Civil Society, Religion and Modernization in the Global Era
Wise folk always love to cite Ecclesiastes for its timeless wisdom: "There is nothing new under the sun." And yet, in some senses, modern society is a systematic assault on such reassuring proverbs, forcing the biblical loyalist to argue that, perhaps the technology is new, but the human dynamics are the same. And yet, it is, I think, safe to say that, at the dawn of the third millennium, we stand at the brink of something genuinely new under the sun, something never before undertaken or accomplished to the degree that it has globalization.
Granted we have seen efforts at globalization before, some quite successful in relative terms -- the Greeks and the Romans to cite the two best known Western examples, Islam to cite a still more extensive extensive example. And granted, the current round of globalization is part of a process of Europeanization underway since at least the 15th century which reached a major new stage of penetration, led by the British, at the turn of the last century ca. 1900. But even these examples pale beside what is now happening for two reasons. First, all these earlier examples, however, successful were imperial adventures, globalization by imposition, "top-down." The climax of the 19th century version, for example, was a British empire upon which the sun never set, the first global empire. This round, constitutes an extraordinary innovation a more voluntaristic, "bottom-up" process, whereby many local or indigenous cultures choose to participate in the process. Second, because of the exceptional technology of transportation and communication, eagerly adopted by elites around the world, more people will interact more often with people from other cultures than ever before. This round has and will continue to penetrate into local, indigenous cultures to an extraordinary, an unheard of, degree. We witness and participate in the creation of the first sustained global culture. Something new under the sun.
One can, reasonably date the onset of this particular wave of globalization to 1989. In that year the Iron Curtain fell, the Soviet empire collapsed under the weight of its own authoritarian inefficiency, leaving the Western "free-market" model as the only reasonable path to modernity. Just around that time, cyberspace emerged as a revolution in communications, a technological revolution as astounding as the discovery of writing, or printing, in a cultural medium where the new technology is spreading at lightening speed. For the first time, individuals can communicate with each other all over the world, individuals can create and publish the most exceptional variety of messages print, artwork, audio and motion pictures. There are no, or, even when they are imposed, very few limitations to self-publication. A huge number of people can say almost anything, in enormous detail; new personae avatars step into cyberspace, clothed in the imaginations of their creators. The explosion of information and of communication has only begun. The only certain thing we can say about the future is that it will not look like the present. Not at all.
The juxtaposition of these two phenomena the fall of the Wall and the advent of cyberspace seem especially appropriate, since they touch on both aspects of what makes this moment so unusual. 1989 marks the collapse of the last great effort at "top-down" globalization the "pax sovietica" and the advent of the most populist form of substantive and global communication in the history of mankind. The western culture now spreading around the world, this time with America at the lead, is the first serious effort to effect the process not top down, but bottom up. Granted new leftists can find plenty of failings which can serve to argue this is nothing more than disguised tyranny. This is the first time that the perpetrators have openly espoused the renunciation of imposed social change. Thats a significant one might argue, unprecedented step.
Actually, this unique wave of bottom-up, voluntaristic modernization, has really been the "project" of the 20th century, with at least three earlier moments of some significance 1) the de-imperialization of Versailles, 2) the period after WW II, with the United Nations and the Geneva Convention, and 3) the 60s and the wave of youth culture and student rebellion around the world. In all three cases, the hopes of the messianic dreamers in a world of peaceful civil societies cooperating with each other, crashed on the rocks of reality, prompting psychologists from Freud to Lorenz to explore this astoundingly resilient human trait we call aggression.
The most significant developments followed WW II, with a global wave of "nationhood," most notably the return to independence of two ancient civilizations, India and Israel. Over the next decade, most of the global imperialism of the 19th century had been officially dismantled. With the wealth of new young nations coming into existence, the West imagined a world of prosperous democracies at peace with each other. Indeed the UN took as its motto, the great millennial dream of Isaiah: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor study war again." The gospel of modernization.
The Bible of this gospel movement in the 1960s was Walt Rostows The Stages of Economic Growth. Here we had the updated Adam-Smith formula a series of stages whereby countries passed through, like children into adulthood, those phases that led from traditional society, to preconditions, to take-off into the world of modern, technological proficiency and industrial wealth. In a sense, although they would never have admitted it, Soviet Russia was trying, in the finest top-down traditions of Peter and Wilhelm the Great, to follow these stages at lightening speed.
