I.P.O. RESEARCH PAPERS
“Civilizational Dialogue: Present Realities, Future Possibilities”
Kuala Lumpur, 15-17 September 1997
PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF CIVILIZATIONAL DIALOGUE
The Hermeneutics of Cultural Self-Comprehension versus the Paradigm of Civilizational Conflict
Paper presented by
Dr. Hans Köchler
Professor of Philosophy, University of Innsbruck (Austria),
President of the International Progress Organization (I.P.O.)
I: The Eurocentric Paradigm of Civilizational Encounters
II: The Hermeneutics of Civilizational Dialogue
III: The Implications of Trans-Cultural Dialogue
© by International Progress Organization, Vienna, 1997. All rights reserved.
I: The Eurocentric Paradigm of Civilizational Encounters
Since the colonial era, the Western world has been used to exporting its civilization through its imperial and colonial policies. All other civilizations have been measured by Western standards based on the anthropocentric and individualistic world view of the Graeco-Roman and Christian traditions and on the criteria of rationality and scientific methods defined in those traditions and supposedly refined in 18th-century Enlightenment and 20th-century rationalism. These standards center around the preeminent role of the individual versus the collective subject (in the sense of the community, whether as family or nation) and, derived from the former, around the meaning and value of democracy.
This tendency of Eurocentrism is particularly virulent in our post-colonial period – or more precisely: the period of re-colonization – of a so-called “New World Order” through which the West, on top of it the United States as its self-declared spokesperson, tries to monopolize the global discourse on democracy and human rights. The collapse of the rival political system of Soviet communism has allowed the West to indulge in a self-congratulatory posture as far as the basic issues of cultural values and human rights – and democracy in particular – are concerned. The apologetic discourse established by Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of the “end of history” shortly after the end of the Cold War has now been complemented by Samuel Huntington’s paradigm of the “clash of civilizations” exemplifying America’s drive towards self-assertion as the Western leader in the move to distinguish oneself from the “other.”
Since the colonial times, the paradigm of the West’s encounter with other civilizations has been that of Eurocentrism, which can be seen not only as civilizational naiveté of the colonizers but as the cultural-political expression of an extreme collective “egotism” that has proven to be itself of aggressive nature. Since this period, the “philosophy of the ego” (in the sense of Western subjectivism) has characterized the general approach to inter-civilizational encounters: those encounters have been seen from the viewpoint of raising Western self-awareness, thus sharpening the Western citizen’s social skills, widening the absorptive capacity and increasing the strength of Western civilization. These encounters have been characterized by a missionary ideology, the aim of which is to propagate Western rationality all over the globe and thus to contribute to the advancement of humanity as such. This concept of an ideological crusade has been of particular relevance in the present era of economic “globalization” since the collapse of the rival socialist model of the economy and of politics.
The “dialectics of self-comprehension” (along the lines of the subjectivist tradition of European idealism as exemplified in Hegel’s universal dialectics of consciousness [Bewußtseinsdialektik]) used to be interpreted in the sense of an enrichment of one’s own cultural experience (and thus as an improvement of the quality of life) through the encounter with other civilizations. The supremacy of one’s own standpoint was never challenged in this kind of “cultural dialectics.” Non-Western civilizations were discredited as “irrational” in distinction from the “enlightened” European civilization that supposedly had undergone a historical process of the “awakening of the critical mind” that was said to be missing in other civilizations. This subjectivist-colonialist approach to inter-civilizational encounters suited Western imperial interests at the time in the same way as it suits the ideological crusaders of Western “critical rationalism” – or “economic liberalism” – of our time. It has been reflected e.g. in European Orientalism as described by Edward Said, which combines both Western naiveté (in the sense of ignorance of other cultures) and cultural arrogance.
As aptly stated by Anwar Ibrahim in his reflections on “Culture and Identity,” this “’universalization’ of European culture” in the process of colonization “evoked a sense of great tragedy, and of the irreplaceable loss and desolation of entire ancient civilizations." The cultural colonization, under the slogan of economic progress and social development, led to the alienation of entire nations from their heritage, including the eradication of native oral traditions and social systems. The colonizers often acted in collusion with the Christian churches, whose missionary ideology conveniently served as a cover for promoting the trade interests of the colonizing nations.
