only three percent of the U.S. population. The gross demographics of the United States are still much the same as they have been for decades. Something else had to be added to convert a long-existing multiracial demography into a multicultural ideology, establishing a multicultural society.

It is not merely the addition of large numbers of immigrants from different cultures in recent years. This is not the first time that the United States has experienced large numbers of immigrants from different cultures, with prospects for their acceptance of the dominant culture seemingly problematic. A similar condition existed a century ago, particularly from the 1880s to the 1920s, when the culture formed within the U.S. by Western Europeans (principally by those of British descent) had to confront large numbers of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe (principally Poles, Jews, and Italians). These immigrants were all from Western civilization, but this was no consolation to the Americans who were already here. Most of these "old-stock" Americans did not even know that they were part of Western civilization (the concept had hardly been invented yet), but rather thought of themselves in terms of religious, national, or (spurious) racial identities.

The reaction of the political and intellectual elites of that time to their multicultural reality was precisely the opposite of that of the political and intellectual elites of today. They did not rejoice in multicultural society and dedicate themselves to making it even more multicultural. Rather, they undertook a massive and systematic program of Americanization, imposing on the new immigrants and on their children the English language, Anglo-American history, and American civics (what Robert Bellah would later term the American "civil religion" and what Huntington has elsewhere termed the "American Creed"). The Anglo-American elite was aided in its grand project of Americanization by the booming U.S. economy during this period, which gave immigrants ample economic reasons to assimilate, and by the restrictive immigration law of 1924, which essentially halted immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe and allowed the Americanization process to operate upon and shape a settled mass.

This grand project of Americanization was relentless and even ruthless. Many individuals were oppressed and victimized by it, and many rich and meaningful cultural islands were swept away. But the achievements of that project were awesome, as well as awful. In particular, when the United States entered into its greatest struggles of the twentieth century, first the Second World War and then the Cold War, it did so as a national state, rather than as a multicultural society. (Hitler consistently underestimated the United States because he thought it was the latter rather than the former; he was thinking that the U.S. was still what it was at the time of the First World War.) It was because of the Americanization project that the United States could become the leader and the defender of Western civilization.

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