on 21 March 2014
Samuel P Huntington's dark classic “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”, first published in 1996, comes with positive blurbs from Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, hardly lightweights on the darker side of things. The 2003 edition spouts a cover showing a Muslim flag alongside the star spangled banner, to boost sales, no doubt. Huntington's work is controversial, both among the official optimists á la Fukuyama, Clinton and Dubya who believe that America-with-a-capital-A will spread “liberal democracy” and “free market” economy all around the world, and those who prefer a dialogue between civilizations to a clash (or support one of the non-Western civilizations).
However, Huntington's work is actually *less* bellicose than I expected. Somewhat surprisingly, the author calls for a multi-polar world! Of course, it's a multi-polar world of a more “realist” kind than the harmonious co-existence most of us would have preferred. In Huntington's version, “fault line wars” between countries of different civilizations are never far away, and in a worst case scenario they may even lead to a new world war. The solution is a new balance of power between “core states” (the regional great powers of each civilization), the most important of which are the United States, Russia, China, India and Japan. The “core states” are also responsible for policing the rogues and rednecks of their respective civilizations, to make sure that “fault line wars” are kept to a minimum. Thus, the Russians should police the Serbs, India should police the Tamils, and (I suppose) the West should cool down the Croats or the Ukrainians. (Are we?) While this may sound like a constructive proposal, Huntington believes that the scheme will work only if Western civilization becomes less multi-culturalist and more centralized around the United States, the core state par excellence. Otherwise, the West will be eaten by its competitors. While talking about Western “democracy”, “individualism” and even “pluralism”, Huntington presumably wants less of each, i.e. a return to the good ol' days of the Cold War at its coldest. Huntington also sees Latin America as an appendage to Western civilization, which is – of course – ridiculous, until you realize that it's probably code for Latin America remaining within the U.S. sphere of influence (i.e. on its “back yard”).
One reason why Huntington considers Islam threatening, is that the Muslim world lacks a stabilizing core state, making it potentially more chaotic and dangerous than, say, Orthodox civilization (which is dominated by the stern hand of Mother Russia). The author discusses four possible claimants to the throne of a Muslim core state: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Turkey. He reaches the interesting conclusion that Turkey is the most serious contender for the role. Saudi Arabia, while economically strong, is militarily weak and too dependent on U.S. support for its national security. Egypt has an enormous population and the necessary religious clout (the Al-Azhar University, the closest thing the Sunni Muslim world has to a “general synod”, is situated in Cairo), but it's too dependent on both U.S. and Saudi economic aid. Iran is Shia Muslim, and hence a problematic choice of core state for the dominant Sunni Muslims. Thus, from the viewpoint of Realpolitik, the United States should presumably attempt to promote Turkey to a role similar to that of China, India, Russia or the U.S. itself. It's interesting to note that Huntington mentions Jewish civilization only in a footnote, and discusses the Israel-Palestine conflict mostly in passing…
Otherwise, Huntington's book is marred by an annoying Islamophobia (I don't usually use that term, but here is feels apt – see further below). In a section on “Islam's bloody borders”, the author claims that since 1928, the United States resorted to violence in only 17,9% of its conflicts, while Muslim states employed violence in 76,9% of the cases. This is, of course, pure poppycock. I wonder whether the Vietnam War and the Korean War are included in the 17,9% figure? Weren't those wars more important than, say, the Sand War between Algeria and Morocco in October 1963 or the Libyan-Egyptian War in July 1977? I also wonder whether the high Muslim percentage includes the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Armed Forces, the Somali invasion of Ethiopia or the Iraqi invasion of Iran, which were all aided and abetted by the United States? This brings me to my next point: as a superpower during the Cold War, the United States *didn't need* to respond by violence in most cases *since it had vassals who did it for them*. As an old Cold Warrior, Huntington constantly covers up the American tracks before 1989-91. Thus, the Indonesian attack on East Timor becomes a “Muslim” war against “Christians”, when in reality it was an American-supported attack on a leftist government. Huntington also cites a source which blames the war deaths in Bosnia on the Bosniak Muslims!