I think it safe to say that such millennial dreams of global civil society and wealth were dashed in the course of the next two decades. Indeed, to some extent the cultural ferment of the later "Sixties" represents an introspective abreaction to the failure of the 50s to deliver global deliverance. There are, I think, a number of reasons for the failure, three of which I would like to raise here:
Of course this failure, already quite evident by the mid-sixties was only really a failure in true millennial fashion by impossible messianic standards. Taken as a fifty-year plan, the process of spreading free markets and their attendant wealth-creating capacities around the world has done quite well in the post-war period. But apocalyptic millennial hopefuls get disappointed rapidly, and the response of Western thinkers to the perceived failure, the vigorous, even occasionally pathologically zealous, self criticism they engaged in during the sixties, was appropriately millennial, deeply radical, and explicitly global. 60s ideology both the political new left and the cultural radicals called for a renunciation of the Western values of competitive individualism, drive for achievement, reason and science, as the keys to proper policy. This cultural self abnegation occurred in a whirlwind of syncretic borrowing from other cultures, joining ancient spiritual beliefs with the cutting edge of psychological theory and practice. The rejection of the war in Vietnam flowed directly from the civil rights movement global human rights.
The 60s was an assault on our role in global imperialism the ugly American, hiding his arrogant power behind the impersonality of the market, and justifying his violence by wrapping his motives in the paranoid language of hysterical anti-communism. The 60s rejected this culture seeing it as both the product and purveyor of the very inequities it pretended to overcome; and demanded a just, non-violent and intrusive presence in the world. Most of those participating in this critique took it as self-evident that it should be made and that they could and should make it. In comparison with other cultures, the wave of ideological enthusiasm for a global culture of peace (hippies) and justice (new left) in the 60s represents one of the most astounding collective acts of self-criticism in the recorded history of human culture. Such a lack of appreciation produced some of the more appalling spectacles of the day the glorification, for example, by some anti-war activists of men and regimes that would never have tolerated such vociferous dissent. Similarly, people with so distorted a self-perception did not notice the degree to which the foreign participants in the 60s ethos Turks, for example preferred to criticize America, rather than themselves. And again, like so many millennialists, the new agers were above all concerned with sincerity and authenticity; with community and vocation; and like most millennial believers, they were rapidly disappointed.
The "big chill" of the 70s brought with it the fission and collapse of the "movement" moderate reformers split off from radical revolutionaries, black nationalists from zionists, yuppies from hippies. Millennial idealism retreated from the public stage and most people went back to work. Here, in the West, we find the emergence of generation X, most notable for its self-absorption and self-interest. In the Third World, largely unsuccessful in following Rostows model, we note the dominance of kleptocracies ruling elites who, awash in the wealth generated by the ever-growing global economy, keep the overwhelming majority of the funds for themselves and keep their common masses at subsistence level. Within months of US loans going to Mexico after the discovery of oil there in the 1980s, the banks in Texas saw large sums of the money returning in the private accounts of Mexican "public" officials. And of course the oil-rich Arab nations, whose miniscule growth rate in comparison with the unprecedented wealth of "investment capital" that passed through those societies in the second half of the 20th century, testifies to the pervasive presence of these kleptocratic elites.
Of course, while such elites dominated all over the world, some allowed, and some cultures generated, an autonomous economic sector. Particularly true in the far East, the 80s and 90s saw the emergence of a range of rapidly modernizing economies following in the footsteps of Japan Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and even, in the last decade, at stunning speed, the most populous nation in the world, Communist China. It was partly this unanticipated "late" victory for the Rostow model that brought down the Soviet Union, a typical if spectacular victim of the weaknesses of top-down management in a modern market-driven world. And thus, with the fall of the Soviets and the victory of technology-driven markets, we reach the new and most recent stage of the economic miracle of global modernization.
