Where in the world? Speakers look at our global image

Self-help experts are always telling us to take a good look at ourselves and describe what we see. That’s bad advice for a superpower. What we should be doing is describing what everybody else sees.
This is the diagnosis not just of Susan Sontag and her crew of skeptical diplomats, but of a growing chorus of international pragmatists. Let’s face it, they say, America’s global legacy is not all apple pie and a promising career path.
Samuel Huntington of Harvard University kicks off the 2002 Levinson Lectures at UVA’s Center on Religion and Democracy as the first in a solid line-up of sexy international policy wonks. Huntington is 75 and an old chum of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger. He the originator of the “clash of civilizations” thesis; he postulates that Western, Islamic, and Asian systems of thought and government are on a collision course slicked by religious tensions, a once-controversial theory that is now all too commonplace.
 While men of Huntington’s erudition and expertise are welcome among policy-makers, “his ideas come from lectures and seminars, not epiphanies,” writes journalist Robert Kaplan. “If he couldn’t teach he probably couldn’t write.”
The same cannot be said for Kaplan, who also takes the podium. The author of Balkan Ghosts, The Arabists, Eastward to Tartary, and many other books, Kaplan roves the globe observing the societies of those very cultures that we will likely face in this coming clash.
Kaplan’s worldview is vast, colorful and anecdotal, but sometimes so cross-referenced it lacks nuance. With a ready supply of economic statistics about remote communities and far-flung folky lore, Kaplan is always prepared to write, teach, or both.
Just to keep us guessing about how clear-cut the upcoming “clash of civilizations” will be, UVA has invited Lionel Jospin to throw in his two cents. Who else but a former Prime Minister of the European Nation Most Likely to Toss an Obscene Gesture Our Way could give us image advice in a charming French accent while steering clear of awkward references to McDonald’s and terrorist tribunals?
Well, it beats Susan Sontag.

The Levinson Lectures are sponsored by the Center on Religion and Democracy at UVA. Samuel Huntington speaks at 7pm Thursday, November 7, at Alumni Hall. Lionel Jospin speaks on November 8 at 9am, followed by Robert Kaplan, in Old Cabell Hall. A discussion with all three panelists begins at noon, also in Old Cabell Hall. No reservations or tickets necessary. The topic of American primacy will be taken up again the following week at The Miller Center when Harlan Ullman of the National War College discusses the “Unfinished Business” of America’s Security. 243-5511