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The deep crisis of global capitalism is today developing in a struggle of unprecedented transformation preceded by long historical process not only on the economic but also the political and cultural planes.

The announcement of the “end of history” and of the definitive arrival of a new peaceful world order is representative of a kind of neo-liberalism that emerged at the end of the cold war, but which is contradicted by two decades of war and uninterrupted international tension as well as significant imbalances in every single country. The optimistic declarations of Francis Fukuyama and the bellicose slogan of the clash of civilizations of Samuel P. Huntington and of other neo-conservative American intellectuals characterize this period. This still continues as the inspiration of numerous Western elites searching for a guiding idea to clarify the relations between nations and areas of the world while maintaining an internal consensus in each country. This yields a fundamentalistic and simplified conception of identity as well as instrumentalized conceptions of the enemy, which currently includes Islam, China, and the migratory wave of barbarians from the Third World. This and other slogans have been remarkably effective. They contribute to obscuring the profound disequilibrium in the distribution of wealth, power, rights and opportunities within the industrialized countries while favouring the exportation of the conflict. On the basis of this ideology, the West, and especially the US, identifies with civilization as such and with the very idea of democracy. It seeks to govern in an aggressive way the important transformations now under way in imposing everywhere its own vision of the world and its own priorities. Yet this puts into question the claimed universal validity of the West, which it pretends to export. As Huntington himself admits, “the non-Westerners define what is Western, which the Westerners define as universal.”

What happened? In the second part of the eighteenth century, the ideals of democracy and universal rights of which we became aware through the French Revolution were enriched by the experience of the socialist movement, though still very far from anything resembling a full development, were deeply weakened. Their redefinition in liberalism has blocked these philosophical and political developments both internal and external to the West, critical as well as autocratic, which several decades earlier were understood to be inescapable components of full universalism. In this respect, postmodern philosophy has played a role. Born from the pretext of a radical critique of power and of the state, it is indicative of a destructive anti-dialectical attitude in the confrontation with any form of universalism as such. Its specifically anti-critical exaltation of particular differences remains in a fragile balance between absolute relativism and the apology for stronger systems of law and order.
This gives rise to a form of particularistic and divided universalism tending to negate any acknowledgment in the confrontation with other forms of culture and conscious awareness. Rather than dialogue, it undertakes to realize its superiority with respect to others. But the key to the clash of civilizations is useless to grasp the current situation. It is much more useful to consider these phenomena from a different perspective.

The end of the bipolar world has not only prepared the way for the globalized imposition of capitalist development and occidental values. It has also created the conditions for beginning a more complex process in which the entire world up to the present is inserted as it were within a rigid order. The result is a process of internal development and of uncoupling so to speak in the confrontation between the capitalist economic order as well as the confrontations of the hegemony of American and Western culture. Underneath this conflict between civilizations and development, we must look to history, tradition and religion. There is therefore a more concrete and materialistic struggle with political and geopolitical dimensions which is playing itself out a redefinition of world equilibrium in the twenty first century. The regions which emerged from the colonial period and lay claim to autonomy work in opposition to the neo-colonial project of a Western world looking to confront the crisis of its own authority and not hesitating to appeal to military means. This is a conflict for hegemony, which needs to be characterized. In this conflict, the national question, which has long been thought of as not a contemporary theme in the ideology of globalization, reminds us of its centrality.

The critical instruments and the dialectical means put at our disposal by Hegel and Marx, and in particular their reflections on the relation between universality and particularity, on the nature of the conflict and the role of the intellectual class can help to orient us better in this word and to understand in a more rational manner. This is the task of our meeting, which will take place May 28-30 in Lisbon. It is organized in collaboration with the University of Lisbon, the Department of Human Sciences of the University of Urbino, the Italian Institute of Philosophical Studies, and with the support of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Fundação Internacional Racionalista and Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia.