A comparison of Islamic civilization and Western civilization, based on the work of Carroll Quigley

Originally posted on October 21, 2018:

Since I’ve been reading a book about Islam (titled ‘Islam: Art and Architecture’ by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius), I think that I’ll again turn my attention to what can happen in the West. I’ll be making the comparison with Islam, the Islamic Civilization, because I think that this society is a good example for what has happened and what can happen in Western Civilization.

Islamic Civilization, which began in about 500, had its core in Western Arabia. This is where Islamic culture was born. The expansion of Islamic Civilization began under the Prophet Muhammad in 622 and continued under the Rashidun, Umayyad, and Abbasid caliphates. In the Age of Expansion of a civilization, there’s expansion of territory, production, knowledge, and population. While Islamic Civilization was in expansion, the center of power naturally continued to move to more and more peripheral areas. At first, the center of power moved from Western Arabia to Syria under the Umayyad Caliphate, and Damascus became the capital of the empire. Then the center of power moved from Syria to Iraq under the Abbasid Caliphate, and Baghdad became the capital of the empire. I think that a conclusion can be made that the Age of Expansion of Islamic Civilization came to an end in 861, with the fracture of the Abbasid Caliphate and the end of the Abbasid Golden Age. One of the most notable indicators of expansion, or end of expansion, in a civilization is science. There’s much scientific progress when a civilization is in expansion. Scientific progress begins to slow down and die when a civilization enters the Age of Conflict. In Islamic Civilization, scientific progress began to slow down after the fracture of the Abbasid Caliphate. When the Age of Conflict began with the fracture of the Abbasid Caliphate, political units began to fight for control of territory in Islamic Civilization, and post-expansion empires (which is my term for military empires like Napoleon’s empire or Hitler’s empire) began to emerge. The first notable post-expansion empire of Islamic Civilization was the Seljuk Empire. Under the Seljuq Turks, who came from fully peripheral Central Asia, the center of power moved to Iran, and the capital became Isfahan. After the collapse of the Seljuk Empire, which brought unity to Islamic Civilization for several decades, Islamic Civilization was thrown into another period of disunity and conflict. At this time, the Crusaders, who represented an expanding Western Civilization under feudalism, were able to successfully invade Muslim lands and capture Palestine and the holy city of Jerusalem. While this was happening, the Mongols invaded from the east in 1220 and destroyed a very large Islamic post-expansion empire of Turkish origin – the Khwarazmian Empire. The Mongols created two Islamic post-expansion empires – the Chagatai Khanate and the Ilkhanate. At the same time, Turkish Mamluks were able to seize power in Egypt, and they created the Mamluk Sultanate, which was an Islamic post-expansion empire. Timur (Tamerlane) began his conquests in 1363 from Central Asia, with the capital in Samarkand. He emerged as the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world for a time, and he created the Timurid Empire. After all of that and other fighting, most of the territory of Islamic Civilization was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks, whose base was in peripheral Anatolia, and the capital of the Ottoman Empire became Constantinople. The Ottoman Empire, like all post-expansion empires, thrived while it was expanding and taking over new territories, and it even represented a threat to Western Civilization for a time (at least to the eastern states of Western Civilization). But, eventually, as is the case with every post-expansion empire, the conquests began to wane, and the Ottoman Empire began going into decline not long after the death of Suleiman the Magnificent. Since the Ottoman Empire was the last post-expansion empire of Islamic Civilization, it became the universal empire of this civilization. When the Ottoman Empire began to decay and go into acute economic depression, Islamic Civilization began dying. The Ottomans eventually couldn’t defend their empire and they suffered severe military defeats in the 18th century and in the 19th century in wars against the Europeans and the Russians. The Ottoman Empire was finally finished off at the beginning of the 20th century by the British and the French, who represented an expanding Western Civilization under industrial capitalism.