Huntington's take on the Balkan Wars is particularly galling. The Bosnian Muslims were probably the most secularized Muslims in the world. The remaining multi-ethnic communities in Bosnia supported the Muslim-dominated government in Sarajevo. Their Serb and Croat adversaries were essentially fascist. No multi-ethnic community supported Republika Srpska or Herzeg-Bosna. Despite this, Huntington complains about Bosnian Muslims buying arms from Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and clearly regards U.S. support for Sarajevo as a bizarre, “liberal” mistake. The Bosnian Muslims, after all, aren't part of “our” civilization. Essentially, he supports the Croats and (perhaps) even the Serbs! Here we see Islamophobia at its worst: apparently, not even secularized, Western-oriented Muslims have the right to defend themselves against genocide… To Huntington, Muslim Bosnia is really a new Iran in the middle of Europe! The Balkan Wars also *disprove* Huntington's main thesis about the post-Cold War reality being a clash of civilizations. He tries to cover up the salient fact that the Western powers originally preferred the *Serbs* to both Croats and Muslims, while his theory predicts the opposite (at least in the Croat case). (That the Western powers originally abetted the Serbs might sound counter-intuitive, but it's nevertheless true. However, a detailed discussion about this lay outside the scope of this review.)
Events after the book was published hasn't been very kind to Huntington's main thesis either. While a “clash of civilization” undoubtedly does exist, it's often trumped by fissiparous nationalism or purely Machiavellian considerations. Huntington himself mentions a number of anomalies: Orthodox Georgia being anti-Russian, Sinic or Confucian Vietnam being anti-Chinese, and U.S. support for the Bosnian Muslims. A few others relevant in 1996 would have been Catholic Slovakia's support for the Orthodox Serbs rather than the Catholic Croats, or Orthodox Romania and Bulgaria's support for NATO and the EU. Since then, we could mention: American support for Muslim Kosovo, American support for Muslim rebels in Libya and Syria, Iranian support for the secular regime of Syria (which is dominated backstage by a “Shia” sect even Iran considers heretical), Sunni Kurds and Shia Arabs cooperating with Western troops in Iraq against Sunni Arabs, and a closer alliance between the United States and Vietnam against China. There are even a few conflicts were ideology still play a certain role, such as the Latin American “pink tide” versus U.S. interests, and (of course) the Cuban-American stand off. Perhaps North versus South Korea could also be put in this category. Ironically, the more obvious “clashes of civilization” are usually other ones than those predicted by Huntington. He treats the Muslim world as one civilization, but today, it increasingly looks divided into two distinct civilizations: the Sunni and the Shia. A prediction: when the U.S. finally leaves Iraq, Iran will take over most of that Shia-dominated country. The worst gaffe is Huntington's firm belief that the Ukraine will remain a united country! Here, clearly, we are dealing with an almost paradigmatic case where the author's thesis is proven correct: a conflict exactly following the Orthodox-Western divide. Two other predictions: Catholic Europe will enter a period of more intense conflicts with secular/ex-Protestant Europe (creating problems for a Catholic West Ukraine); non-Arab Sunni Muslim states will react against Wahhabi “Arab cultural imperialism” (creating *openings* for the West to ally itself with the non-Arab Muslims).
Of course, it's uncharitable to expect a book written in 1996 to correctly predict every detail, so my main objection is really the one mentioned further above: it seems that the “clash of civilizations” haven't become the main trend, but is rather just one of several different trends, each about as strong as the other. To crack a joke: Huntington has been “mugged by Machiavelli”.
Does this mean that “The Clash of Civilizations” is not worth reading? No, I wouldn't go that far. In fact, the book contains a lot of interesting material which is even more relevant today, in the aftermath of the Arab spring and its spectacular failure, than it was in 1996. Here, Huntington's observations are often prescient. Thus, he points out that fundamentalism and modernism are *related* phenomena in the Muslim world, with fundamentalism being a peculiar form of Muslim “modernization”. Democratization in the Muslim world leads to the strengthening of fundamentalism, just as democratization in other non-Western societies strengthen nationalism, not the pro-Western liberals. Modernization, democratization and Westernizations don't always go hand in hand. Usually, the opposite is the case, as non-Western civilizations feel less dependent on Western cultural models, after having successfully assimilated Western technology (China, Japan and Iran are good examples). There is more than one path to modernization, with the Western path (while desirable from Huntington's perspective) being only one of several possibilities. Changing the culture of a civilization, while possible, is nevertheless extremely difficult: witness the failure of Turkish secularism or Soviet Communism. The author is also right that political ideology (in the narrow Western sense of that term, at least) plays a far less significant role in today's conflicts than during the Cold War, which was cast as a conflict between American capitalism/democracy/liberalism and Soviet or Chinese Communism, itself a Western ideology. Instead, religious and cultural traditions come to the fore. (Of course, this could conceivably change in the future. Apart from the “pink tide”, I note that the main insurgent movement in India is Maoist, not Muslim! It's not small, either.)
