After Edward Said's path-breaking work on the western scholarly constructions of Arab and Islamic culture the concept of Orientalism has been significant in the human sciences. It is well defined as follows:
Orientalism as a discourse divides the globe unambiguously into Occident and Orient; the latter is essentially strange, exotic and mysterious, but also sensual, irrational and potentially dangerous . . . The task of orientalism was to reduce the bewildering complexity of Oriental societies and Oriental culture to some manageable comprehensible level. (Turner 1983: 31)
It is not difficult to see this intellectual process at work in regard to the culture of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Western intellectuals and scholars have long had a problem in identifying or typifying the eastern lands and cultures of the Orthodox world. The problem has of course almost always been pressing because it was so frequently connected with constructing an identity for the societies of the West. A particular issue was Russia: a significant power and a significant regional space but was it 'Europe' or something else - i.e., alien? The history of the successive 'locations' of Russia since the Renaissance is, as Perry Anderson has noted (19 76), a revealing and significant subject. Machiavelli regarded Russia as basically the 'Scythia' of classical times, 'a land that is cold and poor, where there are too many men for the soil to support' so beyond the bounds of Europe, while Jean Bodin saw Russia as within Europe but also unique: the only example of a despotic monarchy, so quite apart from the general European pattern. Later Montesquieu, impressed by Peter the Great's westernizing efforts, saw Russia as part of Europe (see Anderson 1976: 491 n. 14). However, in the nineteenth century Marx and Engels once more banished Russia to Asia and viewed it as a land of despotism. But the problem of exclusion or inclusion was not limited to Russia; it begins with the issue of Byzantium.
The key dynamic behind much commentary has involved not only a desire to demarcate West and East but in more recent centuries to mark the progressiveness of the West compared with the backward, reactionary, and even threatening East. The prejudice and feeling was presented most vividly and influentially by Gibbon, when he put it thus:
The subjects of the Byzantine Empire, who assume and dishonour the names of both Greeks and Romans, present a dead uniformity of abject vices, which are neither softened by the weakness of humanity nor animated by the vigour of memorable crimes. From these considerations I should have abandoned without regret the Greek slaves and their servile historians, had I not reflected that the fate of the Byzantine monarchy is passively connected with the most splendid and important revolutions which have changed the state of the world. (1995: 24)
This quotation from Gibbon, even when stripped of its hyperbole and hectoring moral tone, still contains crucial clues for understanding the structure of explanation in much western commentary. As Johann Arnason points out in his innovative essay on the historical sociology of Byzantium and its continuing contemporary significance:
the key term [Gibbon uses] is 'passively connected'. Gibbon is acknowledging and at the same time minimizing the most obvious objection to his narrative of decline and fall: the Roman Empire did survive in the East when its defences crumbled in the West. The answer is that the surviving fragment had no created history and had no significant experience of its own, although it can be used - as a purely negative counter-example - to highlight the upheavals outside its borders. This verdict on the Byzantine millennium is, in other words, inseparable from the genealogy of the West that is implicit in Gibbon's story-line, and it has obvious implications for the whole relationship between Western and Eastern Europe. (Arnason 2000)
We might well reasonably quibble about the obviousness of the consequences of this kind of analysis for we can suggest that they are far-reaching, complex and all too frequently taken for granted. But Aranason goes on to note that more than two centuries after Gibbon was writing (the first volume of Decline and Fall was published in 1775), Michael Mann, in his substantial work of historical sociology (1986), reproduces the same vision of an inert survivor that was 'later swept aside, except in its heartland around Constantinople, by a religion of greater mobilizing power, Islam' and also that Byzantium lay outside the medieval civilization of Christendom (Mann 1986, cited in Arnason 2000: 45). What is clearly involved here is judgements about the values of differing cultures, some progressive and powerful, some backward and weak. Gibbon's work can be taken as the beginning of a whole project of historical explanation the real subject of which is the uniqueness of the West; it often implicitly involves negative comparative judgements of other civilizations, which are somehow seen as falling short of an ideal. In essence what seems most crucial for this narrative (inevitably compressing a complex argument) is locating a common origin for East and West in late antiquity in the politically innovatory rule of Constantine the Great, and in his adoption of Christianity and the role the new religion played in the political system. In this view the adoption by Constantine of monotheistic Christianity and its fusion with a universal empire is literally epoch-making. It seems to have produced an exceptionally powerful and long-lasting model of authority, which can be taken to explain 'the continuity of "autocracy, absolutism, centralization, divine sanction" . . . throughout successive phases of history' (Arnason 2000: 40).
