Civilizationism and the Ideological Contestation of the Liberal International Order

Gregorio Bettiza, Derek Bolton, David Lewis

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1 Citation (SciVal)


Discourses and practices reproducing a world where a plurality of distinct civilizations clash or dialogue, rise or fall, color multiple facets of global politics today. How should we interpret this unexpected surge in civilizational politics, especially notable in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, China, and Russia? This paper argues that the growing turn to civilizations or, better, civilizationism should be understood as a counter-hegemonic ideological reaction to the globalization of the liberal international order. It theorizes the deepening and widening of the liberal international order in the aftermath of the Cold War as enabled by powerful constitutive ideological forces, which congeal into a distinctively modern, informal, universal standard of civilization. This liberal civilizational standard can be experienced by a particular category of non (fully) liberal actors within and beyond the West as ideologically entrapping them – through processes of socialization or stigmatization – in a state of symbolic disempowerment. The paper shows how civilizationism provides an ideological path for resisting and contesting the liberal standard of civilization by articulating a distinct and valued (essentialized) sense of collective belonging, and an alternative (generally illiberal) normative system and (broadly multipolar) vision of international order. Along with theorizing and exploring in original ways the drivers of civilizational politics in the current historical juncture, the paper makes two further contributions. It highlights and unpacks the key role of ideological dynamics in the making and contestation of international orders in general and the liberal one in particular. It suggests and shows why civilizations are best approached as ideological constructs rather than cultures, identities, or discourses.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Studies Review
Early online date3 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2023


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