“The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” might be immensely problematic in many ways, and it's obviously written by a man whose political affinities I hardly share, but it's nevertheless interesting and well worth reading. OK, kids, don't use this review for your college exams…
This book was written as a prophecy about what the author felt would characterise the C21st. Now that we are nearly a decade into the C21st, we have the ability to look back and see if he was right. If yes, then this book was prophetic and its lessons should be learned. If not, then he is wrong, and the book is little more than an airport novel.
On one or two dimensions, Huntingdon has been extraordinarily accurate, predicting that Islamic extremism would become the number one security threat to the West in the C21st. Ominously, he predicted that the West would be driven to attack nations that possessed WMDs in the fear they would pass them on to terrorists. This is the Bush doctrine, written before Bush was even an elected official, never mind President. Equally ominous, he predicted that Islamic radicals would rally to the cause of any Muslim state attacked in such a way, and the influx of foreign insurgents into Iraq confirms this. Interestingly, the author predicts that the Taliban and Al Qaeda would be very prominent in the C21st, yet never actually names the organisations by name (in the case of Al Qaeda because it did not adopt its current name until several years after the book was written).
Huntingdon is slightly inaccurate in his prediction that China would become more bellicose and confrontational. At least so far, China has been warm towards the West, with trade deals and cultural exchanges flourishing. Another weakness of the book is his rather arbitrary definition of societies, and his notion that a "core state" would drive forward its respective civilisation. This is not the case, with supra-national agencies taking the place of "core states".
Overall, the book is highly recommended. However, given its relative age, it would be advisable to buy a more recent book on geopolitics as well, to top up the introduction that this book provides.
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)
on 24 August 1999
Huntington's central thesis is that major conflicts are now and have always been defined by clashes between fundamentally different civilisations rather than between similar nations, and that major conflicts occur on the boundaries between them. His theories apply not only to international conflict (so for example World War II can be seen as a conflict between Eastern and Western European civilisation and between Western and Japanese) but also to internal ones where countries lie on the "fault lines" between civilisations (so the troubles in Yugoslavia are viewed as conflicts between Eastern European and Islamic civilisations and so on). Huntington identifies the scope and causes of conflict, examines the politics of post-colonialism and national identity and surveys many other potential sources of conflict awaiting the civilisations currently competing for resources and prestige. Rather similar to Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" in its breadth and scope, this book has much to say about the nature and causes of conflict. At times Huntington seems a little alarmist about the decline of Western civilisation, but his often strident tone can be ignored and the weight of evidence allowed to speak for itself.
on 29 January 2003
Dividing the world into 7 major civilisations, in this book Huntington argues that in the post cold war era, countries tend to re-evaluate their position in the world in terms of identity. After the cold war, during which the division and conflict was between two ideologies, relations between countries in the post cold war era are increasingly shaped by cultural and civilizational factors, thus most countries tend to identify themselves in terms of civilisations.
The collapse of communism had been seen by many western scholars as an indication and a validation of the superiority of western thoughts. One example of this is Fukuyama who argues in his book The End Of History And The last Man that liberal democracy is the last stage of the evolution of the political and social systems through history. To add to this, due to its unchallenged military and its superiority since the fall of the communism, the west (mainly the US) has been able to defend its interests by defining those interests as the interests of the world community. Due to this the west is trying to impose its double standard rule on other nations using untrue terminology to describe this rule. For example, democracy is promoted but not if it brings Islamic parties to power, non-proliferation is preached for Iran but not for Israel, human rights are an issue with china but not with the US allies, aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed but not against non-oil-owning Bosnian. Huntington argues that the west won the world not by the superiority of its values, ideas or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence, and as a reaction to the arrogant western approach the revival of non-western religions is the most powerful manifestation of anti-westernism.
A fault line war, war between two countries or groups from different civilisations, is the most dangerous war, as it will evolve to an international conflict involving other countries, each to support its civilizational-kin country. To avoid such clash he stresses the need to alter the Security Council to be a civilizational council, which means that every civilization should be represented by its core state. As well he stresses the need for the west to avoid interfering in such conflicts.
In his study Huntington is predicting two major conflicts with the west (represented by the US) in the twenty first century, the first one is with Islam, the second is the sinic civilisation (represented by China). These conflicts are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Sinic assertiveness.
I think it is important to mention that Huntington's shallow interpretation of Islam is based on pre-conceived ideas, which lack the needed depth and objectiveness. Finally, I believe this book is a valuable piece of work for understanding how international affairs are shaped.
The Cold War ended about a quarter of a century ago. Its end ushered in a great hope for the future of humanity, a future that many had hoped would be free from wars and other devastating conflicts. The liberal Western democracy seemed to be marching triumphant, and with an exception of a few holdouts (China being the biggest and most important one) its future, and the future of the world order based on its principles, seemed assured. In the memorable phrase of Francis Fukuyama, history was over. However, various ethnic conflicts in Europe in the 1990s (primarily in former Yugoslavia) and the impact of Islamic terrorism at the beginning of the 21st century, disabused many of these sanguine notions about humanity’s future.
“The Clash of Civilizations” opened my eyes to the whole different way of looking at the World and the main geopolitical forces that shape it. Or rather, it focused my attention on the main groupings of the global powers and the way that these groupings influenced international relations. This whole approach has a lot of intuitive power, and it really manages to capture a lot of international tensions and conflicts that we have been seeing over the past couple of decades. In a way, there is nothing surprising about this. The clash of civilization has always been the main driving force behind the fundamental historical developments, and the Cold War was just (in Huntington’s view) an interlude that may prove to be an aberration in the long march of history.
I was completely new to the whole field of civilization studies and this book provided me with a lot of new material to think about. Huntington is very clear that what often passes for “universal” human values are in fact an invention of the Western civilization. Those values have only marginally been able to penetrate other civilizations, and Huntington comes across as fairly ambivalent about the whole prospect of westernizing the entire world. He is sympathetic, at least in principle, to the idea that it’s possible to have modernization without Westernization. There have been a few examples of civilizations that had managed to modernize, oftentimes at a breakneck speed, without implementing a full-scale westernization of their societies. However, most of those civilizations had also reached eventual roadblocks, and to this day I don’t know of any civilization that has been able to outperform the West in terms of long-term development.
One of the most controversial aspects of Huntington’s book has been his very critical look at the Islamic world. Unfortunately, his dire predictions about the clash(es) with the Islamic civilization have proved more than prescient, as the beginning of the twentieth century has clearly demonstrated.
Even though this book makes a very persuasive case for the general outline of the future global geopolitical groupings and tensions, I have been far less impressed with the exact prediction of how these wars start, evolve, and resolve themselves. For many of these assertions and predictions Huntington uses the war in Bosnia as the exhibit A. Huntington overemphasizes the role that Muslim nationalism and ideology played in fomenting that conflict, and presents the roots of the hostilities (much as did most of the Western media at the time) as “bottom up” and grounded in “centuries of hatred.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was born and raised in Bosnia, and my family and I have been “displaced” by that conflict. Huntington’s account of what happened there does not ring true in the least. Yes, there have been animosities and tensions between different religious/ethnic groups that span generations, some of which I’ve experienced firsthand, but that in and of itself was not nearly at the level that would lead to the bloodiest and most inhumane war in Europe since the end of World War II.
Another aspect in which I feel the book falls short is in its appreciation of the way that ideology will drive future conflicts. It could be argued that the conflicts that have been subsumed under the collective label “Arab Spring” (especially the ones in Egypt and Syria) have more to do with the various ideological currents (secularism vs. Islamism for instance) than with a clash of civilizations as such. Furthermore, within the West itself we are increasingly witnessing cultural splits that are profound and wide-ranging enough that we might indeed be witnessing a bona fide civilizational fissuring. Consequently, the scope and nature of the “culture wars” might progress far enough that they themselves become a major source of inter-civilizational tensions.
