III. All civilizations are of equal value, and all have merits and flaws. There is no such thing as a perfect civilization or a civilization without a single virtue, and no one civilization should be judged superior or inferior to another.
Before the opening of new sea routes, there existed a state of basic equality between different civilizations. This state was shattered, however, by Western colonial expansion and eventual hegemony. During this process, some remote civilizations were decimated, such as the American Indian and ancient West African civilizations, and core regions of ancient civilizations such as West Asia, North Africa, India, and China also fell one by one into the hands of Western invaders. Equality between civilizations no longer existed, and many civilizations faced a crisis of life and death.
According to Arnold Toynbee, challenge and response constitute a mechanism for the existence of civilization that determines whether a civilization will disappear or continue. Whether this theory is correct or not, the fact is that at the moment of Western hegemony reaching its peak, at a time when many civilizations were facing a crisis of life and death, there formed a global movement, and that movement was named modernization. This marked the beginning of cultural rejuvenation, the means of which was modernization. Through modernization, non-Western countries learned from the West how to catch up. By the beginning of the 21st century, non-Western countries had already achieved tremendous progress toward modernization, ushering in a new historical turning point.
Modernization began in Western Europe, and the emergence of modern nation-states marked the starting point of this process, which involved all aspects of society. Many important events from the history textbook, such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the opening of new sea routes, the scientific and technological revolution, and the bourgeoisie revolution, are all part of Western modernization. Today, while the process of modernization has generally been completed in Western countries, cultural diversity has not disappeared. On the contrary, it has become even more vibrant, even within those Western countries.
First, there are different pathways to modernization. Britain took a gradual approach toward reform, France took the road of violent revolution, Germany carried out reforms from the top down, and the US, as a British colony, had to first gain independence before focusing on development. On the economic front, after the Industrial Revolution, Britain adopted the laissez-faire approach, and France basically followed suit while making some alterations, while Germany took the extraordinary route of promoting rapid economic growth with state power. Although the US followed Britain’s laissez-faire model, in the 20th century, it became the first developed capitalist country to carry out large-scale state intervention.
Second, different countries have different political and social systems. Politically, Britain practices constitutional monarchy, while the US adheres to the republican system. There are clear distinctions between the parliamentary and presidential systems, further widening the political gap between the two countries. Looking at electoral methods, Britain has adopted the "first past the post" system, while the US invented the Electoral College system. As for the "three branches of government," the US is the only developed capitalist country to have truly incorporated this into its institutional design, so the US system is hardly the typical model. In terms of social systems, European countries practice a welfare model, something that the US has refused to adopt, perceiving it as a hotbed for laziness.
Third, Western countries are not immutable throughout the development process. As examples of this, Britain shifted from a laissez-faire society to a welfare-based one, France cycled through revolution to reach reform, and the US abolished racial discrimination policies, acknowledging racial equality at least in legal terms. These changes prove that there are differing forms of modernization even within one country, and that cultural diversity is a normal state.
If this is the case even in Western countries, then when the wave of modernization sweeps through non-Western regions, it surely exhibits even greater diversity. It is apparent that during the global process of modernization, every country displays its own characteristics, and it is also clear that different countries have different models of modernization, for example, the Latin American model, the East Asian model, the Soviet model, and of course, the Chinese model. Mahatma Gandhi who launched the campaign of nonviolent resistance, Fidel Castro who led the Cuban revolution, Gamal Abdel Nasser who advocated Arab socialism, and Nelson Mandela who fought against apartheid in South Africa – all played a unique role in the modernization process of their countries and endowed that process with unique features. And yet, these successes cannot be replicated. When Western countries tried to forcibly change the political systems of Arab countries under the pretense of building a democratic Middle East, the Arab Spring became the Arab Winter, not only drenching the Middle East in blood but also bringing disaster to Europe itself.
Nevertheless, the Western theory of universal values insists upon uniformity, and does not acknowledge the diversity of cultural development. Francis Fukuyama declared that human history had come to an end. This idea can be traced back to Hegel, although the difference is that the latter believed Prussia to be the end, whereas Fukuyama believed the US to be the end. However, if even the US has not reached the end of its own history, how can humanity come to an end?
Does cultural diversity inevitably lead to conflict, and does conflict in turn lead to a life-and-death contest? Why can we not learn from the words of ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi when he said that "One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced All things," or from the Chinese adages, "amiability brings wealth" and "peace is most precious?" In the eyes of the Chinese people, "the ocean is vast because it embraces all rivers." The modern world can accommodate a diversity of modern civilizations, and modernization will mold a richer and more varied world. After a century of effort to modernize, many old civilizations have gained new life, recovered their confidence, and rediscovered their identities. The inequality between civilizations caused by Western hegemony is now being reversed. This process, which Samuel Huntington referred to as "clash of civilizations," should actually be considered a "revival of civilizations." Revival means a reappearance of cultural diversity and a rebalancing of equality between different civilizations; it also means that people think more deeply about the relevance of ancient civilizations in modern times by turning to traditional wisdom to resolve contemporary issues, such as the relationships between humans and nature, morality and gain, individual and collective, and freedom and constraint. In this complex and changing world, the only way to resolve humanity’s common problems is to rely on the concerted efforts of all civilizations, both Western and non-Western ones.