Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The notion that there is one broad path to modernity, that 'developing' countries will come to resemble 'advanced' ones in key respects, is an old idea, and it's part of the semi-conscious mental equipment that a lot of educated Westerners (as well as some non-Westerners, often with Western educations) carry around with them.  It sometimes gets expressed in passing, in contexts where it's not especially crucial to an argument and might therefore not attract much notice.  The example I currently have in mind comes from a recent article about Tocqueville in the American Political Science Review, the author of which, at the end of the article's introduction, writes that:
...[A]s places that once lay outside the scope of Tocqueville's thought come increasingly to resemble the West, his analysis of the moral psychology of modern democracy only becomes more broadly relevant.  As they modernize, developing nations will see more of themselves, for better or for worse, or for both, in Tocqueville's portrait.
These sentences appeared in an article published in November 2014, but they could as easily have been written a half-century earlier.

Alongside this narrative of Westernization, another narrative is also part of the semi-conscious assumptions of many educated Westerners; one might call this one the clash-of-civilizations, or more colloquially, the they-hate-us narrative.  One recalls the sometimes plaintive, sometimes bewildered "why do 'they' hate 'us'?" question voiced after 9/11.  In this narrative, modernization-as-Westernization produces a severe reaction, portrayed most obviously (though not only) as religiosity vs. secularism.

Both these narratives are quarter-truths (a notch down from half-truths) at best, but their presence in the discursive air suggests that quarter-truths can be durable.

Added later: Not posting on the Israeli elections because one can find plenty of discussion of that elsewhere.  This blog does not have the capacity or (always) the inclination to chase the headlines.  (If you want that, go to LGM.)         


Peter T said...

Xavier Marquez documents the triumph of electoral democracy as a legitimating norm: http://abandonedfootnotes.blogspot.co.nz/2012/09/the-great-norm-shift-and-triumph-of.html

At least in that there is convergence even if it turns out to be an electoral variation on "national in form, socialist in content".

Also, what happens when the balance shifts such that, say, Chinese norms of power start to work back into the international system? The cover will look the same for a good while, but the content will shift.

LFC said...

Good point re electoral democ. X.M. writes v. well-researched posts.

There's a stream of sociological lit. to do w global convergence around certain norms. It's a real thing, but there are going to be nat'l variations of course. I was just struck by the old-fashioned sound of the quote from that APSR article.