Now we enter the next phase. If we want to look on the bright side, we could fill the remainder of this article with statistics and anecdotes. But we would be fools to ignore the areas where we witness counter trends, where the cultural consensus melts down, and the civic tolerance so crucial to modern cultures and modern economies gives way to genocidal wrath the Balkans, Algeria, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Timor, etc.. Indeed, we need to consider these "melt-downs" as only the most virulent form of a profound dis-ease that modernity brings with it, the psychotic rage of authoritarian mafiosi, driven mad with the power to inflict damage and the fear of losing that power. And there are plenty of places around the world where such protection rackets exist in pretty raw states, and yield the characteristic fruits of zero-sum aristocracies fabulously wealthy and powerful elites, and impoverished commoners. These nations and cultures present enormous problems (especially when the mafiosi unofficially dominate a country with as much nuclear weaponry as Russia). They thrive on conspiracy theory and plotting, and treat both their own people, their minorities, and their neighbors badly. The road to "modernity" is neither smooth, nor guaranteed. Indeed, because modernity thrives on change, it gives the forces of continuity serious anxiety and arouses their hostility. Indeed one of the great tropes of the mafioso cosmic vision in an age of civil societies is the great world-wide conspiracy. Globalization and civil society are the works of Antichrist designed to lead us to universal slavery.
This kind of reaction should hardly come as a surprise. We know enough, from the Western experience, that modernization can be extremely painful socially, and can have devastating consequences for the environment. It is clear to anyone who cares to contemplate it, that a globe of cultures as internally riven, wasteful, and imbalanced a culture as that of the modern West, is hardly tolerable at a global level the environmental damage and exhaustion alone would be staggering. And that is only the physical side. The painful experience whereby the West became modern should help us understand and anticipate some of the current expressions of religious, ethnic, and cultural extremism around the world and in our own midst. Norman Cohn has chronicled that path in his oeuvre the ever more paranoid and racist millennialists, the pathological fear of Jews and conspiracy, a legalized slaughter of independent women. As Robert Ian Moore has noted tellingly, the emergence of "modern cultures" open economies and self-regulated markets in the 11th and 12th centuries, produced not only a thriving urban culture of popular, unofficial discourse, but also a culture of persecution. Here fear and mistrust, often ideologically and socially encouraged, periodically burst out in slaughters, both explosive and systematic, of targetted groups. The cultural melt-downs we see around the world from genocidal slaughters and attempted mass murder, to self-immolation and suicide, are valuable reminders of what some of the toxic effects of modernity can produce. As a medievalist whose specialty is modernization theory, I can assure you that we do not want to reproduce the Wests "path" to modernity.
We would do well to view these complaints of a world passing away as more than just "growing pains" which will pass if ignored. We cannot afford future outbursts of the reactionary modernism of the Nazis to take the most salient example. This round will magnify both old and new difficulties, from the dominance of market forces, to the penetration and complexity of communications possibilities, to the range of coercive, legal, and cultural interventions of western value systems. It behooves us to think deeply and creatively about the process of modernization, and encourage those nations and cultures now endeavoring to tread that path, to find alternative paths, ones that may avoid the terrible costs that we and the entire world have had to pay for our western model tried, but hardly true.
The decentralized, bottom-up quality of this round of globalization constitutes its most significant variation from previous ones, promising both deep penetration and lack of control. This bottom-up activity appears in every major area of increasing culture-contact, from the dazzling communications capacities and fascinating entertainment it places at the disposal of an eager market to the presence of NGOs around the world committed to bypassing political and cultural elites. This round of globalization, more than any earlier rounds, represents a shift from the imposed ecumenism of empire and dominion, to the voluntarist globalization of encounter and negotiation. That offers both great hope and great fear, indeed it offers the most extraordinary possibilities and the most extraordinary dangers in the history of mankind. Whether it wants the title or not, the current generation is millennial in both the chronological and the world-transforming sense. Were it to fail to undertake the challenge, aiming instead for cautious policies based on old formulae, the missed opportunity costs would be among the most astounding in human history.
Forms of modernization: the choices
Three basic elements seem to comprise "modernization."
The argument that dominated the final years of the 20th century on modernity has focussed on abandoning the latter two, but especially the third. The so-called "Asian model" which grants economic freedoms but avoids political ones, that quarantines secularism to the technological aspects of modernity, constitutes an important alternative to the European one. In some intellectual circles today Parisian ones come to mind it is quite fashionable to argue that modernity can be detached from the Western model and flourish in other cultures by focussing purely on the technical aspects authoritarian culture and modern technology.
