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Alvin Toffler’s Theory of Clash of Civilizations

In the Western world nowadays, theories regarding the “clash of civilizations” are gaining much popularity. In this regard, Fukuyama’s book ‘End of History’ and Samuel Huntington’s lengthy thesis on the clash of civilizations have gained considerable fame. Huntington’s ideas have been hotly debated not only in the Western world but also in Muslim countries. The reason is that he has defined civilizations in terms of religion and culture and predicted a clash between the Islamic and the Western civilization. If religion was not the central premise of his ideas, perhaps no special attention would have been paid to his “theory”. While we cannot deny its academic side, the ominous dark shadows of American “national interests” can clearly be seen influencing his thoughts. This is the biggest weakness as well as the biggest strength of this theory. It is also the latest and best example of the privatization of “knowledge” in the West.

Alvin Toffler is considered among the prominent American sociologists and futurists, and the theory of the clash of civilizations is of fundamental importance in his writings. However, since religion has no place in his theory, he is not mentioned in discourses on the clash of civilizations. Even though his serious books sell in large numbers just like the novels of Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. His book “Future Shock” is supposedly included among modern classics. His other two works “Third Wave” and “Power Shift” are also sequels to Future Shock and were very popular. All three books have been translated into all major languages of the world. They were even compulsory reading for policymakers in China. Toffler himself was an advisor to policymakers in America, with his consultancy extending from the President to American generals. The former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has been an ardent follower of Toffler since his days as a professor of European History at a university. Gingrich has also written the foreword to Toffler’s work “Creating a New Civilization”. In a sense, if for no other reason than his access to American policymakers, Toffler’s ideas would still warrant a look.

Toffler agrees with Huntington’s view that a clash of civilizations will occur in the future. However, he says its basis would not be religion but the difference and disparity in “modes of production”.

Toffler divides the history of mankind spanning thousands of years into three eras:
1) Agricultural Age 2) Industrial Age 3) Post-Industrial Age

Toffler contends that the fundamentals of civilizations and societies are greatly determined by modes of production. This is not really Toffler’s original idea. Toffler himself acknowledges that while he is not a Marxist, Marx was absolutely right in his conception that the social and civilizational structures are determined by modes of production and changes occurring within them – when modes of production change, societies, and civilizations also change. It seems Toffler has taken this idea from Marx, but he has certainly tried to apply this idea in a new context and a slightly new perspective.

Toffler says that when industrialization emerged in the West, it signaled the death of the thousands-of-years-old agricultural civilization and the advent of a new civilization. The new civilization had new and better modes of production and, with their help, it continued to defeat the old civilization across the world through clashes. Toffler calls the Agricultural Age the First Wave and the Industrial Age as the Second Wave. He has mapped out the clash between these waves at regional and international levels. He argues that European nations were able to conquer and enslave various nations of Asia and Africa because they represented a new wave.

Toffler writes that in the 1950s, the Third Wave or Post-Industrial Age started emerging in Western countries. According to Toffler, this wave has encompassed all developed countries within just forty-five years, but it has yet to complete its cycle. He predicted that over the next 10-15 years, this wave will have completed its cycle across the Western world.

While the third wave is rapidly moving forward, Toffler believes that all three waves currently co-exist across the globe with the process of contention between them continuing apace. In Toffler’s view, the second and third waves are still clashing in the developed Western world itself, and the second wave is resisting the third wave. Hence, regions where the first and second wave exist also represent a state of clash. Manifestations of this clash can be observed at national and international levels. Toffler has termed the fundamental concept of the Second Wave as Mass Production, while he says Information is the basis of the Third Wave.

From the perspective of Western standards of social and civilizational experience, it is difficult to find “greatness” in Toffler’s ideas and thought – in fact, there is also a lack of insight and depth. But there is an objectivity flowing out of the heap of information and data, which does not go beyond it. Toffler’s prowess lies in diligently trying to prove his thesis by providing such a deluge of information and statistics that the mind is numbed and one starts believing in the veracity of his opinion without feeling the need to think or comprehend further. Of course, this is not Toffler’s “specialty” but a very common method or modus operandi in the West. However, Toffler certainly occupies a distinguished position among such people.

As far as Toffler’s basic concept is concerned, this example is enough to prove it invalid that after the advent of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) mission, there was no change in “modes of production” yet it gave birth to the greatest civilization in human history, which spread rapidly across the world. However, it does not mean that modes of production have no impact on life. The external structure of life is inevitably affected by modes of production.

For us, the relevance of Toffler’s theory lies in the fact that today, for its own interests, the Western world is advancing a theory of the clash of civilizations in which religion plays a fundamental role. But it is possible that at some stage, this theory becomes inadequate for serving its interests, making it imperative to take recourse to Toffler’s theory which is currently not in the limelight.

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