Culture, Defence and Security

By Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado


Michelangelo's Pieta by Stanislav Traykov



I: The relationship of culture to defence and security.


Why discuss culture together with defence and security? One answer might be that culture, an exclusive, frivolous, leisure pursuit of the rich, their flunkies, and social climbers, requires elaborate security to defend its providers and consumers from the righteous anger of the people, whose hard-earned taxes, or lottery losses, are squandered on subsidising fripperies such as opera, ballet, theatre, concerts, and art shows with dead cows in aspic, to which la-di-dah people wear fancy clothes. Another, from the opposite side of the social divide, might say that cultural performances and artefacts embody the best in the spirit of the nation, thus belong to all the people, irrespective of who owns or attends them, and are a source of pride and prestige for all, which must be defended against attack by foreigners, terrorists, hooligans, and madmen. The former is the view of philistines, the latter that of culture vultures.


The former view is epitomised by the remark often mistranslated as ‘When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun’, (Schlageter, play by Hanns Johst, premiered 20 April, 1933, to celebrate Hitler’s victory: Act 1, Scene 1: Thiemann: ‘Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning!’). This view is fairly common. It shows why culture needs defence to ensure its security. The latter view recognises this need, citing attacks on cultural icons such as Michelangelo’s Pietà in the Vatican, the Twin Towers in New York, the Buddhas of Bamian, or the Mosque at Ahodya, as well as a fatwa against an Indo-British writer, and the murder of a Dutch filmmaker, among other outrages. Whereas previous cultural atrocities, such as the destruction of Coventry Cathedral, or that of the Dresdener Frauenkirche, took place in wars between nation states, more recent ones appear to stem from conflict between religions or cultures, in another sense of the word ‘culture’. Professor Samuel Huntington’s book on The Clash of Civilisations provides a framework for recent discussion along these lines. So there seems to be more than one definition of culture, as well as different views of it and attitudes towards it.


Since, therefore, culture, defence and security have been brought together by events, and since culture seems to need fuller definition, I shall discuss them together. I do so not only for the sake of academic clarity and theoretical understanding, but for a practical purpose. If culture in general or our culture in particular (however ‘we’ may be defined) is under attack, I wish to consider how its security may be defended. I do so, however, from a wholly different viewpoint from that of the philistine, wishing to know its defences the better to breach them, or of the culture vulture, seeking to bolster them. For they both, with differing attitudes and intentions, define culture mainly in terms of art. While art is arguably the highest and most valuable product of culture, culture itself is far broader and greater than art, encompassing the everyday world of the culture vulture and the philistine, as well as much else. I shall show that defence and security are a primary goal of culture, and, conversely, that culture depends on the security afforded by defence.


What definition of culture, defence and security links them all together, and best describes the relationship among them? Definition of defence


To answer this, let us begin with apparently the simplest of the three: defence. It seems the simplest, because it can be expressed in terms of simple relationships of matter. Umbrellas defend against rain; mineral oil against rust; shields against swords; bunkers against bombs.


Matters, however, get more complex when one looks a little closer. For defence is a means to an end. That end is security. Defence is thus subordinate to security. Security, moreover, is a far more complex concept than defence. Its discussion requires reference both to the thing or person whose security is to be defended, and to the action or intention of the potential attacker. A blue-rinsed lady with a freshly lacquered hairdo requires an umbrella to defend her from the involuntary action of the rain, and so provide security for her carefully contrived appearance. The owner of a house with a rusty lock on the front door requires mineral oil to lubricate it with, in order to guarantee quick access to the relative safety of home when running from a crazed attacker in the street. A hoplite requires a shield to form part of a phalanx to provide, not only protection for his body, but security for his polis, against the sword thrusts and spear throws of the enemy, who seek to kill him, and conquer and enslave it. A leader requires a bunker with secure communications to defend against attack, and ensure the further conduct of the war, in order to remain in power. (He will say it is to save the country.)


Thus discussing security involves not only how to grant it, by knowing the relationship among the materials required, but also considering precisely who or what is to be defended against whom or what, and why. Security is thus both material and ideal. ‘Ideal’ here is not a value judgement, as in ‘An Ideal Husband’. It just means that security involves ideas, as well as matter. Defence, on closer examination, is also material and ideal, thus more complex than it seems at first. It is also made up of ideas, as well as of material objects. For defence involves relationships between different forms of matter, silk and water, oil and rust, convex metal surfaces and pointed metal objects moving at a certain speed, concrete and dynamite. Relationship is an idea, indeed a concept, as is its use for the purpose of defence. Defence involves using the properties of matter and their relationships for a given purpose. It involves weapons and tactics, hardware and software.


Properties and relationships, hardware and software, tools and ideas, weapons and tactics, also constitute some of the basic elements of culture, as defined by anthropologists. Cultural anthropologists distinguish between material and ideal or ideological culture. Thus there is a conceptual similarity of structure between, on the one hand, defence and security, and, on the other hand, culture. Clearly, to grasp the meaning and importance of this similarity, we must examine the relationship of defence to security, and of security to culture. We must also define the identity and interests of the entity whose security is to be defended. To do so, we must address the definition of security, and that of culture. Just as defence is subordinate to security, security is subordinate to culture. But just as security depends on defence, culture depends on security. Culture underlies, determines and participates in the definition of security, as does security in that of culture. Let us therefore, before defining security, first define culture, and see how it relates to security.


Definition of ‘culture’


By ‘culture’ I do not, in this context, mean only art and architecture, music and drama, fashion and cuisine. Nor do I imply a value judgement: culture versus lack of culture, as in the phrase: ‘He’s a cultured man’; or ‘Garlic is uncultural’. While such usage may be meaningful within the parameters of a given culture, in discussing the relationship of culture to defence and security we must, perforce, consider a plurality of cultures, for differing cultures are entities undertaking defence and security against each other.


In order to consider a plurality of cultures, we must adopt a definition of culture that allows for multiple consideration and comparison of cultures. We need a definition that includes even what we may consider to be the most ‘barbaric’ collectivities of persons, or sets of customs and beliefs. The reason why we need such a definition is that, in the course of seeking security, we shall have to deal with such persons, some of whom have set out to annihilate us. Unless we set out to annihilate them, a policy which I do not discard in theory, but which may prove unattainable in practice, or even counterproductive, we shall have to learn to deal with them, if only in order to minimise and manage their threat. The best way to begin to do that is to seek to understand them.


Understanding does not necessarily imply sympathy. Comprendre n’est pas tout pardonner. It was partly by understanding the Enigma code that the Allies were able to win the Second World War. It is only by understanding the nature of the challenges now threatening us, whomever we define ourselves to be, that we can defend against them.


There are two ways in which the word culture may be used in the present context. One is that used just now, which identifies such entities as Western, Islamic, Indic, Sinitic and Nipponic culture, and so forth. This definition of culture is demographic. It defines culture in terms of groups of people living in certain places. By this definition, ‘culture’ is often used as a synonym for ‘civilisation’. Professor Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations uses the word ‘culture’ in this sense. The problem with this usage of the demographic sense of ‘culture’ is that culture includes demographic cultures, groups of people living in certain places, that are not civilised, in the proper sense of the word: they do not live in cities, but in deserts, forests, marshes and steppes.


Another, more rigorous sense of ‘culture’ is that embodied in the proposition, put forward by social and cultural anthropologists, that culture is a tool, or rather a complex set of tools. This definition of culture is instrumental. The purpose of culture, in this instrumental sense, like that of any set of tools, is to enable man (in which term both genders are properly included) to do a job. The job in this case is the maintenance, propagation and enjoyment of human life on Earth: survival, increase and pleasure.


Man, unlike other animals, is singularly ill-adapted to a purely natural life, one devoid of culture in the instrumental sense. As a result of man’s evolution, man needs the tools of culture to survive, whether as an individual, like Robinson Crusoe, or as a set of collectivities: the past and present array of cultures, in the demographic sense, inhabiting the Earth. Conflict between demographic cultures is the respect within which culture most obviously relates to defence and security.


Culture and conflict


Conflict between cultures arises out of the very nature of culture itself. For although culture’s job is the maintenance, propagation and enjoyment of human life on Earth, this goal does not, from the point of view of any given demographic culture, extend to all and sundry human life. Rather, from the viewpoint of individual groups of people living in a certain place, it usually extends only to that human life which is defined as worth maintaining, propagating and enjoying: that which is defined as ‘ours’. Its maintenance, propagation and enjoyment may involve competition with other groups of people for control of resources, including the place where they live. So it, may require, or seem to require, the deterrence or elimination of forms of human life defined as ‘other’.


