The Post-modern Renaissance of Political Culture: A Deferred Clash of States of Civilisation (And How to Overcome It)
The historical evolution of language, more in particular the historical grammar of European languages, indicates that certain traits of political culture typically associated with Western modernity are not the result of the modernisation process. As I have shown elsewhere, the gradual emergence of grammar features related with cultural individualism and subjectivism in the languages of north-western Europe preceded the advent of Protestantism, capitalism and democracy by several centuries (Meyer-Schwarzenberger, 2015). The subsequent process of socio-economic modernisation therefore seems to represent only the culmination of a more general long-term process of human development heading for emancipation and self-fulfilment of the human individual (Welzel, 2013; Welzel et al., n.d.).
In light of this finding, the historical rise of modern liberal regimes as well as their sustainability, efficiency, and legitimacy among Western societies must be understood—and indeed, can be understood—as an extraordinary turn in human history which depended not only on socio-economic progress but also on a specific set of cultural preconditions. The peculiarity of this development does not imply, however, that the achievements made in this context suit Western societies only. Aspirations to individual freedom and self-fulfilment are universal, and the globalisation of democracy, the rule of law and the market economy has by now become an irreversible process.
This leads to the question of how modern liberal institutions, which have originated in Western modernity as a matter of fact, can be reconciled with existing pre-modern traits of political culture both in the West and elsewhere. The suggestion of this paper is that many conflicts and problems arising in this context can be addressed in a rather unemotional and functional manner once the historical contingency and phase shift of the modernisation process is understood along the lines indicated above. The challenge of our times is to bridge a gulf not only between different civilisations, but between different states of civilisation, embracing varieties of human culture which cannot perform equally well under the same institutions but whose preservation is increasingly perceived as an end in itself. Perhaps the most successful example of institutional accommodation both of different cultures and stages of development can be found in Switzerland, a society typically portrayed as a voluntary nation and relying on a delicate set of consensual governance institutions at the local and federal level.
- Meyer-Schwarzenberger, M. (2015). Grammatik und Sozialkapital: Sprachliche Relativität in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Doctoral dissertation, University of St. Gallen.
- Welzel, C. (2013). Freedom Rising. Human Empowerment and the Quest for Emancipation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Welzel, C., R. Inglehart & A. Alexander, in collaboration with M. Kronfeldt, M. Meyer-Schwarzenberger & A. Shcherbak (n.d.). The Great Diversion: How Civilization Turned into Human Empowerment. Unpublished manuscript, Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, NRU Higher School of Economics, Moscow/St. Petersburg.