This document may be too large for your printer buffer to handle. We suggest downloading this document to a disk if printing difficulties are encountered or e-mailing the author for a hard copy by clicking on his/her name.

 Several possible distinctions and a few definitions are necessary before I can articulate the thesis of this paper. Culture, multiculturalism, sub-culture, institutional culture, prison culture, campus culture, corporate culture, secular culture, religious culture, racist culture, Hollywood culture, teen culture, gang culture, cult culture, gay and lesbian culture, singles culture, dead white men's culture, feminist culture, traditional culture, popular culture, new-age culture, dominant culture, counter culture, individualistic culture, narcissistic culture, communitarian culture, consumption culture, capitalist culture, hedonistic culture, Western culture, Eastern culture, Atlantic culture, ethnic culture, national culture, African-American culture, thin and thick culture, declining and resurgant culture, weak and strong culture, imperialistic culture and dominated culture, torn culture and intact culture are common terms and possible distinctions used in the popular media and in sociological and anthropological studies. It goes without saying that culture is a much used and much abused term.

Macroculture is a term I have not seen previously, but I doubt that I am coining a new term in using it here. My argument here will be that macro-multiculturalism represents the most critical ethical challenge facing us in general education.

There is a general sense abroad today that the United States and its Western allies won the Cold War and that as a result of that victory the rest of the world is now becoming--indeed, should be becoming--more like the West. Any such claim is based on a soft and trivial understanding of culture, as are many of the examples of cultural language mentioned earlier. As Samuel P. Huntington argues in his recent book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster: 1996), "the world is becoming more modern and less Western (76)." Hence modernization, which is occuring on a global scale, does not mean that Western cultural traditions are equally sweeping the globe. Indeed, the opposite is occurring. Modernization, more often than not, leads to opposition to Western cultural patterns and to the resurgance of indigenous cultures and to the religious traditions which embody and carry these cultures. I will draw heavily on Huntington's recent book for this presentation.

But first to some distinctions and definitions regarding culture that I consider critical. A culture represents both a traditional inheritance and a common human achievement. Culture represents the highest memories, aspirations, and achievements of a people in drama, music, letters, painting, science, architecture, religion, and politics which together characterize a way of life that is transmitted from one generation to another.

Education aims at nothing less than developing a better and more appropriate methodology and language for understanding the creation, the transmission, and the criticism of culture. A macroculture is the way of life that characterizes each of the world's major civilizations: Islam, India, China, Buddhism, Africa, Latin America, Japan, Orthodox Christianity (and Russia), Judaism, and finally, Western Christianity (or the Atlantic civilization of Europe and North America). The macrocultural diversity among these civilizations creates what I have labeled macro-multiculturalism.

Microcultural diversity, or micro-multiculturalism, exists to a greater or lesser extent in each of the great macrocultures. Because micro-multiculturalism is so extensive in the United States, we tend to identify multiculturalism with its micro manifestations. Micro-multiculturalism is an important issue for each of the macrocultures mentioned above and needs to be studied and understood in the social and historical context of each of these cultures. Some of the best and most important works in comparative micro-multiculturalism have been done by scholars of comparative religious ethics, a relatively new field of study.

I must confess that I once believed that a study of multiculturalism in the United States could provide a window of insight for understanding cultural diversity in other societies and in the world at large. I now believe this view was seriously flawed. It failed to appreciate the rich cultural traditions of other civilizations and it made the false assumption that our way of life could provide the universal insights for resolving cultural, ethnic, economic, political, and ethical conflicts anywhere around the globe. Many of those who attempt to evaluate all cultures in terms of how their institutions and practices accord (or fail to accord) with individualistic Western notions of human rights continue this mistaken practice of cultural imperialism.

China, for example, has long placed the welfare of the group (be it family, community, or State) above the welfare or rights of individuals. The same can be said of Islam. Lecturing the leaders of China or Islam on human rights or religious freedom is more likely to establish resistance to these Western values than it is to produce the desired change in institutional policy that is being sought. The United States State Department has one of the worst records in this matter.

