Upon the end of the East-West conflict – when decades-old enemy stereotypes along ideological lines had suddenly vanished – a new paradigm has been emerging from Western think tanks for the categorization of international relations, namely that of the "clash of civilizations." The term was originally coined by Bernard Lewis in an essay analyzing the increasing alienation between the Western and Muslim world (1990). Samuel Huntington's treatise of 1993 has taken up that theme, putting it into a more general context. His theses provoked worldwide controversies, particularly between scholars in the Western and Muslim world, and also among Western philosophers themselves. In the meantime, the text has been perceived by many as key document of a new hegemonial discourse of the West: as expression of a doctrine by which the propagators of a "New World Order" strive to interpret even the tragic events of September 11, 2001, as part of an emerging global confrontation between the self-declared "enlightened" West and the supposed forces of "fanaticism" and "irrationality." In the eyes of many in the West, Huntington's paradigm, in spite of his own refutations, has been reinforced as a result of global political developments since that date. Francis Fukuyama's earlier paradigm (1989) of the "end of history" – predicting the victory of Western "liberal" democracy over other models of society – has been quickly replaced by the more gloomy confrontational paradigm.
As regards the Islamic civilization, which is perceived by many in the West as a threat not just since the end of the East-West conflict, the point has been made most drastically by Bernard Lewis, the first to evoke the theme of an almost inevitable confrontation: "This is no less than a clash of civilizations – the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against that rival."
Against this background of growing political tension and increasing alienation between East and West along civilizational and particularly religious lines, it is of utmost importance to reflect upon the very nature of human consciousness which, in essence, requires dialogue (the encounter with "the other") in order to fully realize itself. Apart from the epistemological relevance, rethinking the philosophical foundations of consciousness allows us to understand the basic principles of dialogue among civilizations, thus enabling us to create an alternative paradigm by which the human being of the 21st century will learn to understand himself in a truly universal manner as member of the one human race and according to the structural traits of the human mind that are shared by the philosophia perennis of virtually all civilizations.
As a philosopher with a background of European (Graeco-Roman) philosophy, I undertake to develop the theory of civilizational dialogue by using the concepts available in that particular cultural context. Being aware of the history of Eurocentrism, I will try to avoid the "universalist" mistakes of that tradition. However, the assumptions developed here may equally be proven in the framework of philosophical traditions other than those presented in this essay.
The dialectical nature of human consciousness
Human consciousness is only possible on the basis of a dialectical relationship between subject (ego) and object – or, to put it in Fichtean terms without adopting, however, Fichte's idealistic ontology, between the ego and the non-ego: that which is "opposed" to, or distinct from, the subject as content of its perception or practical self-realization. The "intentionality" of the human mind – as described by Franz Brentano and later by Edmund Husserl in his phenomenology – is the core concept on which 20th century European philosophy has built its efforts to explain how the human being exists in the real world (in the sense not only of perceiving the world as something different from his mind, but of positioning himself as concrete existence in the "life-world," as "being-in-the-world" as it was later explained by Martin Heidegger).
Intentionality of the mind (subject) means its being directed towards an object, or objects, which form the content of its perception. The subject understands itself only through the object. De-finitio, in its original meaning, implies drawing the very borders between a given entity and that which is different from it. When applied to the nature of the human subject, this relationship means that the ego can only fully understand itself if it is able to relate to that which is not the self. Along the lines of G.W.F. Hegel's dialectical philosophy, the self-consciousness which is characteristic of the human being must be understood as synthesis resulting from the juxtaposition of the ego (as thesis) and that which it encounters in the life-world, the non-ego (which may also appear in the form of an alter ego), as antithesis. This dialectical relationship is the essence of critical thinking, i.e. of an awareness of my self in the sense of being able to look at myself from the perspective of the "other."