To understand this better, we must revisit the anthropological definition of culture, in terms of man’s prehistory. Prehistory is deduced through archaeology and anthropology. Because we rely on deduction, we suppose and imagine more than we know. Our knowledge of prehistory is reconstructed by observing its fragmentary remains, in the form of bones, tools and structures. This is aided to some extent by observing primitive tribes till recently still in existence, though most have now developed or disappeared. Keeping these provisos in mind, let us attempt an imaginative reconstruction.


Culture begins when early man first uses objects found in the natural world, such as a sharp edged stone, to achieve some goal proposed by man’s will. Such objects are the basic elements of material culture. Their use is more complex than may at first appear, since it requires man to formulate man’s goal, to separate it out from the continuum of man’s experience, and to imagine it as a thing to be achieved.


This requires some form of abstract and symbolic thought, in order to imagine future, hypothetical events or states. This, in turn, requires the presence in man’s mind of some form of symbolic system, whereby an idea or an image comes to stand for a future event or hypothetical state of affairs. Such a system we call language. Whether it is made up of images or words, or both, language is the basic element of ideal culture.


Let us suppose that our specimen of early man feels a vague longing for a certain agreeably remembered feeling of well-being produced by a full belly and a nap in a safe place. Man visualises this feeling as killing a particular animal and eating it in the safety of a shelter, where man then relaxes and goes to sleep, perhaps alongside man’s mate and offspring. That remembered feeling is thus represented or symbolised by a pre-figuration of the sequence of events needed to produce it. It is therefore set as a goal. Man then somehow, whether in images or words, tells man’s self: ‘do it!’


If man then picks up a sharp-edged stone, goes out looking for the requisite animal, and finding it, uses the stone to kill the animal, culture has begun: a cultural act has taken place. Man has used a material tool, a stone, to achieve a goal which could only be conceived as a goal with the use of an ideal tool: the act of symbolic imagination that transforms a vague longing into a plan of action, and the self-command that turns a plan into a realised action. This ideal tool is the logic of cause and effect, and that of desire, intention and action. A tool used for one purpose may be used for other purposes as well. Man may use the stone to kill a human rival, or to cut branches for shelter, or for fire.


In this basic situation are to be found all the elements necessary to understand the fundamentals of the relationship between culture and conflict, so among culture, defence and security, as well as the distinction between material and ideal culture. Understanding that relationship and that distinction is necessary to help us survive, especially in a political environment such as ours, where people are free to question the fundamental elements of their own culture, and to participate in the decision as to whether and how to defend it. Only by understanding what is at stake can people make informed choices.


In this example, the sharp edged stone is a basic element of material culture. Until man finds it and uses it for a purpose, it is just a stone, but once man uses it thus, it becomes a tool. The nature of the tool determines the nature of its use, and thus of the event in which it is used, and so the nature and outcome of the process to which that event belongs.


So long as the tool in question is merely a found object, say a sharp edged stone, the way in which man uses it to achieve man’s goal, the full belly and the safe nap, is rather limited. For instance, unless man is lucky enough to be able to drop the stone precisely on a prey’s head from an overhanging cliff (in which case size and weight, rather than sharpness, may be required), man will have to come very close to the prey, which limits the sort of prey that can be killed with such a stone.


For this reason, man does not long rest content with found objects, but begins to fashion them. Man proceeds to sharpen the stone, to use it to sharpen the points of branches to make wooden spears, to fasten sharp stone spearheads with tough but supple fibres to wooden shafts, and so forth. Each advance in material culture enormously affects the possible achievement of man’s goals, and the nature of those goals.


The elements of material culture are not limited to stone and wood, and, eventually, to metals. They also include animals, such as horses or camels, which can be ridden, cows, sheep, goats and pigs, which provide milk and meat, and people, who can be enslaved.


All sorts of consequences flow from developments in material culture. For instance, it becomes possible to hunt previously unattainable large prey. In order to do so, one man must cooperate with others to bring it down. In order to hunt it, this group of men must, perhaps, move from their original locale to that of the quarry, maybe on a seasonal basis. This may have consequences for their relationship with other groups of men, for whom that animal may or may not be a quarry, but who claim unique and permanent possession of the territory in question. This is often the source of conflict between groups of people.


Ideal and ideological culture


So far I have concentrated on material culture, in interaction with ideal culture. Now let me show how ideal culture becomes ideological. In my example of early man so far, I have focused mainly on the individual, rather than on groups. But others are of course there from the start, as kinsmen and aliens, allies and enemies. Defence and security are defined in terms of these distinctions, and of the relationships that they imply. These relationships form part of the infrastructure of ideological, as distinct from ideal culture.


Ideal culture, the mental component of the complex sequence of thoughts and acts leading to formulation and achievement of one’s purpose, becomes ideological as it becomes more complex and systematised, and more directly related to the thinker’s and actor’s identity. This happens internally, inside the thinker’s consciousness, and externally, between and among the thinker’s consciousness and that of others, when thinker becomes speaker, listener and actor. When the relationship between different thoughts, and their relationship to different things, comes to be understood, and when that understanding is transmitted from one individual or generation to another, then ideas form into an ideology. The logic of an ideology consists of the relationships between and among its ideas, as defined by their thinkers and transmitters. It is thus similar in function, and arguably so in structure, to the grammar of language, on which, in turn, it depends.


No culture exists without an ideological as well as a material component. Just as tools and their use define material culture, language, a concentration, as it were, into discrete words, linked by definite and complex grammatical relationships, of the diverse matter of its repertory of images, notions and feelings, defines ideological culture. Language is a collective phenomenon, before it becomes individual. Communicating with others enables man, by internalising language, to communicate with man’s self, imagined as another. Thus man performs the original mental act in our example, that of symbolic representation, which allows man to transform the memory of feeling into action.


Language is therefore also a tool. Indeed it is the tool of tools, which enables us to use material tools virtually, in complex acts of hypothetical imagination, and thus to formulate complex plans of action. It also allows us to define who is friend and who is foe. This is true not only of language in the sense of words, but in the broader sense of systems of signification, involving identity markers such as body language, ornament, and dress. The ideological component of culture is thus closely related to group identity. This in turn determines the scope and nature of defence and security, as does the nature and quality of material culture. This is a very basic human characteristic, also shared with other animals. You can tell he’s one of us because he talks and acts and looks and smells like one of us. Therefore he’s safe. This one is different. He may be dangerous. Kill him.


Markers of cultural identity


We see, therefore, that in order to preserve the identity and integrity of a given group, self-identified as such by virtue of its language and other sign systems, ideological culture may dictate certain rules of behaviour, in the form of injunctions or prohibitions: if you are one of us, you do this, and don’t do that. These rules therefore have consequences for that group’s relationship with its material culture. Certain uses of certain tools are permitted; others prohibited. This may extend to things such as diet: if you eat this food you are one of us, if you eat that other food you are not.


Such differentiation involves the logic of binary oppositions. The logic of binary oppositions operates by making a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice between alternatives, at any step of a given logical process, such as deciding how to do things. It tends to designate a cultural tool, a way of doing things, and the means to do them with, which is by definition both material and ideal, as an identity marker. The use of that tool then becomes associated with a given set of people living in a certain place, and they become defined as the people living there who use that tool: the ‘bell-beaker culture’, the ‘megalith culture’, etc.


While ancient or remote cultures of whom we know little are, now, so designated by archaeologists and anthropologists, living cultures, nearby or remote, are also thus, at any time, designated by contemporary members of other cultures, where the given term acquires, through its designation of the ‘other’, derogatory affect. Any list of ethnic slurs provides examples of reference not only to racial characteristics, but also to culturally determined items of clothing, body modification or ornament, diet, language, and other customs. Thus, the demographic and instrumental senses of culture coalesce.


By the logic of binary oppositions, the neighbours of a given people, with whom they are in conflict, may seek to distinguish themselves from that set of people by refraining from use of that characteristic tool, whether by refraining from the activity whose purpose it serves, or by using a different tool, or even undertaking a different activity, for that same or a similar purpose. The important thing is that the tool or activity they use or undertake be different, in some way, however large or small, from that their adversaries or enemies use. Vive la différence! Thus the use of a given tool or activity takes on meaning, becomes significant, signifying that its user belongs to one or the other, opposing culture.


If – as in cultural anthropology - one considers all cultural forms and usages as tools, including things like diet, dress, and so forth, it is easy to see how consumption of or abstention from, say, pork, beef or shellfish, wearing a full body veil, or uncovering not only one’s face, but all the rest, become markers of a given demographic culture. They may originally, and almost certainly did, have a practical reason for existence and use, but that practical reason has become absorbed, and often forgotten, through the operation of the logic of binary oppositions, into their function as a marker of cultural identity.