This is really an argument for great continuity in the East but a very different pattern for the West. On this view, as Arnason notes, 'for Western Europe, its trajectory is marked by cumulative ruptures of the Constantinian union of sacred and mundane power. The story begins with the collapse of imperial structures in the West, in contrast to the survival of their eastern counterpart' (2000: 41). Again, Arnason emphasizes that in many standard interpretations 'the Constantinian turn' is seen 'as a historical watershed of such dimensions that only the concatenation of and accumulation of transformative factors in Western Europe - never matched on the eastern side - could undo its effects' (p. 46). Within this apparent breach events gradually enlarge to eventually produce two radically different trajectories with radically different social political and religious outcomes. The story normally highlights the 'two swords' theory of spiritual and earthly government, formally adopted by Pope Gelasius I. The Church granted the former and the empire the latter in the process of western development, whilst in the East a pattern of so-called 'caesaropapism' is assumed to have more fully emerged.
Caesaropapism is normally understood as a system of rule in which the head of state is also head of the Church and the supreme judge in religious matters; Byzantium and Russia are generally cited as examples (quite why is not really clear when England from the Henrican Reformation to the present day seems a rather splendid example). It is, however, very doubtful that the Byzantine case could qualify as caesaropapist. Although the patriarch of the imperial capital owed his position to the political power of the emperor, Byzantine Orthodoxy knew no instance of ultimate doctrinal authority except the church councils (see Arnason 2000: 62); we can add that nor does any form of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. We might also note that in the opinion of a leading historical sociologist, and contributor to civilizational analysis, S. N. Eisenstadt, Byzantium and its daughter religious cultures must firstly be understood within the wider compass of Christian civilization rather than as a distinct civilizational centre itself. This is a point of absolutely vital significance when we come to consider the various theorists of the so-called clash of civilizations. Eisenstadt suggested that the key aspect of the culture was strong differentiation between Church and state and amongst different elite groups such as the bureaucratic, military and clerical, rather than any monolithic qualities (Eisenstadt 1995).
Much of the above could seem only the concern of scholars and specialists but in practice these views have an urgent saliency, owing to the renewed interest in civiliza-tional sociology. Within the realm of policy analysis and public political discourse what might be called a more popular and politically influential version of civilizational social science analysis exists, in which we find the older visions of Europe and Christianity as fundamentally divided once more gaining currency. Why should this be happening?
The very short answer, which is perhaps as predictable as it is true, is that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism as both ideological competitor and perceived threat to the western capitalist world changed the relations between states across the planet. In a brief wave of 'bourgeois triumphalism' the ghost of Hegel was summoned to the aid of the US State Department in the shape of the famous 'End of History' thesis by its former employee Francis Fukyama. This postulated, not that there would be no more conflict or change (as some really quite extraordinarily badly informed commentary in the British press would have had it), but rather that liberal democracy in its various forms would mark the horizon within which future change and conflict would occur, with the non-western societies gradually adopting its forms, albeit with lots of ups and downs on the way.
However, the euphoria that broke out in western policy circles with the end of the Soviet control of Eastern Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991 soon began to fade and more sober opinions emerged that were perhaps more far-sighted. Even if the analysis was wrong at least it could point to some global realities that western commentators would ignore at their peril. Indeed one might say that in the mid-1990s a relatively pessimistic but more realistic analysis reappeared that had been occluded in the feverish atmosphere of the late eighties. Looking back to the dominant elite policy discussions in the early and mid-eighties one discovers concern about western and especially American decline in the face of the rise of the powers of Asia, Japan and especially China; all this is persuasively argued in the substantial work of Paul Kennedy, especially his 1987 book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Such matters were temporarily forgotten at the time of Japan's severe economic problems, which coincided to some degree with the collapse of Communism and with a revival in strength of the US economy. Such fundamental and long-standing structural issues could not go away and with the Cold War fading into memory the new context required some reversion to long-term thinking but with a distinctive shift in the form of the analysis.
The result was the most influential book of western foreign policy analysis of the 1990s, Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996). Huntington argues his position through an exposition of five wide-ranging and interrelated propositions:
(1) For the first time in history world politics and international relations now operate in a multi-polar and multi-civilizational environment. Social and economic modernization is now understood as something distinct from westernization and is now producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense nor the westernization of non-western societies. It should be immediately noted that this distinction between westernization and modernization should be welcomed as an important development. It overcomes some of the Eurocentric biases of much traditional sociology and is being explored in the comparative sociology of that cautious scholar S. N. Eisenstadt under the rubric of multiple modernities (see Eisenstadt 2003).
