The end of civilisation?

Ahmed Mustafa
Tuesday 2 Apr 2024

Could the world be living through a transitional stage with no civilisation, and can it look forward to a new one, asks Ahmed Mustafa


It may seem far-fetched to re-visit the concept of the “end of civilisation,” suggested by the US political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s famous concept of the “end of history” put forward at the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

 However, I would argue that a strong case can be made for how relevant these ideas are, despite one of them being produced decades ago. History has no end as long as its subjects, human beings, exist. So, the end of history, even in the terms that Fukuyama meant – in other words, history as we knew it in Cold War – is questionable to say the least.

The complete dominance of Western-style capitalism is not guaranteed, and nor is the notion of a single world dominated by the hegemony of the US. The same thought applies in the present discussion: as long as humans continue to be present on Earth, there will be a civilisation of a kind, even if it is not the same as the present one.

Civilisation is a continuous process. Throughout history, nations and tribes rise and fall as a result of many factors. There is no widely accepted academic definition of what makes a civilisation, but a standard conception would be that it is the culture of a social group or country as that exists at a particular time. Civilisation develops when we see advances in social organisation, government, the arts, and other aspects of human activity in a certain group.

It declines when these aspects start to deteriorate, most likely coinciding with another civilisation on the rise in another part of the world. Humanity from its inception has experienced certain phases in its development that can be called “flat” with respect to the growth of civilisations. I believe we have been witnessing one of these periods since the turn of the century. Some have theorised that at a certain point technology could itself be a form of civilisation and one affirming Western dominance. But what we have actually been seeing for decades is the “recycling” of earlier elements and not a new phase of civilisation.

This is not a philosophical discussion of civilisation. It is just an observation of the path humanity has been following over the last few decades.

Let us think about the notion of being civil. The dictionary meaning of “civil” is related to the ordinary citizen who is not part of the military or religious establishment. Yet, the world is now more militarised and extreme than it has perhaps ever been, and this has been permeating into various layers of society.

Religious fundamentalism has been replacing the major civil ideologies of the last century, coinciding with a rising far right and chaotic neo-liberalism. This extremism in politics might be seen as marking an end to the civilisation of the 19th and 20th centuries. A stark example of its end can also be seen in the ongoing genocide in Palestine. Though the occupation and the massacres associated with it go back to the early years of the last century, what is going on in Gaza now is unprecedented, not only in the scale of the killing and destruction, but also in the apparent apathy in the face of such a human catastrophe.

In a civilised world, it is absurd that such crimes against humanity should be allowed to continue for months while the international community stands by. Some condone the massacres and support the aggressor, and few take the minimum action required to protest against or boycott it.

Though the conflict in Palestine is a result of the aggression by the occupiers against the native population of the country, it has been portrayed as a “religious” struggle at certain points. One of the pillars of the Zionist Movement is the false notion that Palestine is the land of the Jews. In 2018, a previous Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu changed Israel’s Basic Law to make it a necessarily Jewish state. However, any state that is based on religion is racist.

The Palestinian resistance has also become dominated by two groups under the umbrella of religion – Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These have overtaken the main faction, Fatah, which is more secular. This ultimately presents a combination of military and religious rule, further negating the civil element.

In the US, the core of former president Donald Trump’s support base is made up of Christian Evangelicals, whilst President Joe Biden has aligned himself with policies that benefit the Zionists. In every corner of Europe, the extremist far-right is feeding on Islamophobia. In some parts of Asia, hate crimes are rife, for example in India and China. One might also see Neo-Nazi and similar groups as being “religious” in a way, since they operate like cults.

It is difficult to imagine a civilisation emerging in an environment that has little or no civility, as the world becomes more militarised and religious. This wave might take decades to reach its climax, whether in another world war or scattered “protracted, low-intensity conflicts” (PLIC), as described by former US National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

The prospect of a new civilisation emerging is bleak, given the fact that the world failed to set up a New World Order after the end of Cold War. Yet, humanity is like nature: it always finds a way. Perhaps we are living in a kind of transitional stage with no civilisation but can look forward to developing a new one by the end of the century.

As power shifts from region to region, the change may arise from the most unexpected part of the world.


The writer is a London-based seasoned journalist.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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