Cultural identity, ethics and religion


Markers of cultural identity tend to become organised into systems of rules for behaviour. We call these systems of rules ethics, from the Greek word ‘ethos’ for a way of doing things. The origin of ethics lies in the choice between certain forms of behaviour over others: in choosing a solution to particular practical problems. Designating certain solutions as identity markers leads to descriptive generalisations. ‘Those who do it this way are this sort of people, those who do it otherwise are that.’ Used as markers of one’s own identity, descriptive generalisations become normative. ‘This is how things should be done.’ The next step is to conceptualise the difference between ‘our’ way of doing it, and others’ way. What ‘we’ identify as ‘ours’ is designated ‘good’. The rest is ‘bad’ or indifferent. The final step is to reify the adjectives, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, into nouns: ‘virtue’ and ‘evil’. Clearly, if different groups of people choose different solutions to a given problem, the end result of this process will be that they define virtue and evil differently.


Ethics, are often, but not always, subsumed into religion. Religions are very complex ideological structures, consisting of different things in different times and places. Any generalisation about religion is bound to be wrong in some case. For instance, not all religions have a strong ethical component. Others lack an elaborate cosmology. Yet others have no recognisable theology. But in general, religion consists of some combination of these three: ethics, cosmology and theology. We have just dealt with ethics. Let us now address cosmology and theology.


Cosmology is a theory of the origins of the world or the universe. In prehistory, among primitive man, such theories are prescientific. They are imaginative projections from the elements of human life inside culture, such as the progression of desire, will, intention, and action, just described, onto the mystery of what the world is, why it is there, and how it works. As such, primitive cosmologies often ascribe the origins of the world and all it contains to the will of beings similar to humans, by virtue of feeling desire and emotion, and harbouring will and intention, but who differ from humans in their far greater ability to execute their will and fulfil their intention. These beings are called gods and goddesses. God and goddesses are very much like humans, but much more powerful.


Gods and goddesses are agents of human wish-fulfilment. They are figments of imagination, generated by the logic of projection. The logic of projection was originally manipulated by interpreters of dreams, and more recently described by psychoanalysis. Its basic working is quite simple. A notion inside us in our imagination is projected outside us and imagined as existing in reality. Its working can be observed in children’s’ play, and in the ideal cultural creations of humanity, including gods and goddesses. Theology consists of the stories man makes up to explain the origin and history, motivations, intentions and actions, of gods and goddesses. Though most cultures seem to begin with many gods and goddesses, in some, their number is eventually reduced to one.


Conflict over markers of cultural identity


It is often, indeed usually, over markers of cultural identity, such as a given interpretation of theology, that people clash. Deciding whether there is one god or many gods and goddesses may seem scant cause for murder and mayhem, but history is replete with examples of just such conflicts. They often occur between people who in other respects are very similar. Generally speaking, the closer in all other respects two adversaries or enemies are, the more tenacious and violent their conflict over designated cultural markers is likely to be. Nobody fights longer or with more intensity, over more apparently trivial things, at least to an outsider, than siblings, cousins or neighbours.


In any grouping, however narrowly or widely defined, from the nuclear family to the city or nation state, the continental concert or the international community, outsiders, from mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, to presidents, prime ministers, and secretaries general, are frequently involved in attempting to prevent or resolve conflict between siblings, cousins, neighbours, adversaries and enemies. The reason they do so is that other people’s conflicts, like other people’s children, are usually a nuisance to their own pursuit of survival, increase and pleasure, though they may, at times, seek to use them to their own advantage, in their own conflicts with relatives and neighbours.


Attempts to make peace between warring proponents of opposing markers of identity tend to fail unless the subject of those markers is addressed and neutralised. This is because those markers so determine each side’s sense of its identity that it feels it cannot compromise on them without losing its identity. The way to neutralise conflict over markers of identity lies in shifting the basis for a given side’s identity onto other markers, which it can share, or at least not dispute, with its opponent. But this is easier said than done. It is especially difficult when markers of identity, including not only ethics, but ethnicity, language and territory, constituting demographic cultural identity, have become subsumed into religion, because then it is not merely a question of shifting the basis of one’s identity from one marker to another, but of shifting the whole edifice of culture into which it fits, including the world-view implied by its cosmology and theology.


Cultural evolution


This can only happen successfully, if it does at all, through cultural evolution. Attempts to impose cultural change on such a scale, quickly, from above, usually fail, as the recent history of attempts to impose atheism and egalitarianism on the Soviet Union and on China shows. But cultural evolution, though quicker than biological evolution, is slow. In the case of cultures where religion has subsumed most or all markers of cultural identity, it is particularly slow and difficult, because of the magnitude and complexity involved.


The theology and cosmology of religions tend to reflect the ethical assumptions of the cultures generating them, and are designed to uphold and enforce them. In the history of religions, it has been observed that ritual precedes belief, and that belief is fashioned and refashioned to explain and gradually alter ritual. Likewise, ethics, and the cultural assumptions they embody, precede cosmology and theology, which are fashioned and refashioned to explain and gradually alter ethics. Ethics, which in essence are nothing more than certain ways of doing things, rather than other ways, must from time to time be altered, in response to changing circumstances. Likewise, to the extent that they are linked to ethics, so must cosmology and theology. This is what is meant by adaptivity, a key concept of biological evolution, which also applies to cultural evolution.


As is the case with biological species, ideological species, such as cultures, evolve, and are subject to vicissitudes of change in their material and ideological environment. Some cultures adapt to change and survive. Others die, but generate successor cultures. Yet others are completely extinguished, and leave only historical records or archaeological remains, if that. What determines which cultures survive, which generate successors, and which become extinct, is the mode and degree to which they are capable of adapting to change. Such change may be material, or ideological. Since cultures are both, they must adapt in both spheres at once in order to survive or generate successors.




At this point let us pause to take stock. The purpose of this discussion is to show how defence and security relate to culture, and vice-versa. That purpose is not merely academic and theoretical, but practical. This discussion aims to clarify our notions of these subjects, in order to know how to provide security for culture in general, and for ‘our’ culture in particular, whoever ‘we’ may be. Pursuing that clarification, we have revisited the anthropological definition of culture, in terms of man’s prehistory.


By examining the relationship among material, ideal and ideological culture, while noting the distinction between instrumental culture, including both ideal and material culture, and demographic culture, we deduce that the relationship between material and ideological culture is mutually interdependent. The one is necessary for the other, and determines the other. How exactly this comes about is a subject of enquiry for prehistoric archaeological anthropology, and for recent or contemporary field anthropology, of some of whose basic notions and concepts I have just given the smallest possible taste.


Lessons to be drawn from the anthropological understanding of culture


Let us now see what lessons, relevant to us here and now, can be drawn from understanding culture in this way. This will lead us to a definition of security.


One lesson to be drawn from the foregoing review of the anthropological definition of culture is that an ideal element of culture, and an ideal component of defence, such as a tactic involving a given weapon or technique, may be identical. But what in the case of defence is merely ideal, in the case of culture becomes ideological. What is meant by this distinction? Let me give an example.


If one considers a given tactic or weapon purely in terms of defence, all that one need take into account is how well it works, at a practical level. How well does a given weapon serve a particular tactic? How well does a given tactic make use of available weapons and manpower? How well does it serve the broader purposes of strategy? Such consideration, if it is to be effective for the purpose of defence, is preferably clear-headed, purely rational, devoid of moral value judgements or emotional content. Such purity, clarity, amorality and impassivity are, however, very difficult in practice to achieve.


The reason for this difficulty is that moral value judgements and emotional content come into play, in considering a given tactic or weapon from the viewpoint of culture. This happens because we all live inside culture. Culture implies values, and values involve emotion. Thus we tend to consider things in terms of cultural values and their pertinent emotions. In practice, however hard one tries to shut them out, cultural values and emotions tend to infiltrate one’s attempt to think purely rationally and practically. The reason this is relevant to security is not only the general one just given, that we live inside culture and are conditioned by it in all respects, but also a more particular reason. Culture is intimately involved in defining the ultimate goal of defence: security. Just how this is so, we shall presently see, when we come to define security more fully.


But first let us see what is involved in considering a given tactic or weapon from the viewpoint of culture. In such consideration, the given tactic or weapon’s use may be debated with reference to a set of values proposed by the culture in question. The use of certain sorts of tactics and weapons, however effective they may be in purely practical, operational terms, may be inconceivable or unacceptable in cultural terms. The cultural terms in question will be those whereby a given culture defines who and what it is: its ideology, or set of self-defining ideas.


The role of emotion in culture, defence and security


When cultural values infiltrate the otherwise purely rational and practical consideration of a given tactic or weapon, that consideration is infiltrated and affected by ideological concerns, and by the emotions they tend to generate. The reason they generate emotions, is because ideology is closely bound up with identity. People are genetically programmed to feel emotion about their own identity, because identity is closely related to preserving their own life: to survival. This is a fact of nature. Emotion, such as fear or hatred, in such circumstances, is itself a form of defence: it serves as an indicator that survival is at stake, and requires one’s full attention. It also helps marshal the energy to defend it.


