I am thinking that this observation may be close to the truth – The 20th century saw the world divided between a Communist East and a free and democratic West; that’s the world I grew up in. New and different struggles are now on the radar. The new dividing lines are between social conservatism and self-indulgent secularism, between tribalism and transnationalism, between the nation-state and the globalism.
The Enlightenment hope of one new rational man is giving way to identities rooted in places of belonging and defining customs and traditions. This is what Samuel Huntington had predicted in his book, “Class of Civilizations.” A ‘one new man’ is an impossible construction. It is what democracy seemed to offer us – equality, liberty, and fraternity. But the centripetal forces of social identity seem to have a force more powerful than had been imagined.
The biblical story of the Tower of Babel has new explanatory power, where our differences are more than a historical accident that can be erased through education and wealth. The fabric of creation pushes us to tribal identities, not so that constant warring is justified but so that humans can be nourished in distinct communities. A human community without customs, traditions, distinct nurturing pathways, and self-definitions is not a community. It would be like growing up in a shopping mall – a mass of undifferentiated sameness. You can’t grow up in a mall. The human mall cannot give you what you need.
As peoples begin to validate the truth of this, the question is whether or not this will turn to rage against the other or a contentment in necessary differences that must be held in trust with wisdom.