Regardless of popular shibboleths, more often than not, the meeting of cultures took the form of collisions. These tended to be wars followed by the subjugation of the beaten. If the weaker people survived the conquest, if it could maintain its identity, the calamity provoked a search for the causes of the rout. This has especially been the case once mankind became aware of technology and its impact on human affairs.
There is nothing inevitable about the investigation of the origins of might and subservience. Some cultures failed to raise the question even if the answer presupposed their survival. The time gap between subjugation and the response could take generations. Here the dissimilar cases of China and Japan occur. Regardless of its isolation prior to 1854, Japan reacted promptly to reverses. The switch from seclusion to conscious adaptation, transformation through learning, was instantaneous. China, on the other hand, responded by ignoring challenges. Her rulers stubbornly resorted to old approaches that had become irrelevant through the achievements of her foes.
If the tort led to the right question, then the correct answer could follow. However, this has not been an inevitable response. After the Middle Ages, a decisive technological gap between global entities became possible. Advantages flew from knowledge that favored those that wielded the power of science. The application of derived technology in interstate affairs exploited that potential. Significantly, the means gained from new techniques were expressions of a new society. Therefore, behind “better guns” there was a better social order and a dynamic way of thinking. Here cause and effect interrelate to demonstrate why God favors those with the better cannons.
The derivates of new and outdated ways of thinking clashed to the disadvantage of traditional societies. What separated losers and winners went beyond race, religion, language or dynastic loyalty. Through the products of modernization, ways of life clashed on the battlefields rather than armies. This ignored factor can hinder the effective response of developmentally bypassed societies.
The end products of modern technologies explain the success of their beneficiaries. However, being willing to use the “better gun” would not really level the playing field. Importing advanced techniques to make local copies did not suffice to redress the balance. Achieving the balance presupposed an inventive order that could generate the needed instruments of power. This demanded a society with values that saw change as an opportunity and not as a threat to an ideal achieved eons earlier. A new order and matching values were needed as these create the fundament of modern power.
To avoid sensitive Third World examples, two Western cases shall serve as illustrations. The Confederacy did not lose her war against the Union because of her size, bad generalship or lack of will in her people. She lost because of her insufficiently industrialized base. To remedy that condition, her way of life, including slavery had to be adjusted. A tall order, as protecting those institutions was among the reasons for secession. Or take the battle of Königgrätz (1866) in which Prussia gained supremacy by defeating the Habsburg Empire. She won because her railroads gave her armies mobility. Austria had only a few tracks because an Emperor had feared that travel would enhance the movement of persons with strange ideas. Then there was the case of Prussia’s new, Austrian- invented rifle, which mowed down the best Magyar and Croatian regiments. Earlier, Vienna had rejected it because in the past, her front-loader guns had served her well. Lastly, who thinks that Israel’s “armed horde” accounts for her victories over the Arab world? The “Zionists” prevailed because her order is superior to that of its foes.
If, as argued, that “order” supports the modernization that predetermines success and failure, then implementing it is a pre-requisite of full independence. If so, why are the Meiji Restorations, the Atatürks, and the Deng’s singular in stagnating national – religious cultures? The Near East provides some answers.
Modernization might be a precondition of victory. However, achieving it means becoming like Israel. Sometimes, to contest the enemy, one must grow to be what the foe has already become. This means transforming yourself into a copy of something you might despise. Once you know that your enemy is at a systemic advantage, you need to conclude that to overcome that you need to match him.
The purpose of such conflicts is to help a self-awarded virtue to defeat the wicked. If you adapt to the pattern the vice-ridden, then the moral purpose of the struggle seems dumped for the sake of victory. This creates inhibitions and resistance.
In modern times, ethnic and religious nationalism created communities that claimed a distinct way of life and rallied its people to prevail against morally inferior enemies. The alleged hostility of these enemies is attributed to their inner lack of virtue. The stronger this exclusive group consciousness is, the more likely that its way of life will be seen as an expression of moral superiority. The stronger this sentiment is, the more violent will be the resulting conflict and the more forceful its mobilizing effect. At the same time, a renewal that could eliminate weaknesses through a needed updating will be obstructed.
To win the struggle for which God, the logic of history or racial superiority has predestined a community, it needs to have means that are the derivates of modernization. Creating these instruments demands that one become a bit like the enemy. Upgrading requires the modification of what is rated as the qualities that express the nation’s identity and superiority. At the same time, the original moving force of the effort is to preserve a lived tradition against a group that lives by alien and inferior ways.
The sketched dilemma is like that of someone that wants the bananas grown high on a tree. If that person holds that only monkeys climb trees, then he will have to do without bananas.
Therefore, to secure their place under the sun, communities need to have the courage and confidence to examine their legacy. After a wise and selective retention and alteration of accustomed ways, strong peoples can modernize and keep their identity.
Those that refuse to decipher the pattern of experience are condemned to absorb the painful lessons meted out by the modern world order and its ways. Obvious as this might be, there are movements that wish to face the challenge of modernity by resetting or overthrowing the world order and the ways its system operates. Ultimately, continued failure will prove to be the consequence of the effort to resolve contemporary problems by turning the world-clock back to the past age of the prophets.