Emotion infuses ideology, to the extent that ideology defines people’s identity. For people who believe in ideology, it defines to them who they are, who they are not, and what they live for. It gives purpose and meaning to their lives, and makes them worth defending. Other people draw identity from different sources, and call such people ideologues. Ideologues tend to congregate in public life, in political, religious and military establishments. The reason for this is that ideology involves belief in something, whether in political values such as freedom or virtue, in gods and goddesses or God, or in a reified concept of the homeland called the nation or the world, or in some or all of these.


Such belief is a form of projection. Because projection is the mental act of imagining something inside oneself as existing outside oneself in something called reality, projection requires corroboration by others. This is because reality, like language, of which it is a construct, is a shared convention, not a fact of nature.


Reality and ideology


This is not to say that there is nothing real in nature or the cosmos besides our understanding and conception thereof. Rather, it is to say that there is clearly, by the evidence of our senses, corroborated, refined and enhanced by the findings of science, something real in nature and the cosmos that both precedes and exceeds our understanding. Our conception of reality is, and always will be, imperfect, because we are not big enough or old enough or smart enough to see and know all that there is and ever has been. We happened in nature, and nature in the cosmos, at a fairly late stage in the proceedings. We can nevertheless explore and describe what we can see of what there is, and formulate theories about it and the rest. That description and those theories constitute our conception of reality, which is and always will be, a work in progress.


Ideologues, however disagree. They crave final and absolute certainty. They believe that their conception of reality is right, that it is the only one that is right, and that all the rest are wrong. Requiring more than usual degrees and amounts of frequent corroboration, known to transaction analysis as positive stroking, to sustain this belief, ideologues tend to gravitate to public life, in political, religious and military establishments. To the degree that they can persuade others to share their beliefs, to that degree can they believe in them themselves. The reason they need to do this is to sustain their notion of their own identity, which in turn supplies them motivation and energy to sustain life itself.


Defence and security; tactics and strategy


Military establishments, themselves peopled, though not exclusively, with ideologues, as well as by weapons makers and dealers pursuing profit, tend to lament the infiltration of cultural values into discussions of defence and security as irrelevant and misleading. Seen purely from within the purview of defence, without reference to security, that may well be true. But no discussion of defence without reference to security, its ultimate goal, can ever be complete. And security, by virtue of involving identity, at least for those who define their identity in terms of values, involves values. For them, transgression of values constitutes denial of identity. That is why opponents of such tactics argue that transgression of one’s values, even in one’s own defence, is counterproductive.


According to opponents of such tactics, it is possible that a given set of tactics, involving use of a particular array of weapons, or methods of interrogation, may work admirably, if viewed purely in terms of defence, but still fail to guarantee security, and thus prove strategically counterproductive. This is because considerations of security are broader than those of defence, and inevitably involve culture, which involves values and emotions.


A recent example of this is the controversy over the use of water boarding, which some consider torture, as a tool for interrogating enemy prisoners. Its intended purpose is to provide information leading to the prevention of attacks on the homeland and citizens of the interrogators’ country. Its proponents argue that it is effective in obtaining such information, and so provides security for the homeland and its citizens. Its opponents argue that information obtained by torture is unreliable, and even if accurate, unethical. Such opponents argue that ethics forbidding torture are part of the ideological identity of the country the interrogators set out to defend, and that by transgressing those ethics, they are undermining its identity, and thereby damaging, rather than enhancing its security.


From a military point of view, this can be seen as discussion of the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy wins or loses wars. Tactics win or lose battles. Strategy pursues ultimate goals. Tactics pursue immediate advantage. Strategy’s ultimate goals, in nation states, are politically defined. In democracies, they are defined by interaction between the elite and the electorate. If the nation state in question is defined as consisting of a given set of political values, then, according to opponents of that tactic, its use, transgressing those values, may be tactically effective, but strategically counterproductive.


Of course this argument depends on defining the state concerned in terms of values, so defining it ethically. If it is defined only demographically, in terms of a given population in a given territory, and its interests are defined economically, rather than ethically, then arguments invoking ethical values are not necessarily relevant to its security. So the question of whether a given tactic is or is not strategically effective or counterproductive will depend on how one defines the identity and interests of the state in question. This means that identity, and especially self-identification, lies at the core of the definition of security, from the point of view of the person or people whose security is in question.


Definition of security


That understood, we are ready to define security in terms of its relationship to culture. Security is the maintenance and protection of the well-being of the members of a given society or demographic culture, as defined by the members of that society or culture itself. Maintenance and protection of well-being depends on instrumental culture. Instrumental culture is both material and ideal. To the extent that its ideal instrumental components identify the members of a given demographic culture, those components constitute an ideology. Ideology contains an implicit value judgement that the identity denoted by that ideology and by its associated value system is ‘good’ and that others are less good or downright ‘bad’. Security therefore involves a value judgement, stemming, like all value judgements, from a given point of view: what’s good is what’s good for us.


Risks in the relationship of culture to security


Having defined security in terms of culture, we may now consider an important distinction: that between what is good, and what is good for us. The existence of this distinction leads to conflict, since what is good for us is not necessarily good for others, and vice-versa. The pursuit of what is good for us at the expense of what is good for others tends to lead to conflict. This may lead others to seek to annihilate us; or us them. In the direst case, conflicts between cultures in the demographic sense risk rendering culture in the instrumental sense counterproductive, by extinguishing human life on Earth.


For nearly half a century, within living memory, this risk was managed by means of the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, MAD, a form of sanity whereby contending superpowers were restrained from indulging in ‘hot’ war by the likelihood that it would lead to their mutual destruction. This spectre has, for now, apparently receded, with end of the Cold War. But it is still there, lurking in the background, although some of its elements and actors have changed. Substitute Al-Qa’ida or its imitators for the Politburo, and a large enough cocktail of anthrax and sarin for nuclear weapons, add retaliation with the latter, and the threat of global extinction quickly becomes clear. And in the present change of actors and elements lies a further danger: MAD was possible and worked because both players were committed to survival in this world. That is not necessarily the case with religious fanatics who believe they have easy access to another world, even, or especially, if they destroy this. The logic of the suicide bomber leads directly to that risk.


That, however, is only the ultimate risk in the relationship between culture and security. Even at a lesser degree of extremity, short of global annihilation, conflicts between cultures can make life very unpleasant for people. They can lead to war, whether large scale, on battlefields, or smaller scale, in the form of terrorism, on land, at sea, and in the air. They cause long waits at terminals, and so-called ‘racial profiling incidents’. It would therefore seem desirable, in principle, to try to prevent conflict between cultures.


Attempts to prevent intercultural conflict


Preventing intercultural conflict is, as has been noted, easier said than done. For conflict is not just an incidental and externally generated circumstance, affecting given cultures from time to time, like a cold. Conflict and culture are, as we have seen, closely related in origin and essence. Conflict is an integral part of culture, part of the job that culture is designed to do. Demographic cultures are the products of conflict over long periods of time. As shown in our review of the anthropological definition of culture, an essential job of culture is to differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’, to defend ‘us’ from ‘them’, and to help ‘us’ to destroy ‘them’ if necessary. The same goes for ‘them’ in relation to ‘us’.


There have been, at times, within the compass of individual civilisations, such as that of Western Europe, attempts to regulate and minimise inter-cultural conflict, and even to promulgate a set of rules of war, designed, if not to make it less destructive, at least to make it more elegant. Such an attempt is represented by the Treaty of Westphalia’s motto, cuius regio, eius religio (Let each country follow the religion of its sovereign), which sought to regulate the religious conflicts of Europe, and by the code of gentlemanly tactics practiced sporadically in warfare throughout the eighteenth century.


The Congress of Vienna, seeking to put back together a framework of European security shattered by Napoleon, succeeded, more or less, but only for a century, and only partially at that. The battle of Solferino, fought, in mid-nineteenth century, in Italy, between Austria and France, led to the Geneva Conventions, another attempt to place limits on warfare. These were followed by other conventions, including the Paris Declaration leading to the League of Nations. Despite the existence of such rules of war, during the first half of the twentieth century, the horrors of war, fuelled by the products of industry, and extended by imperial reach, were repeatedly visited on European, African and Asian populations. The Americas were largely spared, at least on that scale. The Treaty of San Francisco, founding the United Nations, represents yet another attempt to set limits to international and intercultural conflict. Its chances of permanent success look no better than those of Westphalia, Vienna, Geneva and Paris.