This dominationist approach in cross-cultural encounters has not disappeared with historical colonialism. In a more or less secularized form, it lives on in the cultural self-perception of the United States - which claim to represent the “West” - as the herald of “human rights” and “democracy” in a self-declared “New World Order.” New “civilizational” crusades are being waged in the name of enlightenment and progress of the human mind. Francis Fukuyama’s slogan of the “End of History” is a clear expression of this highly irrational self-righteousness of the West.
A new secularized version of the crusades of the Middle Ages is gaining ground in Western establishment circles. Samuel Huntington’s thesis of civilizational conflict fits neatly into this subjectivist-voluntaristic framework of the Western perception of encounters between civilizations as can be seen from his programmatic statement: “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” Huntington derives from this analysis the justification for the West’s (or more precisely: the United States’) striving for economic and military supremacy with the aim of countering the supposed threats from other civilizations “whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West.” It is no surprise that, in this context, a new arms-buildup is being advocated by the Western establishment. This strategy apparently serves to fill the gap left by the détente of the earlier era. Vested interests seem to play a central role in the ideological rearming of the West serving the purpose of military hegemony that had been abandoned shortly before and after the end of the East-West confrontation.
The cultural (civilizational) dimension seems to be deliberately getting confused with the political realm as rightly stated by Robert Charvin in his reflections on Islam and the West. Enemy stereotypes are being “cultivated” on the basis of civilizational difference for the sake of a self-declared “New World Order.” Indeed, the exemplary case in point is the stereotyping of Islam as a threat not only to Western identity in general but to its very survival as a civilizational and political entity. Xenophobic tendencies in Europe and in the United States are being amalgamated with ideological perceptions of the Western heritage, revealing a kind of cultural and political paranoia in regard to Islam. Civilizational difference in itself seems to be perceived as a threat not only to Western identity, but to the West’s economic interests and military security, i.e. to its very survival. An aggressive dialectics of the “us versus the others” is being created in the aftermath of the Cold War dividing the world this time along civilizational lines and creating a new bipolarity between North and South (replacing the earlier East-West bipolarity that had been defined along ideological lines).
It seems as if Carl Schmitt’s essentially totalitarian concept of politics – defining the state as a political entity on the basis of the category of the “enemy” – has gained relevance in the doctrine of the US-inspired world order.
II: The Hermeneutics of Civilizational Dialogue
What is needed in the present global constellation is a new cultural hermeneutics or hermeneutics of civilizational dialogue that does away with the subjectivist (and, for that reason, individualistic) approach that has flourished for centuries in its symbiosis with colonialism and, at present, with the “new-worldism” of the West. This goal can only be achieved by establishing the basis for an inter-subjective (or collective as opposed to individualistic) “dialectics of cultural self-realization.”
A cultural community – or civilization – can only define and fully develop itself if it is able to relate to other civilizations. Self-comprehension on the individual and collective level is only possible on the basis of a distinction from another self. (This is obvious from the basic structure of reflection.) In this way, the “other” serves as the “corrective” of one’s own understanding of the world (“life-world” or Lebenswelt in the terminology of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology) and one’s system of values. In the context of this kind of dialectics of cultural awareness, the “other” civilization is the conditio sine qua non of the awareness and full perception of one’s own civilization.
This hermeneutic necessity correlates to the attitude of respect for the other on an individual basis and of tolerance towards one another’s civilization on the collective level. Different from Carl Schmitt’s conception of the nature of politics, the “other” is not perceived as threat, as potential enemy, but rather as partner in the project of reaching a higher level of humanity through civilizational encounter. Such an attitude is the basic moral requirement for the maturity of any given civilization. The ethical value of tolerance constitutes a precondition for a critical, mature awareness of myself as a social being and of my civilizational background. This attitude does not favor “cultural separateness by exaggerating one’s unique identity” as Anwar Ibrahim rightly puts it in his analysis of the universal role of culture. There should be no misunderstanding: the fact that I can define myself only vis-à-vis the other (as distinct from that which is not myself) does not encourage any aggressive attitude towards that which is “alien” to myself; on the contrary, it requires respect for the other and his/her distinct perception of reality and cultural value system.
Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, for instance, may serve as a methodological basis for a theory of cultural self-comprehension. His concept of Verständnishorizont (the horizon of understanding) includes all the socio-cultural environments into which the concrete human being is integrated in the course of his/her life. According to his conception, a person’s understanding of the world (the “life-world”, i.e. of reality in general, including the social reality) is the result of a complex interaction of specific horizons of understanding that constantly overlap. To describe this structure of self-comprehension – which is at the roots of cross-cultural understanding – Gadamer coined the term Horizontverschmelzung (fusion of horizons). A similar conception has been developed by Ali A. Mazrui in the context of applied social science. He states: “How people view the world is greatly conditioned by one or more cultural paradigms to which they have been exposed.” Culture, in Mazrui’s conception, provides “lenses of perception and cognition” in the concrete social-historical context.
According to Gadamer, the universal horizon of my understanding of the world (Gesamthorizont) is constantly being modified by my encounter with other human realities in my own individual “history,” which is part of a larger history of interacting civilizations. My understanding of reality and of myself is not something static, it is a dynamic process shaped by those cultural perceptions which enter my individual horizon and the collective horizon of the cultural community (civilization) I belong to. The “cultural ego” is not a static entity that exists in a world defined according to one tradition only. Such exclusiveness would be the death of any critical understanding of one’s own social environment and the world as such. It would make tolerance towards other cultures impossible.
Civilizational dialogue, therefore, has to be based on a “non-subjectivistic” – or non-voluntaristic, for that matter – philosophy of the realization of one’s own self (in the individual and collective sense) through the encounter with different traditions, cultural expressions, value systems and life-styles. Those should be seen as an enrichment of one’s own social and cultural awareness, not just as a “tool” to help me define myself. The hermeneutics of civilizational dialogue is based on a perception of the self (whether individual or collective, a person or a community) that is shaped by its encounter with that which is distinct from the self.
This dynamic process is similar in structure to the dialectics of subject and object as it characterizes human consciousness (reflection), whereby, in this context, the “object” of reflection is another subject (whether individual or collective). Consciousness is attained as a result of the dialectical interdependence between subject and object: the more I am able to perceive myself as being distinct from as wide a scope of objects as possible, the more I will succeed in defining my own position and my perception of the world. To say it yet in other words: the wider the “subjective” horizon of experience, the more easily a critical self-reflection may be attained.
Applying the aforesaid to one’s own cultural system, we reach the following conclusion: In the very variety of cultural systems we find the unique chance of gaining a clearer and more critical awareness of our own system; thus, we may comprehend in a deeper sense the value of cultural freedom as being something that is common to all human beings and that is the basic condition for any form of cultural hermeneutics, i.e. for civilizational dialogue. Cultural freedom has to be regarded as a universal human right that is at the roots of man’s self-definition as a rational being.
III: The Implications of Trans-Cultural Dialogue
The above-described critical self-awareness is the basis of what we characterize as trans-cultural dialogue - in distinction from mere inter-cultural dialogue. Trans-cultural dialogue is a dynamic concept as opposed to the static concept of cultural encounters. This specific term points to the capability of transcending (and, possibly, transforming) one’s own horizon of understanding towards other forms of cultural self-realization, and not merely of relating and comparing abstract contents of one’s own cultural environment to other such environments as it characterizes mere inter-civilizational encounters. The term “trans-cultural” signifies the fact that one’s own cultural awareness is shaped by the interaction with other cultures, that, in this process, it reaches a level beyond its original setup. Different from how the Western intellectual élite has conceived civilizational encounters over several centuries, one’s own culture is not merely complemented by another culture in such a process.
This philosophical approach (that runs counter to the absolutism of “enlightened” Western thinking with its Eurocentric orientation) is one of dialogue on the cultural, and of partnership on the socio-political level. Based on a concept of culture as “a system of interconnected values, perceptions, and modes of interaction” (Ali A. Mazrui), this approach requires
All these requirements imply that the traditional crusader spirit of Western internationalists – or “globalists” – has to be overcome in cross-cultural encounters, and that the hegemony of Eurocentric world views and life-styles in the international media and entertainment industry has to be counterbalanced by the unbiased presentation of other civilizations. (Anything short of that will strengthen the media’s totalitarian tendencies of self-assertion of Western cultural and ideological hegemony. These tendencies have become only too obvious in many of Hollywood’s recent productions.) A truly multicultural society should emerge on the global level. As explained above, this demand is definitely not in contradiction to the preservation of one’s own national identity, i.e. to the assertion of one’s own cultural tradition vis-à-vis the major hegemonic forces of our time. These forces use issues of Western cultural identity merely to promote their goal of political and economic domination.