What applies to individual consciousness, also applies (in general-structural terms) to the collective consciousness as expressed in a particular civilization or culture (if understood as a specific expression or trait of a civilization). What we have earlier called the "cultural self-comprehension of nations" is only possible on the basis of this dialectical relationship between a given civilization and those civilizational or more specifically cultural, traditions that are distinct from it, i.e. that have developed their characteristics independently of that civilization.
This level of critical consciousness, being aware of its limitations, may only be attained to the extent that we are able and willing to compare the system of our own "life-world" to those systems that are different from ours: it is the "other" (the "object" in a more abstract sense, even if it means a collective subject such as a civilization) that constitutes the precondition for me being aware of myself as an individual as well as a member of a community. The same structural rule applies to the shaping of collective consciousness. The human mind reaches mature self-awareness essentially in the process of distinguishing from itself, as the "subject," that which is not the subject. In this fundamentally dialectical process lies the very essence of reflection (as self-reflection).
As explained above, consciousness is attained following the dialectical interdependence between subject and object: the more I am able to perceive myself as being distinct from other subjects ("alter egos"), the more I will succeed in defining my own position in the life-world. This also applies to the collective subject: a civilization will only reach a mature state of self-realization if it is in a position to relate itself to other civilizational systems, leaving behind any "idiosyncrasy" or narrow-mindedness towards "the other." To say it in the words of modern hermeneutics: the wider the subjective horizon of experience, the easier a critical self‑comprehension may be attained. Applying this to one's own civilization and related cultural sub-systems we arrive at this point: In the very multitude and variety of possible systems of civilization we find the unique chance of gaining a clearer and more critical consciousness of our own system. A certain structural similarity of this interdependence to Hegelian dialectics should, however, not be construed as justifying a polemical attitude towards perceptions of the world that are different from our own.
The hermenutics of civilizational dialogue
In order to interpret the dialectical relationship of subject and object in its concrete civilizational context, we will now relate that concept to modern philosophical hermeneutics in more detail. If we apply Hans-Georg Gadamer's universal hermeneutical conception to the realm of civilizational awareness, transcending the horizon of one's own civilizational tradition is the fundamental precondition for a better understanding of that very civilization. Selbstverständnis (understanding of my self) is being based on Fremdverständnis (understanding of the other). If one's own civilization (with its specific cultural traditions) is taken as an isolated phenomenon, it has, in strictly philosophical terms, less significance than if this civilization is being related to and, therefore, defined by distinct civilizations. In this fact lies what I call the cosmopolitan dimension of civilization per se. Only such an approach will enable us to avoid getting entangled in a false "hermeneutic circle," namely the circulus vitiosus of self-affirmation of a given civilization that has resorted to define itself through exclusive reference to its own Wirkungsgeschichte, i.e. the very tradition on which it is based.
Mature and responsible self‑comprehension is only possible when we are able and willing to go beyond the sphere of influence of our own civilization's history, thus transcending the paradigm of an "insular" interpretation and awareness of our own perception of the world. The encounter with traditions that are not just an offspring of our own civilization, but have developed in another framework of Wirkungsgeschichte, is the conditio sine qua non not only of critical self-awareness, i.e. of a deeper philosophical understanding of the essence of our civilization, but of what today is called the "dialogue among civilizations." A kind of "skeptical" attitude towards one's implicit understanding of the world – i.e. an essentially philosophical approach towards one's civilization – is also indispensable for the development of tolerance towards other civilizations.
The hermeneutics of civilizational self-comprehension leaves no room for aggressive or hostile attitudes towards that which is not the "self" (in the individual as well as the collective sense), but realizes the human being's potential for critical consciousness in a comprehensive manner; it goes beyond the abstract concept of philosophical "reflection" by encompassing each individual's civilizational background against which it is alone able to shape its identity as "being-in-the-world" (In-der-Welt-Sein in the Heideggerian sense).