In particular, Israel, a state that was created by the United Nations, has repeatedly been the object of attempted annihilation by various other member states, and remains so, in an ongoing conflict which can be described in many terms – racial, religious, or economic, among others – but which is ultimately cultural, insofar as culture subsumes all those categories. While Jews and Arabs are ethnically, linguistically, and even culturally, in many ways, close relatives, the very fact that they are so close in those respects makes them cling all the more tenaciously to the designated markers of cultural identity whereby they differentiate themselves from each other. The fact that they are competing for the same small piece of land, and that important elements within each other’s polity will never budge in their demand for all of it, and for expulsion or extermination of the other, means that this conflict has little hope of ultimate resolution, even if some sort of truce is imposed on the current leadership by the international community.


The fragility and relative impotence of the United Nations is shown by the failure of its attempt to reconcile the values of differing, competing cultures, under the general proposition that war is bad, to be avoided if possible. I call this proposition irenicism, which is a weaker form of pacifism. While irenicism may now be the prevalent view among educated elites in the West, it is far from universal, even among the less educated peoples of the West. And it is certainly not the view of the majority, or even the elite, in some of the most populous cultures and nations on the globe. Indeed it is not so long ago, less than a century, that Western elites glorified war, and Western populations were often seduced by its promised satisfactions. For centuries, war with France was a convenient and popular way for English kings to rally squabbling lords and surly yeomen behind them. Probably, in present-day Britain, it could still raise a cheer in some quarters.


The lessons of history: the long run and the short run


Now, asymmetrical war with the West, or with America, serves the same function for demagogues of other stripes elsewhere. Western elites may, in the first half of the twentieth century, have learnt their lesson: that war is ultimately counterproductive to the larger aims of culture: survival, increase, and pleasure. But they may also have forgotten it by now. If so, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ (George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905, Vol. 1.) What will it take for them to remember, and for the rest to learn theirs?


Given the difficulty of remembering the lessons of history, the only way to resolve, and hence prevent, all conflict between cultures, is either for one culture to triumph decisively, eliminating or neutralising the rest, or for all cultures to become one and the same, thus obliterating the distinction between us and them. Alternatively, one could try, as it were, to defang culture, to remove its capacity for conflict. But, even if one could discover how to do so, one would have to do so for all cultures, including all their subsets, all at once.


None of these eventualities looks likely to happen in the short run. Of course ‘In the long run’, in the words of Maynard Keynes, ‘we are all dead’. (A Tract on Monetary Reform, 1923, Ch. 3.) But he meant sequentially. If such an outcome, resulting from conflict between cultures, is to be prevented from occurring simultaneously and universally, what is to be done? Of the theoretical solutions just cited - the total triumph of one culture over all the rest; the merging of all cultures into one; neutralisation of conflict between cultures - none looks implementable in practice.


II: Our cultural identity: ‘We’ and ‘they’; ‘us’ and ‘them’.


So, as we wait for the long run, how are we to cope, in the short run, with conflicts between cultures? Which other cultures pose a danger to us, and to ours? How should we defend against them? Obviously, to answer these questions, we must define who ‘we’ are; what is meant by ‘us’ and ‘them’.


Definition of the viewpoint of this text: the culture of modernity


A clue to the answer to that question may be found in the nature of this text, and thus of its assumed readership. The clue lies in its the source of its arguments: anthropology, biology, psychology, and history. This is a text basing its arguments on science and history. Moreover, those arguments appeal to logic and reason, rather than to emotion, even, or especially, when speaking of emotion.


These characteristics of this text mark it as a product of the culture of modernity. The culture of modernity appeals primarily to science, and, with provisos, to history, as a source of argument. Those provisos seek to guarantee the factuality and objectivity of history, to maintain in history a standard of evidence and argument comparable to science.


From this it emerges that the culture of modernity, as here defined and exemplified, is a set of attitudes, assumptions, and criteria; an instrumental, rather than a demographic culture. Therefore it is not exclusively identified with any given country, language or ethnicity, though it thrives more in some than in others. Among its attitudes are the supremacy of reason over emotion, and scepticism of the supernatural. It assumes that a scientific or historical explanation can eventually be found for most things. It uses more or less objective logical and methodological criteria to test the truth of propositions, and the usefulness of tools, techniques and procedures, in any field of enquiry or endeavour.




This set of attitudes, assumptions and criteria is called naturalism. It is so called because it holds that the universe is governed by natural laws and logic, which are, in principle discoverable. It offers an account of reality based on science, and on observation and assessment of evidence, as a source of criteria and protocols for individual and collective behaviour and interaction. It forswears supernaturalism. The main proponents of supernaturalism are to be found among believers in religions. Religions usually ascribe the existence and nature of the universe to the will of gods, whether singular or plural, and derive criteria and protocols for individual and collective behaviour and interaction from their divergent accounts of that alleged will, and of its effect in shaping reality.


Naturalism comes in two flavours, strong and weak, metaphysical and methodological. Metaphysical naturalism denies the reality of supernatural beings and related accounts of reality. Methodological naturalism is more polite. It merely holds that for the purpose of managing our everyday lives, from households to nations to the world, natural, rather than supernatural accounts of reality, together with criteria and protocols for behaviour and interaction derived from logic and reason, rather than from supernatural authority, are more useful. Rather than dance a dance for rain, or pray a prayer for cure from a disease – though one may also do so if it gives one psychological comfort, physical pleasure, or aesthetic satisfaction - one seeds the clouds, and consults a medical doctor. The rapid spread of methodological naturalism, and with it, of the culture of modernity, throughout much of the world, indicates that confidence in science, rather than in gods, is growing. As such, it poses a challenge to traditional cultures predicated on supernaturalism.


Adaptation to modernity


The most fundamental cultural distinction in the world today lies between cultures that adapt to the challenge of modernity, and those that do not. Modernity derives from the global advance of material culture, brought about by science over the last five centuries. That advance of material culture is predicated on developments in ideological culture. Both alter our understanding of our place in the world, and of the world in the universe. In so doing, because modernity is global, it poses a challenge to traditional ideological cultures. Some traditional cultures are responding fairly well to this challenge, others not. There are two kinds of cultural conflict in the world today. One is between cultures that adapt to modernity, and those that cannot or will not, in other words, between naturalism and supernaturalism. The other is within naturalism, between different forms of modernity: authoritarian and liberal. Conflict of both kinds exists not only between different demographic cultures, but within individual demographic cultures.


The ideological culture of the West, including Western Europe and the Americas, is by and large adapting to modernity. This is partly because most advances in material culture, over the last several centuries, have originated in the West. Even so, these have deeply challenged the West’s ideological culture, which at times has seemed unequal to the challenge, although it has so far always risen to it in the end.


Modernity and religion


The culture of modernity developed in the West over the last five hundred years or so, in the process of a dialectic, often involving struggle, but also creative interaction, with its immediate predecessor, the culture of Mediaeval Christendom. That dialectic gradually forged the culture of modernity, which is still developing creatively, now more so in internal debate and dialectic than with any religion.


Christianity is based, among other things, on a cosmology which happens to be wrong. It places the earth at the centre of the solar system and the universe, with all else revolving around it, and dates its creation to some four thousand years ago. The advent of modern astronomy, in the observations of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, Einstein, Hubble, Hoyle, and Hawking, showed that the earth is not at the centre of the solar system, let alone the universe, and that the universe is several billions of years old. This shook the cosmological foundations of Christianity. Christianity’s natural history, its account of life, dates nature’s creation simultaneously to that of the universe, within a day or so, with all its present species fully formed. The discovery, by Darwin, that man evolved from the apes, and they from slime in the sea, over millions, not billions, of years, was a further blow to Christianity’s account of creation. The fusion of Darwin’s insights into evolution with Mendel’s into genetics, developed by successors including Huxley, Dobzhansky, Mayr, Haldane and Dawkins, among others, into the modern evolutionary synthesis, further undermined the Christian account of nature. An example of creative interaction between Christianity and modernity is that Mendel was a Catholic monk.


Not surprisingly, the realisation that Christianity’s cosmology and natural history were wrong led to suspicion that its theology, involving both, might also be wrong. As Laplace noted, the scientific evidence does not suggest, as a necessary hypothesis, that the universe and nature were created by an act of will similar to that of humans, only far more powerful. ‘Je n’ai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse-là.’ (‘Pierre-Simon Laplace’, Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1913). Nor does the evidence of history, except to Hegelians and Marxists, the latter atheists, suggest that history is guided by a purpose. Despite these grounds for scepticism, Christianity resisted, and continues in some quarters to resist, the naturalist account of reality. Thus the ideological culture of the West still struggles to cope with the discovery that the Earth is not at the centre of the universe, and that man did not spring fully formed into the Garden of Eden.


