Or perhaps it's a clash of civilizations
For anyone confused by Eastern Christianity: As an Arab guy in diaspora, I have spent a lot of time hanging out with both Eastern Catholics (mostly Maronite and Chaldean, but also some Coptic Catholics and Greek-rite Melkite Catholics) and Orthodox (mostly Coptic, but my roommate sophomore year of college was an Eastern Orthodox Palestinian), even though I’m neither myself. This is the distinction I’ve found (mostly from that roommate, who ended up getting a degree in theology):
"Catholic" v "Orthodox" is about polity, i.e. who gets to call the shots in the church. More specifically, it’s whether you think the Pope is the Top Christian and everyone (who's Christian) should listen to him, or if he’s just the Patriarch of the Latin Church who deserves respect but is just another top prelate among many others.
The rite thing is about what you actually say and do in church. It turns out the Pope doesn’t really care what you actually do in church day to day as long as you recognize him as Top Christian and doesn’t deviate from Church doctrine. Eastern Orthodoxy has pretty much exactly the same doctrine as Catholicism outside of the pope thing (and maybe the filioque), so all an Orthodox church needs to change to become "Catholic" is say "ok we recognize the Pope as Top Christian now" and they’re now Catholics. But if you walked in, you’d be forgiven if you thought they were Orthodox. ("Rite" is usually also about liturgical language, but ever since the Vatican II switch to the vernacular for Latin-rite churches, this distinction is a bit blurrier.)
NOTE: None of this addresses Eastern v. Oriental Orthodoxy, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.
“The PRC is a fundamentally more formidable entity than Putin’s Russia, and I think we’re a long way from getting a grip on what to do about it.”
For the moment, allow its own internal contradictions to play out while we prevent it from playing conquistador in East Asia.
There’s no way to know exactly how the current challenges facing the Chinese state, and the interplay between a citizenry that’s come to expect quite a bit of economic freedom and yearly improvement and a centralizing, totalizing state will play out, so let’s not try just yet.
The current posture taken by the US is probably close to correct as a holding pattern, so long as we can get Germany to be serious about its role and that of the EU.
"The PRC is a fundamentally more formidable entity than Putin’s Russia, and I think we’re a long way from getting a grip on what to do about it."
Outgrow it. A US with 1 billion people (or even fewer) would dwarf China's GDP, especially if lots of the additional people came from China.
I think one of the fun boondoggles in "Clash..." is the lumping of Europe with the English speaking worlds, which is not something I think most people in Europe would agree with. Indeed, Britain's weird place in the world makes more sense if you see it as a cleft country between the English-speaking and European worlds.
I was confused by the blue and green "countries currently sanctioning Russia" map you had since I thought South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are all imposing sanctions on Russia now, which goes against the point that this is a "western" thing. Later in the piece you confirm that South Korea has imposed sanctions.
Turns out that map represents the *2014* sanctions imposed after Russia's annexation of Crimea and NOT the current sanctions imposed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's at the top of this wikipedia article, which is confusing, but it's clearly labeled.
You should fix this labeling since the way it is now muddles your point about whether it's the west vs. Russia or democracies/developed countries vs. Russia.
Great piece. Definitely think there's something of a Huntingtonian reasoning to a lot of the arguments before the war that NATO expansion was bad and that we should abandon Ukraine to Russia's sphere of influence. It appears natural if you've already intellectually consigned Ukraine to Russia's orbit, especially if you're unaware of the centuries of tension, conflict and outright oppression between the two countries that accompanied periods of partnership.
Separately, it's worth noting that although Ukraine and Russia might poll for similar levels of belief, Ukraine is a much more religious society in terms of devotion and practice. Church attendance is much higher in Ukraine, partly as unlike Russia the churches have always been independent of state power.
The granting of the 'Tomos' by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2018 that officially granted autocephaly - independence and autonomy - to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was also a massive deal. It accomplished three things - first it fatally weakened the power of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. Second, it united the competing Orthodox churches in Ukraine into a single, mainstream denomination.
And third, the Tomos specifically broke the idea that there is an Orthodox bloc. The Russian Orthodox Church broke from Constantinople and the rest of the Orthodox world in a huff, unable to accept that Ukraine was a country with a church that was separate to Russia. It was more important to Russia that it was able to try to boss Ukraine around than to be part of a wider cultural and religious community of nations with shared interests and values.
In this we see the true seeds of the present war - that while Russia may have believed that Ukraine was part of an Orthodox - and therefore Russian - civilization, Huntington was wrong. Ukraine has always been Ukraine, and nothing more or less than that.
I think there is something to the basic idea of a "civilizational" dynamic, but I think Huntington was dead wrong about what constitutes a multi-national civilization and why they come about. Certainly his fixation on religion is, to be honest, totally bizarre. Religion has had only a modest influence on great power politics for the last 200 years, and while it is one of the things that *can* provide glue for civilizational coalitions, it exercises that influence to a smaller and smaller degree. "Culture", traditionally conceived as being similarities in language and folkways is also not a useful barometer here.