A philosophical, as distinct from a merely sociological, foundation of inter-civilizational dialogue, in the sense of a hermeneutics of inter-civilizational understanding, has also remained a desideratum under the circumstances of the modern world (often characterized with the terms "globalization" or "globality"). The hermeneutics envisaged here along the lines established by Gadamer's Wahrheit und Methode (Truth and Method) is one that does away with the subjectivist and, for that matter, individualistic approach that has flourished for centuries in a kind of symbiosis with colonialism and more recently the "new-worldism" of the West.
As stated above in regard to the structure of human consciousness, the "other" serves as the "corrective" of one’s own understanding of the world ("life-world" as defined in Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology) and system of values. In the context of this comprehensive dialectic of cultural awareness, the "other" civilization is the essential precondition of the very awareness of my own civilization. This hermeneutic necessity correlates to the attitude of respect for the other on an individual as well as collective basis and tolerance towards one another’s civilization. Such an attitude is an indispensable moral requirement for the realization of any given civilization. The ethical value of tolerance constitutes a precondition for the critical awareness of my self as a social being and of my civilizational background in the sense of Gadamer's Gesamthorizont ("universal horizon of understanding"). Thus, this value is common to all civilizations.
However, in line with what was said earlier referring to Hegelian dialectics, the fact that I can define myself only vis-à-vis the other (as distinct from that which is not myself) must not encourage any over-assertive or hostile attitudes towards that which is “alien” to myself; on the contrary, it requires respect for the other, his distinct perception of reality, and cultural value system.
Civilizational dialogue, therefore, is based on a non-subjectivist philosophy of the realization of one’s own self through the encounter with different traditions, cultural expressions, value systems, and life-styles. Contrary to what some may assume, this is not a contradictio in adjecto. Even if the subject can never transcend itself completely (i.e. view itself from an absolute, or outside perspective), as is evidenced in the Kantian and Husserlian notion of the "pure transcendental subject," the self-realization of the concrete subject is achieved in what we call a "non-subjectivist" way, in the sense of genuinely relating to other subjects. Those are perceived as offering the individual a chance of enriching his own social and cultural awareness, not just as a “tool” to help me define myself or help a given civilization to understand itself more comprehensively and develop its characteristics more fully.
In our understanding, the approach outlined here goes beyond the conceptual framework of traditional European hermeneutics as established by Wilhelm Dilthey and further advanced by Hans-Georg Gadamer in the context of Heidegger's existential phenomenology. However, Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, an approach that combines Heidegger's method of "existential analysis" (Existenzialanalyse) with Dilthey's classical hermeneutics, may serve as a methodological basis for a theory of cultural self-comprehension as referred to in this essay. His concept of Verständnishorizont (horizon of understanding) includes the specific socio-cultural environments into which the concrete human being is constantly integrated in the course of his life. According to this conception, a person’s understanding of the world (in the meaning of the "life-world," combining natural and social reality) is the result of a complex interaction of concrete horizons of understanding that constantly overlap. To describe this structure of self-comprehension, which is at the roots of cross-cultural understanding, Gadamer coined the term Horizontverschmelzung ("fusion of horizons"). A similar conception has been developed by Ali A. Mazrui in the context of applied social science. He states: “How people view the world is greatly conditioned by one or more cultural paradigms to which they have been exposed." Culture, in Mazrui’s conception, provides “lenses of perception and cognition” in the concrete social and historical context.
According to Gadamer, the universal horizon of "my" understanding of the world (Gesamthorizont) is constantly being modified by the encounter with other human realities in my own individual "history," which in turn is part of a larger history of interacting civilizations. My understanding of reality and of myself as part of it is nothing static; understanding (Verstehen) of the self and the world (Lebenswelt) is a dynamic process shaped by those cultural perceptions which have entered over a period of individual or civilizational history my individual horizon and the collective horizon of the cultural community (civilization) I belong to. The "cultural ego" is not an insular entity that exists in a world defined according to one tradition only. Such exclusiveness would be the end of any critical understanding of one’s own Lebenswelt and civilizational environment. It would make tolerance towards other cultures not only illusory, but simply impossible.
