It’s framed as an attack on Bush’s State of the Union address and current American foreign policy generally, but Martin Jacques’s column in the Guardian today actually makes a more significant long-term point: as India and China grow, globalisation will change.
The currently fashionable teleological narrative of globalisation as the historical expansion of western-style modernity will have to be drastically re-thought as the practices and institutions of Indian and Chinese modernity will begin to affect global culture in the next few decades.
Jacques alludes to the great effort that has gone into explaining the subtle differences between the American and European experiences of modernity. But, he argues, a much bigger divergence in models of modernity is on the horizon, and it’s time to start thinking about it.
… for the first time since its emergence half a millennium ago, the modern world will, in the not too distant future, no longer be monopolised by the west. It is not difficult to imagine that, by the middle of this century, both China and India will rank among the top five largest economies in the world, with China perhaps the biggest. Nor is this just an economic story, which is how it is generally told. With economic strength comes, in due course, political, cultural and military influence: such has been the case with the emergence of all great powers.
The fact and significance of this, of course, has been hugely underestimated. The dominant view of globalisation is that it is overwhelmingly a process of westernisation: indeed, the neoliberal form of globalisation espoused by the Washington consensus has deliberately sought to define it as such. The prevalent western view is well-articulated by Chris Patten in his book East and West, where the differences between western and east Asian countries, like China, are explained simply in terms of historical timing. The closer they get to western levels of development, the more they will come to resemble the west. Or, to put it another way, there is a singular modernity, and that is western.
Given that modernity is not simply a snapshot of the present, but a product of history, not only a function of markets and technology, but the creation of a culture, then this is utterly mistaken. One cannot make sense of American modernity — and how it diverges from European modernity — without understanding its history, in particular that it was a settler society, without any prior experience of feudalism.
If Europe and the United States differ because of their diverse pasts, even though they palpably share a great deal in terms of history, culture and race, then how much more true it will be of countries like China and India, whose civilisational roots — from religion and ethnicity to history and geo-location — are completely different to those of the west. The main historical form of intimacy with the west, in the case of India, was colonialism, which for China was only a marginal experience.
China and India, of course, will take on board a great deal from the west in their modernisation. But that can only be part of the picture. They will also draw from their own history and culture. The outcome in each case will be a complex hybrid, its character varying from country to country. … As these societies grow in economic strength and cultural self-confidence, so the global political and intellectual language will change. That language, involving concepts like democracy, civil society, freedom, a free press and an independent judiciary, is now almost exclusively western. But it will not always be the case.
So which Chinese and Indian concepts might make the transition from national to global discourse and debate? In time, one would guess many, some positive, some regressive — just as has been the case with western values. But … it is still very difficult to predict what they might be. … [T]he west will be forced to engage with these societies and their cultures in a very different kind of way. There will be global competition between the different claims for universality. The cultural traffic will no longer be one-way.