The big piece missing from his analysis is *speed*. Because civilizations developed and fell so slowly throughout history it's easy to think that it is an intrinsically slow phenomenon. But if we look, we can see this process getting faster and faster over time. Mesopotamian civilization was beholden to the Sumerian cultural milieu for several thousand years, but France and Germany went from being distinct civilizations locked in a blood feud to being part of a united European identity very quickly.
With the advent of the internet, modern capitalism, etc. civilizations grow and shrink rapidly. The battleground is not necessarily formal but more of a hidden contestation of "pseudo-empires". The "West" is a real civilization, but its borders are not sharp and clearly delineated -- and they can change FAST. There is a Western core in Western Europe and North America, which is pretty stable, but the periphery of the pseudo-empire is not nearly so stable and waxes and wanes. Ultimately the formal alignment of a state with other states is only a part (and a smallish one at that) of this process. It's just as much economic and cultural.
China, likewise, wants to build an opposing pseudo-empire rather than continue to allow the tendrils of a seductive West to lure its people into submitting before they even know what has happened. This is probably bad for those people, and the West, but probably good for long-term permanence of a distinctive Chinese civilization with distinctive values. This is ultimately the biggest effect of Western social media being largely cut off in China -- part of it is censorship, sure, but part of it is just preventing Western cultural tendrils from taking root. You can see this in Xi's latest attempts to root out Japanese cultural influence in Chinese media. The Chinese pseudo-empire is not quite as interested in recruiting new member-states as the Western pseudo-empire, but it is expanding pretty quickly as well. In twenty or thirty years' time, I think we will find a pretty clearly understood set of countries that have decided to fully join the Chinese imperial core rather than continue to be sites of contestation between the two factions at the periphery of both.
Thanks for the article. Feels like Part 1 to a Part 2 about how increasingly rich “West” and “China” may present competitive alternatives to those aspiring poor countries.
I'd be interested in reading a Fukuyama-informed deep dive on what US policy toward Mexico ought to be. Mexico isn't a bad country to live in by any means in the grand scheme of things, but it really ought to be doing better.
I think this article is obviously correct about the lack of true civilizational or religious conflict. But China is this weird unique case. But what makes it the most weird and unique is just mainly the enormous size of China. With 1B people you don't need to have a very high GDP/capita to operate as a world power.
One of the big questions of the next 20-30 years is just how much more China can advance economically with their existing system.
But even aside from that, one of the weird aspects of the PRC is just how absolutely nationalist it is. There is no sense that China wants to export culture or values or really have any effect on the world, other than the suspicion they might gobble up their neighbors if given the opportunity. They can do a lot to increase their power and dominance on the world stage, but it is an inherently auto-isolating approach. This is less USSR and more Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. It is weird to have a world with 2 major powers interested in great power conflict (Russia and China), but the rest of the modern world essentially having rejected that notion.
Yeah what did happen to the great clash with Islam of the aughts?
I think this is right but also there's more to the story than simply an endgame where it's "good government vs bad government". Branco Milanovic has a book Capitalism, Alone which outlines a new ideological struggle between two flavors of capitalism: Western style "liberal capitalism" and China style "political capitalism". And China appears to be making a big effort to export its version of governance to leaders of other countries, for example by giving them access to surveillance and internet censoring technologies while at the same time bringing them closer into their sphere of economic influence.
In general I think something that's absent from this sort of grand political science discourse is the idea that ideological possibility space supervenes on, is constrained by, and lags behind paradigmatic shifts in technology and industrial organization. You don't get the Enlightenment without the printing press, or Communism without the industrial revolution, or Fascism without radio and TV, or Chinese-style political capitalism without the internet. But since paradigmatic shifts are inherently impossible predict, it's therefore also impossible to predict what future ideological possibilities there will be in the future. Which I think poses real difficulties for "End of History" type arguments.
I wonder how much Samuel Huntington was playing the computer game Civilisation when he came out with his theory? Has anybody else actually wondered this? Forty years ago, nobody thought Russia and Ukraine were Orthodox at all, but communist atheists. His whole theory strikes me as rubbish. "Sure, Korea and China have had major disputes over the centuries, but they all look alike and write a funny alphabet, so they are the same."
You might want to update a few of the side remarks about Serbia - they've actually voted against Russia and with the EU in several recent UN votes, rather than abstaining like India and Pakistan, or voting with Russia like Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
I agree that Putin can probably be considered as an extra-large thug (a cartel but more so) --- especially given his connection to organized crime in the 90s. However, it's possible that there is an exportable ideology there. Say what you will about the neo-reactionary movement, but it is an ideology. Maybe Putin believes something along those lines. We can't read his mind.
If you told me "The End of History" was a buzzfeed headline, I would have believed you.