Multiple Modernities: Regionalism, Inter-Regionalism and Multilateralism
We are living in a world characterized by tremendous, permanent, and often unanticipatedchanges. While some of these changes may bring progress, others carry new and unprecedented risks touching every sphere of life: economic, social, political, cultural, and religious. Some could even threaten the very foundations of peaceful cooperation within orbetween our societies.They may even unleashinstability by triggeringtrade wars, instigatingcivil conflict,and incitingacts of international terrorism carried out in the name of cultural identity.
People from countries aroundthe globe greeted modernity—together with the culture of cosmopolitanism with which it is associated–as a great hope for universalprogress and peace. But prospects now appearless sanguine due to a series of economic and cultural crises that have arisen in the arch-modernizing West, from the mistreatment of nature to the destructive power of an untamed market economy that threatens social cohesion and security. Often enough it seems that business alone dominates politics and social life. The credibility of the West has been put at risk all over the worldand with it the region’suniversalistic aspirations to define the concepts and realitiesofmodernity.
Across the globe various actors and cultural-political tendencies are increasingly successful at challenging the Western model of modernization along withits philosophical underpinnings. They maintain that the present crisis is the final proof of the inherent contradictions or even the bankruptcy of the Western way of life in all its dimensions, particularly for the establishment of just and inclusive government. They further claim that the shortcomings of Western modernity demonstratethat the world needs fundamentally different models of development, culture, and government.
Among the new actors that have questionedthe culture of modernity as understood in the Western world and offered wide-ranging alternatives to it, three deserve special attention. First, there are various forms of political authoritarianism that emphasize and draw strength from the particularity of national or regional cultural traditions. Next, there are several variants of religious and political fundamentalism that pursue the politics of identity and advocate some sort of theocracy. And most recently, asneo-populist political actors and partieshave gainedpolitical power even in electoral democracies such asthe United Statesand Hungary through ethnicorreligious identity politics,the model of Western modernity as such has beenfundanmentally challenged.All these three tendencies may affect regional cooperation on many continents in diverse ways.
In particular, during the present phase of global reorientation the cultural factor—that is,different cultural world-views, identities and the use political actorsmake of them—play a crucial yet highly ambivalentor even contradictoryrole in politics, ideological debate, and intellectual discourse. On the one hand, a bottom-up demand by neighboring peoples supported by feelings of common belonging expresses the need for shared cultural identity. In academic literature, this is known as “cognitive regional cooperation.” On the other hand, both the trend to defy universalistic norms and values in the name of cultural regionalism and the trend towards aggressive religious fundamentalism in the form of identity politics that attacks the very foundations of human civilization have become more conspicuous and forceful. Some economically successful authoritarian models of development in East Asia have become serious rivals to Western modernity . Furthermore, theISISactivities in Syria, Iraq,and increasingly beyond exert tremendous attraction on young people who are alienated in their own societies in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. TheWestern modelhas been called into questionfrom within almost everywhere,including in countries that werecenters of Western modernity untilquiterecently.
In recent academic conferences held in Macau,a small group of experts fromthe U.S., Europe,and Asiamet to discuss the concept of Multiple Modernities, focusing on its consequences for good governance (2016) and onthe relation between the crises of modenization and neo-populismand -authoritarianism (2017). The papers presented atthesemeetings, as well as others written by scholars expressly for each volume,will be publishedby Routledge Press in edited collections.
Our 2018 conference will be devoted to the topic, Multiple Modernities: Consequences for regionalism, inter-regionalism and multilateralism. To cite an example,the European Union, one of the most highly developed systems of political regionalism in the world, understands itself as a culturally pluralist democratic polity and as a proactive agent working for peaceful cooperation, conflict-resolution, and development in the world as a whole. Cultural diversity, whether in Europe or anywhere else in the world, can be an asset that supports a society’s creativity and wealth generation as well as its productivity and cultural richness. And, as the EU demonstrates, it also can be a force promoting political regionalization and inter-regional cooperation. Since the ‘90s, new forms of regional cooperation have been consolidated, albeit in diverse and distinctive ways, on every continent and have led to the development of multidimensional interregional relations.
However, regionalism is becoming more ambivalent. Emergent political or socio-economic conflicts–especially in times of crisis—are beginning to dismantle multilateral regimes while giving a boost to cultural identity politics as purveyed by identity entrepreneursfrom various cultural, political, and religious communities. Thus, for the EU, with its increasing degree and pattern of cultural pluralism, the new challenge consists in drawing the lines of demarcation more clearly and convincingly between the requirement of one common civic culture for all and the different claims raised by the multitude of cultural identity groups for recognition and protection. Within this unpredictable global context, in which the USA and some emergent powers are exacerbating economic and political tensions, every neo-regional organization confronts three main problems: how to respond to the competition from authoritarian and hierarchical regionalism; how to combine the deepening of internal ties with influence-broadening and external cooperation; and how to support the development of a new multi-layered multilateralism.
In our symposium, we intend to discuss the role that cultural diversity and identity play in other world regions and their consequences for the politics of regional and interregional political cooperation. Employing a comparative approach, we wish to understand the specific patterns of interaction of the cultural factor with social, economic, and political developments for the success or failure of efforts toward political regionalization.
When we—as recognized scholars from several relevant fields—meet to discuss these issues, we will do so in a region, East and South-East Asia, that is marked by many centuries of multicultural co-existence and experience and that understands itself as a bridge between the cultures of the Eastern and Western worlds. The following ConferenceProgramsuggests topics we consider to be useful in the effort to findanswers to the questions raised above.