Telos in Europe: The L’Aquila Conference

The West: Its Legacy and Future

September 7–10, 2012
, L’Aquila, Italy

Conference Theme

Recent developments appear to end the “end of history” and foreshadow instead the end of the West. After 1989, many expected a gradual convergence toward Western models of liberal market democracy. But Western responses to 9/11 and the 2007–8 transatlantic “credit crunch” have exposed the limits of U.S. international primacy and accelerated the global shift of power from West to East and North to South—as evinced by the rise of China, India, and other emerging markets.

Politically and economically, that shift seems to portend the emergence of a post-American and perhaps even a post-Western world. Yet the United States is still the default superpower whose military might and economic energy ensure its pre-eminence for the foreseeable future. Likewise, Europe’s institutions, culture, and way of life remain attractive across the globe. Even the near meltdown of Wall Street and the mishandling of the sovereign debt crisis have so far not led to a decoupling of the rest from the West.

Historically, the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order appears to restore a more “natural” global balance that had prevailed before China’s isolationist withdrawal beginning with the Ming dynasty in 1433 and the West’s growing domination following the discovery of the New World in 1492. At the same time, contemporary global multipolarity seems to coincide with the crisis of the modern centralized state and the modern free market that were instituted by the West. That crisis might mark the end of the Westphalian settlement, which is coextensive with Western global hegemony. However, non-Western powers are wedded to Western principles (e.g., national sovereignty and territorial integrity) and to the international system of nation-states instituted by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

In terms of present and future trends, there is some evidence to suggest that the dominant mode of globalization is synonymous with the demise of Western-style nation-states and the resurgence of non-Western empires—imperial spheres of influence and colonialist powers. Examples seem to abound: Turkey and Iran in the Middle East; Russia in the Caucasus and Central Asia; China in East Asia and Africa; India and Brazil in parts of the southern hemisphere. Or is globalization promoting a shift toward global cities and the institutions of civil society that are a distinct legacy of the West?

Philosophically, it is not clear whether the global shift in power confirms or refutes the utopia of linear, boundless progress that characterizes the dominant Western ideologies of liberalism and Marxism. What about cyclical conceptions of history that have been popular since the work of Jacob Burckhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, and Arnold Toynbee on the twilight and demise of the West? Perhaps the rise of China and other emerging markets in Asia is evidence in support of certain Hegelian or Marxist accounts such as world system analysis or cycles of hegemony. In what way do these ideas reflect Western “historicism,” which portrays the West’s peculiar and contingent history as universal, necessary, and even normative? Which Western and non-Western alternatives to historicism are available to us?

Theologically, ideas of the West are closely connected with the three Abrahamic faiths in general and the Christian fusion of Greco-Roman Antiquity and the biblical legacy in particular. Just as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment have their origins in medieval Christendom, so too late (or post-)modernity is inextricably intertwined with theological categories and the greater visibility of religion in public political life. That, coupled with the growing presence of Islam, raises questions about the distinctly Judeo-Christian identity of the West—including notions of the secular and the modern.

Call for Papers

In choosing the theme of the West, the Telos Institute launches its biannual colloquia in Europe. The first colloquium will take place September 7–10, 2012, in L’Aquila, Italy—the birthplace of Telos’s founding editor, Paul Piccone. Building on the success of the annual Telos conferences in New York City since 2006, these colloquia bring together scholars from the United States, Europe, and elsewhere to explore and analyze the ongoing political, socio-economic, cultural transformations across the globe.

The twin focus of the first colloquium is on the legacy of the West and its future. The conference organizers invite papers that address the complex dimension of one or both aspects, whether in terms of the West itself or the Western interactions with the rest of the world.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

• Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome: the origins and legacy of the West

• Hegel, Marx and Spengler: philosophies of history and the evolution of the West

• Universalism, relativism and Western culture

• The West and the rest: the United States and Europe in the emerging world (dis)order

• Culture shock? The legacy and future of the transatlantic alliance

• Faith in the West: U.S. exceptionalism and European secularism?

• The United States and Europe: divided by a common history?

• Russia and Turkey: the European non-West?

Speakers include (in alphabetic order)

• Russell Berman

• Alain de Benoist

• Alessandro Campi

• Michael Ledeen

• Tim Luke

• Giacomo Marramao

• John Milbank

• Adrian Pabst

• Marcia Pally

• David Pan

• Carla Pasquinelli

• Luciano Pellicani

• Carlo Ruzzo

Submissions: Abstracts of conference papers should be 200 to 250 words in length and should be sent to Adrian Pabst at  with the words “L’Aquila Telos Conference” in the subject line. The deadline for abstracts is March 15, 2012.

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