This is a truly remarkable book that is still relevant almost two decades after it has been first published. It is written in a very lucid and engaging style, and it was a pleasure to read. Any serious student of international relations, whether you agree with Huntington’s insights or not, ought to read this book.
on 8 September 2008
This is a book which has had wide currency among international opinion-formers. The egregious Tony Blair has cited it many times (typically enough, without actually crediting it as such, just using the words as if the product of his own thoughts). My problem with it rests on some inadequacies of expression and treatment. The role of race is virtually ignored for one: Islam only attracts those in or descended from certain racial or sub-racial groups, where Islam has been predominant for centuries. Yes, there are a few mavericks and cranks who take it up, but these are rare exceptions. So Islam is NOT (as Huntington claims) likely to somehow take over the "West" EXCEPT by conquest, destruction or (most crucially) by Europe and elsewhere accepting vast numbers of Muslims (who have, as he says, a far higher birth rate) into the European or European-founded societies. Unfortunately this IS the case as Europe is flooded with infiltrating millions.
Huntington's view of "The West" is very Americo-centric. Instead of seeing our Age (I.E. the 2,100 years after 1415) as a whole as Anglo-American-German, as Rudolf Steiner did (he called it the "5th Post-Atlantean"), or as "the age of the white northern European", Huntington really thinks of America as the heartland of Western Civilization (and not, as some might, one of its graveyards!) and thinks that if America ceases to be "Western" by giving up individualism, the Christian church(es) etc, then America itself will be "de-Westernized" and the West would be "reduced to Europe and a few lightly populated overseas European settler countries [and] becomes a miniscule and declining part of the world's population on a small and inconsequential peninsula at the extremity of the Eurasian land mass" (paperback edition p.307).
This above viewpoint must be seen as absurdly misconceived and "little American". For one thing, even Western Europe has a population at least equivalent to that of the United States and its Canadian appendage. And some of the overseas offshoots of the European Empires (especially the British) have large populations which are still mostly of European descent, such as Australia, which is now counted as having about 20 million. And what is the obsession with mere numbers? The British ruled most of India and Africa and elsewhere with tiny groups of British/European civil servants and officers disposing of modest numbers of European police and soldiers.
To my way of thinking, the book is important because it does raise the subject, but apart from the above criticisms, it fails to note that in advanced sections of European (or, as Huntington would put it, "Western") humanity, there is a continuing evolution of consciousness which might lead to a quantum leap in civilization, particularly if Europe joins with a fully independent Russia, that is a Russia which is run by Russians and not "rootless cosmopolitans" with Russian passports. That Europe + Russia could be at least the foundation of a a REAL New Order over time!
on 19 December 2012
No doubt Huntington's rather blunt rebuttal to those who believed the post-Cold war world heralded 'peace for our time' brought him many critics, but his book is not the rambling of some bellicose hawk charting an inexorable path to the 'mother of all battles.' What he does present is a civilizational model that identifies culture and cultural identities to be the prime determinants of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict among peoples and nations in the post-Cold war world. His structure of civilizations in terms of member states, core states, lone, cleft and torn countries, clearly defines the geopolitical landscape of his model, which I found compelling when used to interpret economic relations and the growth of Chinese economies, and for predicting the accomodation of China as the hegemonic power in East Asia. His observations of intra-civilizational Islamic relations and conflict are brief, though important, as are those that associate the Islamic Resurgence (a product of social, cultural, and economic factors) with extra-Islamic conflict. However, despite giving an extensive list of references and bibliography, Huntington often fails to draw from multiple sources to support his beliefs and so underline the validity of his model for interpreting current events. Furthermore his identification of the major civilizations also required a more detailed synopsis that described their religion, values, and customs. This would have clearly illustrated their cultural commonalities and differences and provided a stronger foundation for developing his model. The shortcomings here are later revealed when despite his assertion that Japanese is a unique civilization, he never describes what distinguishes it from Sinic civilization, so I am left wondering what these differences are and how might they shape Japanese policy with respect to accomodating China or acknowledging Chinese hegemony in East Asia.
