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Dialogue Among Civilizations

A Hermeneutical Perspective
  • Fred Dallmayr
Part of the Culture and Religion in International Relations book series (CRIR)

Abstract

When asked about his view of Western civilization, the Mahatma Gandhi famously replied: “It would be a good idea.” His reply reminds us that “civilization” is not a secure possession but a fragile, ever-renewable endeavor; grammatically, it has the character more of a verb than a noun. This is particularly true of the emerging global or “world civilization”—what sometimes is called the nascent “cosmopolis.” Here again, caution is imperative. Anyone today who would claim to speak “in the name of” world civilization would be suspect (with good reason) of harboring hegemonic or imperialist designs. Contrary to the pretense of a facile cosmopolitanism, civilization in our time is what grammarians call a plurale tantum (meaning that it exists only in the plural)—notwithstanding the undeniable tightening of the network of global interactions. Hence, if there is to be a genuine civilizational encounter, participants have to proceed modestly and soberly: by taking their departure, at least initially, from their own distinct perspective or vantage point, that is, by remembering and bringing to bear their own cultural-historical “pre-judgments”—while simultaneously guarding against any form of cultural or ethnic self-enclosure.

Keywords

Western Civilization Civil State Civil Life City Life Western Modernity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1989), p. 312Google Scholar
  2. See also Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 2 vols. (New York: Knopf, 1926–28)Google Scholar
  3. Arnold Toynbee, Civilization on Trial (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948)Google Scholar
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  6. 4.
    See, for example, R. Grant Steen, DNA and Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behavior (New York: Plenum Press, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process (New York: Urizen Books, 1978); also Power and Civility (NewYork: Pantheon books, 1982). In the wake of the Hobbesian initiative, John Locke sought to mitigate the gulf between the natural and civil states—but only by partially civilizing the “natives” (in the state of nature). On the assumption that people are naturally civilized, subsequent laissez-faire liberalism reduced the role of the civil state (giving free rein to private economic ambitions).Google Scholar
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    St. Augustine, The City of God, ed. Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, NY: Image Books/Doubleday 1962), pp. 321–322.Google Scholar
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    Gadamer, “Philosophy and Literature,” trans. Anthony J. Steinbook, Man and World, vol. 18 (1985), pp. 243–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    This goal is clearly manifest in Nicolo Machiavelli’s Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius. See Machiavelli, The Prince and the Discourses, introd. Max Lerner (New York: Modern Library, 1950).Google Scholar
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    The most perceptive and instructive account of the emergence of modern individualism is Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
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    Compare in this context, e.g., Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987)Google Scholar
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  21. 13.
    Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 278, 281. The statement occurs in his discussion of European Romanticism construed as a counter-move to the Enlightenment. As he writes, Romanticism treated tradition (especially medieval tradition) as the “antithesis to the freedom of reason,” regarding it as “something historically given, like nature.” In Gadamer’s view, however, the celebration of nature and tradition “before which all reason must be silent” is just as “prejudiced” (in the pejorative sense) as the “anti-tradition” of radical Enlightenment; even the deliberate preservation of nature and the past reflects “an act of reason, though an inconspicuous one.” Regarding the ambivalent status of modernity and the Enlightenment see especially Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Seabury 1972)Google Scholar
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    See, e.g., Abdolkarim Soroush, “The Three Cultures,” in Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam, trans, and ed. Mahmud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 156–170. In addition to the main historical layers it is also desirable, within the Islamic tradition, to differentiate between scriptural theology, Graeco-Hellenistic philosophy, and Sufi mysticism and poetryGoogle Scholar
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    Truth and Method, pp. 295, 353–354,383. Compare also John Llewelyn, The Middle Voice of Ecological Conscience (London: Macmillan, 1991).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979); also my Beyond Orientalism: Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996), especially the chapter on “Gadamer, Derrida, and the Hermeneutics of Difference,” pp. 39–62.Google Scholar
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    See Martin Heidegger, “A Dialogue on Language,” in On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982).Google Scholar
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    Truth and Method, p. 469; see also Heidegger, “Language,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 207–208. As Gadamer adds (p. 469), the speculative account of language is “epitomized in the poetic word.” Elsewhere, he elaborates on this point: “The poetic incarnation of meaning in language consists in the fact that it need not insert itself in the one-dimensionality of an argumentative context and logical lines of deduction but gives, so to speak, its third dimension to the poem through what Paul Celan has once called the multifariousness of each word.” See “Philosophy and Literature,” p. 248.Google Scholar
  28. 23.
    Bhikhu Parekh, “A Varied Moral World,” in Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds., Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 74Google Scholar
  29. See also Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory (London: Macmillan, 2000).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Fred R. Dallmayr 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred Dallmayr

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