Forging World Order Paradigms: 'Good Civilization' vs. 'Global Terror'

Journal article

Herd, Graeme P. & Martin Weber (2001) Forging World Order Paradigms: 'Good Civilization' vs. 'Global Terror', Security Dialogue 32 (4): 504–506.


With the collapse of the Cold War, International Relations analysts and practitioners lost an interpretative framework, a conceptual overview or paradigm, through which to best understand the structure and distribution of power in the international system. In the 1990s, paradigms competed for hegemony within the discipline, but none succeeded. However, the seismic, not to say systemic, shock of 11 September has acted as a catalyst which has fused together two of the most persuasive early post-Cold War contenders – Fukuyama and Huntington – within the context of globalization, a process which has dominated the late 1990s and early 21st century. A new paradigm appears to be in the making. How might we characterize this new paradigm of power in the international system, and to what extent is it likely to be persuasive and durable?

The Cold War paradigm projected a bi­polar international system, based on military, politico-ideological and economic competition between the capitalist (USA and allies) and communist (USSR and allies) ‘first’ and ‘second’ worlds. Proxy wars and an ongoing battle for influence were waged by the superpowers in the non­aligned ‘third’ world. With the ‘revolutions’ of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union’s alliance system in Central and Eastern Europe, followed swiftly by the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself, the Cold War paradigm lost its explanatory relevance.

Francis Fukuyama was the first to suggest that 1989 represented the triumph of market capitalism and liberal democratic ideology over all possible alternatives. 1 The ideological dialectic that had shaped the international system, the struggle before 1945 between communism, capitalism and fascism, had been reduced after 1945 to competition between capitalism and communism. In the post-Cold War world, ‘market democracy’ was set to become the modernization project of choice for all states. The future of the international system was to be characterized by the gradual democratization and consolidation of market-democratic institutions, policies, values and culture. Liberal institutionalism – internationally generated norms, procedures and institutions for the enforcement of mutually agreed legal frameworks – would, ultimately, lead to the replacement of international anarchy by the international rule of law. The ‘West was Best’, and the 21st century offered more of the same; the ‘End of History’ paradigm was upon us; the triumph of Western-style modernity was set to create one universal world civilization.

By 1993, Samuel Huntington, analysing the same events as Fukuyama, agreed that 1989–91 represented the demise of the Cold War international system, but offered a radically divergent interpretation of its implications. 2 He argued that, as a consequence of the breakdown of the Cold War order and its rigid bipolar stability, the future was not one of ‘democratic peace’ and cooperation within a single global system, but rather continual and protracted wars between ‘civilizational blocs’. Seven civilizations spanned the globe, each projecting shared identities based on cultural, belief and value-system commonalities: ‘These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African’ (p. 25). Where these civilizations brushed up against each other, cultural fault lines could be identified, and it was along these fault lines that future wars were most likely to be located. A ‘Clash of Civilizations’ paradigm emerged to challenge that of the ‘End of History’.

Neither of these paradigms was assumed to have the sufficient explanatory power to account for the full range of dynamics that drove and characterized the international system. By the mid- to late 1990s, globalization was increasingly promoted as a process that offered to account for integratory pressures and fragmentation processes (‘fragmegration’) unleashed by ever-closer global interconnectedness. However, critiques of international capitalism increasingly argued that it was a force for oppression, exploitation and injustice in general, undermining traditional cultures and communities in particular. The markets, multinationals, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization diminished the role and function of the state, state sovereignty and, indeed, democracy. Violent anti-globalist movements appeared as the radical cutting edge of a transnational undercurrent of unease at the perceived destructiveness of globalization.

The events of 11 September were the catalyst for the project of creating an international coalition to promote justice and to wage war over years or decades against the networks, groupings and states that sponsored ‘global terror’. In an effort to legitimize this enterprise, political elites in the USA and the UK have fused together the paradigms of Fukuyama and Huntington within the context of globalization discourse. President Bush explicitly addressed the issue of 11 September in terms of mounting a defence of the values of ‘freedom-loving peoples’ in democratic states. The world was to be divided between Civilization, underpinned by global justice and a new moral order, and its antithesis: violence, terror and ‘evil’. Implicitly, those who were not ‘for’ Western liberalism, embracing market democracy and the universal modernization benefits it promised for peace and stability, were ‘against us’. By extension (an implication Huntington avoided but Berlusconi could not resist) non-market-democratic modernization paradigms were uncivilized, ‘beyond the pale’ and in opposition to the West. Prime Minister Blair extended this viewpoint by arguing that peace, justice, human rights, the environment, poverty and debt, the touchstones of the anti-globalist protesters, were now the legitimate focus of the ‘civilized world’. Market-democratic states were to utilize their state power in an effort to achieve these ideals – the operating assumptions of realist means were to be harnessed to achieve idealist ends.