Recent history has seen the replacement of military regimes and personal dictatorships with Islamic regimes in Islamic societies, the intensified battle between Islamic nations and groups for leadership of the ummah, the protracted conflict on the borders of Islamic civilization, and the reorientation of Turkey toward its Islamic heritage, that certainly attests to the validity and usefulness of Huntington's model with respect to predicting events regarding Islamic civilization. However relations between North and South Korea remain hostile, the political integration of Taiwan with the PRC remains doubtful, Orthodox Romania and Bulgaria are now members of the EU, and Catholic Venezuela has developed close ties with Islamist Iran. Clearly there are key determinants other than culture at work here, that I would venture to say involve ideological, economic, and security interests. Furthermore in light of Orthodox Romanian and Bulgarian integration into the EU, conflict between Orthodox Russia and the West is far more likely to be driven by economic and security factors than cultural factors. Finally, given the fact that the hi-tech economies of the modern world are oil dependant, and that over half the world's oil reserves are in the Middle East, it seems that the Middle East, not East Asia as Huntington believes, identifies the primary turf of international relations in the post-Cold War world.
Given the global diffusion of power between civilizations the validity of this model for interpreting current events cannot be denied. But for policymakers to view the world through the lens of this model is likely to produce serious errors in foreign policy. The increasingly multipolar modern world requires a more complex model that incorporates cultural as well as ideological, economic and security factors.
The Cold War was bookended by two articles: "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" (based on the "Long Telegram" ) in 1947 and the "Clash of Civilisations" in 1993. Both articles were published in the journal Foreign Affairs.
In 1996 Samuel P. Huntingdon expanded his article into this book. Sixteen years later how has this book aged? "The End of History" may not have happened, but the "Clash of Civilisations" still seems relevant.
"The Clash of Civilisations" is not an idée fixe. The author proposes his model as a useful tool to replace the previous bi-polar one used during the Cold War. He is careful to present it as a working model that should be applied with all the caveats that present themselves in a real, complex world. In 1996 he defined his civilisations as these broad cultural entities: Western, Latin American, (sub-Saharan, non-Islamic) African, Islamic, Sinic (Chinese), Hindu, Orthodox (mainly Russian), Buddhist and Japanese.
In 1995 the author stated that the clashes of the future ". . . are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance and Sinic assertiveness". Modernism, he said, is universal, but modernism is not the same as Westernism. The West was a civilisation before it became modern and the same process is happening with other civilisations. Islam can modernise but it does not have to Westernise. The author thought that the future is a world which is more modern, but less Western. Many will disagree, but many will disagree because they think that modernism and Westernism are the same. That they are not the same is the author's point.
Today, Russia is only superficially western and the Han Chinese Empire has continued to rise; Hindustan has kept a low profile. The American Empire has overreached itself and continues to project power, but on borrowed money. Dominating all this is the economic implosion of the western financial system, the clash with Islam and the clash within Islam. The multi-polar, multi-civilisation world continues.
on 21 February 2003
This is rightly regarded as a classic in its field. That is not to say that it should be taken as gospel, far from it but that the points that it raises are all of serious consideration. The sheer breadth of scholarship is quite remarkable over an astonishing range of subjects: Buddhist theology to ancient Islamic history; and makes his arguments seem all the more compelling.
Huntingdon argues that despite globalisation the world remains a hugely diverse place and that the perceived homogenisation and Americanisation of global culture is in fact fairly superficial. One does not imbibe American values with your Coca-Cola. The relative power of the west, even of the new Hyper Power: the USA, is in decline as new centres of power rise, essentially East Asia and Islam. This is a challenge to many received wisdoms in the globalisation debate and is to be welcomed for that alone. It also seems rather convincing.
Analysing the world in terms of warring civilisations yields rich results even if Huntingdon’s taxonomy seems a little too neat and too arbitrary at times. Seeing Orthodox Christian countries as comprising a civilisation in their own right is perhaps a bit forced but it can also be quite helpful. Why were Bulgaria and Romania excluded from the EU’s recent expansion? Civilisational ties clearly bind in a way that cross civilisational ties can be merely pragmatic. Genocide and terrorism are so much more emotive when their victims are ‘people like us.’
His analysis, after the likes of Toynbee, of the shape of civilisational development is also fascinating if of little practical use.
For those who seek to make sense of the post cold war world Huntingdon provides a useful model although it will not hold in every case: the world is simply too complex for that. Like all such analysis it becomes immediately less convincing when it comes to pointing the way forward. Yet the truly global scope of his book is as rare as it is to be applauded and it is packed full of little known information. A truly impressive book which even if it won’t convince everyone should at least be considered by them.