I would like to argue a significantly different variant on this approach. I agree that modernization can and should be detached from the Western model, and new paths found. Indeed I would argue that large-scale adoption of the Western model spells short-term success and long-term catastrophe for the entire planet. But I would argue that modernizing cultures jettison the secular model, not that of civil society. On the contrary, I would argue, the key to modernization is "bottom-up" activity, and civil society is the key, key to the proper working of markets (equality before the law and free communication), key to the maintenance of an intelligent and creative workforce (dignity of labor, widespread education), and finally, and most significantly, key to the control of the immense power that modern technology puts at the disposal of governments. Any nation or culture that believes they can make the devils bargain and keep cultural liberalization at bay while freeing up the market has engaged in a losing battle. And given how the two earliest attempts at authoritarian modernization Germany and Russia ended up, it seems in everyones self-interest to avoid such possibilities.
To avoid such outcomes and to find more humane forms of modern society, I would suggest that cultures engaging in this path consider their religious traditions not as enemies of the "new order," but as creative resources in the process. And in particular, I would suggest standing Max Weber on his head and viewing religion as a major cultural arena in which to find a path not to science and technology, but to civil society. Civil societies with strong and healthy relations to the religious traditions of the culture will constitute far more stable and healthy foundations for the workings of free markets and technological development than the schizophrenic culture wars that plague most Western cultures.
Civil Society vs. the Prime Divider: No Pain, No Gain
Having extolled the glories of civil society let me define it in contrast to authoritarian cultures, and explore some of the issues involved in inaugurating a successful experiment in civil society. First, I define civil society as the systematic substitution of consensual discourse for violence in dispute settlement. The definition entails a series of interlocking elements:
Democratic institutions of government tend to accompany such elements, but need not. The core of civil society remains the commitment to pursue egalitarian justice with no legal privileges to the elites.
This entails a crucial change in the relationship between elites and commoners. It means above all dismantling of the cultural barrier the prime divider between elites and commoners that characterizes pre-modern, "high" cultures, from the ancient empires (Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, China and India) to more recent ones (Islam, Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Communist regimes and contemporary dictatorships). They generally consists of the following traits:
Behind these various institutional and attitudinal traits lies a political axiom that Eli Sagan has called "the paranoid imperative" rule or be ruled. The prime divider serves as the means whereby once a group of elites holds the positions of power and privilege, they makes sure that they retain it lest another group seize power and subjugate them by first subjugating others (neighbors, commoners).
The paranoid imperative, and its cultural manifestation, the prime divider, operate on a zero-sum assumption: I win, you lose; you win, I lose. As a result, within a range of variation, most traditional societies have the characteristic split between an extremely wealthy elite and a commoner population (mostly peasants) at the margins of existence, with a restricted "middle" class. The willingness to use force, to massacre restive populations, to dispossess wealthy and successful commoners, remains one of the hallmarks of such hierarchical cultures, and reflects the profound contempt that most elites have for their "masses."
From where we Western intellectuals stand, the advantages to dismantling the prime divider are numerous. In our experience, the legal victory of civil society since the late 18th century has had a tremendously creative impact both culturally and materially (of which we intellectuals are among the greatest beneficiaries). Indeed, the spectacular success of the Wests technological and cultural creativity has so dazzled the rest of the world that, at the turn of this millennium, nations and cultures the world over want "in." My point is that the best lesson we westerners can provide equality before the law is something that we have achieved through great pain and much suffering. Perhaps some of them can do a better job of it than we have.****
But, as Peter Brown once put it, our greatest enemy in understanding the past is the "patina of the obvious that encrusts human actions." Nothing that settles, began that way, whether it be a volcanic eruption, a religious ritual, or a dominant cultural attitude. And where we do not understand that, we take things for granted that we should not. In this case, Westerners think that human rights are obvious, indeed, self-evident, and we greatly underestimate the power of the prime divider, the persistence of the aristocracy, the huge resistance that cultures from people both above and below have to the dismantling of the prime divider. And yet, when one considers the immense vulnerability that civil society demands a disarmament of factions, a commitment to trust and be trusted one can well imagine that many would find it hard to tolerate. In the most common human conditions of the 50,000 years of our existence, it would be mad to argue disarmament. Where the paranoid imperative dominates, it makes perfect sense. Renouncing it, and dismantling the prime divider it creates rouses important psychological and political resistance and creates enormous social turbulence.
Obviously older elites resist vigorously their loss of control, their subordination to law and their subjection to public scrutiny. These are not the ways of power, and no elites in history would have allowed the penetration of the public into the halls of power that we see in the West today. The pervasive power that "big men" and elites have in most cultures, permits them often to use the democratic institutional tools of the west to take power in new, and often more intrusive ways. The preference of the third world for communism in the 1950s and 60s surprised the more optimistic democratic globalists whose primary lesson of WW II was how morally bankrupt and disastrous totalitarian regimes are. Why would these new, emerging nations prefer the ideology of communism?
