Cross-border Operation in Civilization: The Talcott Parsons' Civilization Reading

Balci M. E.



Rudyard Kipling's The Ballad of East and West begins with the verses "Oh, East is East, and West is West,/And never the twain shall meet." As an eschatological proof of the never-ending divide between East and West, these lines are often cited by writers and journalists in an international crisis. The current crisis is a product of a bigger problem, while actuality is rediscovering the heritage of a selfish, violent, and agressive past. Many concepts, such as civility, civilization and modernization, come into play in an evolutionist discourse that categorizes and differentiates social differences and predicts that an ideal society will survive over time. Social evolutionism may not be a basic form of explanation today as it was in the nineteenth century. It reminds us of our zoological origins, our colonial sins, and the ruins of history. Contemporary thought, shaped by the discussion of the end of history, the end of ideology, or the end of the meta-narratives has been distilled from the dualities of old-fashioned philosophies (East-West, barbarian-civilized, irrational-rational, etc.). A recent popular trend is to confess the sins of old social scientific accounts. So, the apocalyptic atmosphere in the subsequent verses of poems can be felt in radical criticisms of post-modern approaches to modern civilization. How can debates on civilization still be in the forefront of the individual or collective, even though all the crimes of civilization have been revealed? Why do we remember where we are in civilization when there is a small hitch in our daily lives? Why is it still important to determine the distance between civilizations when the communication revolution has removed distance between people and turned the world into a "global village" (unity/conflict)? In this paper, we will try to deal with the reconstruction of the concept of contemporary civilization in the context of Talcott Parsons' reading of civilization. The fact that the United States became the new central country of the world after World War II necessitated the re-reading of world history in line with current developments. The thought of Talcott Parsons, who formulated the Fordist-Keynesian welfare society model as a general system theory, did not only shape the advanced capitalist societies; at the same time his understanding of history, which treats civilizations as a relay runner for contemporary society, is an essential reference for modernization theorists in the description of non-Western social structures. First, we will consider Parsons' social system theory, which regards modern social structure and relationships as the ultimate goal that past civilizations were trying to achieve. We will then try to address his views on the social evolution and civilization process. Parsons' teleological reading of historical civilizations in order to explain the problem of change as one of the questions that structural-functionalism leaves unanswered suggests that social change is caused by an internal influence that arises from non-adaptation to physical and natural conditions. This reading, which legitimizes relations of power among societies as a "theodicial necessity" in a sense, is an inspiration to the "modernization theory" of the wide field of application in the non-Western world during the Cold War period. It is especially important that this theory, which was developed in the post-1960s political climate (although some of its representatives and basic views lose their old influence) is based on the actual civilization assumption.