Modernization, Industrialization, Urbanization
3 July 2009
Yesterday in A Note on Quantitative Civilization I quoted from Toynbee to the effect that the present international order is based on Western economic and political principles. Toynbee explicitly acknowledges that these borrowed principles of development do not compromise the non-Western character of the societies that adopt them. While he could be faulted for his untrendy language, which is spectacularly politically incorrect, the spirit of his remarks are very much within the present tradition of recognizing diversity.
Not all development leads to Westernization. Contemporary Japan provides an example of modernization, industrialization, and urbanization that does not coincide with Westernization. Japan remains profoundly Japanese in the midst of its technical progress. Japan is a bellwether in this respect, but it is not a model. The rest of Asia would never model itself upon Japan, at least explicitly so. But Japan shows what is possible.
Of what the financial press now calls the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — the latter two industrializing powers are clearly non-Western, while the former two are on the periphery of Western civilization, or, if you follow Samuel Huntington, belong to two distinct contemporary civilizations, Latin American and Orthodox respectively. (One wonders why the financial press does not call them the CRIB countries.) In any case, as these regional powers develop, as they modernize, urbanize, and industrialize, they will not be Westernizing. Their societies are and will be experiencing wrenching social changes and profound dislocation, but this will be the result of the transition to a fully modern economic system, not the result of “Westernization.” (Though it is to be expected that some of these wrenching social changes will be charged to “westernization.”)
With India and China it seems to be pretty clearly the case that they want to join what Toynbee called the “world-wide comity of states” but that they will do so on their own terms. Like Japan, they will modernize, industrialize, and urbanize but all without Westernizing.
Previously I have observed that the US represents the society most transformed by industrialization because its society was the least mature and established at the time of its industrialization (and perhaps also more intrinsically flexible). If other countries come to resemble the US as they develop, it is because the US is the raw product of industrial development with the least admixture of history, culture, and social tradition.
One of the great fears that seems to be prompted by globalization, that great contemporary bogeyman, is that of cultural homogenization. The ideologically motivated left likes to formulate this in terms of “cultural hegemony” and to formulate parallels between the imposition of military and economic regimes upon poorer and weaker nation-states and the “imposition” of a cultural regime upon similarly disadvantaged nation-states. I touched only briefly on this question in Evo Morales’ Ideologist, about the career of Bolivia’s Vice President, Álvaro García Linera, since García Linera has been deeply influenced by Antonio Gramsci, and Gramsci’s formulations are pretty much responsible for making cultural hegemony the hot topic that it is today.
The cultural homogenization that seems to make economically developing countries approximate the US the further their development progresses is a function of convergent evolution, not cultural hegemony. Similar selection forces are at work, so similar social structures are the result. There are only so many ways to construct a city from concrete, steel, and glass, and so it happens that most contemporary conurbations look alike.
. . . . .
. . . . .
. . . . .
. . . . .