Inclusive Diversity

2005-01-02

In Tragedy and Hope, Carroll Quigley writes as follows about what he calls "inclusive diversity" as the characteristic mind-set of Western civilization [1227-1228]:

Where rationalists insist on polarizing the continua of human experience into antithetical pairs of opposing categories, the West has constantly rejected the implied need for rejection of one or the other, by embracing "Both." This catholic attitude goes back to the earliest days of Western society when its outlook was being created in the religious controversies of the preceding Classical Civilization.... In each case, with vigorous partisans clamoring on both sides (and in many cases still clamoring), the answer, reached as a consensus built up by long discussion, was Both.

And [1228-1229]:

From this examination of the tradition of the West, we can formulate the pattern of outlook on which this tradition is based. It has six parts:

  1. There is a truth, a reality. (Thus the West rejects skepticism, solipsism, and nihilism.)
  2. No person, group, or organization has the whole picture of the truth. (Thus there is no absolute or final authority.)
  3. Every person of goodwill has some aspect of the truth, some vision of it from the angle of his own experience. (Thus each has something to contribute.)
  4. Through discussion, the aspects of the truth held by many can be pooled and arranged to form a consensus closer to the truth than any of the sources that contributed to it.
  5. This consensus is a temporary approximation of the truth, which is no sooner made than new experiences and additional information make it possible for it to be reformulated in a closer approximation of the truth by continued discussion.
  6. Thus Western man's picture of the truth advances, by successive approximations, closer and closer to the whole truth without ever reaching it.

This methodology of the West is basic to the success, power, and wealth of Western Civilization. It is reflected in all successful aspects of Western life, from the earliest beginnings to the present. It has been attacked and challenged by all kinds of conflicting methods and outlooks, by all kinds of alternative attitudes based on narrowness and rigidity, but it has reappeared, again and again, as the chief source of the strength of that amazing cultural growth of which we are a part....

The method of the West, even in religion, has been this: The truth unfolds in time by a cooperative process of discussion that creates a temporary consensus which we hope will form successive approximations growing closer and closer to the final truth, to be reached only in some final state of eternity.

And [1231]:

These procedures that I have identified as Western, and have illustrated from the rather unpromising field of religion, are to be found in all aspects of Western life. The most triumphant of these aspects is science, whose method is a perfect example of the Western tradition. The scientist goes eagerly to work each day because he has the humility to know that he does not have any final answers and must work to modify and improve the answers he has. He publishes his opinions and research reports, or exposes these in scientific gatherings, so that they may be subjected to the criticism of his colleagues and thus gradually play a role in formulating the constantly unfolding consensus that is science. That is what science is, "a consensus unfolding in time by a cooperative effort, in which each works diligently seeking the truth and submits his work to the discussion and critique of his fellow to make a new, slightly improved, temporary consensus."

Because this is the tradition of the West, the West is liberal. Most historians see liberalism as a political outlook and practice found in the nineteenth century. But nineteenth-century liberalism was simply a temporary organizational manifestation of what has always been the underlying Western outlook.

Contrast Quigley's description of the Western outlook with his description of the outlook of Orthodox (Russian) culture around 1500 (Weapons Systems and Political Stability, 890-891):

The reasons for [the condition of Russian society in 1500] are almost too complex to be explained here. For one thing, the relationships of the prince to his servants were personal and patrimonial, almost a family relationship, and did not take that impersonal and abstract form which became the mark of the growth of public authority in the west. In Russia like in any large and unruly family, orders were shouted and repeated, with occasional sudden blows to emphasize their reiteration, but they were constantly neglected as to obedience or enforcement by both sides, until they became a kind of constant nagging which was regarded as the normal tone of life. All relationships were based on will and not on rule. In general, the ambitions and aspirations of the rules of Russia far outstripped their means or resources. The former were limitless, almost universal, as in any providential government, while resources were both limited and disorganized. Thus fundamental dualism rested on the very structure of the Russian cognitive system which expected practice to fall far below the ideal. This attitude, based on the dregs of classical rationalism, was accompanied by a pervasive lack of rationality, logic, or firm cognitive categories and an equally extensive lack of discipline, especially self-discipline, or of internalized individual rules of personal behavior and value structures. The reasons for these lacks are twofold: (1) the Russian people remained barbarous from the lack of any established or adopted traditions of rationality and discipline; and (2) the dualistic tradition of Greek Christianity which Russia tried to adopt, placed such great emphasis on spirituality of a level which was recognized as unattainable for ordinary men (since it required renunciation of most ordinary living), that what happened in the ordinary mundane world was not important....

What began as a lack of disciplined thought resulted in a prevalence of undisciplined action. Actions, both public and private, were dominated by impulse and passion. Violence was prevalent in family, social, and political life, accompanied by an explicit verbal commitment to its opposite: submission, renunciation, spirituality, peace, poverty, humility, and, in general, the teachings of Christ in the "Sermon on the Mount." Through a process of compensation, what was lacking in action was adopted in thought.

Of the four civilizations that rose from the wreckage of Classical civilization (Byzantine, Islamic, Orthodox Russia, and the West), why has only the West survived? Quigley writes as follows (Weapons Systems and Political Stability, 815-816):

Although the three civilizations of Byzantium, Islam, and Russia are distinct cultural entities, they have all retained the basic characteristics of providential empire. Western civilization, on the contrary, has not, except, perhaps, as a dangerous heresy. This is one of the reasons that western society has continued to grow in wealth and power, while two of the others have perished as organized socio-cultural entities, the Byzantine civilization completely, with some help from western power, although Islamic Turkish power gave the final blow. Islamic civilization has also been destroyed, largely by western power, although its peoples and shattered cultural patterns still lie as wreckage on the ground. Slavic civilization still survives, although much of its existence has been passed under the threat of destruction by western power, a situation which still continues. [Quigley wrote these words in the 1970s; he did not live to see the implosion of the Russo-Soviet Empire.] Western civilization, of the four descendents of classical civilization, also continues as the most powerful and affluent society in the world today, although it must be admitted that it shows its age, along with the scars and wounds of its several lives.

The key to the unique experience of western civilization lies in the fact that it was able to shake off, almost completely, its providential monarchical influences and was, thus, forced to find a different form of social structure. This distinctive organizational pattern of western society has been much studied by ourselves and others seeking the key to its strengths and uniqueness, but without any agreement on what these characteristics are. The explanation to be offered in this book will not obtain general agreement, but I feel sure we may begin with agreement that our western civilization began to follow the same road to providential monarchy as our sibling societies, but that, in the dark age of the 9th and 10th centuries, our western society failed in its attempt to organize a providential empire and was embarked on a different course by the year 1000.

I agree with Quigley that the distinctive features of Western civilization began to emerge soon after the year 1000, as manifested for example (in the intellectual sphere) by the phenomenon of the "twelfth-century renaissance". However, I continue to hold that printing (invented and quickly adopted in the mid-1400s) was the enabling force that made it possible to fully and productively apply the Western method of iterative truth-seeking through cooperative investigation, provisional consensus, and further refinement. It is enormously difficult to asymptotically approach an accurate understanding of reality unless the society in which one lives possesses the means for recording the best approximations and then adjusting them based on the latest evidence. Printing was that means in the second and third expansion phases of Western civilization (about 1450-1690 and 1770-1915). Now we possess an even more powerful technology for the expansion of knowledge, based not printed storage of information but on electronic storage (and manipulation) of information. The digital revolution will drive the fourth expansion of Western civilization. Whether that fourth phase results in an expansion of freedom and liberty in the political realm (the original meaning of "liberalism") remains to be seen.


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