Danger of Exceptionalism in a Multipolar World

America is in a specific position because it's still the strongest military power on the global scene. But it is not the only leader, and we are entering a phase where we have kind of a multipolar world, where there are regions, like America, South America, Europe, Russia, Asia.

There was a discussion that began at the Valdai conference when you were there, including about President Putin's article on the concept of American exceptionalism, which you took issue with. How grounded, how viable do you think this concept is per se? And going from there, do you think it is possible for some countries to impose this system of values on others?

First of all, there's a big debate, even in America, about the so-called American exceptionalism. I think it's a rather dangerous expression, because I always have problems with someone who names himself or herself exceptional. Because nobody is exceptional, we are part of the same race, we are equal, we are brothers and sisters, and I think we should talk about differences and common identities.

Of course, America is in a specific position because it's still the strongest military power on the global scene. It is not the largest economic power. At the moment, the European Union is, but, of course, closely followed by the Americans. They have a role as a kind of hegemon on the global scene, as one of the leaders. But it is not the only leader, and we are entering a phase where we have kind of a multipolar world, where there are regions, like America, South America, Europe, Russia, Asia – I think we should differentiate between China – India, and the other Asian parties, Africa...

I think this is the concept for the future. We are entering a multipolar world. America will still play an important role, but not an exceptional one. On the contrary, I think they have to look for partners, for other leaders who are interested in following the same path, to develop the world in a better way.

So this is my concept. It's a very complicated concept. It's not easy to explain it. But I think this will be the future. It's not the G8, not the G2, the G3... The danger – and this was mentioned at Valdai – is, on the contrary, that it could be a G0 world, which is probably the most imminent danger. I think it's a multipolar world, and I think everybody should prepare for that.

In a way, it's similar to the Concert of Nations that followed the Vienna Congress of 1815!

Yes, this is true. That was the European Concert, but... I think the idea of a concert is quite interesting. In a concert, no one plays a solo instrument. Of course, the violin is important, the trumpet is important, the drums are important, but a concert is a concert if all musicians play the same piece of music, play the same notes and harmonies, and I think it should not be a cacophony, it should be a harmonic piece of music.

But nonetheless, there is a way of influencing, I mean, there is a very difficult boundary between the idea of influencing and imposing. How do you see this, whether one can impose or influence, as far as values are concerned, and societal forms and foundations?

Nobody can impose their values or rules. This is impossible, because values are universal, if all parties concerned agree on them. This is what happened, by the way, in the United Nations when the universal definition of human rights values was written down in a kind of global constitution. This is the Human Rights Charter. This was a universal definition of our values, but it was unanimously agreed to. You can never impose something. You can try to impose something, but it will not work. Maybe it will work for a certain period of time, for weaker partners or neighbors, but it will not happen on the global scene.

But even if something is agreed upon by the diplomats, or by the governments, or by, you can even say, the elites, it doesn't mean it is accepted by the societies in general.

This is true, but on the other hand, of course, there are always elites to agree on something, to propose something, to decide on laws, to decide on the framework of rules. And of course it is important that societies accept this type of leadership. If each citizen would have to agree on something that would be impossible, nobody would agree anyway. So I think there is the need for a representative concept of leadership. But of course, good leaders are those who act in line with the consensus, with the majority consensus of the citizens, that's for sure.

But you recently chaired a conference here in Vienna on multiple traditions and multiple modernities. Basically, the implication was that there is no one system of modernity, there is more than one. And the countries and civilizations coming from different traditions, for example, even within Christianity, the Western Christian and Eastern Christian traditions, have different models of modernity. That somehow correlates with being able or not being able to impose values.

Yes, but first of all, I think there are differences, no doubt about it. Look back to the schism between the Western concept of Christianity and the Eastern concept of Orthodox Christianity. But we should not forget that there is an enormous area of consensus, there is maybe 95% consensus and maybe 5% difference between them. And I think, based on what was done during the last decades, especially by Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Alexy and especially Kirill, there is a growing mutual understanding. I think we have common problems which are consumerism, Christophobia in our societies. Even in Russia, you have a very traditional concept of believers, but the real believers are a minority. It's the same in the West - in Austria, Germany, France, etc. We have kind of a laicistic majority.

And the tension is growing.

And the tension is growing. By the way, I have with me the Bertelsmann Religions Monitor. I'm on the board of supervisors of the Bertelsmann Foundation, which is the largest foundation in Germany, and we are working specially on this Religions Monitor, to monitor the religious beliefs in different societies and countries. And this is really interesting to see. There is a growing understanding that religion plays an important part. But there is, at the same time, a dual danger. One is that the state grip on churches is too strong. Look at the Islamic world, at some parts of it. And on the other hand, there is an undermining danger of the basis of churches in our societies. So to neglect their right to say something in public, to be involved in societal questions – I think we should never accept, so to speak, that the churches are really driven out of the public sector, of the public sphere. It's the right of churches, of Christians, to be involved in societal matters, but the state should not interact in religious societies, in churches or whatever. So this is a dual danger, and I think we should be aware of it.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.