[Eyes of the Wise] Civilized Talk

PARIS – What does it mean to be "civilized"? Obviously, being highly educated, wearing a tie, eating with a fork, or cutting one's nails weekly is not enough. We all know that being "civilized" in this formal way doesn't prevent people from behaving like barbarians. Everywhere and at all times, being civilized means being able to recognize and accept the humanity of others, despite their different modes of living.

That may seem like an obvious point, but it is not universally accepted. The idea of dialogue between civilizations usually gets a good press, but it is also sometimes mocked. The conclusion of Elie Barnavi's recent essay Les religions meurtrières ("Murderous religions") is entitled "Against the dialogue of civilizations." His argument is implacable: "There is civilization on one hand and barbarism on the other. There is no possible dialogue between them...." Read more (External Link)


Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences, 2008.
www.project-syndicate.org

Tzvetan Todorov

  • Directeur de recherche honoraire at the CNRS in Paris