But these new nations chose to ally with the Soviet Union not for their ideolgoy, but because they preferred the soviet "managed economy;" not because they liked communisms social egalitarianism (even more radical than the Wests legal egalitarianism), but because they wanted its authoritarian, top-down structures. The emergence of kleptocracies around the world in the 20th century represents a typical form that elites take in a market driven global community. The vast wealth that comes to nations in exchange for primary products like oil, serves to bloat the elites who continue to monopolize wealth rather than allow it to transform the relatively impoverished populace. Even when done "voluntarily," the "top-down" imposition of democratic and civic institutions on cultures that have strong prime dividers more often backfires than produces the desired results. The history of this phase of "voluntary" globalization will be written in terms of unintended consequences.
If the resistance of the elites to the dismantling of the prime divider seems obvious and understandable, the reasons why commoners resist modernity seem less clear. There are of course big men above and below the prime divider, and those below get their backing from those above. Powerful forces watch the erosion of the authority with great resentment, and resist wherever they can. But these domineering figures the villains of liberal ideology get a hearing among the very constituency the liberals think is their own, among the rest of the commoner population, among those whose cultivated ignorance keeps them from their "fair" share of the cultural wealth.
To understand that resistance, we must appreciate the restraint, the discipline, that civil society demands. "Self-help" justice honor, revenge, vendetta must give way to law courts, to discourse, to living with the courts judgment however outrageous it may seem. One does not give up ones right to effect justice easily; and without extensive education in the workings of justice and civic commitment, such requests often fail. To commoners, the advent of "civil society" and the market capitalism that accompanies it, all too often seems like one more assault on their paltry powers of self-determination. Demands to give up the paranoid imperative can trigger anxiety and even paranoia.
And if such an attack can understandably provoke anxiety among commoners, that anxiety intensifies with the release of popular energies at the prime dividers falls. When the more energetic commoners suddenly have vast new possibilities for a public voice, for access to education, for the freedom to experiment with their lives, changes come rapidly. The new rule set benefits some, destroys others, leaves many diminished but not powerless. These "losers" view the progress of civil society with alarm, denouncing its liberality as license, declaring its consequences disastrous. To them morality becomes part of a mythical, and stable past; modernity, regardless of its stated concerns for the commoners, is really a godless wasteland of profligacy and corruption. The commoners act like nobles; the world is turned upside down. This unstable condition cannot last.
For the "losing" older elites, the advent of modernity is a nightmare of loss and humiliation. ***Still articulating the older social paradigm of the paranoid imperative, these people men and women, high and low know that modern license leads to chaos, that, as so many Greeks like Plato felt, democracy was a recipe for anarchy. They look for every weakness, encourage every failure. They thrive on conflict and see it everywhere if not visible, then in vast underground conspiracies. Indeed, in conspiracist discourse the paranoid imperative lives on the evil cabal plots to enslave the world and the theory regularly promises the imminent return, the revelation of the conspiracy in its final, take-over stage. Young civil societies (first 500 years?) do not have canaries in their mineshaft, they have screeching harpies stocking bombs to fight off an enemy created by their own paranoid projections. But however mad, these people are in fact our early warning systems. Conspiracy theory is rarely completely wrong, often disturbingly sensitive to cultural weakness and so, however distorted their message, it says something we need to listen to.
The anti-modernists are, in fact, often right. They not only look for conflicts, they find them aplenty. Liberality does mean license, and many people abuse it. Civil society is a gamble that can fail. The core of the civic challenge, that of a society build on trust, is that citizens must not only trust each other, but, most of the time at least, prove trustworthy. The core of the aristocratic argument insists that commoners are like animals, incapable of self-control, in need of a strong hand. And indeed, even though it often involves no more than a social metastasis of an aristocratic weakness to the whole population say white color crime to commoners, or sexual promiscuity to women the process creates enormous social turbulence that can threaten the "system" with collapse. The price of dismantling the prime divider is an unusual (if unusually fruitful) social turmoil, one that leads to constant and cumulative change. It demands levels of tolerance and flexibility that few cultures can tolerate. And at the end of the 20th century it would seem awfully superficial of Westerners to argue that we have the process under control. Quite the contrary, one need not be antimodern to see that modernity, like other unstable social experiments, is both capable of, and even likely to self-destruct.