Beyond Eurocentrism? – Civilizational dialogue and peaceful co-existence among nations
Since the colonial era, the Western world has been used to exporting its civilization through its imperial and colonial policies. All other civilizations were measured by Western standards based on the anthropocentric and individualistic world view of the Graeco-Roman and Christian traditions. These have been centered around the preeminent role of the individual versus the collective subject and, derived from the former, around the meaning and value of "democracy" (in the sense defined in the context of that civilization, namely as a specific form of representative decision-making). This is particularly true for the present period of the so-called "New World Order" through which certain Western cultural élites, in cooperation with the political establishment of their countries, have tried to monopolize the global discourse on democracy and human rights.
In this context, the paradigm of the encounter with other civilizations has been that of Eurocentrism, which may be seen as the cultural-political expression of a form of collective "egotism." The "philosophy of the ego" (in the sense of a subjectivist, not necessarily idealistic, conception) has characterized the West's overall approach to inter-civilizational encounters. In the Western tradition, interaction with other civilizations was basically driven by the desire for sharpening one’s own intellectual and social skills with a view of broadening the reach and increasing the strength of one’s own civilization; raising one’s cultural self-awareness was related to the aim of dominating other civilizations or claiming "global responsibility" for one's own civilization.
Since the colonial era, the "dialectics of self-comprehension" (according to the tradition of European idealism as exemplified in Hegel’s universal dialectic of consciousness) has been interpreted in the sense of an enrichment of one's own cultural experience and therefore improvement of the overall quality of life through the encounter with other civilizations. The supremacy of the interpreter's standpoint – i.e. of the European terms of reference – was never challenged in this Eurocentric perception of the life-world. This "subjectivist" approach towards inter-civilizational encounters suited the interests of the dominant culture of the time. It was reflected in European Orientalism for example, which combined both Western naiveté (in the sense of ignorance of other cultures) and cultural arrogance.
It is in distinction from this approach that we have tried to outline the hermeneutics of civilizational dialogue. Following from the above analysis of the dialectical structure of consciousness (reflection), the appropriate paradigm for the full development (or self-realization) of a civilization is that of dialogue, not of conflict ("clash"). The latter simply leads to intellectual isolation and deprives the respective civilization of its full potential of development; it keeps it on a level of philosophical naiveté. Furthermore, as aptly stated by A. J. Bacevich, "the imagery of clashing civilizations does possess real and potentially explosive emotional resonance" – something which has been drastically demonstrated in the global political arena, particularly as regards the armed international conflicts of recent years.
One must leave the vicious circle of self-affirmation that has characterized the Eurocentric approach towards cultural encounters for so long. It has not only greatly discredited the Western tradition of Enlightenment, but has fuelled major wars and is now threatening a kind of permanent conflict on a global scale. The civilizational dialogue envisaged here is more than peaceful co-existence of distinct social entities; it also means mutual enrichment through interdependence (in the sense of the above-described dialectic of self-comprehension).
A universal dialogue of civilizations – one that is not restricted by political or exclusively shaped by economic considerations – is of crucial importance for the future of mankind. Such a dialogue is a basic precondition of peace and stability on both the national and transnational levels. For the philosopher, the real "enlightenment" is not based on a particular (19th century) tradition of subjectivism, rationalism and voluntarism (as was often used to justify the ideology of political, economic and cultural colonization during the last two centuries), but on an attitude of tolerance and openness towards other civilizations that is in itself timeless, i.e. not related to a particular historical period. The tópos of the "clash of civilizations," which has been used with increasing frequency since the end of the East-West conflict, must not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Enemy stereotypes such as those created – or reinforced – in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, are the direct result of a rejection of cultural hermeneutics and a form of negation of civilizational self-comprehension.