While it has largely renounced belief in the shared cosmology and theology of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all derived from the same stem, and referring to the same creation myth, modernity, particularly liberal modernity, still retains some of Christianity’s ethics, though it generally ascribes them to other sources. It has therefore absorbed ethical influences from one of Christianity’s two main predecessors, Judaism, as well as influence from the other, the religion and philosophy of Classical Antiquity. Indeed it was the re-emergence of the culture of Classical Antiquity, after a thousand years’ eclipse, in the Renaissance, some five hundred years ago, that provided the critical mass to start the chain reaction of dialectical interaction leading to modernity.


Modernity’s lingua franca, inherited via Mediaeval Christendom from the Roman empire, the last form of Classical Antiquity, was, to begin with, Latin. The Latin language and Roman culture had in turn been influenced and enriched by the Greek language and culture, once Rome had conquered Greece. Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio. ‘Conquered Greece conquered its rude victor and brought the arts to rustic Latium.’ (Horace, Epist. II, 1, 156.) While diverse vernaculars, including Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Dutch and Russian, among others, contributed to modernity’s development, the long, broad rule of the British empire, followed by North American political and economic dominance after World War II, led to the use of English as its current lingua franca. That is why this text is written in English.


Authoritarian and liberal modernity


World War II, and the Cold War that followed it, were wars between nations espousing different versions of modernity: liberal and authoritarian. Both liberal and authoritarian modernity espouse naturalism. Both share its scepticism of supernaturalism. Both maintain its preference for logic and reason over emotion and impulse. Both use its criteria for verifying propositions and estimating the usefulness of tools and techniques. But they differ in their social and political assumptions.


Authoritarian modernity seeks to impose logical criteria of governance, and rational methods of production, in accordance with a secular ideology, uniformly, totally, by force, and from above. Napoleon, Bismarck, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Poll Pot are examples. Liberal modernity requires the consent of the governed, however artfully engineered, most of the time, and tolerates diversity of opinion, and even of action, within the rule of law. Western Europe, North America, Japan, and several other countries are examples.


In those countries loosely constituting the so-called ‘West’ (though much of it lies in the East) liberalism seems to prevail over authoritarianism, at least for now. In either form, or in some form of compromise between them, the culture of modernity has been espoused, in varying degrees, by many countries, or by elites within them. These include Russia, parts of the old British empire, such as Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa, most of the old Spanish and Portuguese empires in the Americas and Asia, plus Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and China, among others. While some elites in post-colonial Africa espouse modernity, its spread beyond them to the populace at large is hampered by poverty and underdevelopment. Some aspects of the culture of modernity have also been espoused by some of the elites in the Near and Middle East, but there they are locked in a twofold struggle. On the one hand recent events, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ reveal conflict between liberalism and authoritarianism. On the other hand modernity, of any sort, is locked in struggle with ideological opposition to modernity as such, specifically to naturalism, from the dominant religion, Islam.


This should come as no surprise. Western modernity had to struggle for centuries with Christianity, an elder sibling of Islam, and still, at least in America, politicians must pay lip service to God to get elected. This is because everywhere, not just in the developing world, the culture of modernity is far more widely and deeply espoused by the elite, and more firmly entrenched in the legal and political institutions that the elite fashion and control, than among the populace. Everywhere, the culture of modernity is superimposed on existing traditional cultures, and must find a modus vivendi with them, and they with it.


Adaptation of traditional cultures to modernity


Adaptation of traditional cultures to the challenge of modernity consists, for many of their members, in a form of schizophrenia, or hypocrisy, whereby they claim to profess a certain set of religious beliefs, implying a certain cosmology and natural history, but live their lives according to quite other naturalistic principles. Lip service to God does not prevent American politicians, and their religious constituencies, from reaping the benefits of physical and biological science, in the form of aviation or medicine. Strictly speaking, those who claim to hold religious views implying the rejection of science and modernity should, for the sake of consistency, refrain from using its products. But we have given up expecting consistency from politicians long ago.


Such hypocrisy is harmless enough, so long as neither they, nor anybody else, takes their professions of belief too seriously, and tries to fly airplanes built according to the precepts of pre-Newtonian physics, or to cure diseases with the methods of Galen, rather than with those of Fleming. Fleming, indeed, is partly responsible for one of the most profound recent challenges to the ethical component of the traditional culture of the West: the sexual revolution. This provides a very good example of the close relationship between material and ideological culture, and is worth mention here for that reason. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be young during the Age of Fleming, a brief window of opportunity which lasted from the discovery of penicillin to the advent of AIDS, know what it is like to feel relatively free from fear of sexually transmitted disease.


The consequences for our ideological culture of this absence of fear are still being felt, working their way through the system of values that constitutes its ethical component. We are still, by and large, optimists (whether realistically or not remains to be seen). We still expect AIDS to be conquered, as were syphilis and gonorrhoea, and to resume, or perhaps more decently, for others, younger, fitter and more eager than ourselves to resume, the sexual and cultural revolution associated with the Age of Fleming.


That Western civilisation, despite the opposition of certain segments of the Western population and their leaders, has been able to take such profound ideological challenges more or less lightly in its stride, and emerge thriving, at least in terms of intellectual endeavour, is proof of its adaptability, and hence of its chances for survival through evolution. Fortunately for the adaptability of Western civilisation, it is only partly based on Christianity, and hence to an even lesser degree on Abrahamic and Mosaic revelation, since Christianity is itself a hybrid. Western civilisation is at least equally, arguably more broadly and deeply, and certainly more creatively, based on the spirit of enquiry, whose origin lies in pre-Socratic philosophy. There naturalism first emerges, subsequently to be debated and fashioned by Plato, Aristotle and others into systematic thought. It also inherits the humanist instincts of a culture, that of the Greeks, which depicted its gods and goddesses in the form of perfectly proportioned naked lads and lasses, enjoying life to the full. They are the models for the sexual revolution.


The West as the vanguard of liberal modernity


The relative ascendancy of liberalism over authoritarianism in the West means that Western civilisation is not only the vanguard of modernity, but of liberal modernity. If liberal modernity can, indeed, cope with its own internal opposition, and continue to evolve creatively, then it can manage threats from within. But can it? Which are the external instrumental or demographic cultures, and the internal circumstances and ideologies, that now challenge or threaten it?

III: Challenges and threats to liberal modernity

Ideology and interests


As stated above, they can be of two kinds: those which reject modernity as such, and those which seek to impose on the West authoritarian, rather than liberal modernity. Alongside this distinction, however, another must be made. Not all conflict, or even most conflict, is over ideology. Indeed there are those who argue that all conflict is really over interests, usually material, therefore territorial or economic, and that conflict over ideology is just a mask for conflict over material interests, designed to marshal the emotions necessary for conflict, which ideology does better than interests.


Whether this is always so I shall not discuss here, since it would take too long. Maybe I shall do so on another occasion, in this forum. But that it is often so is very plausible, and must be borne in mind in considering which external demographic cultures, or indeed internal ideological opponents, may threaten either the culture of liberal modernity, or the material interests of its original homeland, the West. Since both, as we have seen, are intricately linked, to threaten the West is to threaten liberal modernity.


Enemies and adversaries.


In considering threats to liberal modernity and to the West we must distinguish between enemies and adversaries. The definition here adopted in this context is that enemies are those who seek to destroy the West materially and liberal modernity ideologically. Adversaries are those who, in pursuit of their own material interests, find themselves in opposition to the West and/or to liberal modernity within their own borders, but do not seek to destroy the political and ideological dispensation of the West as such.


In discussing enemies and adversaries of Western liberal modernity, I shall concentrate more on underlying cultural realities, than on transitory political or economic factors, though I shall invoke these where relevant. In considering the likelihood of outcomes to conflicts, actual and potential, between the West and its enemies and adversaries, I shall do so on the basis of those underlying cultural realities, in the light of current economic and political factors. While the former are unlikely to change rapidly, they do change over time, while the latter are prone to rapid change. Thus any predictions I may make will be hostages to fortune. This is a risk I cheerfully assume.


Opposition to naturalism and modernity as such


The most obvious challenge to liberal modernity, on purely ideological grounds, comes from cultures or elements within them that cannot or will not espouse it. There are in the world today, certain cultures, or parts of cultures, which find the sexual revolution, as well as other adaptive responses of Western ideology to naturalism, deeply threatening.




Such is the case of certain societies and groups within the broader culture of Islam. In particular, for dominant male members of such societies or groups, the political and economic, and especially the sexual emancipation of women threatens to destroy a system of oppression and enslavement that has worked, for centuries, to the perceived benefit of men in such societies. Such societies and groups do not represent Islam as a whole, but they do represent a significant part of it. Some elements of Islam seek not only to resist the influence of naturalism and modernity within the ‘Dar al Islam’, or house of Islam, the territories conquered by Islam in its first few centuries of militancy, but also to impose their version of Islam on the rest of the world, if necessary by force.


