To the Editor:
In his review of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order [Books in Review, March], Richard Pipes criticizes Huntington for failing to list private property, with its corollaries of political freedom and economic growth, as the sine qua non of Western civilization. This is an economic determinism that is as unpalatable as the Marxism against which Mr. Pipes has so ably argued in COMMENTARY and elsewhere. Huntington clearly sees these attributes as derivative rather than essential to Western culture. But he goes wrong when he tries to define Western civilization by listing its characteristics rather than by explaining its cultural base. His list is inevitably incomplete, and thus he opens himself up to Mr. Pipes’s charge. Actually, Huntington is on to something quite important: religion, morality, and ethics are at the foundation of civilization.
For the West, what is essential is the Judeo-Christian tradition. As long as it is vital, the West will grow. To the extent that the West pulls away from its religious-moral base, to the extent that it secularizes, it opens itself up to disorder, to the growth of ideologies like Nazism and Communism.
Mr. Pipes is probably right in believing that the West will spread, but he is wrong in seeing this growth as virtually unstoppable and in believing that non-Western elites are resisting it simply because their power is being put in jeopardy. Huntington is right in predicting future clashes where the major civilizations rub up against the West. These are the result in part of what Mr. Pipes describes as the elite’s fear of losing power but in greater part of a reaction to Western secularization. Both Messrs. Pipes and Huntington fail to see that secularization itself will bring confusion and disorder within Western civilization and sow the same seeds of destruction that brought on two world wars in this century.
Variations of Communism and Nazism are again appearing as various societies, torn from their traditional cultural values and adrift in a world which prizes power and money, seek an escape from poverty and insecurity and demand equal access to the privileged life of the developed nations. A secular international order, one devoid of common values that truly unite people, has no staying power.
Dennis J. Dunn
Southwest Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas
Richard Pipes writes:
Dennis J. Dunn considers my stress on private property and its corollaries to be “economic determinism.” I hardly think so. The term “property” as defined in the West since the Middle Ages, but especially since the 17th century, has meant not merely ownership of physical objects but the preservation of life and respect for liberties and civil rights. It is what distinguishes Western civilization from all other civilizations.
In any event, this view is not incompatible with stress on the importance to the West of Jewish and Christian traditions. Both religions teach respect for property: the Eighth Commandment against stealing is certainly an emphatic assertion of this principle.
Finally, I doubt that secularism causes wars, as Mr. Dunn maintains: history is filled with incidents of bloody conflict over religion.