Each of these schemas captures aspects of reality. But an alternative that deserves consideration is one that defines “civilisations” in terms, not of technological development or culture, but of world view. This approach gives us fewer civilisations than those listed by Huntington – but more than the single end-stage civilisation proposed by Fukuyama. From this perspective, the most important civilisational divide – one that seems even more important after the events of 11th September – may be the one between supernatural civilisations and secular civilisations. The divide is roughly, but not completely, correlated with the divide between pre-modern agrarian societies and industrial societies. Of the supernatural civilisations, the most significant have been the Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the Indic (Hinduism and Buddhism). The two major Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, conquered most of the world’s territory and people, including south Asia and the Americas. Only China and Japan, among the major non-western nations, escaped Muslim or Christian rule. Today Muslim theocracies like Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia are the most extreme examples of societies based on supernatural religion.
On the secular side of the civilisational divide, there have been three major traditions: humanism, rationalism and romanticism. These three traditions originated in Europe but now have adherents around the world. All three are essentially secular worldviews which do not need to invoke the authority of divine revelation or mystical gnosis (though some romantics are mystics or pantheists and some humanists have been religious believers). In respects other than their common secularism, the three traditions are fundamentally different from one another.
Humanist civilisation crystallised in Renaissance Italy, before spreading to the Netherlands, Britain, and the US. This liberal, commercial, increasingly democratic civilisation has spread to other nations by emulation (Lafayette’s France, Atatork’s Turkey, Yeltsin’s Russia) and by conquest and conversion (post-1945 Germany and Japan). Humanists seek to ameliorate the problems of social life with the guidance of practical wisdom, derived chiefly from history, literature and custom, with little or no reference to supernatural religion or natural science, with the possible exception of the emergent sociobiology. Humanists tend to be modest as philosophers and cautious as reformers. Examples of great humanist thinkers and statesmen are Petrarch, Erasmus, Bacon, Montaigne, Voltaire, Franklin, Hume, Burke, Smith, Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison.
Rationalism, a world view underlying a number of secular creeds, first crystallised in 17th and 18th-century France. Rationalists reject the humanist distinction between practical wisdom and natural science. The goal of rationalists of all kinds is to devise a science of society, modelled on natural science, which can serve as the basis for the construction of a “rational” social order. Stephen Toulmin makes a useful distinction between the “reasonableness” of Renaissance humanists and the “rationality” of Enlightenment philosophes. The rationalist pantheon includes social engineers like Condorcet, St Simon, Comte, Fourier, Bentham, Marx, Lenin and Ayn Rand. (The “secular humanists” who support world federalism and utopian social reform are really rationalists).
Romanticism, the third major secular world view, has spread widely from its original homeland, late 18th and early 19th-century Germany. Romantics reject both reasonableness and rationality, they exalt the inspired unreason of the artistic genius, the child, the primitive uncorrupted by civilisation. Rousseau, Emerson, Wagner, Nietszche and Frantz Fanon should be on a list of romantic prophets, and idealist philosophers like Kant and Hegel arguably are closer to romanticism than to humanism or rationalism.
The American revolution, and the French revolution in its constitutional phases, were humanist. The French terror and the Bolshevik terror were rationalist. The second world war was a struggle of three secular civilisations: humanism (Roosevelt and Churchill), rationalism (Stalin) and romanticism (Hitler). The war by Islamic radicals against the US, Europe and Israel is, among other things, a conflict between religious and humanist civilisation.