The West Is Best

GERARD PIEL is Chairman Emeritus of Scientific American, Inc.

We must be in terror of the civilizations conjured by Samuel P. Huntington for the same reason that Nils Bohr admonished us to fear ghosts: We see them, and we know they are not there!

We have another reason to be in terror of them. Without boundaries, interiors or exteriors, continuity or coherent entity, any of the Huntington civilizations can be summoned in a moment to ratify whatever action the West and its remaining superpower deem rightful. Now they fit the Eric Ericsson definition of the pseudo-species, outside the law.

In the end, "the West and the Rest" offers a more useful analysis. We can recognize these ghostly civilizations as the developing countries and the countries in transition.

They all aspire to the Western model. They are still engaged in conquest of the material world. As they proceed with their industrialization, they progressively embrace the "Western ideas," in Huntington's litany, "of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets . . . ."

At the primary level it is a function of lengthening life expectancy; people in those countries are beginning to live long enough to discover they have rights and to assert them. Mass education, which comes with Westernizing industrialization, makes its contribution as well. Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the massing of the people at the parliament building in Moscow stand as rites in a passage.

How long the process will take depends on how the West responds to the needs and the disorder that beset the emerging and developing nations--in fear or in rational quest of the common future. The question is: Do Western ideas have more substance than those pseudo-civilizations?

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