Well, now that I’ve got that history of Islamic Civilization out of the way as an example, I can look at how Western Civilization is similar to this civilization. I won’t go into the whole history of Western Civilization because this would take up too much time and space. I’ll simply focus on the latest Age of Expansion (under industrial capitalism) and the current Age of Conflict. If you want to know about what has been happening in Western Civilization since its beginning, read Carroll Quigley’s books, especially ‘The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis’ (1961). In this post, I’m concerned with what happened in the 20th century and what can happen in the 21st century. Well then, the third Age of Expansion of Western Civilization began after the vested interests of commercial capitalism (mercantilism) were circumvented by industrial capitalism. This change happened thanks to the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, which successfully took place in England, one of the core states of Western Civilization. Thus, after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, a new wave of energy and expansion appeared in England and, eventually, in other Western states, as the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution began to spread. Because of this expansion, England, which was closely followed by France, became the dominant power in the world by the mid-19th century. But industrial capitalism, which became the new instrument of expansion of Western Civilization, had to get institutionalized and to turn into a structure of vested interests eventually, and I would say that in England and in France this process began in 1873, with the beginning of the Long Depression. After England and France began to go into decline, it’s clear that the center of power of Western Civilization had to move from the core of the civilization to some peripheral area, like when the center of power of Islamic Civilization moved from Western Arabia to Syria under the Umayyad Caliphate. For a time, it seemed like this new center of power would be Germany, which was unified in 1871. Since industrial capitalism began to function as an expansive force in Germany when England and France began going into decline, Germany soon became the economic, the scientific, and the military leader of Europe. But it seems that the rise of Germany frightened the petrified interests in England, and in France. Therefore, the British planned to bring down Germany in a war, which is something that they did successfully in World War I by allying with the French, the Russians, and the Americans. Thus, German domination (at least political domination) of Western Civilization didn’t really take place. I don’t think that we can be naive enough to think that Germany didn’t have plans of military and political expansion. Such plans are natural for any state in expansion. The Germans did want to dominate Europe, and they would have done so eventually if Germany hadn’t been defeated in World War I. The Germans, after all, had the Mitteleuropa plan even before World War I began, but the British didn’t allow Germany’s possible expansionist plans in Europe to be realized. Still, even after the British and the French carved up Germany with the Treaty of Versailles, the industrial interests of Germany remained. The population of Germany continued to grow after World War I. Science continued to advance in Germany. In other words, World War I didn’t finish off Germany because the economic and social order of Germany didn’t change. It’s clear to me now that the only thing that was needed in order to put Germany on an expansionist path again after the disaster of World War I was a change of leadership. And this is what happened when the Nazis came to power in 1933, definitely with the support of some German monopoly capitalists and allegedly with the support of the British and the Americans as well. With British consent, with effective mobilization, and with improved military tactics, the Nazis were able to put Germany on a war path that resulted in the Third Reich conquering most of Europe by 1942. The Third Reich became a Western post-expansion empire with its own grandiose, Roman-like plans in Europe. For the British, however, Adolf Hitler eventually went too far. What they wanted from him was only to attack the Soviet Union. So, they joined a coalition in order to defeat the Third Reich and to eliminate the German threat. It took only several years for the Russians, the British, and the Americans to defeat the Third Reich and to end the short-lived German dominance in Europe. This German saga of the first half of the 20th century is rather tragic and rather epic. The Germans made all of that effort in World War I and then again in World War II, they came close to victory a number of times, they created disasters along the way, but they were defeated in the end, and Germany was divided after 1945.

Interestingly, World War II didn’t only bring down Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The French Empire and the British Empire were brought down as well soon after. So, after 1945, the center of power of Western Civilization decisively moved from Europe to the the fully peripheral USA, with its capital in Washington, on the East Coast of North America. I think that we can compare this to what happened in Islamic Civilization, when the center of power moved yet again, this time from Syria to Iraq under the Abbasid Caliphate. Thus, for several decades after 1945, the USA was the political, the scientific, the cultural, and the military leader of Western Civilization.

