The Fusion of Civilizations: The Case for Global Optimism

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Foreign Affairs, May / June 2016 issue.

KISHORE MAHBUBANI is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and the author of The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One WorldLAWRENCE H. SUMMERS is President Emeritus and Charles W. Eliot University Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001 and Director of the National Economic Council from 2009 to 2010.

The mood of much of the world is grim these days. Turmoil in the Middle East, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths andmillions of refugees; random terrorist attacks across the globe; geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe and Asia; the end of the commodity supercycle; slowing growth in China; and economic stagnation in many countries—all have combined to feed a deep pessimism about the present and, worse, the future.

Historians looking back on this age from the vantage point of later generations, however, are likely to be puzzled by the widespread contemporary feelings of gloom and doom. By most objective measures of human well-being, the past three decades have been the best in history. More and more people in more and more places are enjoying better lives than ever before. Nor is this an accident—because despite Samuel Huntington’s foreboding, what has occurred over recent generations is not a clash of civilizations but a fusion of civilizations.

To put it simply, the great world civilizations, which used to have detached and separate identities, now have increasingly overlapping areas of commonality. Most people around the world now have the same aspirations as the Western middle classes: they want their children to get good educations, land good jobs, and live happy, productive lives as members of stable, peaceful communities. Instead of feeling depressed, the West should be celebrating its phenomenal success at injecting the key elements of its worldview into other great civilizations.

The world is actually coming together, not falling apart.

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