(2) The balance of power is understood to be moving, with the West undergoing a decline in influence. On the other hand, Asian civilizations are seen to be expanding their economic, military and political strength. Islam, it is noted, is undergoing a massive demographic expansion with notable destabilizing effects for many Muslim countries and their neighbours. In general non-western civilizations are also reaffirming the value of their own cultures and beliefs. Huntington noted the confrontation in 1993 at the Vienna Human Rights Conference between the West, led by the then US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who denounced 'cultural relativism', and an apparent coalition of Islamic and Confucian states who rejected 'western universalism'.
(3) A civilizational-based world order is understood to be emerging in which societies that share cultural affinities cooperate with each other and efforts to shift a society from one civilization to another are largely unsuccessful. In addition we start to see behaviour that suggests that countries group themselves around the lead or core state of their civilization. Huntington points amongst other things to the emergence of patterns of regionalism in multi-country-based economic associations that frequently have a distinct cultural pattern as well as an economic one. For example, the European Union has gone furthest in economic integration in part, it is suggested, because of cultural commonalities.
(4) The West's universalist pretensions increasingly brings it into conflict with other civilizations, most notably and most seriously with Islam and China. It is also noted that at the local regional level there emerge what could be called fault-line wars between members of different civilizational groupings, largely up till now between Muslim and non-Muslim. These conflicts generate what Huntington terms 'kin-country rallying', which produces the threat of broader escalation, but so far this has been contained by core civilizational states seeking to halt such wars.
(5) The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their western identity and westerners accepting their civilization as unique and not universal, and uniting to renew and preserve it against the challenges that are emerging from non-western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating in order to maintain the multi-civilizational character of global world politics. (Points 1 to 5 are derived, with some alteration, from Huntingon 1996: 20-1.)
The multi-civilizational model of the contemporary world order consists, then, in adumbrating and assessing the significance of the key world civilizations and their interrelations. For Huntington, the key contemporary world civilizations are: (1) Sinic, essentially the Chinese civilization with a common culture of China proper as well as the Chinese communities of south-east Asia; (2) Japanese, an offspring of Chinese but now quite distinct; (3) Hindu, largely based in the Indian subcontinent but with a substantial diaspora; (4) Islamic, with several sub-civilizations including Arab, Turkic, Persian and Malay; (5) western, with three major components: Europe, North America and Latin America. However, controversially, Huntington counts Latin America (6) as a distinct civilizational entity because of its different historical experience, the key aspect of which is the lack of impact of the Reformation and its uniformly - until recently -Catholic religious formation, which was also partially influenced by the surviving indigenous religions and culture. Because, Huntington notes, both Europe and North America have mixed Catholic and Protestant religious formations it is implicitly and revealingly the case that it is Latin America's lack of Protestantism, or rather the unfettered influence of Catholicism, that makes it ineligible for full membership of the West. This is a curious and perhaps revealing view given the overwhelming influence of Catholicism in southern Europe, and one perhaps indicating the lingering of the Webe-rian prejudice against Catholic and also Orthodox Christianity, that we noted above.
Finally, and most importantly for our purposes, the seventh contemporary world civilization is Orthodox, now centred on Russia and seen as separate from western
Christendom as a consequence. In Huntington's words, it is 'of Byzantine parentage, [a] distinct religion' (here a question mark surely jumps before us as it surely doubtful that Eastern Orthodoxy is a more distinct form of Christianity than say Protestantism is from Catholicism), and has '200 years of Tatar rule, bureaucratic despotism, and limited exposure to the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and other central Western experiences' (Huntington 1996: 45-6). He does not specify what these other experiences might be but it is clear that, as in the case of Latin America, the absence of the Protestant Reformation influence is for him a prominent issue.
Huntington is in fact very blunt about the clear significance of an Orthodox civilization. He says, for example, that 'Greece is not part of Western Civilization' (1996: 162). He does however note - how could he not - that Greece has been an important source of western civilization and has been closely entwined with the West in the conflict with the Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless Huntington is insistent that Greece 'is also an anomaly, the Orthodox outsider in Western organizations. It has never been an easy member of either the EU or NATO and has had difficulty adapting itself to the principles and mores of both' (ibid.). He goes on to point out that from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s it was ruled by a military junta, which prevented it joining the EU (but it did not, as he fails to point out, prevent it from joining NATO) until its democratic turn. We might note in passing that both the non-Orthodox countries of Spain and Portugal were in a similar position and indeed for a much longer period than Greece.