This Bush–Blair conception recreates a bipolar world-view in which tensions within globalizing modernity and between conflicting modernization projects become cloaked in the rhetoric of ‘civilizations’. In the Cold War, the USA had built coalitions to contain communism and protect the ‘free world’, making it safe for democracy and capitalism. In the new century, the USA and its allies are rebuilding ‘coalitions of the willing’ to protect market-democratic states and contain global terror. In Bush’s words, there is to be no ‘neutral ground’ or nonaligned status: either states join the coalition of the ‘good’ market-democratic civilization or they are, whether by default or design, construed to be ‘sleeping with the enemy’, part of an ‘evil’ civilization that supports global terror. This ‘other’ must be defeated in this new Manichean struggle and consigned to that ubiquitous ‘dustbin of history’.

This emergent ‘Good Civilization’ paradigm – a hybrid of Fukuyama and Huntington – has been conceived within a globalization context. From Fukuyama, it inherits the perspective of political communities – the legitimizing agents within states – as well as the problematic characteristics of liberal political theory played out in terms of the relationship between the social and the political. It assumes that market-democratic state systems are transferable templates that can take root globally, rather than acknowledging that state failure (‘failed or farewell’ states) in the present global context is likely to produce protracted warfare. This in turn points to the possibility of a structurally heterogeneous world order in which modern states co­exist with extra-modern (not necessarily postmodern) spheres of organizing power, interests and identities. 3

From Huntington, the paradigm has inherited the belief that civilizational blocs represent coherent entities able to express one ‘general’ will, rather than the reality exposed by 11 September: multifaceted phenomena, each representing points on a spectrum of opinion, response and action. It is clear that some states (irrespective of supposed civilizational adherence) are more ‘for’ than others, some more ‘against’ than others, and the ‘line in the sand’ that delimits the two has yet to be drawn. Moreover, the nature of the threat faced is not intercivilizational as conceived by Huntington and now adopted by bin Laden. It is not a battle between more or less discrete geographically bounded systems of beliefs and values (between Islam and the West, or Believers and Unbelievers), but rather between trans­national groupings within a global theatre of operations and a whole spectrum of targets of hatred. Thus, both Fukuyama and Huntington and now the Bush–Blair ‘Good Civilization’ paradigm fail to appreciate the extent to which a rapidly globalizing world challenges the hegemony of the state as the agent of modernization. The Traditional Security Dilemma has, over the last 30 years, been replaced by a New Security Dilemma. 4 Here, fragmentation, radicalization and their associated insecurities are not bounded by identifiable state, civilizational or cultural frames of reference, but rather by socio-economic conditions, questions of identity and autonomy, de-solidarization, alienation and the struggle for social power. Consequently, states are challenged by social forces that act globally and pursue multiple and competing objectives within different time-frames, utilizing a range of divergent means.

Is there a correlation between the extent to which a paradigm captures the essence of the organizing principles and reality of power distribution within the international system and the durability of that paradigm? If so, the prospects for the ‘Good Civilization’ paradigm are not strong. This hybrid has been constructed by amalgamating discarded concepts with discredited analytical tools. Yet, if these insights characterize both the analytical limits as well as the problematic political payload of the global ‘Good Civilization’ paradigm, they can serve as a point of departure for future critical inquiry. Paradigm formation is an inevitable aspect of conceptualizing and enacting world order. The critical task is to avoid the systematic reproduction of analytical blindness often engendered by ‘catch-all’ paradigms and turn to the investigation of forces that are, after all, dialectical.

Graeme P. Herd

Lecturer in International Relations and Deputy Director, Scottish Centre for International Relations, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Martin Weber

Lecturer in International Relations,
University of Aberdeen, Scotland



1 Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History’, National Interest, vol. 16, Summer1989, pp. 3–16. 2 Samuel P. Huntington, ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’,Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 3,Summer 1993, pp. 22–49. 3 LotharBrock, ‘State Failure and Global Change: From Violent Modernization to War as aWay of Life?’, paper presented at the FailedStates Conference, Purdue University, 8–11 April 1999; available at 4 Philip G. Cerny, ‘The New Security Dilemma: Divisibility, Defection and Disorderin the Global Era’, Review of InternationalStudies, vol. 26, no. 4, October 2000, pp. 623–646.

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