One may therefore conclude that contrary to Huntington’s original assumption, the appropriate paradigm for the full development (self-realization) of a civilization is that of dialogue, not of conflict. The latter simply leads to intellectual isolation and deprives the respective civilization of its full potential of development; it keeps it on a level of philosophical naiveté. One has to get out of the vicious circle of self-affirmation (of the confines of Wirkungsgeschichte in the terminology of Gadamer’s hermeneutics) that has characterized the Eurocentric approach to cultural encounters for so long and that has so greatly discredited the Western tradition of Enlightenment.
For those who are concerned about the human race, a universal dialogue of civilizations is of crucial importance for the future of mankind because such a dialogue is a basic condition of peace and stability on both the national and the transnational level. This dialogue may help to define a common set of values and principles that govern international relations in the era of global communication. As stated by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in his message to the participants of the international conference on “The Cultural Self-comprehension of Nations” (1974): “No nation, however large or powerful, can escape from the fundamental reality of our interdependence.”
For the philosopher, the genuine “enlightenment” is not that of a particular tradition of subjectivism, rationalism, logical positivism, or voluntarism (as it has been used, in the framework of the European nation state, to justify the ideology of political, economic and cultural colonization of the non-European world since the last century) but that of tolerance and openness towards other – and for that reason “non-native” – civilizations. Transcending the horizon of one’s own cultural tradition is the precondition for a better understanding of that very tradition. This hermeneutic approach, based on the dialectics of cultural self-comprehension, is the only alternative to the logic of domination and conflict as it has been incorporated in the post-Cold War vision of a new international order with its concomitant paradigm of supposed threats to international security along civilizational lines. In other words: Huntington’s thesis must not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
 In the present context, we use the term “civilization” similarly to the term “culture.” In another context, a terminological distinction may be made in regard to “culture” being the specific manifestation of a certain “civilization” in the sense of a community’s general identity encompassing political, economic and cultural aspects.
 See the author’s detailed analysis “Democracy and the New World Order,” in: Democracy and the International Rule of Law. Propositions for an Alternative World Order. Selected Papers Published on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations. Vienna/New York: Springer-Verlag, 1995, pp. 37-59.
 On the concept of Eurocentrism in regard to issues of cultural dialogue see the author’s analysis “Zur Problematik des Eurozentrismus. Bemerkungen zum afrikanisch-europäischen Dialog aus kulturphilosophischer Sicht,” in Gemeinschaft afrikanischer Studenten in Österreich, GASÖ-Bericht, Innsbruck, 1990, pp. 11-23.
 See Hans-Peter Martin, The Global Trap. Globalization and the Assault on Prosperity and Democracy. London: ZED Books, 1997.
 See his book Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient. With a New Afterword. London: Penguin Books, 1995.
 “The Primacy of Culture,” in Anwar Ibrahim, The Asian Renaissance. Singapore/Kuala Lumpur: Times Books International, 1996, pp. 93-110; p. 101.
 “The End of History?” in The National Interest, vol. 16 (1991), pp. 263-274. See also his book The End of History and the Last Man. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992.
 “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49; p. 22. See also his recent book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, in which he tries to reorient his analysis towards the concept of civilizational dialogue. Cf. his concluding sentence: “In the emerging era, clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war.” (Op. cit., p. 321)
 Op. cit., p. 49. He further states that this situation “will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations.” (Ibid.) For a critique of his antagonistic concept of international relations see Panajotis Kondylis, “Globale Mobilmachung: Konflikt der Kulturen oder Konflikte ohne Kultur?” in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13 July 1996.
 “Une doctrine d’affrontement: S. Huntington et l’islam. La science politique américaine, instrument de légitimation du conflit”: Colloque international Nord-Sud XXI, Université de Marrakech, Islam et Occident (Avril 1997), p. 5.
 See Richard Falk, False Universalism and the Geopolitics of Exclusion: The Case of Islam, published on the internet homepage of Princeton University (1997).
 See the critical analysis of Huntington’s paradigm by Mariano Aguirre, “D’un ‘ennemi total’ – Guerre des civilisations?” in: Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1994, p. 25. Similarly Robert D. Crane, “The Clash of Civilizations: A Vision for a New Cold War” in: Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, published on the internet homepage of MIT/Muslim Students’ Association (1997). Crane speaks of a “threat mentality” of the West and relates it to a “catastrophist view of the world in which one’s own ethnic group, or religion, or civilization is locked in mortal combat with ‘the other’.”