When we ponder the forces arrayed against civil society, we begin to appreciate the social miracle that civil society constitutes. This suggests two points that to some may seem self-evident, while to others they may seem anti-scientific heresy.
These comments might strike some as heresy because, for the most part, modernists view religion as an antimodern force, one which must be put aside in order to "progress." Religion, in this view represents the forces of dogmatic superstition and inquisitorial violence. If we can name any clear enemy of the modern world it is dogmatic theocracy, the opiate of the masses, the neurotic attachment to infantile fantasies. And the violent hostility of fundamentalism to modernity that has, since the Iranian revolution of 1979, found voice in many of the major religions of the world (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism), merely confirms that analysis.
The past dominance of this approach to progress includes analysts like Max Weber, who despite understanding that the wellsprings of modern attitudes are religious impulses, nonetheless emphasized the irrevocable nature of the secularization process. Most thinking about modern culture, civil society, and technological innovation views religion in this manner - as an impediment to progress, an issue at best irrelevant, and at worst a source of violent opposition.
Recently we find different approaches. Many scholars, especially sociologists, have had to acknowledge the unexpected vigor of religion in a world where they had anticipated the inevitable victory of the secular juggernaut. Some have gone still farther, arguing that religion provides a major avenue to modernity. This latter more radical thesis is that I wish to propose here: that religions new religious movements, revivalism, syncretism, even fundamentalism can play a key role in dismantling the prime divider from within a culture and and create the soundest foundations for civil society . Policy-makers around the world the voluntarist elites that want to bring modernity to their people and the modern elites that want to help them need to see popular religious movements as a resource rather than an enemy of civil society. There are few such resources that have the emotional strength and the creativity to find ways to dismantle the prime divider and paths to civil societies. Those who make wise use of this resource, who show religious impulses the respect they deserve, will not only do their own cultures and people a great service, they will be able to teach we Westerners how to heal the deep wounds of our own culture wars.
The remainder of this essay attempts to spell out the key elements of religiosity and civil society that I think can play a central role in a beneficial process of modernization around the world today.
Religion and Civil Society
Part of our misreading of the role of religion in modernization today stems from our misreading of its role in our own past. I have already alluded to the secular distaste for religion a structure of humiliation designed to ritually affirm hierarchy. Obviously religion has a broader scope than that, and it is clearly not this hierarchical religiosity, but nonetheless a profoundly religious impulse that plays a key role in the emergence of civil society. Indeed, the earliest articulation of global network of civil societies comes as a religious vision. "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hook; nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor study war again, but all will sit under their own fig and vine, with none to make them afraid" (Micah 4:1-4). The weapons of the aristocracy that create the prime divider become the tools of manual labor in a world where all are commoners, and all live free of the paranoid imperatives demands.
Not surprisingly, the first consequential movements in the West that called for civil society on a broad scale were enthusiastic popular peace movements. The earliest of these, the Peace of God movement of the early 11th century, gave birth to the first islands of working civil society in the modern West, the urban and rural communes of the later 11th and 12th centuries. Repeatedly, in subsequent centuries, new religious movements appeared in Europe and, subsequently in America, that have produced vibrant experiments in civil society. If the surrounding world remained hostile and authoritarian, they became enclave communities implementing the basic egalitarian rules sets Rabbinic Judaism, various Protestant groups, including the radically pacifist Quakers and Amish, the Bahai. Many of these communities, the Shakers and the Oneida, created models for the more secular socialist experiments of Fourrier et al.
The paradoxical fact of Western history is that religion can do as much to launch civil society as it can to resist it. All the early battles against the prime divider were fought in religious language. Secularism, in Western history, represents a valuable contribution, but essentially a derivative one, a second stage. Without the previous bottom-up religious enthusiasm for a peaceful society of mutual respect, the attempt to impose both secular values and civic virtues rarely "takes." Any egalitarian social paradigm imposed from above, especially since they demand so much of so many people within the culture, works minimally, fitfully and eventually succumbs to the siren song of the prime divider in elitism lies stability. As I will argue in my conclusion, the most stable and cohesive forms of civil society are those that can find synergistic relations between religious and secular streams of the culture.