Huntington's key prediction for Greece is that it will become part of a greater Orthodox bloc of countries centred on Russia. He suggests that events after the collapse of Communism in the region point in this direction. So he argues:
with respect to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Greece separated itself from the policies pursued by the principal Western powers, actively supporting the Serbs . . . With the end of the Soviet Union and the Communist threat, Greece has mutual interests with Russia in opposition to their common enemy Turkey. It has permitted Russia to establish a significant presence in Greek Cyprus and as a result of 'their Eastern Orthodox religion', the Greek Cypriots have welcomed both Russians and Serbs to the Island. (1996: 163)
Huntington suggests that although Greece will remain a formal member of the EU and of NATO the links will become more tenuous and that eventually Greece will be a post-Cold War ally of Russia. Ultimately he seems to be suggesting this will happen because of the shared culture, in this case the shared religious culture of Eastern Orthodoxy, which will propel Greece towards its natural civilizational home. This is a profoundly unsatisfactory mode of analysis, as we will explain below, but before turning to criticism we must complete Huntington's account of Orthodox civilization.
As must now be clear, at the heart of his account of Orthodoxy and its civilizational role is Russia. For him, 'the successor to the tsarist and communist empires is the civi-lizational bloc paralleling in many respects that of the West in Europe. At the core is Russia, the equivalent of France and Germany' (1996: 163), with close links to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia. When Huntington wrote his book he expected the expansion of NATO tacitly to accept the boundaries of western Christendom and the Orthodox civilizational sphere by excluding 'Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine, as long as Ukraine remained united' (p. 162). However, in prac tice, NATO has included Romania and Bulgaria - admittedly much to Russia's annoyance. He has been no more accurate about the EU's expansion now that it has moved to include such Orthodox countries as Bulgaria and Romania, and the inclusion of Turkey would certainly run counter to his model. For Huntington, then, 'overall Russia is creating a bloc with an Orthodox heartland under its leadership and a surrounding buffer of relatively weak Islamic states which it will in varying degrees dominate and from which it will attempt to exclude the influence of other powers' (p. 164).
So in essence this brand of social scientific thought suggests that Eastern Orthodoxy constitutes one civilizational group in competition and conflict with various others, including the Islamic and the western groups. We have indicated already that we think that this is not a plausible way of looking at the situation and we suggest that it produces a quite unhelpful framework for understanding the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy in the world today. To understand why this is we must first look at some general problems with this approach and then some particular empirical issues. In the first instance one has to ask questions about the core assumptions of approaches like Huntington's concerning the explanatory power of the concept of 'civilization'. The concept is applied as if it possessed capacities of agency in the social and historical field. In other words, can it really make sense to talk about civilizations that clash?
Civilizations are notoriously difficult entities to get into complete focus; indeed the geographical diversity and the sheer historical longevity of such entities inevitably leads to generalization, with the danger of producing oversimplified descriptions. So most social scientists are likely tacitly or overtly to use some kind of ideal-type form of strategy as a means of producing a manageable model to work with - a strategy pioneered, of course, by Max Weber. In many respects this practice is perfectly justifiable when discussing, perhaps for comparative purposes, say doctrinal beliefs about God or gods, or forms of political power and authority. However, the practice can be become problematic when the social scientist begins to reify the model, allowing it to fully stand in for the complexity of the reality of the civilization under discussion. The practice becomes especially problematic when, as G. Melleuish notes in respect of Huntington, it tries to 'treat civilizations as if they were unified political and cultural entities, that is, states capable of behaving as historical actors in a unified and forceful fashion' (Melleuish 2000: 112). The implication of this is that in some sense they are, in Melleuish's term, 'deep structures' fairly resistant to change and influence from outside themselves and with fairly clear and distinct borders. Indeed, as Melleuish notes:
The model of clashing civilizations only really works if we make specific states the carriers of particular civilizations, and so combine political and military power with the more peaceful pursuits of civilization. Other states then should line up behind the major carrier and support them because of their shared civilization. (p. 115)
Now clearly this is what Huntington wants to argue is happening now, but Melleuish is correct to see this as a highly anachronistic model of long term social change, for it takes a twentieth-century 'ideal' of an ethnically and culturally homogeneous nation-state, projecting it back on to a past that was composed of much more heterogeneous civilizations (Melleuish 2000: 115). Bearing this in mind, can
Huntington come back and claim that in practice, this is what is happening now in the context of modern nation-states with cultural consciousness? Are we to believe that an Eastern Orthodox civilizational grouping is emerging or re-emerging, in conflict with something called the West and no doubt with an entity called Islam?