 Der Begriff des Politischen. Text von 1932 mit einem Vorwort und drei Corollarien. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1963 (reprint 1987), see esp. “Die Unterscheidung von Freund und Feind als Kriterium des Politischen” [The distinction between friend and enemy as criterion of the political], pp. 26-28.
 Cf. the author’s earlier conception in Cultural-Philosophical Aspects of International Cooperation. Lecture held before the Royal Scientific Society (Amman-Jordan).Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1978; and “Kulturphilosophische Aspekte internationaler Kooperation,” in Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch, vol. 28 (1978), pp. 40-43.
 On the concept of the “life-world” see his work Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften. Husserliana, vol. VI. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 2nd ed. 1962.
 In Schmitt’s theory, all political concepts have a “polemical meaning” (op. cit., p. 31).
 “The Primacy of Culture,” in Anwar Ibrahim, The Asian Renaissance. Singapore/Kuala Lumpur: Times Books International, 1996, pp. 93-110; p. 103.
 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hermeneutik I: Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 5th ed. 1986. For a more detailed analysis see Fred Dallmayr, “Gadamer, Derrida, and the Hermeneutics of Difference,” in Beyond Orientalism. Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996, pp. 39-62.
 Cultural Forces of World Politics. London/Nairobi/Portsmouth (NH): James Currey/Heinemann, 1990, p. 205.
 On the hermeneutic aspects of the human perception of reality cf. our analysis “The Relation of Man and World. Existential and Phenomenological Perspectives,” in Hans Koechler, Phenomenological Realism. Selected Essays. Frankfurt a.M./Berne/New York: Peter Lang, 1986, pp. 45-58; and “The Problem of Reality as Seen from the Viewpoint of Existential Phenomenology,” op. cit., pp. 59-73.
 On this dialectical concept of consciousness and perception of reality cf. the author’s analysis in Die Subjekt-Objekt-Dialektik in der transzendentalen Phänomenologie. Das Seinsproblem zwischen Idealismus und Realismus. Meisenheim a.G.: Anton Hain, 1974.
 On the philosophy of multiculturalism in the political context see the author’s analysis “The Concept of the Nation and the Question of Nationalism. The Traditional ‘Nation State’ Versus a Multicultural ‘Community State’” in Michael Dunne and Tiziano Bonazzi (eds.), Citizenship and Rights in Multicultural Societies. Keele: Keele University Press, 1995, pp. 44-51.
 Op. cit., p. 205.
 On this concept see Hans-Georg Gadamer, op. cit., pp. 305ff.
 See Hans-Georg Gadamer, op. cit., pp. 270ff. In an analysis of the concrete “being-in-the-world” (In-der-Welt-sein), Martin Heidegger provided the philosophical foundation of this concept of the “hermeneutic circle”: Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 11th ed. 1967. See esp. §§ 31 and 32, pp. 142ff.
 On the importance of inter-religious dialogue for cultural self-comprehension and tolerance see Hans Koechler (ed.), The Concept of Monotheism in Islam and Christianity. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1982. On the need for reform of school curricula see op. cit., communiqué, p. 133.
 See Hans Koechler (ed.), The New International Information and Communication Order. Basis for Cultural Dialogue and Peaceful Coexistence among Nations. Studies in International Relations, X. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1985. For a critical analysis of the modern information society’s structures, political and sociological aspects and modes of indoctrination see Markus Warasin, Ideologiekritische Analyse der Informationsgesellschaft. Diss. phil., University of Innsbruck, 1998.
 See Farish A. Noor (ed.), Terrorising the Truth. The Shaping of Contemporary Images of Islam and Muslims in Media, Politics and Culture. Just World Trust: Penang, 1997. Cp. also Richard Falk, False Universalism and the Geopolitics of Exclusion: The Case of Islam, loc. cit.
 See the Conference’s recommendations in Hans Koechler (ed.), Cultural Self-Comprehension of Nations. Tübingen/Basel: Erdmann, 1978: “Final Resolution,” p. 142.
 See Hans Koechler (ed.), The New International Economic Order. Philosophical and Socio-cultural Implications. Guildford/UK: Guildford Educational Press, 1980.
 In Hans Koechler (ed.), Cultural Self-Comprehension of Nations. Tübingen/Basel: Erdmann, 1978, p. 7.