So let us briefly consider the elements of civil society that we also find expressed in far more passionate forms in religious culture. Notably, these elements, which find expression in almost as religious traditions, no matter how "hierarchical," but they are especially prominent in the more popular forms of new religious movements (NRMs), both those that break away from earlier religious traditions or within traditional revitalization movements (TRMs) that find within the traditional storehouse of religious values material that affirms and encourages these developments. Since culture contact with the modern West elicits these religious responses in every culture for which we have a record (including the Western one), we can safely say that any culture in the process of modernization will inevitably deal with such phenomena.
Most religions have some element of this in their storehouse of values, even if the more traditional forms of those religions play them down (e.g., Islam and Christianity), and the issue is how can a culture encourage such directions in their religious communities. It seems to me that one of the unfortunate prices that the West paid for its hard-won victory of civil society was a Pyrrhic victory over religion a secularized, disenchanted natural world that we plunder at will and a deeply superficial view of the social world that we attempt to manipulate at will. We continue to pay the price. Must all the planets cultures do so? Would not this be a loss of cultural biodiversity as serious as any ecological one? Do we not have something to learn from others as they do from us? Can this not be a positive sum relationship for all?
If it can, we need to rethink the relationship between secular and religious. Rather than view the two as opponents in a zero-sum relationship, we need to explore ways in which they can mutually support each other. Above all that would relegate to secular, i.e., neutral forces the ability to use force to establish public order. Done properly, the secular then becomes the guardian of sacred space, the guarantor that, like economic markets, players in the marketplace of ideas all play by the same set of rules. In this role civil society need make only one demand of religion that it renounce the use of coercive purity, that it commit to discourse alone as a means to recruit and educate its adherents. Thus rather than throw the religious baby out with the theocratic bathwater, secular government prunes back the most dangerous aspects of the religious impulse the temptation to use force in the name of a claim to a unique and universal Truth which the priests of this truth can impose on the unwilling for their own sake.
This civic "meddling" in religion will have extremely salutary results for religiosity. By pruning back coercive purity, secular space welcomes all irenic, voluntarist forms of religiosity. It forces them to accept a vital exegetical modesty no matter how certain any believer is about his or her creed, his or her practice, that certainty does not permit the faithful to force another to share those beliefs and practices on infidels. At the same time, what restricts the latent violence and imperialism that lie behind so much exegetical certainty, releases the most creative social forces in the religious experience. Limited to discourse and persuasion, to charisma and communication, those moved by religion can explore the experiments in community formation and in social interaction that have always provided the most enduring contributions that religion has provided to human social evolution.
It seems particularly appropriate at this time, when societies and cultures around the world increasingly feel the pressure to join the global community and embrace technological sophistication, that we reconsider the place of religion in this process. The pressures of modernization historically increase the radicalism of nativist reactions, yet the study of these religious reactions suggests that religion can also serve as a positive cultural resource and a key to adaptation and acculturation. Indeed, some of the key elements of modern society - equality before the law and the dignity of labor - are elements championed by many religious traditions, particularly in their formative moments.
It may well be that when we treat religious impulses with respect, rather than discounting them as superstitious relics of a by-gone age, we gain the benefit of their strengths and obviate their dangers, thus avoiding the antagonistic relationship between the religious and secular attitudes that currently prevails.
The process of modernization in the West has been a painful one, with episodes of deep and troubling violence and paranoia (witchcraft hysteria, religious war, and totalitarianism). The psychic consequences alienation, anomie, and insatiable appetites have marked our experience and one of the steep costs in this process has been in our divorce from our religious instincts. Indeed, over the last generation, the reluctance of many non-western cultures to plunge into modernization has derived at least in part from their perception of the enormous social and cultural price we Westerners have paid for our "success." Insisting they recreate the West's pitfalls in developing their own civil society and their own technologically advanced culture is to ignore the insight that can be gained from our own mistakes. Modernity and civil society are not incompatible with religion, and it would be a tragic misreading of humanity's capacity for social creativity to assume that any culture that wanted to modernize, had to do it by means of the same drastic repudiation of religion that marks our pioneering path.
It seems prudent, therefore, for policy planners to be aware of religion as a major player in the process of globalization, for good or ill. Ignored, it will continue to haunt many a "grand plan."
Included and encouraged in its peaceful expressions, it could become a partner in producing resilient and original forms of modern civic culture; each region producing a path suited to its own culture.