A civilization can be defined as a culture, system, or a way of life that is fostered and shaped by a book and an oeuvre. Thus, in order to become ‘civilized’ or ‘cultured,’ one must have access to as well as an understanding of the book and the oeuvre that is at the heart of one’s civilization. In turn, geopolitics is the competition between civilizations at an international level. Geopolitical competition between different civilizations has economic, military, and cultural dimensions. But the strength of a civilization is ultimately determined by the cultural influence it has over other nations and societies. Thus, when other nations and societies adopt the language or the religion of a particular civilization, that ability to influence the culture of other nations and societies demonstrates the strength of a civilization. Hence, the notions of “American Exceptionalism” and so forth.
Although I come from a Muslim background, I am a student of the West by virtue of having been born and raised in the West, in addition to having studied the major books and thus the oeuvre of the West. One cannot deny the economic and technological advancement of the West during the 500 years of Western dominance over the international system. There is also a cultural element to Western dominance as well. English is an international language. The United Kingdom is the most desired place for higher education in the entire world. America is where people come to find economic opportunities. France is the embodiment of culture and romance.
Thus, the West has been economically and culturally superior over the course of the last 500 years or so. But over the course of the last few decades, we have also seen the revitalization of other civilizations to a certain extent. The Muslim World is no longer just a gas station for Western societies. China is also beginning to rise as a parallel pole to the United States in the international system. Because of these realities, one of the most famous books in the post-Cold War era is Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington argued that after the Cold War, international affairs would no longer be defined by ideology but instead would be defined by competition and perhaps even conflict between the world’s various civilizations, with the major civilizations being the West and Islam. As a result, Huntington argued that each civilization – but especially the West – should focus inward in order to preserve their civilization lest it fall apart.
Huntington saw the decline of the West as a real possibility, thus his suggestion that the West and especially the United States look inward in order to salvage whatever is left of Western civilization. And in reality, the decline of Western civilization is a real phenomenon, whereas Islamic and Chinese civilization are experiencing a revitalization to a certain extent. But as mentioned before, a civilization – and thus a culture, system, or way of life – hinges upon a book or an oeuvre. And in turn, much of the culture, literature, and philosophy which served as the impetus for the rise of the West about 500 years ago or even thousands of years ago during the Greek and Roman age has Eastern roots.
Thus, a postmodern way of life and the transition out of the modern age is not and will most likely not be limited to just Western characteristics, features, and cultural preponderance. There are commonalities between different cultures and civilizations that cannot be overlooked. But what makes each major civilization distinct is the basic essence of each of these civilizations. Thus, it is the basic essence of each major civilization that will come to the fore in this postmodern age, and it is the basic essence of each civilization which will shape the dynamics of international affairs in the years and decades to come.