As our cities, suburbs, and even rural areas become more and more torn by violence, poverty, drugs, the oppressed underclass, class hatred, homophobia, and racism, we need to do a much better job of respecting one another, helping one another, empowering one another, educating one another, even loving one another, as a genuine commitment and respect for human rights and human flourishing would have us do, rather than continuing with our present policies of benign neglect and building more and more prisions. Our colleges and universities are doing little to contribute to an understanding of these grave social disasters that are infecting our common social life. I consider this a serious failure of the ethical mission of the general education we are in fact providing our students.

I want to repeat that education aims at nothing less than developing a better language and metholology for understanding the creation, transmission, and criticism of culture. I believe that Huntington's new book mentioned above provides us with some critical insights about the new post-Cold War world in which we must attempt to accomplish our educational mission.

Huntingdon writes, "The central theme of this book is that culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilizational identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world. The five parts of this book elaborate corollaries to this main proposition.

Part I: For the first time in history global politics is both multipolar and multicivilizational; modernization is distinct from Westernization and is producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense nor the Westernization of non-Western societies.

Part II: The balance of power among civilizations is shifting: the West is declining in relative influence; Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military, and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destablizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.

Part III: A civilization-based world order is emerging: societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other; efforts to shift societies from one civilization to another are unsuccessful; and countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilization.

Part IV: The West's universalist pretensions increasingly bring it into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China; at the local level fault line wars, largely between Muslims and non-Muslims, generate ^kin-country rallying,^ the threat of broader escalation, and hence efforts by core states to halt these wars.

Part V: The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multicivilizational character of global politics (20-21)."

I do not intend here to offer a critical assessment of Huntington's extensive argument. I do think he provides us with a helpful map for understanding how eight to ten macrocultures shape much of the political reality of the post-Cold War world in which we live today. My most serious objection to Huntington's thesis has to do with his conflict perspective on how macrocultures must relate to one another. His rejection of universalism is so strong that he only slightly leaves open the possibility that there is much of significance that the peoples living in these different macrocultures could and should learn from one another. Renewal has to come primarily from within each of the major civilizational units, not from their mutual interaction and conversation.

Here I find myself more in agreement with Thomas Molnar's argument in The Emerging Atlantic Culture (Transaction Publishers: New York, l994). Molnar is critical of what he views as "the mental and ideological isolation of the United States from the rest of the world," and an attitude toward the rest of the world "from which it can learn only incidentals, nothing essential (6)." He argues that culturally "Americans are perhaps the most isolated people in history (4)" to exercise the power of an empire. He believes Americans envision their "own culture becoming worldwide, replacing all others (33)."

While Huntingdon (310) opposes this universalistic vision of Western culture on the grounds that it is false, immoral, and dangerous, he does not stress sufficiently the necessity for peoples of different macrocultures and civilizations learning from and mutually informing one another. Molnar, on the other hand, argues that America "remains forever a utopia for itself, partly because it does not acknowledge, let alone understand, the existence of the world beyond it in space, time, and ideas (94)."

It is precisely this ethical challenge that confronts general education in our colleges and universities in the post-Cold War world: we must understand the importance of macro-multiculturalism; that is, we must acknowledge and seek to understand those macrocultures that are beyond the West in space, time, and ideas. I do not want to make the claim that we need to understand macro-multiculturalism primarily in order to promote world peace and perhaps limit the prospects for a multicivilizational war. Huntingdon tends to make this kind of utilitarian argument in the closing chapter of his book. I find such a claim trivial to the aims of education as articulated above. An appreciative understanding of macrocultures other than our own will help us to know ourselves better, to be sure, and perhaps thereby shatter some of our utopian illusions. But the primary reason for studying other macrocultures is that their achievements are worthy of our time, attention, and intellectual curiosity. In that sense, such study is a matter of human respect for great human cultural creations; and it is, therefore, the ethical challenge for general education. My indirect intention in this paper has been to supplement Huntington's utilitarian thesis that the study of the world's religions is essential if we are to understand our post-Cold War world. Huntington argues, rightly I believe, that "The central elements of any culture or civilization are language and religion (59)." But it is demeaning to the serious study of culture to justify such study merely with utilitarian arguments.


FAX: (423) 974-0965

Talk to the Conference Participants

Questions and comments may be directed to the Conference Convenor, Alvin G. Burstein or individual authors by clicking on his/her name.

Main Page

This page has been accessed times.

Last updated: July 22, 1997