To be understood, this must be seen in historical perspective. Islam is a relatively young religion and culture. By its calendar we are in the fifteenth century. During the fifteenth century of the Christian calendar the West began to undergo the greatest challenge to its ideological culture since Mediaeval Christendom took shape after the fall of the Roman empire. That challenge, which we now call the Renaissance, involved regaining access to the original sources of Graeco-Roman culture, and using them to revivify and redefine the culture of the West. This led, in short order, to the development of science, of which we have already spoken, with its own challenge to the culture of the West, in the form of the conceptual revolution that we now call the Enlightenment. Islam, now in its fifteenth century, has both Renaissance and Enlightenment yet to look forward to.


Just as there was a struggle within the culture of the West, in response to such challenges, there is a struggle within Islam, between those desirous and capable of adaptation to modernity, and those who make the rejection of modernity the central tenet of their concept of their own identity. Members of both camps are, in the diverse social and political spectrum included within Islamic culture, at different times in different places, in or out of political power, wielding more or less ideological influence over society.


Just as there are Christian fundamentalist insiders, members of the political establishment, who seek political control of the West, so there are Muslim fundamentalist insiders, leaders of political establishments, who already control certain parts of the Dar al Islam, and wish to control more. And just as there are Christian outsiders, not members of the political establishment, who blow up buildings and murder medical doctors, seeking to advance their cultural agenda, so there are Muslim outsiders, not yet members of the political establishment, who fly planes into buildings and murder journalists and scientists, seeking to advance theirs.


The difference is that in the case of the West, the fundamentalists have little chance of succeeding in reversing the course of cultural development. In the West, rationalism is in the ascendant, despite sporadic assaults on its dominance. In the case of fundamentalist insiders in positions of power, the West has means to restrain them, as is clearly shown by a recent Federal Court decision in the USA, denying the claim of creationists to equal time in the biology classroom. In the case of outsiders, the rule of law can be and is sporadically enforced to limit the damage they can do.


In the case of the Dar al Islam, the outcome of the struggle is as yet uncertain, although recent events, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, appear to indicate the possibility that secular democracy and liberalism, espoused by outsiders, may yet find a foothold there. It is still far too soon to tell. Meanwhile, there do not seem to be similar internal restraints on insiders: Islamic fundamentalist leaders who deny recent historical facts, and call for the annihilation of whole states, the extermination of whole peoples, and the forcible imposition of their peculiar version of Islam on the rest of the world.


Despite the violent nature and totalitarian scope of such desires and intentions, Islam is unlikely to conquer the world any time soon. Islam itself, even fundamentalist Islam, is not a significant threat to Western civilisation, whether on ideological or material grounds. This is because – apart from the West’s thirst for oil-generated energy, a source for which Western technology will sooner or later find alternatives and substitutes – the West does not need anything vital from the Dar al Islam. Militarily, at least in conventional terms, the West holds the advantage. While Islamic jihadists are able to harass the West, and even to maintain control over their own territory, through unconventional warfare, they cannot expect with such tactics to occupy and hold the West. Certainly, excepting a few eccentric individuals, the culture of Islam holds little attraction for most Westerners. The reverse, in contrast, is the case: Western culture, both material and ideological, including liberal modernity, is very attractive to many members, particularly younger, of Islamic societies. That is why Islamic fundamentalists are seeking to destroy it.


It is unlikely that they will succeed. Indeed, the balance of economic, military and cultural forces in the world today is rather such that the fate of Islam will depend on whether it proves capable of adaptation to modernity through cultural evolution. The question for Islam is thus whether its fundamentalist elements seize control of Islamic culture as a whole, and thus doom it to extinction, or if the glimmers of hope generated by the ‘Arab Spring’ grow into spreading enlightenment. If, as in previous stages of its history, Islam recovers a capacity not only for reactive adaptation to the challenge of modernity posed by the advance of science, but even for making its own contributions to the advance of science, then Islam stands as much of a chance of survival as does Christianity.


Which is not to say much, but is to say something. Christianity survives in the West to the extent that it has learnt to live in reduced circumstances. It is not, as at certain times in the past, in direct control of the political and economic levers of society, nor does it have any exclusive right of diktat over the ethical component of ideological culture. It survives as a form of self-definition and system of self-control available to those who are intellectually unequipped, or temperamentally unprepared, to work out the problem of their own identity and ethics for themselves, from rational principles. So long as such people do not aspire to take control of society, they must be tolerated. Such toleration is an essential part of the ethics, derivable through reason, forming the basis of liberal modernity. But when they do try to take control, they must be stopped. So far, liberal modernity is succeeding. So long as it continues to do so, and its ideological culture continues to evolve creatively, the balance of forces will remain in its favour, at least with respect to the ideological challenge posed by fundamentalism of whatever sort, internal or external.


Authoritarianism and liberalism in a non-Western ally of modernity: Japan


Before going on to discuss possible threats to liberal modernity from authoritarian modernity, let me describe a non-Western ally of the West, and so of liberal modernity: Japan. The reason for doing so is that Japan shows the way for authoritarian modernity to evolve into liberal modernity, and so reduce the external threat of authoritarianism. Thus Japan offers an example of how to confront any such threat.


Japan was the first non-Western culture to espouse modernity, in the later nineteenth century, and the modernity that it espoused was authoritarian. Its principal model was Bismarck’s Prussia. Thus, although it flirted with alliance with the British empire for a while, in the early twentieth century, it was more natural, in terms of its political culture, that it should side with Nazi Germany against the Allies in the Second World War. Its defeat and occupation by the USA, which wrote a new constitution for Japan, meant that it had a relatively liberal form of modernity forced upon it.


Now I have noted the failure of attempts by authoritarian governments to impose modernity from above on reluctant populaces, in Russia, China, and elsewhere. But both the imposition of authoritarian modernity by the Meiji emperor, and that of liberal modernity by General Macarthur, under the Showa emperor, succeeded to a large extent in Japan. This is partly because the populace was already conditioned to obedience by several centuries of preceding authoritarianism, under the Tokugawa Shogunate, and partly because the populace quickly perceived the material, social and political benefits of what was being imposed upon them. Japan has adapted by and large successfully to the challenge of liberal modernity. Even so, anyone who knows Japan will recognise that its espousal of modernity is superficial, though economically and politically effective, and that under the surface it remains a deeply traditional and authoritarian society. It has found its modus vivendi, and continues to work on it creatively, even, now, in the face of great adversity. Its ability to do so is much facilitated by the nature of its native religion, and its attitudes towards religion in general.


Perhaps the non-Western culture which most closely resembles the religious dispensation of Western Classical Antiquity is the Nipponic. The reason for this resemblance is its highly syncretistic and agnostic approach to religion. The underlying native polytheistic or animistic cult is Shinto, the ‘Way of the Gods’. It lacks an ethical component, in the philosophically universal sense of the word, although it has a strong sense of the sacred and of ritual. Observing Shinto in Japan has helped me to imagine what it may have been like to live in the ancient Mediterranean world. This form of worship has been able to absorb and coexist with Taoism, Buddhism, and even with Confucianism, a highly ethical creed, rather like Stoicism, somewhere between religion and philosophy. Japan has even attempted to absorb Christianity, though more in its rituals than in its beliefs.


Many Japanese have a Shinto wedding and a Buddhist funeral. They may also have a Christian wedding, after the Shinto one, before the banquet, where good-luck charms originating in Taoism are given out as favours. And in their close family relationships they may still, at least in more old-fashioned families, adhere to Confucian principles of hierarchy and respect. None of this has any bearing whatsoever on their conduct of their economic or sexual pursuits. These are conducted each according to its own inherent logic: that of profit or pleasure. The only important universal rule of conduct is that of decorum: saving face, for oneself and for others. The result of all this is a culture making a marked distinction between illusion and reality, tatemae and honne: between what everyone pretends to be the case, and what everybody knows to be true. Somehow, it works. Japan has adapted to modernity without losing its idiosyncrasy.


Authoritarian modernity: China


There is reason to hope that China will do the same. China’s espousal of modernity, beginning in the early twentieth century, has been far more violent and tumultuous than Japan’s. It is still, at the political level, deeply and firmly authoritarian, and looks to remain so for some time. But rising expectations are likely, in the course of this century, to bring about internal development towards a somewhat less authoritarian form of modernity. The stirrings are already there, and are likely to grow in depth and breadth.


