— Samuel P. Huntington American political scientist 1927 - 2008
Context: Does the vacuousness of Western universalism and the reality of global cultural diversity lead inevitably and irrevocably to moral and cultural relativism? If universalism legitimates imperialism, does relativism legitimate repression? Once again, the answer to these questions is yes and no. Cultures are relative; morality is absolute. Cultures, as Michael Walzer has argued, are “thick”; they prescribe institutions and behavior patterns to guide humans in the paths which are right in a particular society. Above, beyond, and growing out of this maximalist morality, however, is a “thin” minimalist morality that embodies “reiterated features of particular thick or maximal moralities.” Minimal moral concepts of truth and justice are found in all thick moralities and cannot be divorced from them. There are also minimal moral “negative injunctions, most likely, rules against murder, deceit, torture, oppression, and tyranny.” What people have in common is “more the sense of a common enemy [or evil] than the commitment to a common culture.” Human society is “universal because it is human, particular because it is a society.” At times we march with others; mostly we march alone. Yet a “thin” minimal morality does derive from the common human condition, and “universal dispositions” are found in all cultures. Instead of promoting the supposedly universal features of one civilization, the requisites for cultural coexistence demand a search for what is common to most civilizations. In a multicivilizational world, the constructive course is to renounce universalism, accept diversity, and seek commonalities.
Ch. 12 : The West, Civilizations, and Civilization, § 2 : The Commonalities Of Civilization, p. 319