Professor Huntington wrote this book 15 years ago, as an expansion of his thesis on the importance of culture in determining allegiances and identity. His original thesis was first published in "Foreign Affairs" in 1993, not that long after the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it communism as an ideology that provided a structure for the economic relationships within a society. It was an attempt to answer the simply question raised by many a policy wonk and think tank habitué: Now what? (after 50 years of "Cold War"). The book has been widely influential; a minor "Bible" of sorts, and there is enough in it that, like the Bible itself, you can quote a certain passage to support your point of view. The title is a bit provocative, misleading, and even inappropriate, since it has been seized upon by those who which to promote endless war; those who President Eisenhower warned Americans against, the famous military-industrial complex, who have a vested interest in promoting the "clash" aspect. How much better if it had been entitled as the subject to this review, which is indeed the title that Huntington gave to the last section in his book.
Huntington's book was one of the first to elucidate the transition from the bi-polar world of the Cold War to the multi-polar world of today. The author identifies and characterizes the multi-polar areas: the West, Latin America, the Russian or Orthodox area, China, India and the Islamic world. With the rise of other power centers, the influence and dominance of the West has declined, much to the consternation of the supporters of implicit Empire. What is one of the true strengths of this book, and seems to have been missed by so many of the 1-star reviews is that Huntington does not have an exclusive parochial Western point of view; he has a global perspective. He knows that the pompous pundits of the West, who routinely lecture the non-Western areas with their message of: "You will be a better person if you become more like me" is strongly resented in those areas, and he says it again and again: `In addition to Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser degree, Iran, have become modern societies without becoming Western" (p. 77). "It is a rejection of what has been termed the `Westoxification' of non-Western societies. It is a declaration of cultural independence from the West, a proud statement that: `We will be modern but we won't be you'" (p 101). He quotes Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir: "Asian values are universal values. European values are European values (p 109). Or, "What is universalism to the West is imperialism to the rest (p184).
There is much else, from his discussion of "cleft countries"; those that contain two strong cultural influences, such as the Ukraine, to the more provocative speculation about the United States becoming a cleft country, as the percentage of non-Hispanic whites falls below 50%. He presents a compilation of the world's conflicts; those that occur among cultures, and those within a given culture, and the latter predominate. Huntington is no Pollyanna. The essence of the problem of war is rooted in human nature: "...and finally is the ubiquity of conflict. It is human to hate. For self-definition and motivation people need enemies: competitors in business, rivals in achievement, opponents in politics" (p130). Although he does not say it, I'm sure he would concur that the same need for opponents is a dominant factor in academia. As to how that underlying need for conflict translates onto the global stage, consider: "The dangerous clashes of the future are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance and Sinic assertiveness" (p 183).
Nothing is inevitable in Huntington's analysis. He offers positive and prescient advise: "...and, most important, to recognize that Western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source of instability and potential global conflict in a multicivilizational world (p 312). And: "This is a truth which some states, particularly the Untied States, will undoubtedly find difficult to accept. This abstention rule that core states abstain from intervention in conflicts in other civilizations is the first requirement of peace in a mulitcivilizational, multipolar world." From the Amen Corner: Amen.
On a personal note, I played the role of "the good American" in a Saudi sit-com, "Tash ma Tash." The episode concerned the impact of the events of 9-11 on Saudi nationals living in the United States. In one scene I was on a sofa, reading a book, as the events of 9-11 unfolded. I chose this book to underscore the cultural conflicts that would be enflamed by that event; I was instructed to cover the cross on the cover with my fingers so that the more conservative elements in Saudi society would not be offended (the cover was of an older edition.) I did, and they weren't. More such shows are needed to promote Huntington's concept of the commonalities of civilization, which we should all be striving for.
I do have reservations about parts of the book, like the map at the beginning that showed the colonies of Angola and Mozambique, as well as South Vietnam being part of the so-called "Free World" in the `60's. And I wish the title was different, but it is an essential book to read for how our thoughts are shaped. Furthermore, Huntington's unheeded advise, as the United States is still looking to "win" in Afghanistan, makes this a 5-star read.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on July 05, 2010)