So is China a threat to the West, or to liberal modernity? Unlike militant Islam, China has no militant ideology thrusting it into a quest for world domination. Even at the height of the Cold War, when its Soviet neighbours, heirs to the expansionist instincts of Russian imperialism, openly sought world domination, China’s foreign policy was circumspect. While it has always demanded a certain degree of subjection from its nearest neighbours, and recognition of its cultural superiority, it has not manifested territorial designs beyond its present boundaries, excepting its desire to recover Taiwan, which it once held, and is ethnically and culturally related. It has been said that this could change if global warming makes Siberia more habitable, and its underpopulated expanses, held by a demographically declining Russia, tempt a demographically expanding China.


But MAD holds between Russia and China, as it did between the Soviet Union and the West, and is likely to prevent such an eventuality. MAD also holds between China and the West, and between China and India, India and Pakistan. MAD, as stated previously, is, in a nuclear world, a safeguard earnestly to be desired. Given that the nuclear genie cannot be put back in the bottle, MAD is the next best thing. But MAD only works between rational powers. Those driven by irrational impulses may well be tempted to transgress its limits. The question whether Pakistan is likely to be rational or irrational is, at present, unanswerable. But its greatest threat is not to or from the West, but to and from its neighbours. Iran, which aspires to nuclear weapons, and would dearly like to pose an existential threat to the West, is likely to be irrational, at least under its present leadership. Still, while nuclear irrationality may be a source of concern with present or future Islamic nuclear powers, it is not the case with China.


While China’s form of rationality is different in important respects from that derived, in the West, ultimately from Greek philosophy, it has its own rich philosophical sources to draw upon. Like Japan, its underlying folk religion is polytheistic, and it shares the influence of Buddhism, as well as being the original source of Taoism and Confucianism. Perhaps most importantly, it is the homeland of the world’s most complex ideographic script, a fact which constitutes the basis of its concept of its own cultural superiority, and also deeply determines the nature of its thought, and so of its culture. Whether an ideographic script proves better, in the long run, than an alphabetic one, as a vehicle for writing language, is not yet determined. But its choice leads to a quite idiosyncratic form of logic and reasoning. China’s potential for cultural creativity is immense, and will doubtless, as it works its way through its political and social development, bear fruit.


While China’s governing elite still pay lip service to Communism, like their American counterparts to God, they have eagerly espoused state capitalism, which may prove to be a step on a long road to free market capitalism, or even to something else as yet unexplored and undefined. For that matter, the West may also, perhaps in creative interaction with China, among others, gradually develop and change its economic model. Whatever the Chinese economic model eventually turns out to be, it is more likely to be shaped by enlightened self-interest than by ideology. The Chinese are very pragmatic, as can be observed in the economic success of their overseas communities, as well as in China today. So while it is only to be expected that an economically more powerful China will want to have more weight in the world concert, it is unlikely that it will wish to break that concert, on which its prosperity depends, and risk war in support of its material or territorial interests, when it can achieve them through diplomacy, based on economic leverage. And it is even more unlikely that it will seek, for ideological reasons, to impose authoritarianism on the West. It is far more likely that the conflict between authoritarianism and liberalism will play itself out within China, than between China and the West.


North and South Korea


We know so little certain of the present military, political and social condition of North Korea that we must rely almost exclusively on reference to its underlying cultural reality, in assessing how it stands with respect to liberal modernity. That reality, up to a point, at least in terms of its history before the 1950s it shares with South Korea, of which we know somewhat more. Obviously, North Korea is at present the most authoritarian state in its region, if not in the world. But does it pose an ideological challenge to liberal modernity outside its peninsula? Its poverty guarantees that is unlikely to constitute a model to be followed by any other country, let alone its sister nation, now thriving under its own form of capitalism. Any threat North Korea poses is military, not ideological. Despite its possession of a few nuclear weapons, and its apparent irrationality, North Korea’s threat is local, not global, and not to liberal modernity as such.


Whether its sister nation, South Korea, is really liberal or not is a complex question, just as it is for Japan. An underlying authoritarianism, derived in both cases from Confucianism, merges, in the case of South Korea, with considerable influence from Christianity, far greater than in Japan. This element is absent or suppressed in North Korea, where religion and political ideology are practically one, with official worship of the ‘dear’ leader as a living god, and likewise of his father, although he is dead. Depending on how matters develop in the Korean peninsula, almost any outcome is possible, from war between the North and South, possibly involving other powers, including China, Russia, the West and Japan, to the sudden collapse of the North Korean regime, and its reunification with the South, on the South’s terms. Fortunately, given the volatility of this situation, it is relatively contained within limited geographic bounds.


A counterweight to China: India


While not an ally of the West in the same sense as Japan, nor as advanced in its espousal of modernity, India, both by virtue of its long rule by Britain, and its consequent espousal of democracy, and by that of its own deep religious and philosophical roots, is likely to become a force for rationality and stability in the world concert. India is the home not only of Hinduism, which is polytheistic, but of Buddhism and Jainism, which are philosophies as fertile as Stoicism, Epicureanism, Scepticism and Cynicism. In particular, Jainism, resembling Scepticism in many ways, is well adapted to creative interaction with modernity. The fact that it espouses a form of democracy idiosyncratically its own, and that it practices a relatively high degree of liberalism, at least in terms of freedom of expression, means that it is unlikely to become an ideological adversary of the West, although its economic and strategic interests may not always be aligned with those of the West. While India’s economic and social problems are immense, and its solution of them slower than China’s, partly because of the peculiar way its democracy works, it is likely to prove an effective counterweight to China, if counterweight be needed. In a world likely, with the decline of America following close on that of Russia, to become more like that of the nineteenth century balance of power, India’s power and influence is likely to prove both significant and creative.




Russia is still grappling with the loss of its contiguous territorial empire, and with its disillusion with Communism. After a brief flirtation with liberalism, it seems, for now, to have relapsed into authoritarianism. An underlying dialectic in Russian culture predates modernism: that between attraction to the West and opposition to it. The eventual outcome of this internal dialectic for Russia is unpredictable, but what concerns us here more is Russia’s likely interaction with its neighbours and the West. Like Germany in the 1930’s, it is currently undergoing resentment and revanchism, especially towards its freed and disaffected former subject states. Despite this, there are grounds for optimism, with respect to its eventual role in the world, once the current generation passes. This is because its economic and strategic interests are not fundamentally opposed to those of the West, but, like China’s, interlinked with them, through the global market.


As Russia, like China, gradually overcomes the legacy of Communism, and develops its own form of capitalism, it will inevitably follow the logic of capitalism. This, whatever else it may be, is predicated on enlightened self-interest. The pursuit of enlightened self-interest, in a globalised economy, in rivalry between economic and political adversaries, is conducive to diplomacy, rather than to war. While Russia remains a political adversary of liberal modernity, naturally aligning itself with authoritarianism, it is on the way to becoming as economic and cultural partner of the West. The growing cultural influence of the West in Russia is likely, as it already did a generation ago, contributing to the end of the Soviet Union, to militate in favour of development towards greater attraction, rather than opposition. It will take time. Meanwhile, MAD protects all concerned from the direst threats strategic rivalry may engender.


Internal threats to liberal modernism in the West: America and Europe


While liberal modernism seems fairly deeply rooted both in North America and most of Western Europe, there are elements within both that militate against it. The most obvious of these are religions, but they are held in check by the rule of law. To the extent that religions have material assets that can be seized, and priests and ministers that can be arrested and tried, they are vulnerable to the rule of law. A greater danger to liberal modernity comes from those with nothing to lose: the mob.


Recent riots in the United Kingdom, governmentally tolerated illegal occupation of the public roadway in Spain, and similar movements in America and elsewhere, whether tolerated or repressed, constitute threats to the rule of law, on which liberal modernity depends. While repression in the short term is required, it is necessary to look into the causes of this unrest, which may be economic, political and cultural, or simply part of human nature.


Another danger to liberal modernity, related to the threat of mob violence, is the lack of proper education of the populace. I say proper education, because much of the effort expended on education in the liberal democracies is arguably misguided. The attempt to make education a vehicle for social engineering inspired by ideology has led, in the last half-century, to a degradation both in America and Europe in the quality of academic education. Dumbing down curriculum and relaxing standards in order to provide a pale simulacrum of an academic education to those who are neither suited to it nor desire it produces a populace which thinks it knows more than it does, and has no respect for those who do know something, with consequently damaging effects, not only on public order, but on productivity and competition.


Perhaps, however, the most urgent and obvious internal danger to democracy, the rule of law, and so to the culture of liberal modernity in the West, is its current economic crisis. If allowed to develop into deflationary depression, hyperinflation, or generalised sovereign default, it can hinder the creative evolution of liberal modernity, and open the way to the ascendancy of authoritarianism, internal as well as external.


On that sombre note, I conclude my contribution to this discussion.



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