The answer to this last question must surely be 'No' - principally because civilizations are not states and they are not even in a full sense cultures, since any particular national culture, say Greek or Russian, is the product of too many forces and influences to be simply defined as Orthodox, except in the most simple of shorthand. To do more is a form of cultural reductionism. Civilizations are complex background contexts and inheritances, always heterogeneous and capable of developing in a wide variety of directions. In practice they frequently provide a seedbed or resource for a variety of different cultures. Nonetheless, can Huntington point to evidence to support his claims? In particular, do recent wars and conflicts point towards his clash theory having some limited validity now? Huntington and another American author, Robert Kaplan (1993), certainly believe that the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s confirm their view that the new post-Cold-War conflicts are civilizational, and even religiously driven. They believe they are pointing towards new patterns of global alignment, as in Huntington's prediction of the direction of Greece will move, that is, towards an alliance with Orthodox Russia.
In essence it is hard not to see such analysis as superficial in giving a determining role to the religious dimensions of civilizations that even the most ambitious archbishop or cardinal would shrink from. Naturally religion and culture generally play an important role in virtually all human civilizations, most notably as forms of symbolic resources that are available for a wide variety of purposes. In reality it is much more productive and plausible to view the conflicts in post-Yugoslavian Balkans not at all as some supposed atavistic civilizational hatreds or wars of religion but as rooted in the forms and processes of modernity and modernization itself. This is most notably true in regard to the role of nationalism and that of the uneven patterns of social and economic development in the area. Victor Roudometof has argued persuasively that the problems and conflicts that have occurred in the former Yugoslavia and in Macedonia and Albania and in the less well-known case of Bulgaria (even to a certain extent in Greece) are rooted in 'the political, economic and cultural reorganization of south-eastern Europe according to the model of the homogeneous nation-state over the past two centuries' (Roudometof 1999: 241). In the nineteenth century, inspired by European Romanticism and especially the new nationalist movements in Germany and Italy, the emerging nationalist intelligentsia shaped 'the Greek, Serb and Bulgarian versions of the "nation" through such devices as historical narrative, religious symbolism, reinterpretation of folklore and the writing of nationalist literature and poetry' (pp. 239-40). Crucially, Roudometof sees this process of nation building and the nationalist modernizing intellectuals as rooted in the long-term 'secularization of South-eastern Europe beginning with the Grecophone Balkan Enlightenment of the late eighteenth century' (ibid.). However, given that the bulk of the Balkan population was religious these nationalist intellectuals' first step 'was to manipulate religious institutions so as to transform . . . [them] . . . into national ones' (ibid.). This was done by creating - for the first time in the area - separate national churches: for Greece in 1832, Serbia in 1832
and the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870. In effect this turned the meaning of religious affiliation into a 'national' one and ominously provided 'the means through which the traditional ties of the Orthodox Balkan people could be severed and new national ties constructed' (ibid.). Also, as M. Bakic-Hayden notes, given that the nationalist movements 'were generally anti-clerical, the place of religion in the newly emerging nations was defined, as in the West, in subordination to the secular power of the state' (Bakic-Hayden 2002: 69).
So it was modernity that brought the Orthodox Churches to submit to the state. In the Russian case, Peter the Great actually followed the example of the English Anglican Church when he nationalized the Russian Church. Indeed the Church was worried about the implications of the new nationalism in the Eastern Mediterranean arena. At an important Synod in August 1872, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and the Archbishop of Cyprus all condemned nationalism and racism as phyletism: 'We renounce, censure and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds and dissensions within the Church of Christ' (Bakic-Hayden 2002: 69).
It is clear that complex difficulties and conflicts in the Balkans must be seen not as ancient and civilizational but rather part of a familiar problematic of ethnic nationalism and war that have bedevilled the politics of much of Europe and its neighbours in the twentieth century, from Turkish treatment of the Armenians to German Nazi policies. Nor would it be right to accept at face value the claims that Greece's behaviour inside the EU and its relative political instability stem from some fundamental non-western or Orthodox civilizational matrix. Rather, once again the way Greece and the Balkans area were inserted into the modern social and economic order is the key. Nicos Moulzelis has insightfully compared the socio-economic experience of the Balkans with Latin America as semi-peripheral to industrial capitalism. The effect of western industrialization on 'semi-peripheral' societies in the nineteenth century was a substantial degree of commercialization, but not - until a much later period - of industrialization. But it did cause an 'early' non-industrial urbanization and an expanded state, a bureaucracy and an educational system, all combined with a very influential agrarian population. (Mouzelis 1986). It is social structural factors such as these which point to differing socio-politico logics and political outcomes rather than the workings out in Latin America of Catholicism or Orthodoxy in the Balkans. It should go without saying, but perhaps it does not for some commentators, that the experience and inheritance of Soviet Communism on the whole economic and social order of Russia should be the starting point for social explanations of its present nature and international posture towards other societies.
Was this article helpful?