Jackson asks vital questions and encourage us to question what we came to take as granted over the years: he claims that the notion of Western Civilization is a recent development and the rhetoric was used to justify the rehabilitation and the remilitarization of West Germany after 1945.
Since the late 19th century and especially after World War Rwo, the rhetorical commonplace ‘the West’/’Western Civilization’ has been used by politicians to publicly justify policies, commitments and to reframe issues domestically and internationally, particularly in the debates around German reconstruction (how it was constructed as an equal ally after being presented as the uncivilized enemy) , the European Recovery Program and NATO. In the last few decades, especially in the Cold War rhetoric, the term has had a solid place in everyday usage and came to be taken as ‘given’ as we see in the quote below.
‘’The existence and rhetorical currency of a notion like ‘Western Civilization’ is far from obvious, considering that the twinned principles of sovereignty and anarchy continue to structure world politics to a significant degree. Despite globalization, sovereign states, acknowledging no higher authority than themselves, continue to claim a monopoly on the legitimate use of force and to reserve to themselves the right to make final decisions about the distribution of resources and the overall shape of global authority. The supposed existence of a community like Western Civilization flies in the face of this traditional notion, and also contradicts the neoliberal assertion that the globalized world is now a world of firms and consumers. […] Central to my account is the rhetorical commonplace of ‘Western Civilization’, the notion that the United States, Canada and Western Europe participate in a common cultural community with millenia-old roots in classical Greece. […] Western civilization is not given but politically made. In this theoretically sophisticated and politically nuanced book Patrick Jackson argues that Germany’s reintegration into a Western community of nations was greatly facilitated by civilizational discourse. It established a compelling political logic that guided the victorious Allies in their occupation policy. This book is very topical as it engages critically very different, and less successful, contemporary theoretical constructions and political deployments of civilizational discourse.”
—Peter J. Katzenstein in the preface of the book, Cornell University
In ‘Civilizing the Enemy: German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West’, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson traces the history of the Western Civilization rhetoric by looking first at how ‘civilization’ was only used in the singular before 19th century (and its relation to the Western Christian view of history) and came to be used in the plural with the help of German conservative intellectuals towards the end of the 19th century. Then he goes on to examine the atmosphere of the political debates in Germany during the First World War, the unexpected success of Oswald Spengler’s ‘The Decline of the West’ , the ‘Western Civilization/Contemporary Civilization’ course that came to be taught first in Columbia University which enabled the passage of the notion of the ‘West’ to pass to the American political elite.
Throughout the book he uses a methodology of which he gives a detailed account in the first part of the book. The methodology (influenced largely by Weber’s work) takes root from the assumption that one cannot possibly know what public figures/politicians sincerely think/believe but can only study the public statements made and the rhetorical commonplaces used by them to justify policy proposals or political commitments. Rhetorical commonplaces in turn cannot possibly be deployed if they do not correspond to certain images/vague concepts in the imagination of the audience.
By examining the debates among American and German policymakers during and after the war with regards to US’ role postwar world order and the German reconstruction, Jackson asks vital questions and encourage us to question what we came to take as granted over the years: he claims that the notion of Western Civilization is a recent development and the rhetoric was used to justify the rehabilitation and the remilitarization of West Germany after 1945. After all, when looking in retrospect some events may look inevitable and obvious if the alternatives are not examined closely and the roles of public legitimation, rhetoric and framing/reframing the issue at stake with respect to policy decisions are often overlooked and understated. In Daniel Nexon’s words:
“In this respect, Jackson’s book is also a direct–and perhaps the most important–rejoinder to Huntington’s immensely influential The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Jackson not only proves that “The West” is an invented, and imagined, community, but offers an alternative understanding of what civilizations are and how we should think of them. In other words, unlike many of Huntington’s other social-constructionist critics, Jackson thinks we should take civilizational politics seriously.’’