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Notes Bernard Lewis, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," in: The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 266, no. 3 (September 1990), pp. 47–60.  Samuel P. Huntington, "The Clash of Civilizations?" in: Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 3 (Summer 1993), pp. 22–49.  On the ideology of the "New World Order" see the author's analysis: Democracy and the New World Order. Studies in International Relations, XIX. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1993.  In a comprehensive volume published after the 1993 essay, Huntington had distanced himself from the view of the inevitability of a "clash of civilizations": The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. He made this point even more clearly in a personal conversation with the author that was conducted at the sidelines of the inter-civilizational dialogue organized by the University of Malaya in September 1997 in Kuala Lumpur.  Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?" in: The National Interest, Summer 1989, pp. 3–18. See also: The End of History and the Last Man. New York/Toronto: Freepress and Maxwell Macmillan, 1992.  On the history of Muslim-Christian relations see Hans Köchler, "Muslim-Christian Ties in Europe: Past, Present and Future," in: IKIM Journal, vol. 7, no. 1 ( January–June 1999), pp. 97–107.  Bernard Lewis, op. cit., p. 60.  The author is well aware that the term "21st century" relates to the chronology of the Western (formerly Christian) world. He uses it here because, for practical reasons, the chronology seems to have gained worldwide cross-cultural acceptance. However, one might simply replace the term by the phrase "modern age."  It should be emphasized, in this context, that Islamic as well as Christian philosophy share the heritage of classical Greek philosophy (in particular that of Aristotle), the latter having influenced European thinking by way of Muslim philosophers in Spain. For details see, among others, Muhammad Asad and Hans Zbinden (eds.), Islam und Abendland. Begegnung zweier Welten. Olten/Freiburg i.Br.: Walter-Verlag, 1960. On the mutual influence in Islamic-Christian history see also Mehdi Aminrazavi, Medieval Philosophical Discourse and Muslim-Christian Dialogue. At www.islamonline.net/iol-english/qadaya/islamic-1/islamic1.asp (2004). However, Aminrazavi is considerably more skeptical about the possibilities of present-day dialogue than the author of this paper.  Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Schriften zur Wissenschaftslehre. Ed. by Wilhelm G. Jacobs. Frankfurt a. M.: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1997. – On the structural aspects of this relationship in regard to epistemology and ontology see Hans Köchler, Die Subjekt-Objekt-Dialektik in der transzendentalen Phänomenologie. Das Seinsproblem zwischen Idealismus und Realismus. Meisenheim a.G.: Anton Hain, 1974.  See his Versuch über die Erkenntnis. Leipzig: Meiner-Verlag, 1925.  Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Vol. I. Husserliana, vol. III. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950.  On the interrelatedness of the (human) subject and the "life-world" see Hans Köchler, "The Problem of Reality as Seen from the Viewpoint of Existential Phenomenology," in: Analecta Husserliana, vol. XV. Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983, pp. 175–187.  Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit. 11th ed. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1967. English version: Being and Time. Trans. by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1967.  Hans Köchler (ed.), Cultural Self-comprehension of Nations. Tübingen/Basel: Erdmann, 1978.  For a more detailed analysis of the implications of this dialectical approach for international relations and global peace see Hans Köchler, Cultural-Philosophical Aspects of International Cooperation. Lecture held before the Royal Scientific Society – Amman-Jordan. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 1978.  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hermeneutik I: Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 5th ed. 1986. (English version: Truth and Method. Trans. by Garrett Barden and John Cumming. London: Sheed and Ward, 1975.)  The term is used here in the meaning of Gadamer's hermeneutics: as "history of subsequent interpretations" whereby the understanding of a specific concept is resulting from the entire history of its interpretations, i.e. effected by that very history.  Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit. – For an interpretation of Heidegger's existential analysis in the context of the hermeneutics of the "life-world" see the author's Skepsis und Gesellschaftskritik im Denken Martin Heideggers. Meisenheim a. G.: Anton Hain, 1978.  On the phenomenon of globalization and its philosophical implications see Hans Köchler, "Philosophical Aspects of Globalization – Basic Theses on the Interrelation of Economics, Politics, Morals and Metaphysics in a Globalized World," in: Hans Köchler (ed.), Globality versus Democracy? The Changing Nature of International Relations in the Era of Globalization. Studies in International Relations, XXV. Vienna: International Progress Organization, 2000, pp. 3–18.  See Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft . Ed. By Georg Mohr and Marcus Willaschek. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1998; Edmund Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen. Ed. Elisabeth Ströker. Hamburg: Meiner, 1977. On the Husserlian notion of the transcendental subject and the problem of "transcendence" see Hans Köchler, "The Idealistic Dimension of the Body-Soul Problem in Husserl's Phenomenology," in: Phenomenological Realism. Selected Essays. Frankfurt a.M./Bern/New York: Peter Lang, 1986, pp. 77–89.  On the nature of the "transcendental subject" and related questions of self-awareness see Hans Köchler, Die Subjekt-Objekt-Dialektik in der transzendentalen Phänomenologie. Das Seinsproblem zwischen Idealismus und Realismus. Meisenheim a.G.: Anton Hain, 1974.  See Wilhelm Dilthey, Hermeneutics and the Study of History. Ed., with an introduction, by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.  See his Wahrheit und Methode.  Ali A. Mazrui, Cultural Forces of World Politics. London/Nairobi/Portsmouth (NH): James Currey/Heinemann, 1990, p. 205.  Ibid.  On the implications of this position for cross-cultural dialogue in the present global constellation see Hans Köchler, Philosophical Foundations of Civilizational Dialogue. The Hermeneutics of Cultural Self-Comprehension versus the Paradigm of Civilizational Conflict. International Seminar on Civilizational Dialogue (3rd: 15–17 September 1997: Kuala Lumpur), BP171.5 ISCD. Kertas kerja persidangan / conference papers. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Library, 1997.  For an analysis of this "modern" hegemonial discourse see the author's Democracy and the International Rule of Law. Propositions for an Alternative World Order. Vienna/New York: Springer, 1995.  This self-assertion has become a typical feature of the "New World Order" discourse particularly in the United States.  See G. W. F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes. Ed. by Dietmar Köhler and Otto Pöggeler. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1998. According to Hegel's universal philosophical conception, the "dialectic of consciousness" (Bewußtseinsdialektik) is interpreted in the sense of a universal structure of reality, thereby merging the traditionally distinct disciplines of epistemology and ontology.  This is particularly true in regard to the Western perception of Islam. See Edward W. Said, Covering Islam. How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York, Vintage Books, 1997.  See Edward Said, Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient. With a New Afterword. London: Penguin Books, 1995. (First edition: New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.) See also more recently: Fred Dallmayr, Beyond Orientalism. Essay on Cross-Cultural Encounter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.  A. J. Bacevich, book review of Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," in: First Things, no. 73 (May 1997), pp. 40–45.  For an analysis of the potentially disastrous impact of civilizational confrontation along the lines of the doctrine of the "clash of civilizations" see The Baku Declaration on Global Dialogue and Peaceful Co-Existence Among Nations and the Threats Posed by International Terrorism, issued by the International Progress Organization. Baku, Azerbaijan, 9 November 2001. Reprinted in: Hans Köchler, Global Justice or Global Revenge? International Criminal Justice at the Crossroads. Vienna/New York: Springer, 2003, pp. 380–386.  It is to be stated, in this context, that Immanuel Kant's critical philosophy – interpreted by many as basic source of European Enlightenment – has from the very outset transcended the confines of Eurocentrism as it is understood here. In regard to international cooperation and the understanding of the citizen as cosmopolitan see his Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf. [Königsberg: Friedrich Nicolovius, 1795] Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1992.