One of the signs of the fact that Western Civilization entered the Age of Conflict in the 20th century is the fact that scientific progress began to slow down. England and France entered the Age of Conflict as early as 1873, in my opinion, and the USA, which is a fully peripheral Western state, entered the Age of Conflict several decades later, in 1929, when the Great Depression began. Since 1929, the frequency of inventions and the grade of inventions in Western Civilization has been falling. I’d say that the time of the great inventors in the West came to an end before the second half of the 20th century. An upsurge of irrationality took place. The interest in the outside world has been falling as well. The vested interests of industrial capitalism (monopoly capitalism) in the West began to limit access to knowledge for the general population and began to discourage exploration and research. One of the signs of this decline of knowledge in Western Civilization is the fact the fewer and fewer books from other societies began to be translated to the Western languages in the 20th century. In the 19th century and in the early 20th century, when Western Civilization was in the full flush of expansion, there was, for example, a great interest in Russian literature in Western countries, and many Russian books were translated. It was also at this time when, for example, Richard Francis Burton translated ‘The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night’ and other texts from the Middle East. In the 20th century, however, this interest in the outside world began to fall in the West. For example, hardly anything from the Soviet Union has been translated to the Western languages in the 20th century and what has been translated only serves the purpose of anti-communist and anti-Russian propaganda. This approach of the West is the same when it comes to other societies. Therefore, people in Western states have such poor and such distorted knowledge of what happened in the 20th century, not just in non-Western states but also in other Western states. Nowadays, in this respect, the situation has become so bad that only crude propaganda and a completely distorted picture of the outside world are available for the general population in Western countries. If to this you add the fact that there’s very little scientific progress now in Western Civilization, the picture of Western society begins to look even worse from the viewpoint of progress, at least if you compare it to the picture from a century ago or even half a century ago.

So, I would say that American dominance in Western Civilization began to decline in the 1970s, and the early 1980s recession and the Black Monday of 1987 are clear signs of this decline. It has not been a fast decline, however, because the USA got a boost for a few decades from the collapse and looting of the USSR, and there’s also no serious opposition to the USA anywhere in the world for now, but it has been a decline nonetheless. In addition, since the 1960s, by which time the pinnacle of American democracy was reached, the USA has been turning more and more from a force of some prosperity and progress into a force of war, destruction, looting, and resistance to change. In fact, I can even say that this downward trend began as early as the 1930s, when the Great Depression took place. Still, there has been no fracture of the USA yet. The USA continues to dominate Western Civilization for the time being, and it will probably dominate Western Civilization for several more decades. Still, even if a new “instrument of expansion” will appear in Western Civilization (though I think that this is very unlikely), I don’t think that the USA will survive because an “instrument of expansion” seems to always appear only in the core area of a civilization. What will happen is that the USA will either fracture into several political units or the USA will seize to exist as a political unit and a new empire with a different shape will appear on the territory of the USA. These are the only two possibilities. If the USA does fracture, like the Abbasid Caliphate fractured, then Western Civilization will enter a new period of disunity and conflict similar to what happened in the first half of the 20th century, though it probably won’t be as short and as bloody as what happened in the first half of the 20th century. Thus, the current Age of Conflict of Western Civilization will continue, with declining growth and declining progress, until the universal empire of this civilization gets established, and this is something that will probably take place a few hundred years from now.

So, with everything that I’ve touched upon, it is, in my opinion, not accurate to compare what has been happening in Western Civilization for the last several decades to what happened in the Roman Empire when it went into decline. First of all, Western Civilization hasn’t been conquered by one political unit yet, and a universal empire, like the Roman Empire, hasn’t been established yet. The negative signs (like depression and degradation) may be similar, but they’re not the same. I think that the situation now is more like what happened in Islamic Civilization when the Abbasid Caliphate began going into decline and when it fractured. It’s when the importance of Arabs and of Western Arabia had faded in Islamic Civilization and when the importance of other peoples, like the Turks, began to rise. Similarly, the importance of Western Europeans, with whom Western Civilization began, has been fading for the last century and the importance of other peoples, like the Americans, has been rising. And now it seems like even the importance of the Americans is fading. In the future, another, possibly foreign, people, or mix of peoples, will come to dominate Western Civilization politically, like the Turks came to dominate Islamic Civilization after the fracture of the Abbasid Caliphate. Therefore, it is much too early to talk about the death of the West. What we’re seeing now is the death of American political domination of the West and not the death of the West.

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